The Website Developer’s Guide to Red Flags

Computer on white desk with red flag on the screen

This article was written by Michelle Weger.

Meeting with potential new clients is a big part of my job.

When someone books a call with Venture Creative Collective, I’m usually the person they’re booking with.

Recently, I had a new client consultation with someone who was visibly hesitant.

They were cautious about what they were saying.

They asked questions that seemed oddly specific.

They wanted to know if I could guarantee certain things about our process or our results.

By the end of the meeting, the truth came out. It was exactly what I suspected – and what I dread hearing:

“I just had a really bad experience with another company and I don’t want to get burned again.”

Or… wait, maybe that’s not what they said. Maybe they said:

“I paid a ton of money to a website developer and my website didn’t turn out at all like I wanted.”

That sounds right… except it might have been something more like:

“They told me one price but then kept asking for more and more money to do things they said were included in the quote, which was way over what I budgeted.”

Or maybe I’m getting mixed up because this story isn’t about one single client.

It’s about countless clients who have come to my business with the same stories.

Bad web development experiences happen way too often.

As a website developer, it bothers me that this kind of thing happens so much, I can write an entire blog about it – with multiple examples.

You shouldn’t have to worry that the company you’re trusting such an important part of your business to is going to take advantage of you.

But what should you watch out for when you’re hiring a website developer?

Note that these items don’t mean the developer you’re working with is bad or that they’ll disappear on you – these are just things to watch out for, consider, or ask about when you’re trying to find a developer that’s the right fit for you.

1. They don’t ask you to sign a contract.

When you go to a car dealership for an oil change, you probably don’t sign a contract.

But when you go to buy a new car?

A contract is a must.

Depending on the work you’re getting done on your website, a website developer might not give you a contract to sign. That’s fine if it’s smaller or straightforward work, but developing a new website is like buying that new car.

If you’re not clear what is included in your contract, your website developer should be able to explain it to you.

If you don’t have a contract or they’re not answering your questions, that is a bad sign.

2. They give you a quote that is way lower than everyone else’s.

If you’ve received a quote from a developer that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Getting a low quote can mean a few things:

The developer is new or inexperienced. This is not necessarily a bad thing… as long as they’re not overstating their abilities. Everyone needs to start somewhere, but your website developer should be honest with you about their experience.

They don’t focus on SEO or performance. Bad SEO is like having a high-end luxury sports car locked in a garage with no windows or doors. Sure, you might have a beautiful website… but if no one can find it, it’s a waste of money. Similarly, having a website that can be easily found but can’t handle the things you need it to do means you’re driving customers away.

The quote doesn’t include everything. Sometimes, the scope of a project changes and the price goes up. That in itself isn’t a red flag. What is a red flag is when you’re being asked to pay more for what should have been included in the quote, or your quote is missing specific line items.

Two of the most common things missing from quotes that you end up having to pay for later are copywriting and stock photos. If you’re not paying your web developer for copywriting, it should at least be a discussion because they’ll need to know where the copy is coming from.

And if stock photos aren’t on the quote, be prepared to pay for them yourself.

3. They purchase your domain or hosting.

This is something that I strongly urge clients to watch out for.

Your website developer should not own your domain name.

They should not own your hosting.

If you don’t purchase those yourself, you don’t own your website.

That means if you have a dispute with your developer or even just want to switch to a new company, they could take your entire online presence off the web.

They could sell your domain or other information to a competitor.

Make sure you purchase your own domain and hosting. It’s okay if your web developer walks you through how to do this or has recommendations on which companies to use, but the actual purchase and credentials should always be managed by you.

4. Their experience, team size, and portfolio don’t add up.

If your website developer doesn’t have samples of previous work, that is something you should question.

Similarly, if their portfolio is too perfect, it’s something you should note.

You should be able to see improvement and growth in the work they share. Trends, technology, and best practices change over time, so it’s normal for a portfolio to change as time goes by.

Ideally, your website developer should have more than a couple of years experience. Unfortunately, a lot of developers shut down within the first two years of business, meaning you won’t have the support you need when it comes to updating or changing your site.

And if the work in their portfolio doesn’t match up to the size of the team they have, you should question where they’re getting additional support. Outsourcing is not always bad, but it may mean you’re paying for a different standard of quality than you expected.

5. They make guarantees on things that can’t be guaranteed.

I will never guarantee that your website will end up on the first page of Google.

SEO standards are constantly changing. Things that were best practices five years ago could be hurting your SEO now.

And even if I did guarantee you first page results, those results are meaningless if you’re on the first page for an obscure keyword that nobody is going to think to look for.

What’s more important to me and my team is getting you results that improve your traffic or your conversions.

It might not sound as impressive as “first page Google results,” but it’s one of the ways we’ve helped our clients increase their average order value by up to 20% and year over year sales by up to 61%.

And isn’t more money in your pocket better than a “guaranteed” search result?

When you’ve had a bad experience in the past, it can be hard to trust another website developer.

But your website is an important part of your business.

You deserve to work with a team that values your business as much as you do.

If you want to find out if we’re the right team for you, let’s talk.

From how to build a website that makes you more money than it costs to leveraging automation to make your business life easier, our posts feature real stories from our lives and business.

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