What should an ad agency look for in a web development partner? The answer is, it depends! No two ad agencies are the same. The key to a web development partnership is the partnership itself. The specific web project and the internal capabilities and idiosyncrasies of your agency have to be a match with the web development partner. That being said, there are some key areas of interest you should pay attention to. Here are six that should get you started.
Every industry is different — a forestry department web design isn’t going to have much in common with a retail chain web design — so having experience with other clients in the particular industries you serve is a must. A development partner that understands a particular line of business is going to have a better grasp of industry-specific trends, challenges, competitors, and target markets. And you won’t end up with an e-commerce site with a section on forest fires.
Still, it’s not necessarily a better situation for a web development partner to have siloed experience in only one niche. Experience in your vertical, as well as related lines of business, is a good thing. It can lead to more innovative web development solutions that take into account a broader range of factors and that could set your business apart from competitors.
Range of Services
It’s important as well to make sure the development partner you hire offers all of the services you need. Building a website can entail everything from frontend and backend development, graphic design, user experience, brand strategy and positioning, content strategy and copywriting, SEO, and paid media. At the minimum, you’ll need to cover the basics of web design, development, strategy, and digital marketing. Look at what resources you have internally and go from there.
A great development partner fit should meet all the services needs of your project as well as augment the resources you have internally. Bringing all agency partnership work under one roof makes communication, process, and implementation that much easier.
Besides the particulars of services and resources, web development typically requires three key skillsets. Strategy. Design. And development. Many web development firms can and do handle all three, but few are really experts in all three areas. So it becomes necessary as an agency to either prioritize which area matters most or, if budget allows, to plan on hiring multiple agencies with complementary skillsets.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, just what will work best for your agency, project, and budget. Many agencies prefer to focus internally on strategy and hire for design and development. Others just need help with development, or, a fresh strategy before moving forward. It just depends.
Another thing to keep in mind is the potential add-on capabilities a development partner may bring to the table. You’ll partner with a development firm primarily for their development chops, but having vetted the firm and settled into a healthy working relationship, you may find the firm has lead generation, marketing automation, SEO, branding, copywriting, or other competencies that could be of use.
There’s always that moment in a project where you realize it might just be easier and cheaper to have your partnering agency handle something you had envisioned doing in-house or hiring another specialist for down the road. Working relationships that really work can be rare, so if you find a great partnership, milk it for all you can.
Always keep in mind that a website is meant to be a marketing and business development tool, it’s not just a trendy new toy for the company blog. Ideally, your web development partner should stand apart from the crowd regarding their portfolio and their client outcomes.
Style and design matters, of course, but what about functionality, user experience, and lead generation capabilities that are a cut above? Look for development partners that can provide case studies and data that demonstrate that the agency’s work has had a positive impact on client business.
References and Chemistry
Choosing a development partner is not so far removed from hiring an employee. Yes, these things do differ, but certain aspects carry over. Look at your referrals, interview agencies, talk to their references, and think about the chemistry and fit. A website redesign is a huge undertaking, so it pays to find the right team and fit for the job the first time.
You might need to talk to three to six agencies initially, before narrowing things down asking for bid submissions. Ask about agency strengths and weaknesses, so you can better understand what additional resources or skillsets you may need. Ask for references and talk to former clients about the inner workings and processes. Think about fit, regarding culture and values, and note how a team works together internally and how they might interface with your team.
It’s worth the time and effort to find the right web development partner the first time. Redoing a website can be a big investment, so you want to do it right and get the best return on investment you can. Picking a development partner is as much of an art as it is a science. There will be benchmarks and data points and capabilities to consider, but there’s no substitute for finding a great partnership that fits and works.