You’ve hired a freelance web designer who hasn’t issued you with a contract beforehand. Your site goes live - it takes a bit longer and cost more money than was initially agreed – but, you’re relatively happy with the final product. You pay your designer the agreed amount and part ways. Sound familiar? This is the experience of countless customers who naively go about getting their first website.
At first glance (apart from the contract thing), it looks reasonable enough: anyone who works in project management will tell you that most projects run slightly over in terms of money and time – as long as they’re not taking the hand, no harm done. And even the contract issue – I mean, is a contract really needed here? It’s like ordering a custom suit or a painting: I specify what I want, the designer makes it, and if I’m not happy I don’t pay. Simple.
Only, it’s not quite as simple. Consider this:
A few months have passed, and your site is working great, only, you’re not getting any visitors. You do a quick Google search, and according to them, your site doesn’t exist. What’s more, you’ve noticed your site doesn’t really look the same on your mobile compared to your desktop: the writing is too small and some of the content doesn’t fit on the page.
You decide to contact your designer because you definitely remember them saying something about them being a “SEO expert”, and how they could get “#1-page rankings”. They also used buzz words like “responsive” and “optimised” when referring to your site, which you took as “it’ll look good on a mobile”. Only, your web designer doesn’t see it that way. They claim that they delivered on what was promised (a website) and that any of the other things mentioned would cost £100s extra.
After a bit of back and forth you slowly realise that maybe that contract wasn’t such a bad idea. You contact a few other web designers and they’re quoting you similar prices. Not only that, but some are telling you your site is actually not “optimised” for SEO and that you might have to consider radically altering or even replacing your site before it can feature on Google or look good on a mobile.
Hiring an Expert
You make the tough decision and decide to hire an expert to sort out the mess. They discuss everything beforehand and you even sign a contract stipulating exactly what they will do and when. Things are looking good.
Your new expert tells you they need access to the back end of the site as well as a domain-name transfer. You have no idea what they’re talking about, but they reassure you that all you must do is contact your previous web designer and they will be able to provide the details for this new expert – it’s all standard procedure, only, it isn’t.
You do as you’re told and contact your old designer with a firm yet formal request for access to your site’s server and transfer of your domain name … No answer. After 3 or 4 attempts you get angry and threaten legal action. You eventually get a reply, to this affect:
In reference to your threat of legal action, I would like to highlight the following points:
- A site was delivered and paid for as per the client’s stipulations.
- The client requested the site name and hosting be included as part of the design process.
- The site name is registered in my name and I hold all legal rights regarding the address.
- I have retained all intellectual property rights of the site and contents therein. The customer has the right to use the site for their own use.
- Any and all modifications to the site must be carried out by myself.
As no legal document was signed stipulating otherwise, you have no legal recourse in this issue.”
Now admittedly, the email may be slightly exaggerated. But this is not far off the experience of countless customers who have encountered rogue web designers or, more often than not, simply didn’t realise what they were buying.
To be fair...
In defence of web designers, some clients expect the world when they request a site even though that hasn’t been part of the contract. In the example above, it was the designer who was at fault – they led a naive client to believe that Search Engine Optimisation would be part of the deal, when in fact proper SEO requires a whole different set of skills and expertise. Also, if a web designer tells you your site will be responsive, this generally means it will look alright on a range of platforms.
But, if SEO hasn’t been promised or included in the contract, you can’t reasonably expect your web designer to be responsible for this after your site has been paid for and signed off. Equally, are you paying a monthly fee to your web designer? If not, again, you can’t reasonably expect them to dedicate extra time and resources to updating/fixing your site.
The point here is that your expectations and your web designer’s responsibilities should be clear from the start and this should be enshrined in some sort of document that you have both agreed to. Some points to consider from the customer’s point of view:
- Have you a registered domain name? If not, would you like your web designer to do this on your behalf whilst still retaining the sole rights to the domain name? This is something that needs to be clearly highlighted in a contract.
- Do you wish to solely own the intellectual property rights of the site once you have purchased it? Or, do you merely want to have some sort of long-term rental agreement that you pay a fixed fee for?
- Do you want your web designer to carry out Search Engine Optimisation? And, if so, to what degree? For example, do you want a site optimised for S.E.O (key words, meta data etc.), or do you want your site indexed as well? Do you want ongoing S.E.O (back link building) or are you taking care of it yourself? These are all important, time-consuming and potentially expensive issues that should be clearly addressed before any project is undertaken.
- Do you want your site to be optimised for mobile/desktop/tablet or completely responsive?
- Can you, or someone working on your behalf, gain access to the back-end of the site (this is where developers carry out work on your site – access to the back end of the site is essential in order to carry out maintenance, updates or site changes). Will you be given access to the host address, username and password (this is not the same as the username and password you use to gain access to the front end of the site, where you update content)?
- Is your web designer creating visual content for your site (images, logos, video clips etc.)? If so, have they legally obtained licences for the software they are using (i.e. photoshop) and are the stock images used done so under the appropriate licence agreement (i.e. have they purchased them, or do they have a free licence?).
The examples above are by no means exhaustive, but they should give you a fair idea of what sort of questions you should be asking any potential web designer in the future. It can seem daunting and complicated but good web designers can walk you through the questions above and write up a contract that you are both happy with.