I am often called upon to perform ‘website rescues’ – situations where clients can’t get any satisfaction from their incumbent web professionals or in some cases can’t make contact with them at all.
It was at a business event recently when I came across yet another.
In this case the business operator standing next to me told me how difficult and/or expensive it was for her to make what amounted to simple content additions to her website.
I told her that this shouldn’t be difficult to achieve these days so made a time to go visit her to find out what was going on.
As it turned out, it didn’t take long to find out.
After having a look at her website and checking the underlying technology, it appears her web designer had made two fundamental errors that were leading to unnecessary cost and complexity.
No editing capability
First he failed to underpin her website with a content management system (CMS) with which she or her staff could make ongoing day-to-day alterations to text, images and menus amongst other things.
This meant that she had to send her list of alterations to the web designer every time she wanted to make a simple alteration to her website.
And naturally her designer would charge her handsomely for that privilege. A privilege that amounted to thousands of dollars over the four years the site had been operational.
Secondly, he failed to make the website ‘extensible’ – setting it up so that future functionality requirements could be cheaply and easily accommodated.
So when the business operator wanted to do two pretty basic alterations – changing her contact details on the website and adding a blog, the designer’s charge was nearly $2500.
Had the website been established with an extensible platform including CMS, she would have been up for little more than $50 and potentially – depending on the platform chosen – a small increment in the hosting and/or license fee.
In other words, without these in place, the charge was a whopping 50 times more than it needed to be. And that doesn’t include the range of other simple alterations she’s required over the website’s lifetime.
Needless to say the business operator is now re-assessing continuing with her current designer.
Guidance not briefing
Whenever I blog or post about situations like the one this business operator has endured, I often get howled down by a surprising number of web professionals.
‘Caveat emptor’ they cry. Or ‘she clearly didn’t brief them correctly’ shout others.
But I disagree. Smaller business operators are especially vulnerable when it comes to technology and they rely on professionals to guide them as well as provide a service to them.
So we professionals in turn need to ensure that we outline what future alteration costs will look like with the technology we recommend and not just what might have been briefed.
The only place these pros are guiding clients like this is down the garden path.
However, smaller business operators can also ensure they aren’t taken for this kind of ride by practising these fundamentals.
1. It’s much more than the design
Unfortunately, because it’s a world they are more familiar with, the largest component of the business operator’s decision to proceed with a provider is based on their design portfolio – or how the website looks.
Obviously it’s important that the design be as appealing and professional as possible but not at the expense of the other critical factors like technology platform, extensibility, usability, search engine optimisation, writing and more.
2. Ensure there is a CMS
Even if you don’t think you will be altering your website that often, you should still ensure your website has a CMS so as to allow you or your staff to make unlimited alterations to your website content. These days there should be little difference in price between your website having a CMS installed and not.
3. Ensure the impartiality of your provider
Never assume that the provider is recommending technology with your interests in mind. Ask them what other platforms they considered when quoting and, better still, ask for a second quote for the same website using another platform.
Remember that in most cases – and despite what many developers say – it’s not necessary for your platform to be ‘Open Source’ (allowing developers to freely alter the functionality ‘code’). In most cases (for SMEs at least), these introduce more bug, upgrade, security and other maintenance issues and expense than the company-owned platforms on the market, unlike larger businesses who can afford resources to manage these issues.
How well has your web professional set up your website for ongoing alterations?
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.