top tips to avoid website design nightmares

Ten website nightmares and how to avoid them…

When I converted this site from its free blogging platform wordpress.com to a standalone site using wordpress.org software, I had no idea of the difficulties to come. top tips to avoid website design nightmaresHere I give some insight into the issues I came up against in the hope you can learn from me…

Web designers are awash with work.
Because everyone has a website (or two) these days even the bad ones are busy. If you are hoping for a complete redesign as I was, find your designer months in advance. Tip: if you are out of work then why not train as a web designer?

Web designers are not regulated.
Considering the amount some web designers charge – often it is thousands of pounds for a site, which is the equivalent of an extension on your house, new kitchen or bathroom – shockingly, this is an industry that is not regulated at all. Obviously there are some great web people around but it’s hard to know who is good and who is not. With this website it was originally a blog on WordPress.com and I wanted it to be self-hosted in WordPress.org – so I sought an expert in WordPress! What I did not then expect to find was that I knew more than some ‘WordPress designers’ did.

The top web designers in a Google search are not necessarily the best
I am going to stick my neck out here and say I am shocked by how many website designers operate in a way which is perhaps unethical in that it pushes their own website to the top of a Google search. So for these sites, it’s common to see they’ve put links on customer’s sites linking back to them (but they don’t link back to their customer’s site.) These one way links push their own site to the top of Google. When I mentioned to one web designer that I didn’t want his credit at the bottom to link back to him, he got very upset. I think that says it all. So tip: look for designers which link back to their client’s sites as well.

If you are going from WordPress.com to WordPress.org use WordPress.com’s own brilliant Guided Transfer. For under £100 they will transfer the whole site to a new host. Every designer I spoke to said when transferring my 1700 odd pages I should expect to lose ‘the odd photo or blog’ – something that horrified me. WordPress.com told me I would not and the whole thing only took around 30 minutes with every single post in tact. Absolutely top service from the Americans.

Be prepared to really shop around.
Perhaps I was unlucky but I found many WordPress web designers unusual to say the least. One said he could only ever communicate by email, another turned out to be in Russia and a number seemed incredibly enthusiastic but then I never heard from them again. Then my site was too large for some and too small for others to take on. I couldn’t seem to win.

WordPress themes don’t look anything like their demos: Well, they do – but only after a LOT of hard work and hours of tweaking. When the original designer I chose produced something for this website that resembled a child’s drawing, I decided I would buy a WordPress theme off the net and tweak it myself. As someone who’d tweaked her wordpress.com site many times, I thought how hard could it be? The answer is it was a nightmare. Regular readers were polite, said nothing and I carried on blogging. But behind the scenes my website resembled a string puppet with cut strings – ie: everything was unconnected with nothing working as it should.

Keep an eye on your designer and website at all times. I was fortunate to find someone who did offer to put things right. But as this is a live working site, even that proved horrific. For example, one friday night I casually looked at my site to find all the pages were in gobbledegook (and left like this all weekend.) Another time, I clicked Home and was taken to a rival website’s main page!

Everything will take four times as long as the estimate. As someone who does do her own site, I still don’t understand why designers take SO long. I am thinking of one chap who estimated my site ‘would be working by Easter’ and the original designer who did the child’s drawing. That design took him over two weeks to sort (and it was just a sketch!) Yes, we all know websites are fiddly but come on… I must say here my chap who does Featureworld (very busy so I won’t give him a plug!) is absolutely fantastic. He does HTML sites (I am sure he could do WordPress but it’s not his first speciality) and he is amazingly fast. But for some inexplicable reason the WordPress designers (is it just WP designers) seem to take ages to do the simplest tasks. I can only think they are busy on other jobs…

Many web designers don’t understand SEO Making your site look beautiful is one thing, making Google fall in love with it is another. I’ve discovered web designers tend to concentrate on the aesthetics and not search engine optimisation. Hence, you have to think about that all the time – or you will have a great looking site that no-one can actually find as it won’t come up in any search engine.

There’s a lot of rubbish written on the net Before I transferred my site to wordpress.org I kept reading about this woman who’d transferred her site from wordpress.com to wordpress.org and lost all her traffic. Thus, she told everyone not to do this. But if you have your own domain name (I was already blogging under sellyourstoryuk.com) then when you transfer all the traffic seamlessly comes with you. So I don’t know what she was talking about. Despite the horrors, luckily Google never stopped sending visitors…

Finally, I couldn’t have done this whole site on my own (although I did do an awful lot of it in the end…) but I can’t help thinking it would have been cheaper and easier had I done a basic web course myself in WordPress design. I also noted many charge by the hour for something that can if you know how, be completed in minutes. You have been warned.

Have you had difficulties finding a great web designer or do you have any other tips you can add to this to help others? Do let us know below…


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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

9 thoughts on “Ten website nightmares and how to avoid them…

  1. I think you’re absolutely right Alison, if you want a job done properly, it’s better to do it yourself. It’s amazing how simple everything turns out to be when you learn it all for yourself, although it does take time.

    It’s also a great idea to study the competition and to somehow try to better them, or add something unique or original to your blog that’ll make it stand out.

    I also agree strongly that SEO is really important. Not having the right meta tags for instance can keep your blog from ever gaining true recognition, and all your hard work can go unnoticed.

    Oh yeah, and changing the templates once you’ve installed them is a complete nightmare I would have to agree! And some templates are incomplete or really badly designed, which makes the job even harder!

  2. Thanks for these tips Mark – how your website looks at the back (the part you as the owner sees) is just as important as its appearance. Otherwise Google simply won’t find it at all.

    By the way, love the new look to your website!

  3. Oooh an article just for me!

    Yes I did the same and even transferred the wordpress.com to .org myself cos the WP Engineers were on a tea break and I couldn’t bear to wait!

    It’s all fab as long as it keeps working! I much prefer being on full control of my own site even with the nightmares it sometimes throws up. I am itching to change my theme but the time and trouble it would take is probably not worth it… and I’d probably end up wiping the entire site by mistake.

  4. My problem is that while I am fine doing posts and so on, I do need people with more knowledge than I have to do something like change a theme because what you find is it often needs some knowledge of coding (completely agree, Shu – don’t do it!! – and anyway I really like your site as it is) but then I found actually finding someone good (any good) has proved very difficult.

  5. I did the design for our .org blog myself from a template but got my web designer to set it up, which was fine. But I’ve found that lots of the functionality that I automatically had with .com has been lost with .org (eg subscriptions) and trawling through and installing lots of plugins, esp when you don’t have the coding knowledge you mention, is a real pain. I’ve currently trying to upload podcasts onto it and it’s been a nightmare because I don’t have quite enough technical knowledge. Have had to resort to asking web designer to sort (which of course we’ll have to pay for.)
    So, I sympathise!

  6. Being completely honest with you, by the sounds of it you are any developers nightmare. It comes across like you think you know more than they do!

    Your post is full of errors, and could be incredibly insulting to some real talented word press devs. I no longer bother with open source software like WordPress/joomla as we have coded our own CMS.

    What you have to remember is you get what you pay for. By the sounds of it you weren’t prepared to pay for a pro, and got caught dealing with bedroom coders.

    Although 2 weeks might sound like a long time to design a web site, you must be assuming this is the only job the guy had on?? Did you not have a contract stating schedule and deadlines? If you weren’t happy with 2 weeks why did you not negotiate this at the start, and if you did why did you pay the money?

    Wow! I would run in the opposite direction if you approached us or work!

  7. Hello Kevin
    I thought my budget of £5,000 for a wordpress site was quite doable! Unfortunately the web design industry is one where you don’t always get what you pay for. The issue is there is no guarantee that posh company you go to which charges you a fortune will be any good or be able to interpret your designs properly. Meanwhile the ‘bedroom coder’ as you call him, might actually be very clever and charge much less and a freelancer simply might not charge enough (although I only approached bona fide companies to do my work.) This was the point of writing this – it is an unregulated industry with no way that anyone can judge how able a designer is.
    My contract with the first company was that they would complete the whole site within a month – I don’t know what other work he had on but that was his estimate, not mine.
    You don’t say what ‘errors’ are in my post, although most of it is my opinion. But one of the other problems is ordinary customers such as myself are not interested by designers (you do sound rather arrogant!) trying to impress them with their ‘CMS code.’ Many customers won’t even know what CMS is…!
    Customers simply want the designer to produce a functional attractive site – and they choose WordPress because often they’ve already used it for free (at WordPress.com) and are confident they will be able to use it. If the customer asks for that, why should they be pressurised into paying for a designer’s own code, which they have never tried? and isn’t tested? And if that goes wrong in the future – or they want to add something simply themselves – how do they then sort that?
    I agree any designer who is blagging it would run a mile from us because we know enough about WordPress to know when we are being over charged. However, we also know enough to understand how fiddly and time consuming web design really is and not expect to pay tiny prices – which is why we did set aside a very reasonable budget.
    Finally! Since writing this piece, we have had a number of designers come forward offering to help. All of them admit there are big issues in the design industry because it is not regulated. Extra work has also since been done on this site by someone, a real pro, who was absolutely great – who gave the customer what he or she wants! A good job done promptly for a fair price.

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