How To Avoid Fraudulent Web Designers

I have bad news for business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs. Not all web designers and developers are created equal.

I regrettably spend a lot of time “rescuing” less-tech savvy clients from unscrupulous web companies: Self-proclaimed “developers” charging premium rates while using free site builders like Wix or Weebly, shady web hosts preventing you from canceling without a sizable fee, and flat out holding websites hostage are just a few examples of the ways that unskilled or unethical “designers” will con businesses out of money.

Even businesses that do their due diligence can fall into these traps, so here are some of the major ways you can avoid website fraudsters and the draining effect they have on both your energy and your wallet.

1. Ensure You Have Ownership of the Website

Your website belongs to you – don’t let any web company or consultant tell you otherwise. This is a dirty secret behind a lot of those free website builders that I already issued a beatdown on: Since the website is hosted elsewhere, it isn’t yours, and you have no real control over it.

Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to free site builders. Shadier web companies use proprietary website building software that not only give them control of the website, but lock in your web domain and hosting with them (see #2). In a worst case scenario, you may have contractually signed over ownership of your website to them, or you may have to pay a fee. One client of mine had to pay a $50 fee to “reclaim” their business domain – barely a dent in their budget, but it registered for them as a slap in the face.

2. Be Clear On Where the Domain Is Registered and the Website Hosted

Even if you plan on a long term relationship with your developer, you should know where your domain and hosting are, what the logins are, and how to access them whenever you want to. Even if you never plan on touching them.

If  your developer has dazzled you enough that you’d like to consider ongoing web hosting through them, more power to them, and good for your developer for doing such a great job – but what if you want your own hosting? If a web company actually requires that you host your website with them, run the other way. This is a giant red flag and a legally gray area.


3. Ask What CMS (Content Management System) Your Developer Is Using and Why

Good web developers will use a popular content management system as a way to streamline updates, especially if a business will be managing the website internally.  When you ask this, WordPress or Drupal are usually the best responses for content-driven websites. Research the best types of CMSes for your specific needs; for example, Magneto and BigCommerce are excellent platforms for E-commerce driven websites.


4. Determine What You’re Getting

A quality website will cost a substantial amount of money, but you can maximize your return by knowing that you’re paying for what you’re getting. Don’t wind up like one client who paid $5,000 for a “custom” WordPress website, only to discover that the designer used a free template, made marginal edits using the built-in theme editor, and pocketed the money.

Ask your developer to explain whether they use a custom design or an existing framework. If it’s a framework, ask which framework and why. Ask for an estimate on the number of hours and how many people will be involved in the project. If it puts your mind at ease, ask for recommendations from the designer’s prior clients.


5. Be Very Wary of Rock Bottom Pricing

If it sounds too good to be true, it always is. Be wary of designers who promise customized WordPress websites for under $1,000, because there will always be a catch. Just last week I spoke with a marketing client who received a sloppy, poorly designed website because she went with the lowest bidder at $500. She wound up having to pony up another $4,500 for two more revisions, and she would have only spent $3,000 had she gone with a more respectable agency the first time. Saving some money short term isn’t worth the subsequent headaches or the overall damage to your brand.


6. Determine The Policy For Bugs

It should go without saying (but it doesn’t always!) that a delivered, finished website should be bug-free and function perfectly. Bugs crop up all the time in unforeseen circumstances, but make sure you clarify what the bug fixing policy is for your developer. Assuming the bugs aren’t the result of something you did while messing around with the backend, your developer should fix all bugs without charging you extra or by the hour. To do is unprofessional and shameful.

The Advice:

Thoroughly interview your developer or designer. Know the right questions to ask and gauge their level of confidence in answering questions.

Do your research. Check out their website, work portfolio, and case studies.

Know what you want. It’s much harder for snake oil salespeople to take advantage of you when you know what you want.

Value more than money. Don’t decide on a provider solely based on the lowest bidder. Judge providers by the quality of their work, their expertise, and their professionalism.


Perhaps most importantly…

Don’t let it scar you. I’ve worked with clients who are so bitter about having been burned by a fraudulent web designer they’ll refuse to invest more money on a website at all. It’s bad enough that a fraudster took a bite out of your budget; don’t let one bad experience foul your business for years to come!