A question was posed on Quora recently about scams from purported “web designers”. I have always taken business ethics very seriously and recognise that my customers have a choice over whether they use me or someone else. I felt compelled to give an answer to this question.
Whether you would call some of these true ‘scams’ or just shady practices all comes down to your level of business ethics. To me, these are all deceitful and deliberate attempts to mislead the customer.
Offshoring the work but not telling the customer
Offshoring work but using local contact details such as a local phone number, business address to make out that the business is located close by. For a lot of business owners the fact they can pick up the phone to speak with or arrange to meet face to face the designer of their website is important. Hiding the the fact that the work is actually being done thousands of miles away in a different time zone by people who are freelancers is definitely suspect.
Should the business owner want to update their website, unless the freelancer has done a good job of marking up and commenting their code, who ever has the task of unpicking the existing code to make changes has a harder job on their hands.
Fake reviews and testimonials
Fake reviews and testimonials. I don’t mean ‘the friend you asked to favourably review your web design business in exchange for a few beers’, type of thing. I know of one web design agency close to me that have created an entirely fictitious person, business and backstory in order to create a review on their website. It is elaborate, detailed and a complete falsehood. If they will go to the effort of creating a fake testimonial for themselves, what else are they prepared to make up or be creative about? I wrote in greater depth on this story in Sharp Practices by Web Designers.
Cookie Cutter Site development
‘Cookie cutter’ web site development. There is a marketing firm not far from me that advertise their ability to create websites for incredibly low prices. It is only when you look at the output they have created that you recognise a startling similarity between all their sites. They have used the same web-builder tool for all of them and worse than that, they have used an identical template for all sites. Every site they produce is a clone of the last.
The only differences being background colors, text, logos and any images. The layouts, menus and structure are identical. They have taken a tool the business owner could have used themselves, dropped in the content (no doubt created by the business owner) and have the cheek to call themselves ‘web designers’.
Unethical SEO Services
SEO Services. There are some genuine and professional SEO service providers out there. They seem to be outnumbered by the scammers and crooks who promise “top ranking in Google” or “first page in all search engines”. For the business owner who knows little about how the search engines work (and let’s face it, that is most business owners) but is keen for their business to grow, these sort of promises sound ideal. Of course what the SEO scammer does not say, is that the top ranking is either for the most obscure ‘long tail key word’, or achieved through dubious means. The former has no meaningful impact on the business since very few searches are made for that ‘long tail key word’ whilst the latter has a dramatic effect upon their business once the search engines punish the site for employing suspect methods to raise its ranking.
Over charging. The situation that comes to mind most readily is the web design agency that says they can handle domain registration and / or hosting. They then massively inflate the costs incurred when invoicing the customer. I’ve seen bills for hundreds of dollars for registering a domain or hosting it.
When you investigate where it is being hosted, it is easy to see that the real price is around $60 / year. Meanwhile the customer is being charged $500. In my view this is taking advantage of the customers lack of knowledge to make a fast buck.
To me, as a web designer / web developer, integrity is everything. I need and want my customers to trust me and heed the well given advice I offer them. To be less than 100% honest at all times risks damaging that hard earned trust. I want the relationship with my customers to be a partnership that stands the test of time; treating them as idiots or ‘cash cows’ to be milked feels plain wrong.