What do you use, and what works?
We are told we must Tweet, set up a Facebook page, make YouTube videos, work on our LinkedIn network - but this all takes a lot of time. Which of the various social media platforms do you seriously use for business, and which one would you say has provided the best return in terms of new clients or increased business over the last year?
A collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories from web designers
(None of these are ours, honest)
“That other website is stealing our business. Can you make it so that when someone types in their address they come to our site?”
Me:“So what’s your budget?”
Client: “Well we are well known amongst all the Russian billionaires so there is great potential for you to get your name out there by doing this project for free. Also I am a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.”
“I’m not paying you anything extra to do the website because it is simply a matter of pushing the right buttons. I know how to push buttons.”
Client:You see where you have a full stop at the end of the first sentence?
Client: Can you change it to a comma?
Me: Er, well I can, but you should put a full stop at the end of a sentence.
Client: Oh, that grammar stuff is very old fashioned.
After a lengthy presentation for the design of a microsite, the clients had a few unanswered questions. Chief among them regarded the large portraits of former actors and directors beside their bios. The conversation went something like this:
Client: “Can you click the picture?”
Me: “No. What do you want it to do? Enlarge?”
Client: “No, I just want to click it.”
Me: “But when you click it, what do you want to happen?”
Client: “I just want to be able to click it.”
“We’d like you to illustrate this (diagram of traffic tunnel and four-lane highway), but we’d like you to make it look like this (watercolour of budgie doing aerobics).”
My client was an outdoor events company and upon seeing a competitor using a blue sky in their advertising, emailed me telling me to call this company and let them know that they had to change the colour of the sky in their ads, “because we own copyright of blue skies in this country so no-one else can use them”.
“I really like the gradient – going from red to yellow – but I don’t like orange. Can you make it go through another colour?”
Client: “Just make it look like the site I showed you. In fact, why don’t you go into their site and take the images?”
Me: “Because that is illegal.”
“I want you to make it so people have to give us their email before they can look at the site. If they’re gonna look at our stuff, I want to be able to spam them afterwards.”
Client:I need video streaming, contact forms, a small database for customer comments and a new logo made and hosting for 3 years with a bit of a download option for the videos too
Me: That all sounds reasonable, your original request terms this “Cheaply” what is your budget and I’ll advise as to what can be done realistically.
“I really like it. The thing is, I showed it to my uncle, and he didn’t like it at all – he though the ‘1’ looked like an ‘i’. He was a bit drunk at the time. Do you think you could you change it?”
These shocking quotes are from a local web design company’s FAQ:
A: All website designs, logo designs etc come under the copyright of (company name) and no unauthorised use of any image or any other design feature may be copied, reproduced or referenced without prior authorisation.
Q: Who owns the website once completed?
A: All website designs are the property of (company name), the client owns the ‘domain name’ and rents the host space Unlike other web designers we offer our clients the right to buy the website design should they ever wish to leave (company name).
Q: How long will I be committed to (company name)
A: Any website design deal undertaken by (company name) will require, as part of our terms and conditions and per the detail of each individual website design deal, the commitment of a 12 month period, after which any client can leave (company name).
These terms and conditions are simply horrendous and we cannot believe any business would agree to engaging a company that offers such terms. If you are thinking of doing so then please be aware that this is NOT industry standard practice and is possibly not even legal.
How can this company get you to pay them good money to design a website and then tell you that you don’t own the design, don’t own the copyright to the content and cannot transfer the site to another hosting provider? They say this is ‘unlike other web designers’. Damn right it is. How can they have the cheek to offer to sell you a website you have already paid for?
Compare this with our T&C:
All files created, html, graphics and any other, remain the property and copyright of Webcraft UK Ltd until the final invoice is paid in full. Once payment is received full intellectual title to all files, graphics, HTML and site structure will transfer to the client.
We also allow and will facilitate transfer to another host at no charge to the client any time after the final invoice has been paid.
Please don’t accept any lesser terms when choosing a web design company. There is no point in paying good money to have a website built only to discover it is not actually yours at all.
We recently received an unusual request from a self catering holiday property owner in North Uist to help them with their Spanglefish website. Those of you who have read our previous rants about the local Enterprise Gateway promoting this proprietary system will know that we are not fans – or at least, we weren’t. We had seen too many design disasters, neglected sites and pages that were best left unpublished for the good of their owners’ businesses.
The Barn website was not the worst Spanglefish site we had seen by a long way. There was a wealth of good content and much of it was sensibly formatted. The overall colour scheme and top banner however were dire, some images were broken, one page had elements that were slightly wider than the overall container and the choice of images for the home page was less than ideal.
We created a new top banner, changed the overall colour scheme (including a custom background colour to blend in with the header graphic) and fixed the formatting errors. We also added two new galleries of wildlife and landscape pictures from images supplied by the client (after cropping and resizing them – a very important issue when the maximum size picture a Spanglefish site will display is relatively small).
The end result is a vastly improved site – and a somewhat less harsh view of Spanglefish from behind this web developer’s keyboard. The admin interface is easy to use, the basic page editor has all the necessary functions (though the editing window is pathetically small) and the source code can be edited. It is also possible to include custom CSS if you know what you are doing.
We still have some criticisms – in particular the current default width of a site at 750 pixels or so does not allow enough screen real estate for modern displays, and the default colour schemes are very limited (with some truly hideous backgrounds – DON’T click on that tartan!) . If you really know what you are doing with CSS both these limitations can be overcome, but messing with the default stylesheet is not for the novice.
And – all of the above only applies if you have upgraded to Spanglefish Gold - if you have the free version you are stuck with the terrible 3-column layout with ads etc. Upgrading is only £24.95 per annum, and does at least give you a chance to turn your site into something that doesn’t look too amateur.
If you have a Spanglefish site that could do with having a professional eye cast over it, or if you need a little help getting to grips with the system, why not give us a call?
Here’s the easiest, most effective solution:
Get some cheap web hosting that supports WordPress. 123-Reg are probably as good as any – at least, you will be able to move the site elsewhere in future if you want to. (From £2.50 per month).
Now choose a free theme from the hundreds out there and start playing around – or go with the standard but highly customisable TwentyTen or TwentyEleven themes and change them to suit. Check out a few WordPress tutorials on Youtube or download a free manual.
Make sure you back up all files and your database regularly and you will easily be able to move the site later if your current host seems restrictive in any way. I recommend this plugin to back up your database painlessly by e-mail.
I’ve created a short tutorial on the basic basics of WordPress starting from a clean installation with the 2010 theme:
It’s not the slickest tutorial, but will give you some idea. One day I will remake this and continue the series . . .
Anyway, WordPress is the easiest industry-standard platform, easy to keep up to date, easy to transfer between hosts and easy to customise to make do whatever you want to to do. The ability to upload new themes which keep design separate from content means you can at some future date get a theme professionally designed if you so desire, move the site to another server, allocate permissions to allow others to update specific sections of the site or install and use plugins to extend the functionality of the site.
We launched a new site for Craobh Haven Watersports today.
Special features include:
Colour coded top level menu with dropdowns – all coded in CSS and HTML so search engine friendly and easily modified or added to
Different top graphic for different sections but tied together with our new interpretation of their logo
Weather widget on the home page
Social media integration with Twitter and Facebook Share buttons
Lightbox photo galleries for the Projects section
Scrolling news ticker on home page
Future development on the site will include a complimentary WordPress section for news, events and sales which the client will be able to keep updated themselves.
Just how easy / affordable is it to get into selling online? Probably easier and cheaper than you think, but there are pitfalls for the unwary.
There are a whole host of dedicated shopping carts out there, some free and open source, some expensive. Some are hosted, some have to be installed on your web server. Which to choose, which way to go?
Firstly, don’t expect impartial advice from a web design company. They will probably have a lot of r&d time and energy invested in one or two particular packages, and will tell you unequivocally that this or that particular package is the only way to go. Be assured, it isn’t!
Secondly, if you have a limited budget and a lot of products, aren’t too critical about the look or branding of your site and don’t want to employ a web design company then have a look at hosted solutions. At the budget end we suggest:
Actinic - from £19.99/month (for up to 100 products)
EMPowershop - from £19.99 / month
If you have a bigger budget then just Google ‘hosted e-commerce’. But – do be aware that although these systems all boast of being incredibly easy to use and unbelievably versatile they will, like any computer programme or application, have their limitations. It will take you quite a while to get familiar with the interface and you will at times be frustrated because the software will not do what you want it to. You may find yourself spending a lot of time on forums asking for help from other users – so check that this feature is available.
If you go to a web design company ask them what software they propose using and check it out. We used osCommerce for some years, but no longer recommend it for the average small business. While it has the advantage of being free it is in our opinion a clunky, camel-designed bloated monstrosity that is hard to customise and keep secure and up to date. Offshoots of this include Zen Cart and OscMax. These are better, but be very sure that the web developer you are using has complete mastery – check their portfolio, ask their clients – and make sure you get a price for the regular security updates that these systems always seem to need.
There are dozens of other less well-known shopping cart systems. Each has its supporters, each will have some merit, but most will also have drawbacks in terms of design and template limitations, ease of use, security and ease of updating. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and it is worth doing a lot of research before committing yourself to any one system or designer. In particular, you need to know how easy is it to install software updates, and whether there a facility to make complete backups including the database.
One of the popular e-commerce solutions nowadays is to use a plug-in for WordPress. There are several available, some free, some charged for but generally not expensive. Some work better than others, and each has a different range of features. Here are two WordPress sites we have created that use e-commerce plugins:
Sledgehammer Simple - uses the Wp E-commerce plug-in
Paradise Kitchen - uses the WP Simple PayPal Shopping cart
These plug-ins are great if you want to be able to add products yourself and have all the functionality that WordPress gives you.
But do you need a dedicated shopping cart system with its built-in set of features and limitations? If you only have a few products to sell then sometimes it is more satisfying aesthetically to integrate a basic PayPal shopping cart into your existing website. Combine this with a clever piece of software that can deal with downloadable products and you have a very versatile system with a unique look. Have a look at the purchase page from this site we recently created for an author and publisher. We have been able to give the site a unique look and feel yet it has the ability to sell both physical and downloadable products.
Whatever your eventual choice, make it an informed one. The success or failure of your business may depend on it.
For many companies – particularly small businesses and start-ups – the web is going to be their major and in some cases only marketing tool, so when you choose a web design company you may literally be putting the future of your business in their hands. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it an area where saving a few pounds should be your primary concern. You really need to take an in depth look at a web design company before you give them your work. It is easy to put up a glossy front, but is there any substance behind it?
The web design business is an amateur’s paradise. Start-up costs are very low, obsolete versions of poor software are given away by magazines and anyone can call themselves a web designer. Furthermore, there is a perception that ‘anyone can do it’ and that it is just a question of learning to use a new programme. The results are out there for all to see – ugly, poorly designed and hard to navigate sites that break in some browsers, that do not get any visitors and that do not show up in Google. Unless you are very certain of their capabilities you are doing your business no favours if you employ an amateur
The other option is to do it yourself. Web design is not your business however. Did you build your own computers? Do you deliver your own mail? No, of course you don’t – so why tie up valuable resources and time designing and publishing your own web site only to be disappointed with the result. Your time is more valuable than that.
So – you have decided to use a professsional website design company. There are thousands, so how do you choose? Here are some questions to ask:
How long have they been around? Businesses that have been around for ten years or more will have seen a lot of changes in the way the web works and have obviously adapted successfully. New businesses may not still be around when you need some changes made to your site. Your site could vanish, and you could lose control of your domain.
Have a look at their portfolio. Look for at least twenty websites, preferably more – if they only have a handful then they are either new starts or just playing at it. Do you like the sites? Do they work? Try some Google queries – do the sites show up for sensible search terms? Are the sites easy to use? Good navigation is essential – do you always know exactly where you are on the site, can you find the information you want?
Does the company seem interested in your business? When you ask them for a quotation do they give you a generic flat-rate quote or try to sell you things you don’t want, or do they talk with you at length to find out more about your business, how it works and what you hope to get from the website? Do they baffle you with jargon or explain things in easy to understand terms?
Check the small print. Are there extra set-up fees? If there are staged payments, what do you get at every stage? What sort of hosting do they offer? Will your site be able to expand with the business? How will it be updated? Are there any ongoing charges? Most importantly, make sure that you will own the copyright to all the material on the site including design and layout. We sugggest that you ask your web designer for a copy of all the files once the site is live and paid for.
What sort of support can you expect? We hear stories of ‘unavailable’ web design companies all the time. Make sure you have a phone number, not just an email address – and make sure it is not a premium rate number. Ask them what the turnaround time for an email reply is, and how long it will take to make a simple text change to the site. Remember, in many cases the same company will be looking after your business email account – you need to be sure they are there when you need them.
Lastly but not least, for genuine testimonials. The best recommendation any business can have is a testimonial from a happy customer. Have a look on their website – are there any testimonials? If not, why not? You can also ask the company if they are happy to provide references, and if you are still not sure you might even want to contact one or two of their existing clients and ask them if they would recommend the company.
Directory sites have become the bane of the web, clogging up Google searches and giving little in return. Millions of these abominations have been set up by people with a ‘brilliant idea’ who have just discovered the web. Usually the plan is that people will be so entranced by their genius that they will queue up to pay for entries or advertising on the site. Friends with businesses a get a few free entries, the site fails to perform in search engines and no-one else is interested. It gathers cyberdust.
For a directory site to be any use it has to be inclusive, not exclusive. If I want to look up, for example, bed and breakfast establishments in Oban, I want to be able to look through a complete list, not just those who have paid to be listed. I want some sensible information and if it interests me then I want to be able to click straight through to the establishment’s website.
But, I hear you say, who would set up such a directory? What is their motivation if not to sell paid entries?
Well, there is a business model – although I have to say it is not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. Firstly, spend dozens or hundreds of hours setting up the site. Research it so as many relevant businesses as possible are included. Code it all carefully by hand, optimise it and wait a few years for it to rise to the top of Google for lots of relevant search terms. Keep it up to date and make it easy for new businesses to contact you to add their listing – but keep editorial control, no automated submissions. Then try and sell some advertising.
So why would people advertise if they can have a free listing? Well, because with dozens of your competitors sharing a page or section of the directory – and with that page attracting lots of potential customers – it is in your interest to make your business stand out. Now make the advertisements so cheap it is almost a no-brainer and perhaps – just perhaps – you will start to make a tiny amount of money from the site.
We set up such a site – Oban and Lorn Online – in October 2000. Over the years it has made us a steady trickle of money – a few hundred a year at best – but it has also brought in some new web design business as well, so for us it has been worth it.
However, at the age of 11 years and counting the site was looking dated to say the least, so it has now had a complete update.
A total of around 60 hours has been spent creating a new look, converting the old HTML-only layout to a new CSS-powered model, integrating the site with social media, transferring the data manually to the new format, checking all entires for validity and adding lots of new sites. We hope you will like the result – a shiny new fully inclusive Oban business directory listing over 400 businesses that will continue to perform superbly in Google for all manner of relevant search terms. Help us to keep it up to date and let us know of any businesses or organisations in the area with a website that is not included.
We do not expect to get rich any time soon . . .