This review is based Web Strategies' performance in a contract for web design services, and doesn't speak to any proficiency in "Internet marketing, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, paid search, organic search, social media optimization, social media marketing" which they claim as their main services (though web design is bound to fall in that spectrum somewhere - we'll leave others to judge that.)
WSI was hired to create brand new site for a local retailer and proved rather quickly that design is assuredly not among their talents. After multiple re-drafts, none of which came near hitting the mark (they weren't even minimally attractive), WSI proposed splitting the cost of an outside graphic designer for the job. While this would obviously raise our cost, by this time--weeks into the project--we were beyond ready to see some progress and willing to up the ante. Unfortunately, their "relief pitcher" only rehashed the original designs and left us still at square one.
At this point, we made the unanticipated decision to purchase a web template on our own and began searching for a design "off the shelf" that would at least come close to meeting our goals. Based on WSI's advice that we either go with a Wordpress or a Joomla-based CMS structure (and not knowing the difference ourselves) we reviewed all available templates in either category and chose a very nice Joomla design that we could purchase for just a few hundred dollars. At this point, we had spent a little to do much of WSI's job for them--a third to half of their job, perhaps?
From there, WSI asked us to spend dozens of hours --- ourselves --- creating detailed mockups of how we wanted WSI to execute the customization of the template. In other words, doing WSI's job for them again. Months went by as their programmers executed these directions. At some point in this period, we learned that their programmers were, in fact, working in third-world countries at deeply discounted rates compared to WSI's cost structure. This did not sit well with us in light of the time we'd already wasted in the process, or they value they'd delivered to this point.
The lowest point in the relationship was hit when the new site was finally complete and training began on the administration of the Joomla interface. In short, the interface was horribly complex and 180-degrees from the assignment of "make this easy for us to maintain going forward." We could make small changes only with tremendous input of time and effort, and larger changes required their help. We had to wonder if this was by their design--keeping us handcuffed to their ongoing support services, despite our clear instruction to the contrary.(In addition, a number of cross-browser incompatibilities were identified but left as "unfixable" in the finished product.)
Now, nearly a year after launching the new site--at tremendous expense compared to our annual marketing budge--we're finally cutting our losses and having the entire site recreated in an alternative platform. Why this platform wasn't strongly advocated by WSI, we can only guess, but this new site is costing less 8% of the fees paid to WSI last year.
Long story short, we can't recommend anyone hire WSI for website design. Perhaps the other related services they offer, but not design. On a positive note, the project managers we worked with once we'd brought them a template design were very nice to work with - they're nice guys, good at following instructions and managing their network of far-flung programmers. We simply didn't intend to hire WSI for basic project management while taking on all design duties ourselves.
Our advice - cut to the chase by buying a template from http://TemplateMonster.com
or a similar resource then post your customization job to http://elance.com
. You'll wind up with the site you wanted, and you'll save thousands over paying overpriced and under talented experts!