So, you are thinking about a new website or sprucing up your old site, and you are starting to look for a website designer. How do you know if your prospective website designer sucks or not?
As I was searching the web recently, I was stunned at what I saw in terms of web design and development offers. A lot of people are offering prices that are laughable, ridiculous, and even seem shady to me. This was especially true when looking are people who are selling their services via Craigslist or in local Facebook groups.
$200 for a “custom” website? Seriously? Either this person has some self-esteem issues and undervalues their work, their website design advertisement isn’t telling the whole story, and there are other hidden “bells and whistles” you will pay for in the end, or as a website designer they just flat out suck! I know, I know — there is always someone who will to do a a job cheaper, but the old saying of “you get what you pay for” still rings true.
I am amazed that some local businesses that say they want to leverage SEO and online marketing, but they undervalue their company’s website, which is the most essential part of that puzzle.
I have seen local service businesses that spend thousands of dollars, making sure they hire the best sign shop in their area to handle the advertising wraps on their vehicles. Or, that pay the Yellow Pages an ungodly amount of money every year, with no way to track their ROI. Yet, they will go on Facebook looking for a high school kid or someone cheap that can help them build a Squarespace, WIX, or even worse, Google website.
That makes no sense to me, in this day and age. People don’t pick up the Yellow Pages anymore to find a local business. They turn to the internet. So why would you put less value on your website than you do on any other form of advertising for your business?
So, how do you know if the website designer you would like to hire sucks or not? Here a few things I would ponder if I were on the hiring side of the project table.
1. They Are Quoting a Too Good To Be True Price
If the price they are charging sounds too good to be true, it almost assuredly is. Chances are your website designer is one of the following:
- Not an experienced website designer. They are very new to the website design game and think they have skills, but don’t know as much as they like to portray. And even worse, they don’t know what they don’t know. Sigh. There is a lot more to creating a good website than changing a Squarespace template. I have spent decades learning my trade, and the digital marketing space is changing daily. You have to be immersed in it 24/7 to even attempt to keep up. And, the average person who doesn’t do this everyday doesn’t bother to stay informed.
- Doing it as a hobby, part-time, or side gig. They are running their “web design business” as a side gig. Because they are also working a regular 9-to-5 that pays the bills, they are likely to be challenging to get ahold of or disappear on you halfway through the project, leaving you with an unfinished site (oh, the number of times I have seen this happen to people would curl your toes!)
- Are a “sales person” who sells the job but can’t produce it. They may be a scam artist with mad sales skills who get you to pay upfront. I mean, after all, it’s not that much money, and everyone else charges so much more, right? Once you have paid them, they produce shoddy work, that doesn’t match the level of work in their portfolios, or disappear on you entirely. I recently found a local “web designer” who had stolen jobs I had done for clients from my website and had them in his portfolio trying to pass them off as his own!
- They are overseas or are a local person who isn’t doing the work themself. A US-based web developer may be hiring cheap overseas labor and marking it up to resell to you. And while there are quality overseas contractors, there are many more who aren’t. When working with overseas companies there is usually a language barrier and things get lost in translation, making for a very poor finish product. Even worse, the projects can drag out and never get completed. I had a potential client who came to me two years ago for a website quote. Their boss ended up sending the project overseas to save money. The overseas company took their old, but working, website offline to “do the build.” Why I have no earthly idea — it was not necessary! And, here they are, two years later, with no working website online at all. They have totally lost all of the existing rankings they had on their own site and it will be extremely difficult for them to get back to that level again anytime soon when the new site launches — if it ever does.
- They mean well, but don’t have the skills to execute. They have every intention of doing the job, and even complete it, but they end up using a crappy free template they found online and swapping out pictures and text on it and calling it a “custom website” design. FALSE! They give you no attention to SEO and structuring the website properly for search engines, no attention to branding, and no attention to detail. What a joke! You could have just done that job yourself, right?
And listen, if you want to take the risk with your hard-earned money by using one of the above, go for it. But, it’s kind of like they say in gambling — never bet anymore then you are willing to lose. Go into the process being willing to take the gamble and live with the consequences. You may win, you may lose. Just be aware that these low-cost web designers may not know important things, such as how to:
- correctly set up 401 and 301 redirects to keep your current “search engine juice” flowing after a redesign
- how to guide you through a SWOT analysis to make sure your new site will attract and retain visitors who become customers
- how to structure the page that it is friendly to search engines
- how to design an ADA compliant website
- how to properly brand your website to your unique business and how to create branded color palettes for your website
- how to set up Google Analytics, Google Search Console, or other site stat software
- how to edit your DNS records to get your mail servers and website hosting working correctly
- or other important things a serious website developer will know
They may strictly be working in WordPress and have no idea of how to take a template and customize it in ways you would like to have done. Not that I am against WordPress, I use it all the time. But, WordPress templates can be very limited in terms of changing them, and it takes someone experienced who knows how to customize them with CSS and PHP to make them look or function in a way that works for your business.
Unfortunately, I have seen it happen time and again where a client takes that route, then a few months down the line is not happy with the result, so they go back to the more experienced website designer to get it fixed. In the end, it costs them more money, because they had to have their website built twice.
If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.
2. They Are Quoting The Same Flat Fee To Everyone
We can build you a website for $199. Or, all websites are $499. If you are hiring a website designer who is advertising in this manner, you better think twice! Chances are this website designer sucks or are not giving you the full truth on pricing.
I have contacted many of these companies under the guise of being a “potential client” and asked them questions. I’m telling you right now, 95% of them have no idea what they are doing and are just shady salespeople disguised as “website developers.” They throw out industry jargon that sounds like they know what they are talking about to the layperson, but they are using that jargon incorrectly. My conversations with them were laughable. They are banking on the fact that the person on the other end has no idea at all what any of what they just spouted off means, so they can hard sell them. I even had several hang up on me when I started pushing back, and they realized I knew something about the website design industry. For heaven’s sake, steer clear of these guys!
I get calls from potential clients asking for me to give them flat fee web design pricing like this, without knowing what the website is going to entail, and it just can’t be done. Aside from some local small business website design prices I have for small companies who just want a standard informational website with no bells and whistles, I can only give an accurate price after an inquiring person has filled out my prospective client questionnaire and we have chatted. The reason for this is so I can be sure I am pricing accurately, based on their expectations for their website. I don’t even offer the cheap website design packages to clients until I have talked to them and determined it will adequately meet their needs.
It’s kind of like building a house. If you were to call and ask a home builder for a house price, they would need to know your wants, needs, and expectations. They aren’t going to throw out a price without knowing your desired square footage, number of rooms, types of appliances, cabinets, flooring, etc. No respectable home builder would do that.
Just like them, we need to know some things about your site to price it accurately, and not every site is going to be the same. We need to know things like the number of pages, what types of extra functionality you need, who your target audience is, what level of involvement you will want in content creation, etc. It’s impossible to determine that without speaking with you first and getting an essential foundation for your expectations.
Anyone charging a flat fee like this is most assuredly merely putting up a pre-made template and swapping out your photographs, logo, and text. A monkey could almost do that!
There is no “design” or “development” involved. It’s cookie-cutter work. Sadly, you will end up with the same website that hundreds, if not thousands, of other businesses already have online themselves, just with different information. There will be nothing unique about your site that will make it stand out among your competitors.
And, even though an experienced website designer may choose to start out with a template or framework for your site, if they are worth anything they are going to customize it for your business, not for anyone else’s. It will be unique to you. That is what you are paying them to do. But, they are not going to do that all for $200!
The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.
3. You Found Them On Craigslist or Facebook
Chances are if you go seeing out a cheap website designer, and finding one who is willing to give you a super low price for the job, you may have found them on Craigslist or on Facebook in a community group!
Craigslist is pretty much a place for cheap people (or those that aren’t sure where else to look) go to find other cheap people to work for them.
And, listen, I think Facebook is excellent for real word of mouth referrals for legitimate local web design companies. But, 90% of the responses I have seen to these recommendation requests are from people recommending friends or their high school or college-aged kid who is “good with computers.” Even worse are the ones who “dabble” a bit on the side with this stuff and consider themselves “web designers” recommending themselves.
These aren’t web professionals who truly understand the power of digital marketing and branding. It’s so sad when I see a company or person that wants actually to grow their business take that type of recommendation for a website developer.
Chances are you will get someone who will take a free WordPress template online, or set you up on WIX, Squarespace or another website builder, and swap out text and graphics with what you provide them. That is not“website design and development.”
A real website developer will cater your website design and strategy based on where you hope to take your business over the next year, five years, or ten years. They will know the right platform for you to grow on and the right way to set the website and your business up for success.
Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
4. Your Web Designer Is A Friend or Relative (or even worse #5 below)
There is an old saying that you should “never hire anyone you can’t fire.” While it sounds tempting to save some money and get a friend or relative to create your website for you, unless they are a professional website designer who makes a living doing this, you may want to pass on that one.
If they screw up or are slow, it’s a lot harder to get them to kick things into gear for you. I mean, after all, they are giving you a freebie or a “really deep discount,” right? Or, if you don’t think it looks good when they are complete the site, you probably aren’t going to want to hurt their feelings. And, then you are stuck, because if you send it to a professional to fix, they are going to know you didn’t like it and be hurt.
I have done websites for friends and family before. However, I treat them as if they were a client. They get a place on the job board and project management area in my system, just like any other client. But, keep this in mind if your friend is a professional designer that does this for a living and you aren’t paying them, your job is generally going to get put at the back of the list to work on when they have time. After all, a person has to eat.
Never hire anyone you can’t fire.
5. You Are Your Own Web Designer
I’m going to be blunt here because it is warranted – if you designed your website yourself, and you’re not an actual website developer or graphic designer by profession, the chances are that it sucks! Of course, no one is going to tell you this to your face, if they know you designed it.
It takes years of experience and study to perfect website design and development. It’s not the type of trade you can learn in a few hours. And, just because someone is “good with computers,” it doesn’t make them a “good web designer” by any stretch of the imagination.
And sure, there are website builders like WIX and Squarespace that can get you started, but they won’t do anything to grow your business in terms of SEO and adding future functionality to your site. Nor do they look professional to the average viewing public, after someone who had no idea how to design starts to play with a template and changing things. Plus, these platforms don’t offer you the knowledge and expertise that a real website development person who deals with online marketing every day can.
Let’s say you have a cake decorating business and provide wedding cakes to clients. It took you a while to get good enough actually to charge good money for those cakes, right? Maybe even years. If I tried to bake and decorate a cake for a wedding for a friend, to save them a few bucks, it would – quite frankly – suck! And I know how to bake a cake. It’s just not the same thing!
So why would a cake decorator assume they can build a website that is better than what a web designer can create for them. Do you get my point?
Accept the fact that being good at one thing doesn’t mean you are good at everything.
How To Hire a Good Website Designer
I will follow this article up with how to hire a website designer that doesn’t suck, eventually. But, for now, my suggestion would be to properly vet the person you are hiring to design your website. Ask yourself:
- Does the designer have experience with websites similar to what you are looking for?
- Do they have samples of their work that you can see available? Do these samples appeal to you?
- Are the websites that are in their portfolio still being used by the original clients, or have they moved on to a different design?
- Does the designer do branding work? Do they understand what branding is?
- Do they understand SEO and how to build out a page that is SEO friendly?
- Do they have (real) testimonials from clients?
- Are they willing to take the time to discuss your website goals and ideas with you?
- Are they able to handle the functionality you want to build into your website?
When looking at the work in your potential designers online portfolio, be sure to look up the websites they are claiming to have built for clients. Often website designers will have a small mention at the bottom of a site they have created, in the footer area. If that name isn’t they name of the company you are looking to hire, they may be falsely claiming to have designed the site.
Certainly there are certain circumstances where the footer name may be different, for instance when we do a job for another client’s client and put our original client in the footer as the “web design company” of record. This is called doing white label website design work. Always check with the company after the “designed by” tag line at the bottom of a website to see if the person you are considering hiring was actually involved in the project. Please don’t take their word for it! Sadly, people lie. I have had my sites hijacked many times by so called “designers” who falsely claimed to have been the person who created it.
A professionally designed website is an investment in your business, so you should make sure you research the designer/developer before you hire them. Don’t think with your wallet. Think with your head.
If the idea of actually investing in your website does not sit well with you right now, or you are thinking to yourself how can I get my website done as cheaply as possible, you are probably not quite ready for a website. I firmly believe that a poorly executed website can do more harm to your reputation than having no website at all.
Don’t risk your professional reputation with a cookie-cutter down and dirty website that has not been explicitly customized for your business. It’s not worth it.
I have told some potential clients who just weren’t ready for the financial commitment of a “real website” to get a Facebook business page to start. Although one should never rely on a social media page long-term to be their only online marketing source. They should make sure they are updating it actively.
Many have started there and eventually come to see just how many people are using the web to find them and realize that an investment in a good website is worth it.