Have you ever watched Cowboy Builders, that daytime TV guilty pleasure presented by the inimitable Dominic Littlewood and Melinda Messenger? If you haven’t, you’ve clearly never had a day off sick in your life, and I applaud you. It exposes cowboy builders: builders who don’t follow the rules, who completely botch jobs and leave homes unlivable and on the verge of collapse, and run off into the sunset holding their large wad of cash. Well, here at Acrylic Digital we think there should be a web developer version.
As the world becomes more and more internet-based (and particularly with the pandemic which has caused online sales to rocket), your website is more important than ever. But use a dodgy web developer, and you’re going to end up with a website that pushes people away rather than beckons them in.
What Does Poor Website Development Look Like?
There are two stages to a website build – website design and website development. You can picture the designer as an architect; they map out the site, decide what should be on there, where it should go and how it should all link together. They also double up as the interior designer – they make sure that the finished product looks great and is perfectly usable. On the other side of the coin, the web developer will take the designer’s plan and build it into a fully-functioning website.
Some people carry out both functions – you’ll be able to find plenty of web design/developers out there. Most digital marketing agencies offering websites will have both a website designer and a website developer, who will work in tandem (that’s how we work at Acrylic).
Poor website design and poor website development will both make your website pretty shocking. We have some unfortunate tales of woe from some unlucky (eventual) clients of ours…
The Website In A Box
This is a story of bespoke vs off-the-shelf web development.
A company approached us for a website quote, which we gave to them (along with an outline of all of the requirements for a functional, custom-built website). They decided to go with an online website in a box company instead, which cost them £399.
On the face of it, websites in a box can seem like a great idea for someone with a limited budget and minimal knowhow. But there’s an age-old lesson here: you get what you pay for.
The website provided was poor. There was no consistency with colours, layouts and fonts and the quality of writing was not up to standard. It took eight months of stress to get the website live, and they were understandably not happy with the finished product.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next – they came back to us to ask if we could fix it. However, it wasn’t as easy as just changing some fonts; the website had to be completely rebuilt to meet their requirements. They paid the same amount as we originally quoted, and had to write the £399 off as a lesson learned.
The Plugin Addict
Even if something looks good on the surface, it might not be all it seems underneath. A local company approached us about their website. It was doing alright, but they wanted a rebrand and added functionality – fair enough.
When we opened the hood on the website, though, we unearthed all sorts of horrors. The previous developer hadn’t been optimising the website and had just kept installing plugins. This meant that the site was consistently at 99% CPU usage. We had to optimise the website before we could even begin.
The lesson here? Always make sure that your web designer is also a web developer and not just someone who relies on prebuilt solutions. Otherwise? You can end up with a website that looks pretty, but doesn’t function properly – and that’s going to put off your customers.
How To Tell If A Web Developer Is A Crook, A Con Or A Charlatan…
If you want to avoid falling into a dodgy web developer trap, here are some simple ways to check if they’re the real deal or about to take you for a ride.
They Don’t Have A Website
Let’s be real, why wouldn’t a web developer have a website? It’s literally what they do. There are two reasons why this might be the case. Number one, they’re too busy to make their own website (unlikely, and any web developer worth their salt will know that not having one looks BAD), or number two, they’re not really very good at what they do, and don’t want to show you.
They Have A Website But It’s Ugly Or Out Of Date
It’s easy to imagine a web developer’s website as their portfolio. It’s the easiest place for them to show you what they can do. Take a look at this website, for example. Yes, this is a website for a company that sells websites. Would you use them? Didn’t think so.
Their website doesn’t need to be the fanciest website in the world, but it does need to be clear, functional, fast and easy to use – otherwise you can be sure that they don’t know what they’re doing.
They Can’t Provide Any Examples Of Past Work Done
As with any other professional, it’s always a good idea to get some examples of past work done to make sure that they’re up to scratch. Any good web developer will give you a list of websites that they have worked on (or have them displayed on their own website) so that you can check out their work. If they’re shady and won’t give you any examples, steer well clear – no matter how cheap they are.
They Don’t Give You An Adequate Breakdown Of The Work That Will Be Done
This is one of the most important points, in our humble opinion. This is how you find out what you will be paying for, and how good the web developer will be. Be very, very wary of companies who, when you ask for a website quote, simply come back with a figure. You won’t know how much work they’re going to put in, you won’t know what they will be doing and you certainly won’t know if it’s good value for money.
The best website developers will provide you with a full breakdown of the work, with itemised costs so you know exactly what you will be getting. The bonus point is that if someone put a lot of work into giving you your quote, you know they will put a lot of work into your website, too.
They Avoid Your Questions
Many of the very best salespeople do this (and many politicians, too…), and it’s an age-old tactic for hiding a lack of knowledge. It’s all too easy to throw out lots and lots of words and not answer a question at all. Our top tip – write down a list of questions to ask your web developer (whether this is face-to-face, over the phone or by email). If more questions come up during the conversation, write those down too. At the end of your chat, go through the list and ask yourself which of the questions were answered.
They Have No Understanding Of SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is just about content, so if your web developer isn’t writing your content then they don’t need to know about SEO, right?
One of the biggest ranking factors that can get you to the top of Google is the user experience. This means a fast, easy to navigate website which is clear and simple to use. If your website loads slowly, there is no way that your visitors are going to hang around to read your content – they will just head off somewhere else.
Your web developer not only needs to know about SEO, it needs to be at the forefront of their mind as they build your website.
They Suggest You Include Outdated Tools
You don’t need to be up-to-date with all of the latest web design and development trends to know when something that is clearly outdated is being suggested. Tools such as a visitor counter, or links to social media websites that are no longer popular, are an obvious red flag. If you’re not sure whether the tools are outdated or not, have a browse of other websites which are smart and modern. Do they have them? If not, why not? (Don’t be afraid to ask your web developer this question!)
You Can’t Get Hold Of Them
Building a website can be a long process, and if you struggle to get hold of your developer it can take even longer. As with any project, seamless communication is a huge positive. If getting in touch before you have even started is arduous, what’s going to happen if there are website teething problems when it goes live?
Bear all of these points in mind and you stand the best chance of avoiding a potentially costly mistake.
How To Find An Honest Web Developer
For all the crooks, there are good web developers out there. Your website is the ‘shop window’ for your company, and you want it to be as good as it can be. Here are some ways to check if your chosen web developer is likely to do a good job:
- Have they mentioned a responsive mobile design? Most searches now take place on mobile, and your site needs to look just as good on a mobile browser as it does on a desktop.
- Are they knowledgeable about SEO? As we mentioned above, for a website to rank highly it needs to run smoothly and quickly.
- Do they care about analytics? The behaviour of your audience will show how successful your website is – for example, do they hang around and browse other pages or do they quickly click away?
- Will they keep you informed? Will they regularly communicate the status of the project and any unforeseen costs?
- Are they responsive and creative? Often with web development, something in the design won’t work properly. You want a web developer who will spot this and work to find an awesome solution.
The very best website developers will be as passionate about your website as you are, and they will help you to make it succeed.
But What About Web Design?
Great website design is just as important as superb website development. You will want both of these elements to work in tandem with each other to ensure that your website is modern, aesthetically pleasing and effective.
You’re not going to get a brilliant, high ranking website if one or the other is lacking.
If you’re terrified that you’ve just learnt how to avoid a dodgy web developer and now you’re going to end up with a terrible web designer, never fear! Companies like ours will manage both the web design and web development for you, so you can be confident that both parts will be working beautifully side by side.
At Acrylic Digital, we know exactly how valuable your website can – and should – be. Because of that, we put as much care and attention into your site as we would our own. If you’re ready to take the next step, pick up the phone and give us a call or book a consultation below. Just remember to have all of those questions ready – our web developers LOVE talking about their skills!
Our Creative Content Specialist, Harriet Young, is a prolific blogger, Instagrammer and (almost) published author. A self-confessed book addict, Harriet loves to read, write and photograph books in her spare time - a hobby which transfers beautifully into her role of writing creative content for our wonderful clients.