How to spot a really bad web design or development company

Having managed a number of website projects for both myself and my clients, I have definitely experienced the good, the bad and the somewhat ugly.

So let me share with you some insight so that you don’t have to go through the stress that I and others have gone through.

Here are the top red flags that, particularly if more than one of these is displayed, indicate that you should run a mile!

Their proposal is lacking detail

Websites are complicated things. To build a good one requires a range of different skillsets combined in a way that I have never seen exist in a single individual. Any website involves a trade-off of different approaches and different priorities. For example ‘I want it to look like this but it won’t work on mobile’ or ‘I have a really unusual style of writing and quirky names but will have to use the category names that people actually search for’.
So to pretend that a website is simple and straightforward is nonsense. To imply that you as a client don’t need to be involved in the detail because you can leave it to the ‘experts’ is scary. To suggest that there is one best way to do it is fallacy. So if the proposal lacks detail then you either need to get clarification on the approach taken towards the key issues or ditch the idea.
How much detail is right in a website proposal? Well, if you are paying £1,000 for a website then you shouldn’t be expecting 50 pages of specification. If you are paying tens of thousands then this may be justified. But one or two pages for a £4k website should ring alarm bells.

They don’t want you to have Content Management System (CMS) access

Strangely, there are still people out there who think that clients being able to control their own website is a terrible idea. Run a mile!
Even if it is a complex website, you should be able to change all text, all images and all page names and titles and banners. And you should be able to add new pages that look like the ones you have already.
Marketing tells us that products don’t live forever. Things change and your company, along with its website must change with it.
If you have a proper CMS and you are trained in it and you do things as directed you will not break your website. And even if you do, it should be backed up ready to be easily restored.

They insist that you use their hosting

Hosting is a separate issue from web design and development. If they can’t make the website that you buy from them work on your chosen hosting provider then they are either incompetent or they are hiding something from you.
If I could say just one thing to all business owners it would be this: Buy your own web domain and hosting directly from the providers of these. There will come a time when you will be glad you did!

They are vague about the basic technology that will be employed

I’m not a developer and I don’t have any level of technical proficiency when it comes to websites. But I do manage two of my own sites. If I know more about the technology than the ‘expert’ taking money to do the job then there is something wrong.
Don’t pay someone for exploring or learning how to do something, unless it’s a completely new, complicated or uncertain concept and therefore warrants a level of consultancy or the sharing of risk.
Your website is either built in html or on one of a number of platforms that uses html. There should be no secrecy about this.

They won’t commit to a price

Related to the above – this could be because they don’t yet know how to do the work and want to be paid to learn it. You shouldn’t buy on this basis.
If you want to experiment fine, but paying a supplier should be in return for expertise.

How to spot a good one? Well, they are the ones who ask intelligent questions (about your business, not just your site) and they demonstrate a degree of flexibility. And they make you think about relevant things that you have not considered. And they come up with good ideas that make your website better than you thought it was going to be.

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