Royal Technical Services
Step-By-Step Instructions for Not Getting Screwed by a Web Developer
1. Register your own domains.
I can't stress this enough. There are few exceptions to this rule, but if you hire a firm to design your website and they are reputable, they should be able to design the site, get it hosted, and have you or your resident tech point the domain at the host without having to ever register it themselves. This puts you in a position of power. You can, at any time, point that domain at another host. If THEY register the domain, and they're like half the developers out there, you may have just given them the most valuable part of your web presence. Domain names can be inexpensive, but the cost of having to suddenly fix all your advertising to include a different URL, the work to establish a page ranking all over again, the time it takes to get your audience to stop using the old URL that's being held hostage by your useless old web design team... Those things make it very worth your while to hold your own keys, so to speak.
Be wary of any place that brags that they take care of this for you. It's not hard, but it puts them in a position of great power. Don't relinquish that power. Register it yourself.
Be sure to ask them for input on the domain name, though. If they're savvy, they will recommend a short URL for you. Nobody wants to type in a super-long domain name (interavionicsinc.com, or renorockabillyriot.com for example... yeah. :/ ) and so they will probably stear you away from names like abombentertainmentproductiongroup.com and suggest something much more human friendly, like abepg.com. Yeah, I'm using my own sites as an example. I don't want to call anyone else out on this, as I'm just here to help. *cough* thebestpageintheuniverse.net. Maddox is smart enough to know that most people can type maddox.xmission.com but will frequently end up in the wrong place if they have to remember thebestpageintheuniverse.net, which I got wrong twice trying to post it here. Yeah. Twice. First I had forgotten the word "the" and then realized it wasn't a ".com".
That's another important one. In the US you only want a ".com". You don't want other suffixes because everyone's dumb* and will type ".com" at the end of the URL anyway. I imagine this will persist up to the point that the search engines train us into complete helplessness and nobody remembers how to use an address bar anyway.
2. Know what you are paying for.
Programming, whether in C++ or java.net or HTML, is a cool dodge. It's really hard for a non-programmer to quantify what a programmer does. Don't be fooled into thinking that itemized billing gives them greater accountability. Often times, the itemized bill is a way to pad their work with extra hours.
Do a little research and get a bid for a flat fee. Let them know they're in competition with others. Many web designers won't even get out of bed for less than four figures. That's because they're not hungry enough.
That being said, if they're part of a bad-ass and proven design team, they might actually earn that money, but that doesn't mean they're a fit for your small business.
I can't stress enough that almost anyone can learn to produce a reasonable web site. You may do well to have someone in-house learn the skills and put them on salary doing nothing but web design and social media.
3. Know How to Spot a Fraud
Fraudsters are everywhere in this industry. Check for:
Willingness to let you talk to other clients.
Google them! If this is their business, they should be very visible on the net, and have maintained that ranking.
Check with alexa and see if their primary domain goes through periods of serious downranking. That's a clue that they do lots of unscrupulous Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and have to keep finding new tricks to get back up the results list.
Similarly, if they focus too much on visual appeal, you'll get what we call a "dancing baloney" site, with a lot of distracting animation and little content. It can be a simple lack of information on an otherwise appealing site or a full-on eyesore of flashy garbage that would outweigh any amount of useful info. Fraudsters like these because they can usually dip into their code base to produce something that looks impressive in a hurry and then bail before you realize that there's not much actual content...
4. Don't Expect the World
And don't believe promises that you'll get the world.
Your website should grow organically. Having frequent content updates helps keep a site "fresh" in page rankings. A low bounce rate (at or below half) helps rankings. You achieve these things by having relevant content. If the designer promises you'll be first page results within a week, then they're probably using bizarre link exchanges and SEO tricks and you can expect that result to be temporary.
If, on the other hand, they tell you that your site needs to have more useful information on it, then they're probably gaming the system the right way and you can expect to earn that coveted first page... in a couple months. It takes most of the crawlers about a month to complete a run, and then another month or so to really get a picture of what's happening with your page traffic and content. Any faster than that, and you may have some problems.
If your site sells a product, your best bet for better search engine placement is to be descriptive, informative and open about those products. USE WORDS. Robots understand words. They aren't going to rank a page that consists only of a couple images, because bots can't read the content of a .jpg very well. The pictures appeal to people, though, so you have to strike a balance. Words let people find your site, pictures help keep them there long enough for the search engine to know that it was a positive hit.
Blending them properly, you end up with an informative and engaging experience for your audience. THAT'S THE GOAL. My site, conversely, is too wordy and not rich in imagery. That's why I resort to stupid tricks like animated buttons and layered backgrounds. I'm also not trying very hard to get ranked. Between the aircraft and the events, I have enough on my plate. I only put this here as a guide for others to avoid some common pitfalls that resulted in my taking over some sites for friends and family.
Questions? E-Mail me:
be sure to include "-p" in the subject line so it gets prioritized above the bot spam. Such is the necessity of posting your e-mail address on the net in plain text. :(
I'm too lazy to set up a form and a captcha.
*Yes. Everyone, including me.
P.S. Why Not Wix?
Just a footnote, really. Wix can produce some slick-looking sites, can't it? I mean, look at those effects!
What they're not good for:
You get a Wix site and you're locked into either advertising for them or using their hosting, which is some of the most expensive in the industry.
You can apply all kinds of cool effects, modify the templates using more templates, that's awesome, right?
Want to introduce a cool feature that they don't showcase in their system? Want to make the site look better on mobile?
Too bad. You don't get access to the code. Every Wix site is therefore a derivative of their code pool, and you can't truly customize it. It's no more custom than the legendary "Z-28" option on the Camaro. Similarly, most people use only a handful of the Wix templates that they think are most appealing, so every Wix site is a Z-28 with different paint.
So you've made your Wix site and love the look and feel of it, but you've outgrown the Wix hosting model and want to move on to a better/faster/cheaper host.
Too bad. Half of Wix' technology is programming that prevents their code from being exposed, so you can't copy and move it to another host. It's their sincere hope that you will find it more of a hassle to rebuild the look and feel of the site than it's worth to find hosting that's a better fit.
4. Search Ranking
Since every Wix site looks essentially the same to the bots, they have a lot of trouble discerning how to rank them or where they're relevance lies. Also, if two people have Wix sites with similar terms, they will get essentially identical placement. The sites look almost exactly the same to the crawlers.
Wix knows this, and they're trying to work on it, but they have to resort to the same tricks I warned you about, and all of this silliness is done specifically to protect their code base, and prevent you from moving on to a more open ecosystem.
In the end, you will ALWAYS get a better overall value doing it yourself or having someone in-house learn it. w3schools.com is a fantastic resource that can teach you almost anything you want to know about web programming. Make it a weekend hobby and you'll be doing better than most professionals in no time.