Like a geeky Bisto kid, I can sniff out a dud SEO and poor web development from a mile off. I’ve worked with a lot of great designers, agency and freelance, over the years but too many times there’s been digital charlatans in the mix. One of the things I’m asked when a relationship twixt client and web dev agency is breaking down is “Is my web designer ripping me off?”. In those situations the answers tend to be stock; “No! They just need a little guidance is all – we’ll help ‘em out”, “Yes – but I’m not sure they’ve realised. Maybe it’s time for a change…” and, occasionally, “Yes. And they’re spending their ill-gotten gains on Jetskis. This must end”
To make sure you get the website you deserve (and paid for). Here’s the 13 warning signs that your web designer might be ripping you off.
1. You got access no areas
It doesn’t really matter if you’re a technical titan or positively Amish. When the keys to your website content management system are being dangled above your hungry little palm, they should be the full set. You might not be making regular changes to the more static elements of your site, but it’s your property and you should be able to. Sadly, it’s a known urge among some web design companies to tether you to their services by limiting your capacity to fully manage your site. More about these nefarious tactics later…
2. They don't like to share
Google Analytics are your friend. And as with any good friend you want open communication and the ability to introduce them to other friends. Good agencies will set up a unique Gmail account, with your company as the owner and the agency as administrator – not the other way around. This means you can add, remove and edit permissions at will.
3. You ain't owning it, bae
If you’re just starting out, your developer may well register your domain name for you. Check they have created the registration under the company name, not their own or their company’s, or you may not own your website.
4. They've not heard of SEO
A lead web developer on a project worth £20K+ recently said the words "SEO? What's that?" in a client meeting. He wasn't joking. Google is nearly 20. This guy hadn't heard of SEO?? Alarm bells should be annihilating your ear drums if your developers have not even heard of the concept or best practice for SEO or fail to speak to you about your plans to optimise your site. They may not handle it in-house, which is fine. They may not even have a recommended supplier for you (though this is still a little iffy…). But if SEO isn’t mentioned at all or isn’t in the company vernacular? Run for the hills.
5. You get meaningless reports
You know how you love to be super-impressed by ‘experts’ spouting cryptic jargon and consequently furnishing your Outlook with reams of impenetrable Dulux-tastic charts? Nah, me neither. You’ve entrusted a vital part of your marketing to your dev crew, paid a retainer, then every month they send you useless information with baffling pie charts and over-wrought infographic elements that you don’t understand or engage with. Who does this serve? It’s your business, and you know your goals. Work collaboratively with your dev team – decide what information is meaningful to you and ask that they formulate reports to suit your needs.
6. They practice Search Engine Obfuscation
Does it sometimes feel like your agency contact is creating smoke-and-mirror-flavoured obstructions, rather than answering your query? As with the above issue, some businesses I’ve come across breed a culture where it’s better to obfuscate than to be transparent. Insist on clarity, straightforward and productive conversations - and no frickin’ buzzwords.
7. They're a bit too old skool
I'm all for Old Skool. My commitment to the electric blue Adidas Gazelle despite the plantar fasciitis it gives my ailing 46 year old plates is testament to that. But some web developers take it too far. For instance, if your website has been built on an ASP framework, you could legitimately question if your dev has a grasp on what decade we’re in. Microsoft superceded this technology with .NET around the time Saddam Hussein dropped off this mortal coil, so, while ASP "supported" for this for the next few years, you might want to look into sourcing a more progressively-minded agency.
8. You're not up to date
The Meta Generator Version Check, available for the price of a London pint (£6.39) from the ChromeStore, is a browser extension that checks the meta generator tag to see if it the web page is created from an outdated version of software. Your dev team should be proactive in telling you if your website needs an update. If they’re remiss about this, what else are they snoozing on?
9. Their support's an afterthought
So, your site has been signed off, launched, and is winging its way across global DNS, enchanting millions. But wait! In all the excitement you’ve realised there’s another raft of colleagues that need training on the CMS, you’ve forgotten to add this widget to the wotsit and…the list goes on. Turning to your support contract, you realise it covers exactly sod all, and you have no mention of, let alone reassurance of response time SLAs. Don’t be the shame-faced loser shuffling to your boss’s door with this kind of news. Check your ickle print and, if in doubt, check their competitors’ ts and cs and see how they stack up. Or get in touch and ask us - we can help separate the wheat from the sheeeiiit.
10. You want Alt Text? Shmaltext!
You’ve read in an SEO blog that alt text is important but your developer says otherwise. Alt text is not just important for SEO but vital for accessibility and this should not only be understood by your dev, but advocated and promoted as the first principle of web accessibility.
11. Their images are out of stock
If your designer uses any of these pictures on their website ditch them - or simply get used to a life of tinnitus from the alarm bells sounding in your noggin. You brought it on yourself.
12. They cite old data to justify nonsense
If your development team cite old data/stats to you by way of advice on good web content – for example, recommending a YouTube video on your home page, (a good idea back in 2009) – firstly; pull them up on it and watch them shrivel. Secondly; well, you know the drill by now – leg it.
13. They're not image conscious
Get worried if your web developer is negligent with the use of images. This includes using dodgy file names that don’t incorporate your search terms and are merely a series of automated or scrambled characters (see lack of SEO knowledge above) and also if they use images that are not optimised for speed of download (check out your images' current performance using a tool like PageSpeed Insights from Google).
So, what does a great web designer look like?
- Goal-orientated – they’ll understand your objectives and be proactive in finding solutions that meet your acquisition requirements.
- Honest – they’ll talk to you straight, with no fluff or extraneous bobbins and they’re chockers with ideas of great tools and ways for you to enhance the site as your understanding of the user journey develops.
- Responsive – they’ll listen to you, they pick up the phone and they answer emails. You can be confident they give a monkeys about your site as much as you do.
- They’re transparent, their pricing is competitive and makes sense.
- They love what they do. This should be obvious in their portfolio, from recommendations and in their attitude to your project.
I love good designers and often, it’s the clients that are berks.
By way of a caveat/disclaimer/platitude to hard-working devs – there are obviously two sides to the coin. It’s not always easy being a developer or an account manager in a word of marketers. We aren’t strangers to woeful tales of labyrinthine email ‘feedback’ chains with seemingly limitless stakeholders poisoning the proverbial broth for our hardworking contractors. And we’ve seen some of the briefs that clients submit to our coding community. And, come to mention it, what is it with marketers thinking developers are designers?
We’ve all got to learn to live together, people!
Play nice. Communicate. Mind your ts and cs. Make a nice website. Get it found.