The first thing I'd do would be to ask myself who I knew that had a good website. Once I had a list of people I knew personally I'd contact them and ask them if they would recommend their designer or not. Then I'd ask then what they liked about their designer and what they didn't like. I'd write down their comments (or enter into a spreadsheet). You have to take their advice with a grain of salt, because they may not have enough experience to tell if they have a good or bad designer, or in some cases they could even be trying to get a commission. So weigh what they say carefully. If you don't know anyone who has a website that you can ask, don't worry, there are plenty of other ways to find a good website designer.
Next, you could ask your friends on Facebook and other social media sites. If you get a response then follow the same logic as if you called your friends directly. Be sure to look at the site that the designer made for them to see if you think it looks good enough to warrant your attention. Again, be extra careful that they are not just recommending someone for the commission, as you may get recommendations from people you don't know all that well.
What if you don't know anyone who's has experience with a website designer; or you can't get a recommendation? Then you'll want to check out the web and track down a good designer yourself. Here's how I'd do it:
I would do a search on Google that looks something like this: Website design West Palm Beach, or Website design Royal Palm Beach, etc. (use your city). You'll want to work locally, because of the many pitfalls of working with a web designer you can't visit. If you don't have the money to work locally, then you will need the time and ability to fix mistakes, or you'll need to have a high tolerance for risk (many out-of-town, out-of-country jobs are never completed to the customer's satisfaction). Also, Google SEO in your city, to find website designers that are good with building websites that can be found on the search engines.
Go through the results on the first and maybe the second page of Google and weed out the directories and links that are not really relevant, and look over the sites you find that make sense. You want to work with someone who is listed on the first or second page of Google, because more than likely they know how to get you listed there as well. If you don't understand the benefits of being listed high on Google, you really should.
You can also Google your industry in your city and see who has the best sites. For example if you're a Chiropractor: Look at Chiropractor West Palm Beach, and see who has a great site. At the bottom of the page there is more than likely a link to the designer that created it. Make a list of the designers you find.
Once you have your list of potential designers look for the following to find a designer worthy of your interest:
- Does their site look professional?
- Do the sites in their portfolio look professional?
- Do they have a, portfolio, client list, and testimonials that impress you?
- Is the content clear and well written (be careful here because sometimes the website owner writes the content)?
- Is the navigtion easy to understand (can you get to any page from any page without navigating a maze)?
- Do their sites rank well on Google if you Google their industry in their city?
- Do you think they are worthy of your business?
Make a short-list of the designers you find that you think are worthy of your business. You're going to want to interview them to find out if they fit well with your plans and can do what you need them to do. Here's what you're going to want to know:
What type of sites to they make? For example: HTML, Flash, CMS, Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress, Custom CMS, all of the sites mentioned, etc. My recommendation for a good basic site would be Joomla, Wordpress, or Drupal for more advanced sites. If money is not an issue, ASP.net would be okay. For search engine purposes you may want to stay away from Flash. If you want to be able to update your own content you may want to stay away from a simple HTML site. If you don't know what these things are, you may want to do a little searching on the web to find out more.
Do they include full and complete on-site SEO in their prices? A site that looks great but can't be found on the search engines like Google is a waste of time and money. Ask them to explain a little about what they do as far as SEO goes. Will they put it in the contract? Do they offer additional SEO after the site is indexed on the search engines in case you decide you want to rank higher? What is the cost of that?
Can you call them with questions if you need them? It would be nice, wouldn't it?
Will you own your site, or are you just renting it? If you're paying $100 a month with nothing down you may not own the site. If you're paying thousands to get it done, you better be. If you do the math and you plan on having your site for 5 years or more, owning it outright is the cheaper and better way to go. Most designers will not work on a monthly plan anyway.
How long has he been designing websites? 5 to 10 years is a good amount of time to learn website design to a sufficient level of expertise. If you doubt his word make sure he can prove his experience.
Does the person you're talking to do the work himself, does someone in his company do the work locally, or is the work outsourced? If outsourced, is it done in America or in another country. Note that working with a middle man and having work done in another country will rarely produce the same results, no matter what anyone says. Sometimes it can be OK, especially if the text and SEO is done here, but I would stay away from it unless I got a great price and very strong guarantees from a local trusted company.
Can they show you work in your industry or in a similar industry. Don't get too hung up on this one. There are a lot of industries out there, and a web designer that knows his stuff can outperform a web designer that has done work in your industry but is not as proficient at web design.
Here's the big one: How much is a basic 5 page site with a contact page? This will allow you to compare apples to apples.
How long will it take? Realistically it should take about 3 weeks for a good designer to develop a good site. If his workload is light it could take less time, if he is really busy it may take longer. Also, the complexity of the site can add a lot of time. We're talking about a basic site here.
Will he help you with the copy writing. Most designers will expect you to supply the copy because it's your business and you're the expert. But he should be the expert at SEO (giving the search engines what they need), and should therefor put at least the final touches on the project. He may offer copy writing services as an add on service for an additional price, so be sure to ask about that as well.
How much is hosting, and what is included? For a site to be on the web it needs to hosted on a server that's connected to the web. It should be a fast server (good for SEO) with redundancies and backups (good for security and hacker protection). These things cost money, but should not cost an arm and a leg. $20-$30 a month should be a fair price for an average site without e-commerce. If they host with Godaddy or El Cheapo hosting, your site will not run as well, and it can be bad for SEO, so don't scrimp too much here.
If the designer has great work, speaks clearly, sounds trustworthy, has experience and can prove it, will work with you properly, and has a price that is line or a little higher than average, he's probably a good bet. The work he does will save you time and money, and make you more money in the long-run. Discuss your needs in detail, nail down a price, get a contract written up, and get to work on your new site.