10 Red Flags to Watch for When Hiring a Web Designer

Recently I was scrolling through social media and came upon a conversation about hiring web designers that piqued my curiosity. I had followed the rabbit trail to a website designer’s website that, to me, was full of glaring red flags. It got me thinking about all of the things people SHOULD be noticing when they’re hiring a web designer, but don’t. So I started a conversation on Twitter asking some web designers I knew what they would suggest a small business owner look for when hiring a web designer.

Web designer wants to buy your domain & hosting

The number one thing to avoid when you’re hiring a web designer is having them buy your domain and hosting package and you paying them for it. You should own your domain. They can transfer it to you, but it’s best if you buy it yourself and let them build on it. I buy all my domains and hosting plans from websavers.ca and I highly recommend them. A reputable web designer might walk you through how to buy your domain/hosting, or do it on your behalf and put in all your information, but you want to ensure that you are the registered owner of the domain and you control where you host your website. Everyone on the Twitter conversation agreed with Stephanie Lummis this is a big red flag.

Web designer’s website isn’t responsive

There is a debate whether a website should be “responsive” vs. built separately for desktop and mobile, but if your website designer’s own website doesn’t work on a mobile phone, that’s a huge red flag. Today, most traffic is on mobile phones and if your website doesn’t work well you will lose business. A mobile website should be readable without having to pinch and zoom, photos should show up at an appropriate size, and text should be a good size for reading. This is a particular pet peeve of mine…especially if I’m checking out a new restaurant and I have to navigate a non-responsive or PDF menu!

Web designer’s site doesn’t rank well in Google

In some markets this is going to be a tough one because of competition. However, if you’re searching for a website designer and you don’t see their site at least on the first two pages of search results, there COULD be problems with their website preventing that. It could also be they do not understand how to do SEO (search engine optimization), which might also be a red flag, but many web designers don’t. This one isn’t a deal breaker in my mind, but it is definitely something to be cautious about. If they’re not showing up high on your search results ask them about it and see if they have a reasonable explanation.

Web designer’s site has accessibility issues

There’s really no excuse now for a website to be less than accessible for people with disabilities. If your web designer hasn’t made use of alt text, contrast in colours, and added other accessibility featuresthey may not be able to make your website accessible for your audience. And while you may not have thought about this before, now is a great time to make your website more accessible for people with vision loss, dyslexia and other issues. There are even plugins you can add to your site to take care of many of these issues. Read this post by Jeff White, Kula Partners, for more information on making your website accessible.

Your Web Designer won’t give you admin access to your own website

When your website is done, you should have access to all of the back-end systems…even if you don’t need to or want to use them. They may give you two types of access: Admin and User. Admin access allows the addition of plugins, major structural changes, etc. If you don’t want to continue paying this designer to make changes, you should have Admin access. If you are scared you might screw things up and you just want to add your blog posts weekly, you can log in regularly with user access in a more safe manner. But you should still have the admin password available to you if you want to give it to a new web designer at any point. Some designers keep this information to themselves as a way of ensuring you have to keep paying them for work. This red flag is right up there with you not owning your domain.

They don’t offer training on managing site after it’s developed

You don’t need to understand how to do everything, obviously, but you should at least understand how to add products or publish a blog post on your own, according to Duncan Moss, Moss Media. If the designer isn’t planning to show you how to do this, you might want to move on to one who will. Especially if this is your first website or first time on a new platform.

Your Web Design Package includes hosting and design only as long as you work with them.

There are certainly benefits to paying a monthly fee to having someone take care of the updates and maintenance for your website, so these packages might be a good idea for you if you’re not tech savvy. However, if you think you might move your website to another system, upgrade, or have major changes soon, these packages might not work. Many of these contracts state that they own your domain, website design and content, so when you decide you no longer wish to work with them, you lose everything and have to start from scratch with a new designer. As long as you go into this knowing the full details, it’s ok…just ensure you understand what happens in two years when you want to move to a different hosting package for some reason.

Their contact form doesn’t work

If you’re hiring a website designer and their own contact form is broken, well… that’s a pretty big red flag. Yes, things break and sometimes we don’t notice, but we do expect more from the person who is designing sites for a living. If there is anything on the site that is broken, it is definitely a red flag to take into consideration. If they can’t fix it for themselves, will it work on your site? Thanks to AlisonK for suggesting this red flag.

Web designer’s copyright is out of date

I get it. You are not a web designer, so you’re maybe not sure how to go about changing bits and pieces of your website template. Some systems will keep the copyright up to date for you, but many do not. Even I have to go look up the instructions every January first to see how to update mine! It is important that your copyright notice on your website includes the current year. If you’re hiring a website designer and they aren’t doing this one minor thing, I would question their attention to detail.

They’ve misspelled their own name

Well…I just have nothing to add to this response from Jonathan.

Have you worked with a website designer already? What would you say are the red flags every small business owner should be aware of when hiring a website designer? Let me know in the comments.


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