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So, you think you have paid for a customised website design?

The scenarios I am going to depict here are the most common that I ever come across as a professional web designer and developer. Recently I have acquired several clients who have discovered that they hadn’t got the type of website that they thought they had, The reason they came to me was because of the following:

  • Being constantly charged for very small amendments on their site that should have been well within their editorial capability as a website owner but, strangely enough, they didn’t have access to. Good way to make money
  • Wanting some customisation to the site either for appearance or function but being told by the “web designer/developer” that this was not possible for their site. I wonder why?
  • Finding that the small things they might be able to do on their site had to be done via a very clunky and confusing interface, perhaps by copying bits of code and placing them in pages or dragging and dropping elements from a tool bar. Definitely not WYSIWYG
  • Not being able to actually get hold of the “web designer/developer”. This might be because said person feels they have done their job by taking your money and what more do they need to do?
  • Getting to the point where they decide they want to transfer their site elewhere and discovering that there is no facility to export the content or the actual site template with all the styling. They don’t actually own the site template or their content. They would have to start from scratch. If they’re very unlucky they might discover that “their” domain name isn’t registered in their name

The one thing that I haven’t even mentioned yet is the bit about a “customised” web design. When I get new clients with problems like the above they haven’t even thought that they might not have a unique website design. They just assume that they have. Mostly because they have paid enough for a bespoke theme. What they usually have is an off-the-peg theme, either free or bought very cheaply and then that theme might have a facility for changing a few key colours and inserting new images and a header with logo. Any resistance you may have had from the “web designer/developer” to do with styling or function will be because that theme can not provide the level of customisation you want and even if it did have some possibilities said person may not have the skills to do this. Sorry if the vitriol is leaking out here.

I am definitely not against the use of ready-made templates. There are some extremely well made and respectably coded ones that provide an excellent start for a business needing a website. However not all “web designer/developers” know enough to use one of these. Also, I strongly believe that there should be transparency in a client/ designer relationship. If a client of mine needed a website within a low budget then I would have no hesitation in suggesting to them that I use a well-constructed WordPress theme that I would customise a little by creating a child theme for them. Later on this could be simply migrated to a bespoke theme. The important word in this paragraph is TRANSPARENCY.

How to find out what you have got

The child theme situation

There is a fairly easy way to find out if you have a theme unique to you or an off-the-peg theme.In any website menu bar there is an item that says “view source”. Click on this and you will get a view of your web page that shows all the code on the page. If it is a WordPress site then near the top you will see

<link rel=“stylesheet” type=“text/css” media=“all” href=“” />

and if it is doing a child theme further down you will see this:

<link rel=‘stylesheet’ id=‘parent-style-css’ href=‘′ type=‘text/css’ media=‘all’ />

The twenty ten is the parent theme. If you Google the theme name then you can find out more about it. Such as, is it free or has it been paid for and how much.

You might find something like this:

<link rel=‘stylesheet’ id=‘child-theme-css’ href=‘′ type=‘text/css’ media=‘all’ />

If you Google ‘metric theme’ you get to here and discover that this theme is no longer available (neither will be the support). You also discover that the themes by this author cost approx $49 (approx £35) to purchase. I wonder how much this website owner paid the “web designer/developer”?

The website builder hosted situation

Then there is the situation where you have a website “designed” and hosted but it’s not hosted on your own server. It’s on servers belonging to organisations like SquareSpace ( or Weebly ( or Moonfruit ( The code would show:

<meta property=“og:image” content=“”/>

<meta property=“og:image” content=“”>

There is nothing wrong with these website solutions as long as you know what you are getting and what the costs involved are. Really, these solutions are there for the man/woman on the street who needs a website and needs it very cheap. They don’t need to have particular technical web knowhow as they are set up for the lay person to use.

So why do I see situations whereby a “web designer/developer” is charging the client quite a lot of money for providing a website that the client would be able to do for themselves. Not so bad if the client knows the situation and just doesn’t want to do it. But the “web designer/developer” should not be charging very much for the service. Have a look for yourselves and see what Squarespace, Weebly and Moonfruit charge. You might get a surprise.

The other thing about the above situations for Weebly and Moonfruit is that the content can’t be exported for use elsewhere. You would have to start from scratch when wanting a more bespoke situation. This point may come sooner rather than later as there are limitations on what you can get your site to do. Squarespace does have the facility to pull in data from WordPress and export to WordPress.

Summing up

Make sure you ask the questions so that you find out exactly what you are getting and what you are paying for. As long as you know then you can make your choices. If a “web designer/developer” is not being truthful about what you are getting should you trust them to do the best for your business?

Have a look at my checklist. It will help you to know what to look for.

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