A lament for the ones who get away

By Updated: March 26, 2018

It’s always disappointing when a potential client chooses another web designer. We’ve spent time talking with them, listening to their requirements, planning the best way to approach the project and preparing a written proposal – so by then we’ve started to build a relationship with the client and are looking forward to working together.

But what’s more disappointing comes slightly later when I check out their new website. I always make a habit of doing this as it helps us learn where we might have gone wrong and improve our services. But literally every time I’ve done this, the end result has been vastly inferior to the website we would have provided.

I’m not just speaking from pride – there are concrete reasons why they have genuinely ended up with inferior websites. A brief analysis of three recent(ish) examples – which I won’t name for obvious reasons – include the following problems:

  • Static websites built using outdated software such as Dreamweaver or Frontpage that the client can’t easily update themselves. Such sites can cause future problems – and expense – as they’re harder to maintain and less future-proof than websites using a content management system such as WordPress.
  • Non-compliance with modern web standards.
  • Old-fashioned table based layouts rather than CSS.
  • Lazy or misguided web design techniques such as embedding the company name and other important keywords within image files – disastrous for search engine optimisation!
  • Very basic, featureless designs and layouts that were presumably sold as a custom design, but in truth are probably based on templates shared with other clients – a far cry from the quality you’d expect from a professional web designer, or indeed most premium WordPress themes.
  • Badly installed plugins with no attempt at integration with the website’s overall look and feel – for example, e-commerce plugins and discussion forums lazily bolted onto the site with no visual customisation, creating an unprofessional and mis-matched result.
  • General lack of attention to detail – inconsistent fonts, colours, spacing etc.

But most surprising – in each of these cases, the website failed to meet the requirements that the client had originally provided to us!

If the client is happy, surely that’s what matters?

You could argue that not everyone shares our view of what makes a good website. That’s true, but the examples I’ve just discussed were clients who had approached us with a very clear idea of what they wanted. We’d carefully ensured that our written proposals met all their requirements, yet they went with a quote that failed to meet these requirements.

What did the clients think of the websites they received? I can only assume they’re reasonably happy as the project was completed and the website launched. There may be an element of wishful thinking involved – after all, once you’ve invested money in something, you want to believe it’s been spent wisely. And of course, they have no way of knowing what they would have received from a different company.

So does it matter? Well, yes. Even if the website owner is happy, their customers may be more discerning. Your website is your shopfront, after all. Not meeting modern web standards can limit a site’s position in the search engines, which no one wants. And you can get stung in the long-run if your site is less future-proof and expensive to maintain.

So yes, they are genuinely worse off even if they think they’ve got a good deal.

Why does this happen? I guess it all comes down to two things, which are closely related: Budget and Communication.

Choosing the cheaper option

The problem with web design is that prices vary so much. A basic information site can cost anything from £100 to several thousands, so you need a pretty good reason to go for the higher end.

Actually, there are excellent reasons to avoid the cheaper end of the market (and also the most expensive end, but that’s another story…). But web design is such a complex area, how can people know what to look out for? Most people – quite understandably – don’t know what makes good web design. They don’t know to raise their eyebrows when they’re promised a custom designed website for a few hundred quid.

The fact that you can get a website so cheaply can make it hard to justify spending any more than this. Yet people naturally expect a good service and a professional end result. How do they know this simply isn’t possible for this price?

At Barn2 Media, we don’t claim to be the cheapest (or the most expensive). We did try to be the cheapest once, in our previous incarnation as Cadover Creative web design. But we soon learned that it’s impossible to design good quality websites for the prices that some web designers charge. We weren’t prepared to sacrifice on quality, so we stopped targeting this end of the market.

We firmly believe that our prices are reasonable. We listen carefully to each client’s requirements and make tailored recommendations on the best way to achieve their aims given their budget. For example, rather than offering an expensive bespoke web design to a client on a tight budget, we may recommend a premium WordPress theme.

Themes are a big issue. We’ve thought about this carefully and genuinely believe that premium themes are the best option for many clients on a budget. But if another web designer is offering a custom design for a cheaper price, people will naturally be drawn to that option – unaware that it won’t be anywhere near as professional as a pre-designed theme. Given the limited number of hours they can afford for a web designer to spend on their website, it’s simply impossible to put the same amount of time or attention to detail into a custom design as have been spent on the premium themes.

During initial consultations, many clients say they want a cost-effective website but are prepared to pay a bit more for quality. I know we offer that extra quality and it’s worth it, so why do some people still choose the cheapest option?

Communication

Which brings us onto Communication. We’re obviously not communicating clearly enough to help people make an informed decision.

It’s not easy. Like I said, the average person can’t be expected to know what makes a good web designer. We use our written proposals to outline the issues and make it clear what they’re paying for (future-proof, standards-based web design, search engine friendly, etc.). We back this up when we speak with potential clients. But this obviously isn’t enough.

So we’ve got our work cut out. All we can do is keep listening, learning and helping to educate clients about what to look out for.

Katie Keith

An active member of the global WordPress community, Barn2 Co-Founder Katie loves collaborating with other plugin companies. Her articles have been published on high profile sites including WPTavern, Torque and IndieHackers. She oversees all plugin support and deals with 'Tier 2' support requests about how to use Barn2's plugins in advanced ways.

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