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Design Services

While it may not be necessary to specifically list web design services to be avoided it may be helpful to offer some pointers on how to evaluate web design services.

Perhaps the first item that should be said about web design services is to separate actual web design services from a slew of other services that may purport to be web design services when, in fact, they are not really web design services at all.  These services will usually claim to be the Internet analog to Yellow Pages and weekly newspapers.

The Internet is still very new, and it is often tempting to compare pricing for purported Yellow Pages and weekly newspaper services with print counterparts.  This is not a good idea unless you also feel that it is fair to compare the benefits of walking to each engagement with using some other form of transportation.

Advertising in the Yellow Pages or weekly newspapers can be very expensive.  These forms of advertising are expensive not only because they very often seek to take advantage of the market segment they service but also because they have many expenses to cover before they can see a profit.  Besides the machines (hardware) required to produce their publications they also need paper to produce their product, and the cost of paper can be expensive.  With the Internet machines (in the form of servers, routers, and phone connections) are still required, but there is no associated cost of paper unless you consider bandwidth as the Internet analog of paper, which is probably not appropriate since most purveyors of Internet analogs for Yellow Pages and weekly newspapers pay a flat rate for their bandwidth.

The largest group of these Internet analogs to print media services to avoid would any that is telling you that you must pay to use their "web design" services on top of what you are already paying for the "privilege" of advertising on their website.  Such services are never a good deal, and more often such services can be not only very expensive but also a source of bad information.  At their worst these "services" can turn into outright extortion scams that can create a lot of extra problems for you.

There are still a few "classified" services offering ads at rates at or around US$400.00 per year.  These services "design" your ad and devote a lot of copy to telling the potential client what a "great deal" their service is for them, but they really are not providing much that the potential client could not do alone, especially when they are actively seeking to link the potential client website with other websites around the country and world.  Remember, many of these services are using the traffic your advertisement is generating to also create click-through revenue for their website, and in some cases visitors are, in fact, required to pay for a membership just access the website.

At their worst such "classified" services can be a source of bad information, especially when the services do not take steps to ensure that such things as the client's email address and website URL are correct.  Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to finally hear from someone that had been trying unsuccessfully to reach you through an email address no longer in use that had been posted at a "classified" website.  Worse yet is when someone posts an article to a newsgroup stating that a website owner either does not respond to their email or their email address is no longer in service.

At US$400.00 per year that single webpage ad containing a graphic and limited text is costing the over US$30.00 per month.  For US$30.00 per month someone can own a 10Mb website that would be under their complete control.   Of course, you say, that someone would need to also either create the website content themselves or have a third-party do the initial web design work.  While the cost of designing a website should be factored into your advertising budget it should be remembered that you own the content created through the web design process, and you can continue to use the core website content for longer than one year, especially when such content includes a custom Theme for your website.

Getting to the key issue of what constitutes a fair price to pay you should consider how much value is really included with the cost of the web design process and what control you will have over the process.  Here are some examples of things to consider in the process of selecting a web design service.
1. If you are being asked to pay for web design on an hourly basis and have no control over the time being invested in your project, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.  At the very minimum you should seek a written estimate for the web design work that clearly defines exactly what content will be provided as part of the website.  Even with such an estimate you should ask questions about how the web design firm intends to create the content for your website.  For example, are you being charged on the basis of estimates for hand coding when, in fact, the web design service uses web design generating tools such as FrontPage?  Or, are you being charged the full hourly time for the use of templates used in the creation of websites form prior engagements.  In other words, are you being charged for something that the web design firm has charged another client for in the past.  Why should you pay for something that has already been paid for in the past?  Let the web design service know that you expect to see the time sheets of the staff involved with your project.  If they balk at making such time sheets available, you have reason to believe that they are doctoring the billing time.   If the web design service has done a website for any other client, you can be sure they still have the basic methodology to easily reconstruct similar website again and again.  Such experience should be reflected in their estimates.  If they appear to be showing you an estimate based on doing everything from scratch, they are overstating the time it will take them to create your website.
2. If you are being asked to pay for web design on a page by page basis and have to face onerous limitations on what constitutes a page, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.  Being charged US25.00 or US$50.00 per webpage when there may be only a single photo on a webpage or a limit of say only twenty-five (25) words on a webpage is what most would define as highway robbery.  Ask the web design service to clearly define what constitutes a webpage in their mind.  Some web design services will have limits on webpage content that cannot be supported under any circumstance.
3. If you are being told that the web design service will retain the copyright and all other rights to any content created for your website, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.  What you should be clear on is that you are looking for a service that will clearly state that they are providing a "work for hire" service where you retain all ownership of the copyright on the resulting work.
4. If you are being told that the web design service is available only when you also have your website hosted by their service, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.  This is actually a corollary on the issue of whether or not you should own the copyright for the content of your website.  When you own the copyright on your website you should have complete control over where such content is located.  What may appear as a good web design cost may wind up leaving you exposed to some very expensive web hosting charges not only now but into the future.
5. If it appears that your website is being created in such a way that it will have  a "look and feel" like every other website created by the web design service, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.  You can expect that your website will contain sections found on other websites, but you should not expect that your website will be an exact clone of every other website that the web design service has created.   Your website should have a "look and feel" that is unique just as your business is unique.
6. If it is your serious intent to takeover the maintenance of your website once the initial web design work is completed, you should be searching for a web design service that can create a website using skills that are within the skills that are quite easily transferable to you.  In other words, unless you are prepared to learn how to hand code html it would be best not to select a web design that relies exclusively on the hand coding of html.  There are web design tools that are quite easy to learn.  One of the easiest to learn and use is Microsoft FrontPage.
7. If the web design service insists that you pay them a monthly fee for the purpose of maintaining your website as a condition in their arrangement with you, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.
8. If the web design service offers only a one or two webpage solution with no real flexibility for expansion or modification, you probably should look elsewhere for a web design service.  Remember, you are creating a web presence that will be your key online marketing venue.  There is no reason to settle for something that does not afford you with the option to expand your content or alter the layout.

All of the items listed just above amount to mostly common sense.  The important thing is that you feel comfortable with the web design service you select.  If you do not feel comfortable with the service, you will probably not be satisfied with their solution.

Personally, I prefer to avoid web designs that use frames as an integral part of the design.  My opinion is mostly a personal view, but I have seen too many websites that look very cluttered and chopped up because they were designed using frames.  On a more practical note, I can say that a website using frames is usually more difficult to maintain than a website that does not use frames, especially when you consider that you are never able to know whether a website visitor is viewing your website using a screen resolution of 640x480 rather than 800x600.  With a frame design the person viewing your website at 640x480 will see something much different the person viewing your website at 800x600.

 

 

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