A website is a must-have for anyone starting a business. Whether you are starting a bakery or a lawn mowing company or a virtual assistant business, you need to have a web presence starting with a website.
However, are you prepared to put in the effort to creating a website? Do you have the technical know how to design and create a website? Do you know how to maintain and manage a website?
If you are like many business owners out there, you will need help creating a site. And an option is to find an expert to develop your site for you. You can outsource your website creation, even its management, to a web designer or web development company.
However, before you outsource, you need to be aware of the pitfalls of using someone else to develop and manage your website.
The $25,000 Fiasco
Let me tell you the experience of this organization that I’ve been helping. They outsourced the creation of one of their sites to a company (not a tech person, but to a full fledged web development firm). The cost of the site was $25,000, which was launched in January.
What did they get for $25,000? All they got was a WordPress-created blog with a customized header. WordPress, of course, costs nothing. So basically, that $25,000 was for the theme design (not even a premium paid theme but a basic free WordPress theme), header and custom colors.
But it gets more interesting.
One of the best features of WordPress is the ability to install plugins to expand the website’s functionality. But the vendor locked in the plugins, and the client cannot update or install new plugins without going through the vendor. To update or install a new plugin, the client is billed for 1-2 hours of maintenance work.
The client was given access to the admin panel so they can add content and moderate comments, but the client cannot touch any of the settings, edit any HTML files or stylesheets, or change any of the plugins. To install the verification code of Google Webmaster Tool – a 2-minute task – the client is charged for 1 hour.
The vendor also installed its own Google Analytics on the site, not the organization’s GA code. The vendor did not even share the web analytics report to the client. So the client had no idea what type of traffic the site has been getting. The vendor really tightened their noose on this organization, making sure that the client has nowhere to go but to the vendor for anything regarding the site.
And that’s not all. The worst part is that the vendor has set the website to block all search engine robots from crawling the site. The $25,000 site was invisible to the search engines. As a result, the site got zero search engine traffic, from the time the site was launched in January to April. As in nada, zilch. Zero traffic from Google, which is enough to bring any Webmaster quaking on their feet.
Normally, you block the search engines when you are still developing the website, but allow search engines to index the site when it becomes live. Apparently, the vendor forgot to change the settings when the site became live.
They asked for my help as to why the site cannot even be found in Google when they try to search for the site’s exact name. One of the first things I insisted on was for the vendor to share the Google Analytics report to the client. The site initially got traffic when they did Google Adwords, but traffic flat lined after the end of their 2-week pay per click campaign. I changed the website’s settings to allow search engines to crawl the site, and submitted a sitemap to Google.
So basically, the client paid $25,000 to create a site that nobody got to see.
Lessons for the Small Business Entrepreneur
The above experience, unfortunately, is not an isolated case. Many web design companies and vendors are ripping off small business owners, mainly because these entrepreneurs don’t understand the process of creating and maintaining a website. They are fleeced with maintenance costs because they have no idea how much time is really involved with a particular task. When the bill comes for an hour of work, these small entrepreneurs do not know that it only took the vendor 5 minutes to complete the task.
So what lessons can you learn from the experience of this organization?
- Learn as much as you can about website creation. I am not saying that you become proficient in CSS or start to write PHP code (though it would be great if you could!), but try to get some basic understanding of HTML. For example, understand how to write metatags and where to put in title and description tags of your website.
- Understand the website design and management process. Don’t run away from terms such as FTP, which you need to publish your content to the Internet. If you are using a content management system such as WordPress, read tutorials about the topic to learn how things work. Don’t be afraid to poke around the backend of your site.
- Insist on retaining control of your site. Once the site development is complete, ask the vendor to hand everything to you. You need to control the files, the FTP access, and yes, even the web analytics component. Make sure that the contract clearly specifies the ownership and control of the site.
- Carefully choose the website maintenance tasks that you will outsource. Installing an ad server may be something you’d like to outsource, but do you really want to pay a vendor to add a comma on that sentence? Know which tasks you can easily do, and which ones require much more technical knowledge.
Do you have any experience with regards to web design or web development vendors ripping you off? Share it to us by adding your comments below.