The credit crunch is encouraging many people to take control of their lives by starting their own businesses. Startups often try to keep costs to a minimum by making their web sites themselves. A range of products on the market certainly promise to create a shiny web site in just a few hours for pocket change. But in business, as in life, you get what you pay for. Many business owners are learning the hard way that creating web sites without professional guidance is like keeping the books without an accountant.
As a professional web site designer, about 60% of my work is making second or even third web sites for business owners who started with an “e-z site builder” or, worse, left their web presence to a well-meaning relative. The results for these businesses were web sites which cast their company in a bad light, did not appear in search engines like Google, never tracked visitor statistics, were not visible to all site visitors, or worse, got them in legal hot water.
Why “easy sites” rarely are
In the past year I have created two new sites for businesses who made their first sites in-house using programs like Front Page or off-the-shelf “e-z site” software. They were unaware that these programs did not allow their sites to display properly – if at all – in all browsers. While professional web designers know how to create web sites which display properly on any computer and any browser, some DIY web site programs limit a site’s visibility to a single company’s web browser. One client’s existing company site was invisible to 45% of her site visitors. Would you close your shop to 45% of your potential customers?
Many business owners learn too late that several of the “e-z site” web template companies maintain legal ownership of their companies’ domain names. To buy their own company’s domain name back from the “e-z site” company, they must pay them a four figure sum. No responsible web professional would kidnap a client’s domain name for ransom, but several “e-z site” companies consider it their bread and butter. Could you afford to lose your own company name?
The Scottish Business Blog is filled with excellent resources on search engine optimisation – the art and science of getting your site to rank highly in search engines like Google and Yahoo. SEO has become its own industry which merits full-time professionals. Filling in boxes in a template software package is not SEO. Likewise, web analytics – the technology which tracks your web site visitors – should not be relegated to a few numbers in a template box.
Keeping it in the family?
Many businesses leave their web sites in the hands of well-meaning relatives. This leads to the industry joke about “14 year old nephew syndrome”, where web professionals seemingly compete against a business owner’s 14 year old nephew for their custom. No business owner would dream of saying “my 14 year old nephew is great with maths, so I’m letting him handle my business books”, but why do so many take that exact attitude when it comes to their web sites? Having a Bebo page does not qualify anyone as a professional web site designer.
Leaving a professional web presence to a relative also brings in time-wasting personal issues, including bruised egos. I know one small business owner whose web site is being “held hostage” by its creator, his teenage cousin, who is personally offended that the business owner wants to change it. Naturally, they had no written contract, so the business owner has no option but to wait for his cousin to grow up.
And while a contracted professional will jump when told to do so, a relative is unlikely to treat a business web site as anything more than a casual hobby. I proposed a project to a local business and was turned down on the grounds that the owner’s daughter-in-law’s brother has been promising to make them a web site – for over 18 months.
Look, mum, I made this myself!
For some businesses, the problems caused by homemade web sites go beyond personal issues. In business, image is everything, and a DIY web site suggests business owners who cut corners. Homemade web sites send out the message that “I haven’t made it yet, so buy my product and maybe I’ll be able to afford a real web site someday.” Site visitors and potential customers will assume that the business has cut corners with its products and services as well.
Finally, there are also legal risks in creating a web site without professional guidance. One of my clients made her first web site herself at home. Shortly after launching, she received a bill for £2,000 for using a photograph on the site without the permission of its copyright owner. A professional web designer would have secured copyright permissions or used license-free images. Instead, her effort to pinch pennies cost her more in legal penalties than a professional web site would have cost in the first place. The cost to her confidence as a business owner was incalculable.
The bottom line
Some of the “e-z site” packages seem to enjoy rubbishing professional web sites – and their designers – as “complex”, “technical”, and “expensive.” But to quote a Scottish Business Forums member, “If you think professionals are expensive, then just wait until you see how much amateurs cost”. Web sites are complex and they are technical. But they are not expensive. Cleaning up the damage caused by homemade web sites, “e-z site” builders, and bruised family egos is what costs companies far more than they budgeted for in the long run.
A trained web professional will take a genuine interest in helping you and your business to succeed. Whatever issue arises with your web site – whether it involves search engine optimisation, visitor tracking, legal requirements, e-commerce, marketing, copywriting, design, security, or the brave new frontier of web 2.0 - your professionally trained web site designer will work with you throughout the life of your site to give you the best web presence possible.
You just won’t get that in a DIY kit. Get your web site right the first time – hire a professional.
Article written by Heather Burns
Idea15 Web Design