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How to Find the Best Web Design Agency in Toronto

Outline

Chapter 1: Why read this article? (and why did we write it in the first place?)

Chapter 2: Why do you even need a website?

Chapter 3: Choosing the right type of website for you

Chapter 4: WordPress or Not?

Chapter 5: How to evaluate a website design company

Chapter 6: Go local or remote?

Chapter 7: Should you retouch or redesign your website?

Chapter 8: Conclusion

Chapter 9: Useful links – Questions from the Pros

Chapter 1: Why read this article? (and why did we write it in the first place?)

The idea behind this article is not only to help you make an educated choice for a web design company in Toronto, but also to provide you with tips and pointers to identify the key elements that distinguish quality websites.

However, there’s more to why we decided to write this article in the first place. For quite some time now, we wanted to do an experiment and evaluate whether a unique and comprehensive guide such as this one will rank highly on Google. The target keywords for this article are website design Toronto and web design Toronto, and together these terms get over 4000 searches on a monthly basis.

According to Google and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts across the globe, delivering high-quality, original content is a surefire way to reach top organic positions on search engines (we’re talking first page results). Well, it doesn’t get more original and high-quality than this. So if you’re reading this article because you looked up the term “web design Toronto,” or “website design Toronto,” then the following has happened:

a) We’ve managed to prove that quality content is, in fact, essential to SEO, which is a win for us and…
b) You’ve got all the information you need to find the right website design company in Toronto, which is a win for you!

Below is the outline of everything we will cover in this article:

 

Let’s begin with web design basics, shall we?

Web design is a complex process that takes into account many different factors such as layout, imagery, user interface and other elements to make for a visually appealing, easy-to-use website. There are many aspects of website design that you need to take into account: templates vs. custom websites, mobile web design, responsive web design and so on. We’ll try to explain all of these categories in as little words as possible, so if you’re interested in knowing absolutely everything that goes into the website design process and how websites are evaluated, keep on reading.

Chapter 2: Why do you even need a website?

If you have a business, you need a website, and you’re probably well aware of that, since you’ve already looked it up on Google. Having a website designed for your Toronto business is an excellent way to establish your online presence and connect with current and potential customers. A website is more than just a business card on the internet – it is a dynamic tool that (when used correctly) can help grow your business, expand your client base, and increase profits.

Appearance and performance will get you conversions, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will get you the exposure you need, and all these aspects are included in the web design process. Not easy, huh? Website design starts way before your website is built. The planning and research that goes into web design is just as important as its execution. Why do we say that? Wait until you see just how many options you have:

Chapter 3: Choosing the right type of website

From simple to custom websites that were built from scratch, from a luxurious design to a more simplistic approach, there are many types of websites you can choose from. Having a website is like having an online partner that promotes you 24/7, which is why you have to be very careful in what type you choose. Here are some of the most popular types of websites we’ve built:

  • Simple vs. luxury websites
  • Custom vs. template websites
  • Dark vs. bright website themes
  • Boxed vs. full website layout

Simple vs. Luxury Websites

Very popular among service providers and working professionals, simple websites are generally known for offering great user experience. By implementing a clean, clutter-free design, you simplify the browsing experience and guide users towards one thing only: converting. Simple websites feature no more than 10 pages and have a clean, polished look (usually clutter free and not content heavy).

Luxury websites can also be simple in features and the number of pages, but differ greatly in terms of design. For example, as opposed to simple websites, luxury websites often feature custom, captivating imagery and are filled with visually appealing elements. However, luxury websites can also be more complex, with more pages and detailed information (think ecommerce websites with many product detail pages).

Custom vs. Template Websites

Custom Websites – When one thinks of custom websites, they usually think of robust, content heavy designs with loads of features and pages. While that may be true for clients that need custom CRMs and different content management features, a custom website is usually simple in terms of design. So what makes custom website design different than a templated one? Well, to answer this, you first have to determine the purpose of your website. Is it meant to be an online business card? Is it an online shop? Is it perhaps an online portfolio? Whatever the purpose of your website, a custom website is meant to capture the very nature of your business and present it to the world in a unique way.

Take Space and Sound, for example. This company creates custom tracks for television and music, and naturally, they needed a custom website. From the visually stunning animations to the library of melodies and tracks, we made all that from scratch for this particular client.



Template websites

There are plenty of website templates available online (WordPress themes, for example) and you can pick and choose whichever is best for your business. However, keep in mind that a templated approach can only do so much in terms of uniqueness and customization. When it comes to the battle of custom vs. template website design, there are a few reasons why custom design is a better choice:

  1. By downloading a template you risk having the same appearance as any other website out there. You’ll also end up with a generic theme that must be adjusted to fit the needs of your business.
  2. With a custom website, all elements are created from scratch and coded in HTML. The result is a super polished website that will work faster and better. Plus, custom code that is easy to read by search engines means better SEO (which means better positions on Google, which means more exposure…. You get the picture).
  3. Not only do you get improved performance with a custom website, you also get the design flexibility that templates do not offer. Plus, a custom website can be programmed to provide unlimited scalability, which means that you can keep expanding it and adding more content. Website templates are usually limited in that field.
  4. Above all, a custom website is, as the word itself describes it, custom. That means that its design and all its features are unique and belong to your business only.

Light themed websites vs. dark themed websites

When it comes to general website color schemes, you can choose between darker and lighter themes. To decide which one you want to use, you have to think about who your buyers are and how you want to present your business. In general, dark themes are associated with luxury while lighter themes offer a more simplistic look. Think window installation vs. window decoration, for example:

If your main focus is the beauty of the product or the end result, like it is with Model Space Designs (a custom drapes and interior decor business), then your website will feature a darker theme, large images and a modern (but simple) look.

If you are a window installer, like NorthShield Windows and Doors, the style of your website will incorporate a light theme and simple design to focus on your service.

Boxed vs. Full Layout

The simple vs. luxurious look extends to whether you will choose a boxed or a stretched layout as well.

Box it when you need a simple website to focus on services or products

Boxed websites feature clearly defined boundaries for the body of the page. The main advantage of this type of website is its fixed display that directs visitors’ attention towards the most important aspects of your business (i.e. your products or services).

 

Stretch it when you want your website design to make a statement

Stretched layouts are commonly seen in websites that focus on the experience or the end result. They’re great for presenting your brand or portfolio. Stretched designs normally feature beautiful, large images or videos and aim to capture the user’s attention by presenting visually appealing content.

Before deciding whether you should go with a boxed or stretched layout, a light or a dark theme, or a custom website rather than a template, you need to think about your target audience. Who are your customers? What do they like to see/hear/read when they visit a website? What aspect of your website will make them convert? Find the answers to these questions and you’re one step closer to having a perfect website.

 

Chapter 4: WordPress or Not?

In order to have a website, you need a Content Management System (CMS), and WordPress is the most famous one. In fact, it has become so popular that pretty much everyone knows about it, even if they don’t know anything about web design.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is considered to be one of the easiest content management systems to use. The variety of websites you can build with WordPress stretches all the way from E-commerce, business and photography portfolios to personal blogs, news websites, membership management and so on. When it comes to customization, WordPress offers endless possibilities with themes and additional plugins that add functionalities and new design options.

The advantages of WordPress

Ease of Use

A WordPress website is easy to manage and it doesn’t take much to figure out how the system works. It can be updated from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection.

SEO Ready

WordPress is considered SEO friendly because of its simple and consistent code, which makes its websites perfect for Google indexing. Plus, it allows for further on-page SEO customization through different features.

Responsive

A well-performing website must be fully responsive and offer a seamless mobile browsing experience. WordPress websites offer responsive web technology that helps you create amazing websites that look good on any device.

Easy Upgrades

Social media integrations, new functionalities and features can be easily installed through WordPress plugins.

WordPress disadvantages

Vulnerability to attacks

The main disadvantage and vulnerability of WordPress is its design because it is an off‐the‐shelf, packaged system that is publicly available. The system’s structure, its security, file hierarchy, built‐in permissions, etc. are also publicly available, which makes it easier to find vulnerabilities and attack. Nevertheless, there are measures you can take to prevent this from happening, and securing your website against potential hacker attacks is a must for any website, not just one built with WordPress.

Some customization limitations

Initially, WordPress was developed solely for blogging purposes and since then, it has evolved into a CMS by utilizing various plugins. This methodology makes the system very code‐heavy and inefficient for customization.

Some design limitations

WordPress’ front‐end design and module‐block system requires the front‐end to be designed only in bootstrap style (12 pre‐defined columns), which has its own disadvantages and design limitations. Developers must find creative ways around the system to allow for customization, which makes it more difficult to implement custom designs.

So should you use WordPress or not?

Since it is so commonly used and because it offers so many customization options, 90% of the time WordPress will be the right solution for your business’ needs. As it turns out, the popularity of WordPress is its main disadvantage and advantage. The downside of using WordPress is, as mentioned earlier, its widespread usage that makes it more susceptible to hacker attacks. However, its popularity also means that many developers know how to work with it. That means it’s easy to find developers who can provide you with the right maintenance and support for your website.

On the other hand, if you choose to build your website through a custom system, you are basically tied to the web design company that built it for as long as you have it. If you want to move on to a different company, they’ll probably end up building the entire thing from scratch. The main issue with a custom website is the uniqueness of its built-in custom code that can be tricky for other developers. Rarely will a developer take on the challenge of deciphering and trying to fix what was custom built by another developer.

Chapter 5: How to evaluate a website design company

So now you know some basics of how web design works and the variety of design options out there. Now is the time to tackle the difficult task of finding the right web design company for your business. This is where you need to be careful; you’re not only choosing someone to build your website, you’re choosing someone who can listen to you, have YOUR goals clear in mind and then mix all of those ingredients into a website. Toronto is a huge city, which means that there are many businesses just like yours trying to get their piece of the cake.

What you need from a web design company in Toronto is a result-driven team who designs websites that make people say: “That’s just what I need/want/had in mind.” So how do you find a company that will make your website stand out? Well for starters, you can learn a lot about a company by evaluating their previous work (portfolio). Here are some basic questions you need to ask:

– Do they have clients from various industries? A diverse portfolio means that the company has worked with clients from various industries, and that means that they know how to work with the needs of a particular client from a particular industry. Specifically, that means they know how to make their websites appeal to different target audiences.

Do you like what you see? Pick out a few designs that appeal to you. Do you like what you see? Do you like the flow of the website? It shouldn’t take you longer than 15 seconds to decide if a design speaks to you. Once you’ve decided whether or not you actually like the style, you should move on to determine whether the website speaks to the user. Was it easy for you to understand what the company is about? Put yourself in the shoes of the average user. If you were in need of this company’s service and/or product, would you contact them or buy their products? If yes, why? If the answer is no, why not?

– What do the calls to action look like? Are they strategically placed?Usually, websites have one common purpose: to make users convert. To do this, the design has to incorporate calls to action throughout inner pages. They can be in the form of a button, a snippet of text with a phone number, a simple contact form and so on. Look for the strategic placement of these calls to action. Is the flow natural? Does it relate to the content? Do they make you want to convert?

– Are the websites search engine optimized? It’s not enough to just make a website and put it on the internet. Search engine optimization is as essential for getting exposure as the website design itself. So how do you check if a website is search engine optimized? It’s simple. Pressing Ctrl+U on your keyboard while on a page will open up its source code.

From here you can check all the key aspects of SEO, including:

Metadata – used to describe the content of the page in a small snippet of text that appears on a search engine when you type in your search:

When you’re checking metadata on the page, you’re specifically checking the meta title and meta description. If the metadata is missing, that means that the main SEO optimization was overlooked. If it is there, you might want to take things a little bit further and check whether the description makes sense and whether it offers a comprehensive summary for the content of the page.

Image optimization
Another basic SEO strategy is image optimization, and you can check this by looking at the source code of the page. Specifically, you’re looking for image alt names (also known as alt tags or alt descriptions), which are used to describe the function and appearance of an image on a page. Why do you need them? Well, search engine crawlers aren’t able to pick up on the nuanced details of pictures unless you tell them, and you do that by writing the alt names. The purpose of alt names is to make it easier for the search engine to rank your website. These tags are also used to describe images to visually impaired users.

Content structure and headings
Search engines give better rankings to pages that have a proper structure. That means that the text is divided into comprehensible sections with titles. This structure is achieved via tags (h1, h2, h3, and so on). These tags are basically headings that communicate to search engines what the page is about. Check if the page has a comprehensible flow by verifying the structure of these tags.

What do the websites look like on your mobile phone or tablet?

Many companies don’t pay much attention to mobile and tablet usability of their websites. Recent studies suggest that over 55% of users do their browsing on mobile phones, so it is essential that the mobile version of the website works as good as, or even better than their desktop version. To test whether a website is mobile friendly, you can either do a quick search on your mobile device or tablet, or check it straight from your desktop. How do you do this? Easy:

  1. Press the F12 key to open up a console from which you can inspect the code on the web page.
  2. Click on the second icon in the top left corner, and that will change the layout of the website from desktop to mobile.

3. You can also further explore what the website looks like across different devices:

And that’s how you should do your high-level evaluation of a website. Not only will this give you useful insights on its performance, it will help you determine whether the designer/developer did a good job, hence help you make your decision.

Chapter 6: Go local or remote?

When it comes to deciding which design company to choose, you can either hire someone local or go with someone remote. To make the best decision, you need to consider several important factors:

Understanding trends (design and code)

As a digital marketing company, we stand behind the mantra that knowing your audience is the key to landing more conversions. This can be a tricky task, because your audience is often a specifically targeted group that has certain tastes, and those tastes vary from country to country, let alone from continent to continent. Therefore, a North American audience won’t have the same interests as, let’s say, a European one.

The same applies to web design trends and styles. Today, you can see a lot of ads for websites built remotely, often for a cheaper price, but the fact is that a designer in India often won’t be able to design a website that will fully appeal to a Canadian audience. Industry standards, audience interests, design structure, code standards; all of these differ from country to country, and by choosing a remote web designer, you might end up with a product that simply doesn’t work for your market.

It is important to find a web design company that understands your vision, your current position in the market, and prospective clients that will visit your website. From marketing messages to the overall style of the website, it all has to appeal to a specific audience that is accustomed to impeccable website performance and responsiveness. For example, many Canadians use Macs, whose retina display requires higher resolution images, which is something that a remote designer will often oversee.

Fast support

Launching a website is one thing, but ongoing maintenance is a completely different issue. Dealing with glitches, error codes, broken links and server issues requires you to have an expert on speed dial. If you choose a web design company that’s in a different time zone, you risk losing immediate response to crucial issues. Emergency situations require emergency support, and the website design agency you choose should be able to resolve such issues promptly. You need someone you can count on 24/7. For example, Gilmedia’s clients know that they can reach out at any time of the day, and that we waste no time in addressing urgent matters.

 

Meeting in Person

Don’t overlook that personalized “click” that makes you say: “These guys know what I mean.” Among the numerous web design agencies in Toronto, and even more agencies that offer remote solutions, the best way to find the right web designer is to find a team whose culture and personality really appeal to you. The trick is to choose someone you can trust, and establishing trust is much more difficult when your web design agency is on the other side of the world.

There’s a reason why they say that long distance relationships are hard work, don’t you think? Imagine the numerous hours spent going back and forth writing requirements and all those long Skype calls that often end up with more questions than answers. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply drop by your web designer’s office and explain your ideas over a nice hot cup of coffee? Among the numerous team lunches we’ve had with our clients, we’ve learned that most of them decided to hire us because of two particular reasons: our approachability and openness to new ideas.

Prices

Obviously, when you go with a web design agency from Canada, you’ll end up spending more money than if you hired someone overseas. Some websites will cost you about $1000, others might cost you $2000 or $5000. The value of your website depends on your requirements and everything that goes into the design process (licensing, materials, scope, the length of the project and so on).

However, not all agencies in Canada will provide you with the same value for your investment. We have seen many cases where web designs were repurposed for different clients (the same website layout with a slightly modified style). We have also seen numerous websites that featured low-quality content acquired from third party sources and illegally downloaded stock photography. Make sure you choose an agency that follows licensing regulations and encourages full transparency to save yourself from later troubles.

Timelines

If you choose a remote web design agency, you’ll probably have to send a lot of emails and spend a significant amount of time explaining specifications and requirements. Such ineffective communication can end up delaying your project significantly.

On the other hand, the clients themselves can sometimes be the cause of delays. For example, if a client increases the scope of the project (if they ask for different features, or request style changes) then it is almost certain that the project won’t be completed within the estimated timeline. All of these road bumps are resolved with effective communication, which is much more difficult to achieve if your agency is in a different time zone.

If you’re planning on getting a website, make sure that you commit to the project and set aside some time to communicate with the agency’s content writers and designers. It will make the project go more smoothly and you’ll have your website in no time. 

At Gilmedia, we’re reasonable with timelines and we never bite off more than we can chew (though this does not apply to pizza, ice cream, cake and any other snack that may be found within the office environment). 

So, should you go with a remote or local web design agency?

We’ve provided you with all the information you need to make a smart choice, and it’s up to you to decide which option is better. Remember, the type of website you need determines who will end up building it for you. If none of the above-mentioned points are of concern to you, and the price is the only determining factor, then a remote agency might just be your best choice. If you’re looking for someone to cooperate with in the long term, then a local company is the right option.

Chapter 7: Should you retouch or redesign your website?

Whether you should give your website a simple facelift or a complete makeover depends on several factors such as the age of the website, its performance and overall design. A standard website needs a facelift every 4 years (give or take), but how do you know when it’s time for a complete redesign? For this you’ll need to do 2 things:

Summarize the results

Google Analytics is the holy grail of website analytics, and you should use this tool at all times. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to redesign your website, these 3 metrics that track user engagement will immediately tell you if your website is performing well:

Bounce rate

Bounce rate measures the percentage of single page visits, i.e. visits where users viewed only a single page on your website without browsing further. A high bounce rate means that users are not engaged with your website long enough to continue browsing and take further action (fill out a contact form, make an order, buy a product and so on). A bounce rate higher than 50% is often an indicator that it’s time for a website redesign.

Tip: Do a review of your own website using the tips we provided, and check the content, usability, calls to action and so on. Is there something you’re missing? 

Returning visitors/new visitors

Every website needs both new and returning visitors. More returning visitors means higher engagement, and higher engagement leads to more conversions (sales, calls and so on). Generally, it is good to have 30% of returning users or higher. If the success of your website depends on engagement, then a low rate of returning visitors means that it’s time for a website redesign.

Pro tip: don’t let a low number of returning users or a higher bounce rate discourage you. Sometimes, customers only need 1 visit to convert, and it all depends on the industry you’re in and your website’s goals. Sometimes, a single page is all you need to land more conversions.

Pages per session

This metric tracks the average number of pages per user – how many pages they visited during their one visit to your website. For most websites, the main goal is to keep users engaged and guide them towards the next step (converting). A higher percentage of pages per session indicates higher user engagement, and the average industry standard is 2 pages per session. Again, if your goal is to keep users interested and have them continue browsing your website (which is generally the case) a low percentage of “pages per session” might indicate that there is an issue with your website’s browsing experience (the content isn’t engaging enough, poor usability, slow loading speed and so on).

There are many other key metrics in Google Analytics that will prove themselves highly useful in measuring your website’s performance. Apart from the above-mentioned metrics, this tool can also provide you with key insights on user behavior and your targeted groups.

 

Check out the competition

As the design standards change, so do the interests of your target audience. To find out whether your website is still competitive, do a little research. Select 5 to 10 of your biggest competitors and check out their websites. What have they got that you don’t have? What does their website look like? Compare and summarize all the key points that you’re missing. Those are your opportunities for improvement.

If your website performs well and all you need are some touch-ups and improvements to the header/footer, or some color and font standardization to give it a more updated look, then you need a small facelift. However, 90% of our website redesign clients have approached us for a website redesign because the old version wasn’t performing well. If the analytics mentioned above speak against your website, then it is time to start from scratch and completely rebuild your site. You can always turn to a professional to help you determine the key weaknesses of your current website, but also to discover its potential.

Chapter 8: Conclusion

If we were to ask our clients to describe us in the shortest way possible, they would probably use terms such as “great listeners,” “very techy,” “creative,” “experienced,” “approachable,” and of course “web design geniuses” (they’d probably say that we’re also a generally beautiful group of people, but that’s beside the point). In our opinion, those are the traits of a perfect web design agency in Toronto. Throughout the many years we’ve been around, we’ve proudly helped Toronto businesses reach success through dedication and commitment. Here’s what makes us so special:

We turn the “ehs” into “wows”
We know how to sprinkle the pretty elements to make for a “wow” effect.
We don’t see clients as dollar signs – we see them as partners.
As a Toronto website design company, we work with our clients to create stunning, functional, responsive, SEO optimized websites. We listen to them from day one, taking into consideration their likes, their dislikes and answering their questions along the way. We give our customers feedback about their ideas, and we consistently request feedback on our work. The trust we build with our clients has made us one of Toronto’s top rated website and online marketing agencies.
We do the grunt work
Our decisions are based on research. Better yet, in-depth research on your industry trends, competition, audience interests and so on.
We’re all about the results, not promises
It’s one thing to make a pretty website, it’s a whole different thing to build websites that convert. We take all of the science behind our process and pour it into visually stunning websites that will appeal to your target audience. With strategically placed calls to action and impeccable user experience, we set your website up for success.
We have a lifetime ban on cookie-cutter designs
Unless we’re talking about some actual cookies – those are always welcome. When you choose us, you choose an agency that will build you a website unique to your business.
Years of experience
We’ve spent many years working with clients from various industries so we’ve got the knowledge to create websites that appeal to specific target groups.

We could go on and on with this list, but we should probably let you see for yourself why we’re your best and most logical choice for website design in Toronto. If you’ve ticked off all the boxes we showed you and you like the idea of having us as your faithful sidekick, then get in touch with our awesome team. Call (647) 478-5858.

Chapter 9: Useful links – Questions from the Pros

We’re determined to help you find the right web design agency for your business, so we’ve created this nifty list of questions you can ask potential web design candidates before you make your decision and start your project. You can download it here.