What do you think of your web developer?
Over the last few years we have quietly, but at every opportunity, been asking this question to business owners, marketing directors and executives responsible for their company website whether for commissioning, developing or maintaining their online presence. We also asked if they were happy with the website that the developer had provided, or if they thought it was bringing tangible benefit to their business. The responses were sharply divided. It seems that the businesses’ experience of Web developers is like Marmite: you either love them or hate them.
Shockingly, over 80% of respondents reported a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ experience of working with a website developer or designer. Many made comments that were very uncomplimentary toward their web developers. Some stated that they felt they had been, “Taken for a ride,” by those who had either baffled them with technology and jargon, or had – deliberately or otherwise – raised their expectations beyond what was feasible with the investment they were making. One had invested tens of thousands with a web development company to build an online presence for their business and now has a website that not only makes no contribution to any business objective, neither has it produced a single enquiry. The overall impression that we gained from our research to date and a term used by more than one unhappy respondent was that web developers are: “A load of cowboys.”
These poor experiences have a knock-on effect, not just for those who have been unhappy with their outcomes but for the web development and internet marketing industries as a whole. It results in an increased conviction that all web developers were likely to be the same, and that there was no-one out there who could be trusted. In addition, the inclination to invest any further resources and capital on online promotion of their business was greatly reduced. “We’ve done that and it didn’t work,” was a common response.
What do the web developers have to say?
To balance the picture we also surveyed web developers and web design companies to see if we could identify what had created this tale of woe from businesses.
Many were unaware of the situation and some were quite frank in their derision of business owners. Common responses included
- “They don’t know what they are doing,”
- “We’re not telepathic you know!”
- “They don’t understand what is involved.”
- “We never get the right information.”
- “They keep changing their minds, often before the previous changes are completed.”
Each side seemed to blame the other for what might be interpreted as a straightforward breakdown in communication.
So why does this happen? There are no doubt numerous reasons, but focusing on the communication issue, we asked the web developers if they ever asked for, or received, a web design brief from their clients. The majority response was: “Rarely!” The design briefs received mostly consisted of a single page of vague information that lacked the detail and specifics required. Although they usually included requests for things that far exceeded the budget or amount What is a responsive website? the business owner was willing to spend and were full of wish lists and ‘good’ ideas that require bespoke development or even new technology (for the words ‘bespoke’ and ‘new’, read – interchangeably – ‘difficult’ and ‘expensive’)!
So whose job is it?
Isn’t it part of the web developers’ job to write the brief? Actually, no it isn’t, it is the responsibility of the business owner to communicate their requirements, their goals, their current situation and future plans. After all, as more than one developer pointed out, “We’re are not telepathic you know!”
In addition, the pressure of trying to keep a small web development business running (let alone in profit) in this ever increasingly competitive industry means that there is no time or other resources to be teaching the business owner how to write a web design brief, even though it would create a better outcome for everyone. For the majority of situations, there is often no clear or effective communication, more a case of asking questions of the business owner – which they often don’t understand clearly, which is no-ones fault – to get some sort of outline and then on with the job of designing and building the website.
Our experience – Web developer
Our experience indicates that the majority of web developers really want to do the best job they can for their clients.
They have the skills and knowledge to build websites that could work for their clients’ businesses. They have the equipment and resources to carry out the work. We also observe however that there are web developers who mistake the functionality of the software that they use for their own creative skills. Ultimately over a period of more than a decade we have encountered very few who would deliberately, “Take their client for a ride,” as some businesses have claimed.