After we onboard a new client, the first thing we always need to do is clean up the mess left by their previous agency. Our clients are non-jerk, nice people who have given their website developers the benefit of the doubt, and didn’t realize the disaster brewing in the back end of their site due to poor decisions made by their agency or developer. We hate to see this happen to anyone, so I’m devoting this article to some of the most common things that can go wrong. Hopefully this will help you recognize when red flags are starting to pop up and you’ll be able to avoid some of these disasters.
Red Flag #1: You don’t legally own your site content
Of course, you assume, since you paid a developer to create your site, your website is your website. Legally, though, unless you make sure that this is stipulated in your developer contract, you’re sitting on a time bomb. There are laws that run in the favor of the developer, in the sense that they are the creator of the site, and so, if not stated otherwise, they are also the owners of it. If you don’t have a contract with your developer, stating that you are the owner, I’d work on getting that taken care of.
As a side note on this subject, you also need to make sure you own all the images on your site. They should have been purchased from a stock photo house or graphic designer, and you should have the native files for anything created by a graphic designer. You may have to pay some percentage of the cost of the graphic design to obtain these files (fonts, images, and the actual piece created in, say, Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign), but you should have them, and keep them stored in a safe digital repository.
Red Flag #2: You don’t have access to your site’s back end
You know how important your site is to your business; it is the most public manifestation of your company, and is seriously important if you are selling products online.
If you end up firing a developer, and you haven’t got access to your website’s back end (as in, being able to sign in to WordPress and being one of the administrators), you can find yourself in a very bad situation. We have had clients whose agency stopped working for them, but continued to bill them, and when the client contested the bill, the agency refused to give them the usernames and passwords they needed to get into their website, social sites, hosting companies, and domain registrars.
Yes, this basically means that an angry developer or agency can hold your entire digital presence hostage. You can just imagine how terrible that would be for your business.
You need to know where your site is hosted (some typical hosts: GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IONOS, HostGator, BlueHost, Digital Ocean, Liquid Web, WPEngine, Google Cloud Platform, Squarespace, DreamHost, and Shopify). You should be paying for hosting, with your credit card, and have your own login. You should make sure you can still get into the back end, at least once a month.
The same goes for your domain registrar (the company that hosts and helps you manage your domain). Here is a list of typical hosts. Again, you should be paying for your own domain with your own credit card, have your own login, and check monthly to make sure you can get in.
The same goes for all your social accounts.
Red Flag #3: Your site is very badly designed
Not all developers are created equal. There are developers who sound okay in the initial interview, and seem to know what they are doing, but who build a site that is bloated, slow, and difficult to update.
For example, one developer, working for a client’s previous agency, set up the pages so that every single banner had its own template and font treatments. I’m using “banner” to describe those sections of content that include copy, photos, and graphics that you see as you scroll down a page.
What should be done, instead, is to create templates for certain types of pages (e.g., product pages, service description pages, blog pages, etc.), but all based on an underlying CSS format. CSS stands for “cascading style sheets,” which is a tool used to lay out and structure web pages. When these style sheets are used correctly, they make it possible for a developer to make one change that can be applied to many site elements.
Let’s say you wanted to have all your most important headings to be a certain font, in a certain size, boldness, and color. (In hypertext markup language, or HTML, the “H1” tag is used to identify the biggest headings on your site, H2 is the next most important heading, and H3 is the next most important heading. Search engines use these tags to determine the hierarchy of the content on a given page.)
A good developer using CSS properly can use one command to specify that all H1 headings can be a certain font, size, boldness, and color. Easy peasy.
A bad developer will set up the site so that you can’t make that “use once, apply everywhere” command. Instead, as I described above, you will have to go into each banner and change each headline for each banner to that certain font, size, boldness, and color.
If you have 30 such templates on the back end, and you have to go into each one, and change the attributes of each headline in each one, well, you can see how different that is from applying one command to all instances. This method of specifying font treatments can also make your site slow to load, which will negatively affect your search engine rankings.
Here’s the hard part about this “bad developer” problem. It’s difficult to spot until you hire a new agency with a new developer, and they start to run into the less-than-optimum doe. Then they have to spend time—and your money—cleaning it up.
To see how well or poorly your site is designed, I’d recommend that you hire a developer whom you know to be solid and ask him or her to examine the code behind your site. Anyone can do that without having access to your site. In Chrome, you simply go to View > Developer > View Source. (That’s how it is on a Mac using Chrome. On Windows using Chrome, if you don’t have “View” option in your browser navigation, try right-clicking anywhere on the page and you will hopefully see “View Page Source” as one of the options.) This will show you the source code for the site, the raw HTML that was used to develop it. A good developer would be able to spot at least some of the inefficiencies.
Red Flag #4: You’re not answering your customers’ questions
Your customers should be able to relate to your content the second they come to your site. This only happens when you understand—and write to—their Mindset when they set out to buy. I define their Mindset as their desires, concerns, and questions.
If you guess, or if you assume you already know, you will lose out. Your messaging will never hit the mark.
You need to interview (or hire someone to interview) your current customers, as I teach you to do in my book.
If you ask them properly, they will tell you exactly what they were looking for when they set out to buy, why your product or service appealed to them, and describe their buying process. Knowing all this, and putting this information to work on your site, will mean that more new customers will buy from you.
Too many sites simply make vague, everybody-says-this promises that do nothing to encourage visitors to buy. It’s a total waste of money to have a site like this. They will come, they won’t see themselves, they will leave, and they will never come back.
The navigation structure and site content should make it easy for your customers to buy from you.
As buyers, we all know that sellers can literally get in the way of our buying process. As sellers, we tend to do what we think makes sense, without consulting our buyers. We throw spaghetti on the wall, which is a sure way to waste money and market opportunity, and to lose out to more customer-centric (or even customer-obsessed) competitors.
Red Flag #5: They appear to be doing work, but you have no proof
As a business owner, digital marketing can feel like a foreign country where everyone speaks a foreign language. It has its own acronyms, methods, technology, and specialists. This problem is exacerbated by specialists who want clients to stay in the dark. “Leave me alone, I know what to do!” said Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen, when his engineer kept bugging him during a race. So many digital specialists fall into this category, especially those working on search engine optimization and online advertising.
Finding solid online advertising experts, who keep clients totally informed, regularly reporting on what they’re doing and why, and making decisions jointly with clients, is difficult. When you do find a good one, the difference is stark (it’s very pleasant) and the campaigns work.
If your digital marketing pros are less than forthright with what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why, it’s time to start looking around.
Your website is your business. It’s important to know how it works and to be able to manage it wisely. Work on avoiding these common errors and you will be well ahead of the game.