There are no formal qualifications to become a web designer. There are no accreditations and there's no such thing as a chartered web designer. Literally anybody can set themselves up as a web designer, and from what we've seen, literally anybody does.
The vast majority of web designers have never run a successful web business themselves. And almost all of them seem to think that creating a website is just a design process. They can create beautiful websites that don't bring in any business.
So what can you do to avoid the cowboys?
Here are some questions to ask the next time a web designer is pitching for your business.
Who owns my website?
This one is really about covering your back.
We've met countless companies and organisations who had assumed that they owned their website. But, in fact, they were merely renting it. If they wanted to move to another company, they'd need a completely new design and a completely new web address. It is critical for your on-going web strategy that your own the full rights to your domain name and full copyright of your web design.
What are the legal requirements for a website?
If your web designer can't immediately reel off several acts of legislation (and more importantly, the basic implications of these acts) governing websites, then this is a clear sign of somebody that's winging it and doesn't know their industry requirements.
If they can't explain the basics of how the Data Protection Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Companies Act(s), the European E-commerce Directive and the Cookie Law apply to your website, then send them packing straight away.
These are the basics that everyone in our industry should know within their first week of being on the job.
However most websites are breaking many of these laws. We've even heard other web designers using this as an excuse to ignore these laws. "Nobody else is following them, so that's alright then".
Not in our book. The law is the law.
What content management system (CMS) are you using for my website?
If they admit that they won't be using a CMS and you won't be able to make your own updates and additions to the website, then I hope you're not paying more than about £10 for it.
15 years ago, you didn't have much choice. But now, there's just no excuse not to have one.
The next crucial thing to avoid is if they have their own bespoke CMS. They will probably try to make it sound really good, using clever phrases to suggest that it is tailored especially for your type of website. But the truth is that it is just locking you into their business so that you can't escape.
Almost every publically available CMS is intrinsically better than almost every bespoke CMS. There are a wide range of plugins and extensions for the publically available ones; plugins which may be required for some types of online promotion. With a bespoke CMS, you'll usually have to spend a lot of money to have this functionality added just for you.
There is no one size fits all CMS, so avoid any web designers who say we always use X because it's the best. It's not, it's just the first one that they could truly get to grips with and they couldn't be bothered to check out the advantages and disadvantages of all of the other systems available.
How do I promote my website?
This is a good one!
So you thought your website was going to promote YOU? So do most web designers.
We know from hard experience that websites that aren't actively promoted do not even pay for themselves.
So some of them mention SEO.
Woohoo. That's website promotion 101.
And if they say that the website will be already "SEO'd" at the start and that's enough, then that's the sign of someone that knows they're a cowboy. Initial SEO should be a given. Unfortunately it isn't with most companies, but even if it is, that's like laying some building foundations then expecting you to move your furniture in.
SEO is a continuous, and expensive, process.
If they've run out of ideas after SEO, avoid.
If they recommend Google AdWords next, it's probably another sign to avoid them because they are recommending the single most expensive form of pay-per-click advertising.
Don't get me wrong, it's a great tool, but there are usually more cost effective tools to be exhausted first.
If you ask "what else", and they're stuck for answers, you know you need to avoid this company. There are many more promotional techniques, especially for e-commerce websites.
How do I choose where to advertise?
So advertising on Google is expensive, how do you know where else to advertise?
You've cleverly narrowed it down to the websites that your target audience are using, how do you know which of these sites to advertise on?
There are several simple metrics for estimating how effective a site might be for advertising on. A web designer who's worth his salt should be able to explain these to you.
How do I make my own backups of my website?
Oh don't worry about that, we'll handle the backups...
That's all very nice, but trusting your web security to a third party isn't really a sound disaster recovery plan from our experience. Especially if you've only just met them and you are trying to ascertain whether you can trust them. If you can't quickly log into the website and download your own comprehensive backup, you're taking unnecessary risks.
What support will I get?
I'll be honest, we've lost several sales pitches because our monthly costs tend to be higher than our competitors. Most web designers don't charge for support, they just charge for hosting. They're web designers, not IT support after all.
But running a website requires support (otherwise you'd do it all yourself), especially if you're making your own updates with a CMS. And if you're not paying for tech support, you're not going to get tech support. In fact, you'll be lucky if you have your emails answered or your calls returned at all.
It's surprising how many of those lost sales pitches we win back a year or two later when they realise they'd rather pay for a decent support package.
If you're looking for a web design company that can answer your questions (in simple terms), then contact OpenGlobal E-commerce today.