web designers Cowboys?
What do you think of your web
Over the last few years we have
quietly, but at every opportunity, been asking this question
to business owners, marketing directors and executives
responsible for their company website whether for
commissioning, developing or maintaining their online
presence. We also asked if they were happy with the website
that the developer had provided, or if they thought it was
bringing tangible benefit to their business. The responses
were sharply divided. It seems that the businesses'
experience of Web developers is like Marmite: you either
love them or hate them.
Shockingly, over 80% of respondents
reported a 'poor' or 'very poor' experience of working with
a website developer or designer. Many made comments that
were very uncomplimentary toward their web developers. Some
stated that they felt they had been, "Taken for a ride," by
those who had either baffled them with technology and
jargon, or had - deliberately or otherwise - raised their
expectations beyond what was feasible with the investment
they were making. One had invested tens of thousands with a
web development company to build an online presence for
their business and now has a website that not only makes no
contribution to any business objective, neither has it
produced a single enquiry. The overall impression that we
gained from our research to date and a term used by more
than one unhappy respondent was that web developers are: "A
load of cowboys."
These poor experiences have a knock-on
effect, not just for those who have been unhappy with their
outcomes but for the web development and internet marketing
industries as a whole. It results in an increased conviction
that all web developers were likely to be the same, and that
there was no-one out there who could be trusted. In
addition, the inclination to invest any further resources
and capital on online promotion of their business was
greatly reduced. "We've done that and it didn't work," was a
What do the web developers have to
To balance the picture we also surveyed
web developers and web design companies to see if we could
identify what had created this tale of woe from businesses.
Many were unaware of the situation and
some were quite frank in their derision of business owners.
Common responses included:
"They don't know what they are
"We're not telepathic you know!"
"They don't understand what is
"We never get the right
"They keep changing their minds,
often before the previous changes are completed."
Each side seemed to blame the other for
what might be interpreted as a straightforward breakdown in
So why does this happen?
There are no doubt numerous reasons,
but focusing on the communication issue, we asked the web
developers if they ever asked for, or received, a web design
brief from their clients. The majority response was:
"Rarely!" The design briefs received mostly consisted of a
single page of vague information that lacked the detail and
specifics required. Although they usually included requests
for things that far exceeded the budget or amount the
business owner was willing to spend and were full of wish
lists and 'good' ideas that require bespoke development or
even new technology (for the words 'bespoke' and 'new', read
- interchangeably - 'difficult' and 'expensive')!
Whose job is it?
Isn't it part of the web developers job
to write the brief? Actually, no it isn't, it is the
responsibility of the business owner to communicate their
requirements, their goals, their current situation and
future plans. After all, as more than one developer pointed
out, "We're are not telepathic you know!"
In addition, the pressure of trying to
keep a small web development business running (let alone in
profit) in this ever increasingly competitive industry means
that there is no time or other resources to be teaching the
business owner how to write a web design brief, even though
it would create a better outcome for everyone. For the
majority of situations, there is often no clear or effective
communication, more a case of asking questions of the
business owner - which they often don't understand clearly,
which is no-ones fault - to get some sort of outline and
then on with the job of designing and building the website.
Our experience - Web developers
Our experience indicates that the
majority of web developers really want to do the best job
they can for their clients.
They have the skills and knowledge to
build websites that could work for their clients'
businesses. They have the equipment and resources to carry
out the work. We also observe however that there are web
developers who mistake the functionality of the software
that they use for their own creative skills. Ultimately over
a period of more than a decade we have encountered very few
who would deliberately, "Take their client for a ride," as
some businesses have claimed.
Our experience - Businesses
Websites for businesses create a
particular quandary for the business owner, manager or
similar. There seems to be a huge barrier of technology and
jargon to break through to be able to even speak the same
language as the web development world. In addition, it is
very difficult for anyone without extended experience to
make any kind of value judgement about what is good or bad.
Consider a different situation: whether you eat in a
restaurant often or not, because you do eat every day, if
you go into a restaurant, it is possible to make some kind
of judgement as to whether you had a good experience,
whether the food was good, whether the service was
acceptable or excellent. Of course this is subjective to
your own preferences and experiences, but at least you
understand what a restaurant is, what it is supposed to do
or be for and so on.
In our survey we ask a further question
of businesses: "What is your website for, why did you get a
website?" Very few offered any kind of clear response, the
most common being: "Because we needed a website," or
"Because our competitors had one." We also hear: "To
generate sales/leads/enquiries etc." quite often, which is
at least focused on business, but is nowhere near specific
enough to be called an objective.
If it is not common for businesses to
even understand what the website is for, or why they are
getting one developed, how can it be possible for them to
make a judgement on what is good or bad, other than it
produces no results. Even this judgement requires something
to measure the results - or lack thereof - against.
Management by abdication
In so many cases the business abdicates
responsibility for the website to a web developer in the
mistaken belief that 'they know best'. While the web
developer knows about websites, they are likely to know
little or nothing about the client's business and even less
about the customers who will use the website. Together with
the lack of communication between the web developer and the
business owner it is not difficult to see why so many
websites are poorly designed, deliver bad user experiences
and ultimately poor or no results for the business.
Is there a solution?
The first step to a solution is to
address the communication problem. It is clear that there
must be effective communication and the first stage of this
would normally take the form of a clear and concise website
The website design brief
The last time we reported on web design
briefs we had surveyed 57 web development companies, further
surveying has now brought this number to nearly 100. While
everyone does it slightly differently, they all had
information requirements in common.
The document needs to be clear and
The document is prepared for someone
outside your business who doesn't necessarily know anything
about your business or industry. Even if they claim to have
worked in your industry before, unless they are specialists,
then you should assume nothing.
Its purpose is to state clearly your
A profile of your business, its
existing image, brand and products or other offerings
including future plans
The objectives of the site - stated
clearly in terms that can be measured, not woolly 'to
generate enquiries' or similar, think detail and be
The target market - who will be the
users of the site, what will be their requirements?
Functionality requirements - often
expressed as an outline, and as a business owner you may not
be able to describe this well, but for example, do you
require online payments and if so are you already accepting
credit cards in your business. - remember, adding
functionality usually increases cost far more than
increasing the number of pages in the site.
The scale and scope of the development
project - how big, how many pages, who will provide what and
What are the project constraints,
budget, timescale etc.
This document is not a wish list
(although you could include things that you would like to do
as well as but not instead of the above), it is the document
that the developer works to and effectively forms part of
your contract with them and is therefore subject to
discussion and revision before being finalised.
This subject is covered in more detail
in the book: INTERNET MARKETING How to Get a Website that
Works for Your Business, by Nigel T Packer ISBN
978-0-7160-3020-1 including a free downloadable website
design brief template.
The commissioning of a website is a
much bigger project than appears at the beginning. Websites
are not 'job-and-finish' projects. You need to form a good
relationship with your web developer because you will be
working with them for a long time, and the first step to a
successful relationship is sorting out the communication. It
is your business, if you have articulated clearly what you
want, why your business needs it, and provided all the
information the developer requires including realistic
expectations, budgets and timescales then if it isn't
delivered to the brief then you can blame the web developer.
Otherwise accept that it is your problem, not their fault
that they are not telepathic.
Furthermore, you need to take
responsibility for the project, but also recognise that the
development of a website is a team game, not something to be
simply handed over and then moaned about when it was not
quite what you were thinking of.
If you are serious about selling online
or using the internet to promote your business it is
important to recognise that you need to make a considerable
investment of time and effort or you might as well take your
money and simply throw it up in the air!
In 2012 open up all the available
avenues to ensure that your products and services are are in
front of those who want to buy them. Start with a Website
user experience evaluation Often it only requires small
adjustments to your website to improve user engagement.