What’s wrong with a cheap website?

I read a great post today, “What A Free Website Says About Your Company“, and I was leaving such a lengthy comment that I thought I’d better turn it into a blog post instead.

My company’s websites start from a couple of £K upwards. I completely understand that that budget may put things out of the reach to a certain level of person or business. That’s ok – you can’t appeal to everybody. People who are starting out on a shoe string budget may simply not have the kind of money which a serious, thought out, marketing savvy website requires. I can understand that.

And I can understand the logic behind people having a go themselves to try to save money. However, this can be a very dangerous false economy.

Rabbit Holes & Time Vampires

Website creation is still a non-trivial exercise. For one thing, there are a universe of tools &  design options. The uninitiated can quickly vanish down rabbit holes trying to install X widget or trying to achieve Y effect (instead of considering core content & messaging which will resonate with their target audience). I have seen many business owners wasting precious time trying to create a website only to discover (after burning through a lot of time) that it’s not as straight forward as they were led to believe.

An anti-website

A website is online 24 x 7. Day in, day out. Come rain or shine. Done well, it is constantly reinforcing your brand values, validating your business and creating a positive message in the eyes of your potential customers. Done poorly, it is (at best) a badly thought out mild embarrassment which you and your staff shudder at and which they certainly never tell people about.

Worse still, a very poorly thought out website is harming your business 24 x 7. Day in, Day out. Come rain or shine. Your web carbuncle is ceaselessly placing doubt in prospects minds (“is this really them? No, it can’t be! I’ll try someone else…“). Think about that for a moment; all of that effort for something which is permanently casting a shadow over your business. Why do that to yourself? A basic truth is that zero website is better than a shoddy website.

Price & Value are Relative

So, what’s wrong with a cheap website? Well look, nothing. I’m not trying to criticise anyone here. Price and value are all relative things. Some companies produce dreadful websites and charge a fortune, some produce great work for free (or a lot less than they should be charging).

And I’ve come across businesses who’ve stumbled from bad website to bad website; every 12-18 months starting again from scratch. Spending a bit of money but not enough to get a decent company involved. The irony is of course, if they dealt with a quality outfit from day one, they wouldn’t be constantly going back to the drawing board.

In this day and age we cannot afford our websites to be anything other than lean, mean, sales converting machines; isn’t that worth more than a couple of quid a day for something which will last your business years?

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10 Comments »

10 Responses

  1. Avatar Dave Mclean says:

    So true. But will things ever change?

    Some people simply don’t get it, and a lot of the blame has to be laid at the door of Microsoft which, since the launch of Frontpage and other SOHO packages, has convinced many people that they can and should do it themselves. Even if people don’t DIY, the damage has been done and the idea of DIY has effectively devalued the concept of the website (and newsletter, brochure etc).

    We all know the scenario. You meet the company director/owner who wants a website, but after deliberation makes the schoolboy error of handing the job over to ‘a friend’s son’ who knows a bit about websites. Of course the job never gets finished because the lad finds it all too dull, or if it does get finished the lad shows no interest in updating it, and was never talented enough to programme funtionality to allow active content.

    However, equally there is the danger of handing the job over to an agency that designs for itself rather than with the best interests of the client company in mind. People can too easily become dazzled with flashing lights, bells and whistles.

    Ultimately, unless the business is savvy, or is able to approach the challenge holistically, I think for many the best optiion is, as you say, no website at all.

    • Joel_Hughes Joel_Hughes says:

      Thanks for stopping by, David.

      “But will things ever change?”
      No. Not really. There will always be an element of businesses who think they can get ‘it’ (in this case websites) for free/dirt cheap. And they are not changing their tactics any time soon. They will stubbornly carry on trying to get web work at next to nothing (even after disaster and disaster). Fair enough to point the finger at Microsoft but BT have also launched ‘free’ websites as have Google.

      The growth of WordPress (especially the hosted .COM) and similar platforms continues to muddy the waters. These platforms and becoming increasingly powerful & easy to use. And it’s my belief that we’ll see more of the approachable, flexible publishing platforms coming out; Google surely must be looking to up the stakes here? At first glance this may seem to be a threat to traditional web design but, in all truth, I’ve always seen my job as one where I shield the client from technology, translating digital stuff into a language which my they understand; guiding them into making the best choices. I don’t say I’m a website designer; I’m a web strategist. Websites are only one possible output. And they are only one possible channel where our experience can be utilised in respect of the client’s needs/opportunities. Sure we’ll see more and more powerful and easy to use self publishing systems; but I would argue that these platforms will equally present just as many new opportunities for people who create designs, help with content, build widgets etc or people like me who guide clients.

      Joel

      p.s. I’m not arguing the death of web design, it’s late and my brain is a bit fried. Perhaps I’ll need to blog this 🙂

  2. Avatar philippa says:

    Going to try not to sound like a fan girl here Joel.. but… before Christmas I made an e book for local businesses in a South Wales town showing gift recommendations – and only half the businesses had any sort of online presence.. So we ended up putting phone nos in for reference!

    It’s the days of controlling overly protective web design I hope are over – where the designer deliberately makes the site as inaccessible as possible to the client… Like you say it’s guiding clients to make informed choices and teaching them well how to use these choices that is most useful…

    In my experience too, quite a lot of people need help even with WordPress.com. Rather than an intuitive interface it’s got feature after feature bolted on (like Google+,eg of the engineer’s curse) and as one developer friend said the other day ‘This WordPress is spaghetti’…

    Maybe time for a seminar on ‘How To Build Trust With Clients’?….

    • Joel_Hughes Joel_Hughes says:

      Hey Pippa,
      thanks for stopping by 🙂

      “and only half the businesses had any sort of online presence”
      That’s a big shame. And, perhaps missing from my piece, was the point that, for a certain strata of business, it doesn’t *really* matter if the website doesn’t look great just as long as the key info is (not saying this is applicable in this case, just something I didn’t delve into above). For example, I wouldn’t judge a plumber by a poor website (on the basis I could find his phone number!). However, if you sell things into the wedding industry, then the aesthetics and user experience of your website will have a marked impact. Ultimately it is up to business owners themselves to own the creation of their content & messaging; the role of the ‘web designer’* is to equip them with the right tools/training/whatever to help them get to where they need to get to.

      (*so ‘web designer’ is probably going to become an increasingly out dated term for the skills which related to the help & advice that most companies need)

      “there the designer deliberately makes the site as inaccessible as possible to the client”
      Amen to that. Good web designers etc are there to empower clients. Not trap them. Perhaps I’m lucky that the majority of web professionals I rub shoulders with are decent people; sure there are plenty of cowboys & sharks out there (like any industry).

      “In my experience too, quite a lot of people need help even with WordPress.com.”
      Completely agree. WP has, in my opinion, the most intuitive interface but, scratch the surface and you’re into a world of complexity. And helping people with that ‘world of complexity’ is the evolving role for web companies.

      “Maybe time for a seminar on ‘How To Build Trust With Clients’?….”
      Go for it! Sounds great. For me, I aim to build trust right from the get go; even before people have met me (i.e. via recommendation: ‘Speak to Joel, he know’s his stuff and will look after you‘ etc)

      Joel

  3. Avatar Matt May says:

    Excellent article, absolutely spot on! And thank you for taking the time to read my article and mention it in this piece.

  4. This is a great post Joel, really sums up nicely the overall outlook of many businesses out there: buy cheap buy twice or do it right.

    I would agree that there is always the ‘shoe string’ problem and as businesses we have to decide whether the business asking us to provide a website ‘cheaply’ is worth the time investment from our end in delivering over and above budget, considering where that business could go; a calculated risk if you will.

    But sadly, there will always be those people who think 1. they can do it themselves because they have a HTML book, 2. they’ve been on WordPress.com and it “seems pretty easy ya know” and 3. flat just do not value what this industry is really about.

    Great post man, like it.

    • Joel_Hughes Joel_Hughes says:

      Hi Mark,
      thanks for stopping by & the kind words.

      “But sadly, there will always be those people who think 1. they can do it themselves because they have a HTML book, 2. they’ve been on WordPress.com and it “seems pretty easy ya know” and 3. flat just do not value what this industry is really about.”

      Yep. They will always exist. But, luckily, they are not our target audience 🙂

      Joel

  5. Avatar jamble says:

    You actually never need to use the term “cheap website” if you think about it, most pricing is merely a case of matching budget to the number of features that budget will cover. I expanded a little more on it here if you’re interested http://www.welcomebrand.co.uk/thoughts/theres-no-such-thing-as-the-budget-being-too-small/

    James

    • Joel_Hughes Joel_Hughes says:

      Hi James,
      “You actually never need to use the term “cheap website” if you think about it, most pricing is merely a case of matching budget to the number of features that budget will cover”

      Yeah, the title was a bit flippant really. As I say towards the end, price/value are all relative so ‘cheap’ doesn’t actually mean anything. I think the heart of the issue I was trying to get at was that doing things ‘on the cheap‘ (which does not just mean financially) can have grave consequences.

      Oh, and I’ve had requests come in with budgets where it is not “merely a case of matching budget to the number of features that budget will cover” – what they need is a fairy godmother 😉

      Joel

      p.s. like your post – well written

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