As a health professional, your business is helping people improve their health and well-being, not website design.
You KNOW you need a website, so perhaps you’d rather just throw money at a digital agency to build you a new site or redesign your existing one.
And look, I get it. That’s just good business sense. But how do you know the agency has your best interest in mind?
How do you know they’re giving you an honest assessment of what you need (as opposed to what they want to sell you) and charging you a fair price?
I’ve worked with numerous health professionals and organisations who were sold expensive custom websites they didn’t need, which were poorly done, and charged tens of thousands of dollars for work that was farmed out to India. To add insult to injury, they didn’t even have full control over their own website which meant they were tethered to their agency or web developer (i.e., being held hostage).
After bringing some of these issues to their attention, the unanimous chorus was always the same: “Oh sh*t! I wish I had known all this before I spent thousands on a white elephant of a website.”
And that’s precisely why I wrote this article.
I have included a number of pitfalls and considerations you need to know NOW – before you pay for a website or a website redesign.
Problem 1: Websites can be expensive – get what you pay for
No matter what you consider expensive, my warning here is really about paying a fair price for what you’re actually getting.
Why it’s a problem
Let’s be clear about one thing: web developers do have technical skills and they deserve to be paid well for their work – that is, if they’re actually doing the work.
The sleight of hand comes when they explicitly tell you (or lead you to believe) they’re going to “build” you a “custom” website and then quote you a high price for it.
This phrasing gives the impression they’re going to build you a website… from scratch… by a live nerd… customised to your exact needs.
It’s quite common for web agencies to simply install WordPress on your domain (your-business.com) and then use a commercially available white label theme which they “customise” to your specifications (a theme is like a pre-built framework or skin that wraps around your WordPress installation and gives it its outward appearance to the world).
All the heavy lifting and hard work has already been done by the theme’s author, meaning the agency only has to edit the theme and move a few things around to “customise” it to your liking (or farm out the work to a third-world country for a fraction of his fee). Admittedly, editing a theme can be tedious and time consuming too, but it’s absolutely NOTHING like building a custom site from scratch (which I’ll talk about next).
Have a friendly but blunt conversation with your potential web agency or developer and make sure it’s clear and left in no uncertain terms if you are getting a site coded from scratch (or using a base template) or a pre-developed, commercially-available white label theme edited to your needs.
Be clear about your budget and get a concrete price. Sometimes developers low-ball the numbers a bit to get you on the hook and then later slap you with an invoice for additional “unforeseen” charges.
Get a written quote on the work to be done so everything is specifically outlined and make sure you’re in agreement.
Feel free to send me a copy of the quote before you enter into any contracts and I can let you know if there are any red flags.
Problem 2: You’re being pressured to buy a custom website built from scratch
Be careful if an agency is trying to talk you into a paying for a custom website. Aside from being expensive, there are some other potential headaches awaiting you down the road if you’re not paying attention.
Why it’s a problem
A custom website is overkill in many cases. They’re trying to sell you a Ferrari when all you need is a Toyota to get around town.
Unless you have VERY specific needs or requirements that cannot be met by existing commercially available solutions, then a custom built website is probably not necessary.
If a web developer literally builds your site from the ground up, then you might also be tied to that developer long-term. Sometimes a website’s custom coding can be so complex and convoluted that the only person who can really understand its intricacies is the original developer. That’s great business for the developer but not so good for you if you decide you want to move on to a different web agency.
Make sure you actually NEED a custom theme before signing on the dotted line.
If you have specialised website requirements like database integrations, custom learning platforms, and specialised ecommerce and payment solutions, then a custom site might be appropriate.
Otherwise, a commercially available WordPress theme should meet your needs and be very affordable. And not only that, nearly anyone can work with a commercially available theme because they are well-documented (i.e., they have a detailed users manual).
If you’re on a budget, then buy the theme yourself and hire a freelancer to customise the website at a fraction of the price for a fixed pay-per-deliverable fee.
Bottom line: if you’re feeling pressured to buy a custom-built site, then seek a second or third opinion. Or heck, send me an email with the quote and I’ll look it over for free!
Problem 3: Web developer has restricted access to your own website
This one REALLY pisses me off. I’ve worked with clients who were given “editor” access instead of full “administrator” privileges to their own websites.
Why it’s a problem
It’s a problem because without administrator privileges you are essentially being held hostage by your developer. It’s also a problem because most people don’t even know anything about the different permission levels and are none the wiser.
With editor privileges, you can only publish and manage posts. You are unable to do your own updates, add plugins, or add users (i.e., other staff members). You are at the mercy of your web developer who actually DOES have full administrator level permissions.
Depending on your particular arrangement with your agency, you might get charged for each of these basic tasks that you could easily do yourself.
What if you decide that you want to move to a different web developer? Or maybe you’ve learned a bit about websites and want to run everything yourself. Or if you want to migrate your website to a new domain (your-new-business.com).
If you don’t have administrator level privileges to your website (nor access to the hosting account that houses your WordPress core files), then your developer can make it very difficult for you to move your website.
First, check your current permissions. Go to your WordPress dashboard and then click on “Users” on the left-hand navigation menu. On the next screen, look at your user name and you will see your currently assigned role. If it says anything else but administrator, then you do not have full permissions to your own website.
Call up your web agency and politely tell them you would like full administrator privileges for your website. If they hesitate, then remind them that it is your website and they work for you, not the other way around.
Some developers operate on a dependency model that always keeps you one step down the food chain so you can’t move your website (not easily anyway) without their blessing.
Beware they might feed you fear tactics that if you have administrator access then you’re going to break your website. And if you break your website they’re going to charge you hefty fees to “fix” it. Chances are, you won’t break your site.
Problem 4: You don’t have access to your hosting account
Having access to your hosting account allows you to set up email accounts or do certain customisations that require hosting-level access.
Why it’s a problem
Web developers often have a hosting reseller account and simply create a space for your website amongst their other clients.
Depending on the configuration of the reseller account, they might not be able to give you access to your hosting account if it means you could access another client’s website.
I’ll state up front that if you’re not web savvy, a hosting account can be a very daunting techie sort of place (until you learn what’s what and how to get around).
Be that as it may, even if you never touch it, I still think it’s good to have full access and control of your own hosting account, and here’s why.
If down the road you decide to change hosting companies or web agencies for a better service or price, then you should have the freedom to do this with no questions asked.
It’s your website and you should have full control over it. If you don’t, then you’re sort of just “renting” your own website.
Before you agree to pay a web developer for services, ask them for full access to the hosting account. They can still manage it for you, but you simply want to have that full access if need be. If they do a good job and play nice and fair, then you should have no reason to want to move on to another provider. In a sense, you could say it’s a way to keep them honest.
Problem 5: Your domain (yourbiz.com) is registered by your developer
This opens up the question of who owns your domain name, you or your web agency (or developer).
Even if you have a good relationship with your web developer/agency, I often recommend registering and maintaining autonomous control of your domain name. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, there’s no compelling reason why anyone else needs full control of your domain.
Why it’s a problem
If your web developer registered your domain in their own name then they “own” your domain.
If the developer registered it in your name but on their corporate account (on your behalf), then you own it, but the developer controls it.
If you ever decide you want to move your website to another hosting company (or agency who will manage your hosting), then you’ll need access to and control over your domain name. In most cases, honest developers/agencies will simple release your domain to you no questions asked.
However, in the case of dodgy operators, without control of your domain, any of the following scenarios could occur:
- Web developer can make it difficult for you to move your website
- Web developer can fabricate charges and threaten to shut down your site unless you pay
- Web developer can hold your domain name for “ransom” and not release it until you pay
Wrestling back control of your domain can be easy or difficult depending on your country’s laws and your top-level domain (i.e., .com, .com.au, .co.uk, etc).
Take full control of your domain name.
First, go to whois.domaintools.com, type in your domain name, and see if your site is registered in your name. If not, then you’ll need to speak to your web developer about transferring it into your name.
Here’s a brief overview of the transfer process
- Create your own registrar account (with GoDaddy, Crazy Domains, etc)
- Tell the agency to unlock your domain name
- Tell the agency you need the authorisation codes (also called EPP codes or transfer keys) for the domain name in order for it to be released to you
- Initiate a domain transfer in the control panel of your registrar account (ask their support staff if you need help)
- An email regarding intent to transfer the domain will be sent from your new registrar to the email account associated with your domain on the old registrar account (probably your agency’s email address). The agency will need to respond and release the domain or they can change the contact email to your email address so the release email comes to you.
- The transfer process can take anywhere from one to ten days, but is usually somewhere in the middle.
- Once transferred, you’ll need to ensure the nameservers in your new registrar account are pointing to your current hosting provider. In simple terms, this just means linking up your domain name to your hosting account.
*Note: this is just a general overview of the process, so ask your registrar for specific guidelines as necessary.
Problem 6: Your site is not search engine optimised
When you pay for a new website, you might have the expectation that your site will be easily found and indexed by search engines. But unfortunately, in most cases, tweaking the site to rank well in organic searches is a separate service.
Why it’s a problem
Yes, the agency set up your site and you’re paying them monthly fees to “manage” your website, but that’s it.
Want search engine optimisation? A conversation with your web developer might go something like this: “Oh, right, so you want to appear high up in Google’s search results? That’s a separate service and will cost you $2000 to $4000, plus ongoing fees.”
I’ve worked with some clients who had beautiful, aesthetically pleasing websites, but they were very poorly optimised for search engines.
Remember that Google is a search engine but it’s also a matchmaker between searchers’ queries and the results that best serve that query.
Google needs to be able to effectively index your website. Since Google is a robot and not a human being, it can only scan your website’s code. In doing so, you need to be clear and descriptive in key areas (like your page title tags, heading tags, etc) so that Google can then index it properly.
A few common SEO problems include:
- Page title tags that are vague and do not reflect the page contents
- Pages do not have important H1 and H2 heading tags or the information in the heading tags is not descriptive
- Pages do not have enough content or content is poorly written with no central theme
- Pages are slow loading due to massive image file sizes (i.e., a profile pic that is 10 MB)
- Images are missing alternative “alt” text
Google looks at all these factors together and develops an understanding of:
- Your website’s overall theme (i.e., nutrition, physiotherapy, etc); and
- Each page’s central topic
If you miss the basics, then Google will have NO IDEA what your site is about or how to index and serve your content to meet searchers’ queries.
If you do appear in Google search results, you might be way down at the bottom of page 1, or worse, banished to the Siberian wasteland of page 2 and beyond (where most mortal searchers seldom go!).
Ask your developer about SEO and if this is included in the price you’re paying for a new website or a site redesign. If it’s going to cost you, then how much?
SEO is not insignificant. I have yet to meet a website owner who doesn’t want to appear high up on the Google rankings.
Here at Health Pro Digital, we provide SEO training as part of our digital education service and also in the handover process with every new site we deliver. We bake high quality SEO into every website and teach our clients to maintain good practices moving forward.
Take home message
Just as the health “industry” is loaded with quacks selling detoxes and fat-blaster supplements, the digital world has some dodgy operators too. To be fair, not all agencies are “out to get you” but you do need to have an understanding of what you’re getting relative to what you’re being charged. Make sure you have a clear idea in mind about what you NEED and then see if you can have your needs met by commercially available options. Also make sure you have full control of all your digital assets and accounts (website files, hosting account, registrar account, domain name, etc). If you’re confused, send me an email and I can review quotes or provide a few tips to ensure you get the best deal.