I hate telling people their websites suck.
Maybe I just have one of those faces. For some reason, people insist on hiring incompetent programmers, and when it doesn’t work out, they come to me. Like a girls’ soccer team at Panera Bread, these guys leave a big mess, and it’s up to me to clean it up.
You Get What You Pay For – Usually
There are some very talented, conscientious, relatively inexperienced web developers in the world. I know, because I used to be one of them. These folks are hungry and they’re trying to build a portfolio. They’ll do an excellent job for you, usually at a price that’s well below market rate.
Unfortunately, those developers are one in a million. The web market is overwhelmed by fly-by-night operations and kids who took two web development classes in college and are hanging around waiting to see if they got into the Peace Corps. If you’re looking to do something good, but cheap, how can you tell the difference?
The short answer is…you kind of can’t. Unless you have the money to do it twice, be very careful.
If you do decide to take a chance on a developer who has a limited portfolio, check references. Be sure to ask, not only about the work product, but about the experience of working with the developer. Did the client feel supported? Was work completed on time? Is the site getting found by search engines? Were the business aspects of the project – quotes, contracts and invoices – handled professionally?
Master of Your Domain
Think you own your domain? Think again. Your cheap-o web developer may have registered your domain in his own account, leaving you high and dry should he disappear.
This isn’t always as nefarious as it sounds. Sometimes developers do this because it’s easier and they’re in a hurry. They just want to get the site up, and they figure they can change it later. The problem is, they almost always forget.
The agony of having to recover a domain name that has been hijacked in this way cannot be overstated. I have a policy: any process that requires faxing anything, especially your driver’s license, is to be avoided.
If your web developer registers your domain name for you, make sure he or she lists your company as the registrant and that you are an administrative contact.
If you’re not sure about the status of your domain, you can look it up yourself here.
Passwords Are Your Problem
Many site owners don’t think they need to worry about their own passwords. They’re almost proud of it: “Heck, we don’t even know where our site is hosted! Our web guy handles that!”
That’s great, until he disappears. Sorry, but it happens.
I once had a colleague who had all her clients’ websites hosted with a local guy. She trusted him completely. She had no idea where the files were physically located or how to get to them. One day, he stopped answering the phone. She drove by his house and knocked on his door. He was gone, and so were all of her clients’ sites.
It’s not enough to get a copy of your website, especially if it’s updated often. You need to know who hosts your site and what the passwords are. Even if you don’t know what all that gibberish means, your next web developer will, and you just made her job a whole lot easier.
Pretty Isn’t Good Enough
I got a call from a new client about a week ago. “We love the look of our site,” she said, “but it doesn’t seem like it’s being found by the search engines.”
One quick look at the code told us why. The original developer was loading all the text content out of a database using Ajax, so none of her copy was exposed.
In other words, some hair-brained developer had used some fancy tech to render her site completely invisible. Why? We’ll never know.
Remember, your website is your brand. Don’t let the tech get in the way. Find a web developer you can trust, and make sure you ask a ton of questions. You’ll be glad you did.