So, you are thinking about a new website or sprucing up your old website and you are starting to look for a website designer. But, how do you know if your prospective website designer sucks or not?

As I was perusing Craigslist ads recently, I was stunned at what I was seeing in terms of web design and development offers. Most of their prices are laughable, ridiculous, and some seem even shady to me. $200 for a “custom” website? Seriously? Either this person has some serious self esteem issues and really undervalues their work, their ad 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!

Websites That Suck

If your website looks anything like this then, sorry, your website designer sucks.

I am amazed that people undervalue their company’s website and the work it does as a powerful online marketing tool for their business, by hiring what I see as “website design grifters.” I see 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, yet they will go on Craigslist and look for the absolute dirt cheapest website designer they can find.

That makes no sense to me, in this day and age. People simply don’t pick up the Yellow Pages anymore to find a local service company. They turn to the internet. So why would you put less value on your website then 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 Willing To Charge You Less Than $1000

Okay, in all fairness, even I have broken this rule, from time to time. Either because I was really excited about the project and it’s value as a portfolio piece for me, or because I really wanted to “help someone out.” But, if your website is costing you less than a $1000, no matter how small it is, then chances are your website designer is is very new to the website design game, with little experience, and is trying to build their portfolio, and/or is simply using someone else’s pre-designed template and your website is going to end up looking like hundreds of other websites out there on the internet.

And listen, if they are new to the game, and you are okay with taking that risk, go for it. But, be aware that they aren’t experienced and may not know how to properly setup 401 and 301 redirects to keep your current “search engine juice” flowing, or how to setup Google Analytics or other site stat software. They may strictly be working in WordPress and have no idea of how to customize it in ways you would like to have done. WordPress templates can be very limited in terms of changing them, and often times it can take someone experienced who will spend the time customizing them, and who know how to “massage” them to do what you would like them to do.

Unfortunately, I have seen it happen time and again where a client takes that route, then a few months down the line is not really happy with the result, so they go back to the higher priced website designer to get it fixed. Then it ends up costing them more money in the long run, because they had to have their website built twice.

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 is not giving you the full truth on pricing.

I get calls from potential clients looking for me to give them a flat fee like this, without knowing what the website is going to entail, and it just can’t be done. Aside from some smaller package deals I have for standard informational/brochure-style websites only, where I may offer a flat fee, I can only give an accurate price after an inquiring person has filled out my prospective client questionnaire, and we have chatted. This is so I can be sure I am pricing accurately, based on their expectations for their website.

It’s like someone calling a home builder and saying how much will it cost to build a house? There are so many different factors to consider before giving someone a price — what type of functionality they will need, how many pages the site will be, how interactive it needs to be for their visitors, etc.

Anyone charging a flat fee like this is most assuredly simply putting up a pre-made template and swapping out your photographs, logo and text. Bing. Bang. Boom.

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 others may already have online themselves, just with different text. 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 to be built on, 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 $199!

3. You Found Them On Craigslist

Well, there you go. Chances are if your website designer is doing the two things above, you may have found them on Craigslist! Craigslist is pretty much a place for cheap people (or those that just aren’t sure where else to look) go to find other cheap people to work for them.

Anyone who tells you they are building a “custom designed website” for you for $200 is full of it. Many reputable graphic designers bill out at an hourly rate of $100, and there is no way a fully “custom” website is getting built for you in two hours, even if it was just a one page site. Be very leery of these type of marketing tactics.

It’s more likely that they are grabbing a free WordPress template online and swapping out text and graphics with what you provide them. That is not a “custom website.” And it is not design. Someone who is doing a quality job on a website for their clients will spend many hours doing it. Far more than two, or even four, even for a very small website. Professional web professionals aren’t usually pimping themselves out for $10 an hour.

In all fairness, I may throw an ad on Craigslist now and again, because (a) it’s free and (b) it’s not above me to turn down free, but I never offer a cut-rate budget website in my advertising. As a matter of fact, I never put any price in my ads on Craigslist (see #2 above), and make it pretty clear that if someone is looking for cheap work, I’m not their best choice. I value my time and talents a lot more than that.

Web Designers Suck Craigslist Ad

“Cut rate” and “budget” web designers are cut rate and budget for a reason (and it’s usually not a good one).

4. Your Web Designer Is A Friend or Relative

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 actually are a professional website designer who makes their 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 simply don’t think it looks good, 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 their own 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, if you aren’t paying, your job is generally going to get put at the back of the list to work on when they have time. A person’s gotta eat, right?

5. You Are Your Own Web Designer

Bottom line – if you designed your website yourself, and you’re not an actual website or graphic designer by profession, there’s a 99% chance 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 designer,” by any stretch of the imagination.

Let’s say you have a cake decorating business and provide wedding cakes to clients. It took you a while to get good enough to actually 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 some money, it would – quite frankly – suck!

So why would a cake decorator assume they can build a website that is better than what a web designer can build for them, unless, of course, their previous job entailed them being a web designer. Do you get my point?

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 actually discuss your website goals and ideas with you?
  • Are they able to handle the functionality you want build into your website?

A professionally designed website is an investment in your business, so you should definitely 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 bad website can do more harm to you reputation then having no website at all will do.

Don’t risk your professional reputation with a cookie cutter, down and dirty, templated website. It simply won’t be worth the time invested by a friend or family member for free, or the $200 you invest in a Craigslist design grifter, in the end.

I have told some clients who just weren’t ready for the financial commitment of a “real website” to get themselves a Facebook business page (and make sure you are actively updating it) and put themselves on LinkedIn, to dip their toe into an online presence instead.

Many have started there and eventually come to see just how many people are actually using the web to find them and realize that an investment in a good website is worth it.

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Nora Kramer
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Nora Kramer

Lead Web Designer & Developer at Nora Kramer Designs
Nora Kramer is a website professional and online marketing consultant with over two decades of experience in graphic design, website development and company branding. She also has a passion for photography and writing. Nora received the Charlie Award (1st Place) in 2002 for "Best Magazine Feature Article of the Year" from the Florida Magazine Association.
Nora Kramer
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