Tag Archives: bait and switch

Business Ethics and Web Design

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.
Business offshoringShould 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.
Web site clonesThe 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.

Inflating Prices

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.web agencies that overcharge
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.

Sharp Practices by Web Designers

Recently, I noticed in my Facebook feed the name of a local web designer that was new to me.  Being curious and wanting to keep abreast of the competition, I looked them up.  I was disappointed to discover they had adopted a number of tactics that were clearly pushing the boundaries of what could be described as honest.

It got me thinking, I am the only web designer that is entirely truthful on my site and in my marketing?

So, what was this new entrant doing that was misleading and potentially dishonest?

Their Facebook ad looked like this…

Taken at face value (as many potential customers will do), this is  an unbelievable bargain.  Even outsourcing to the cheapest and least skilled offshore supplier imaginable, there is no way a ‘professional’ website could be created for £49.  And of course, it isn’t true.  Following the link to their website reveals that the real cost is £49 per month (oh and on top of that there is an ‘initial set up’ fee of £199 as well).

Assuming the business maintains the website for five years, it will have really cost an eye watering £3139 before any VAT / sales tax has been added.

Secondly, the business in question had a glowing testimonial from a garage owner who seemed delighted with the service provided.  It sounds as if the new website had already born fruit and was bringing in new business.  Oddly, there was no link to the site in question which seemed peculiar given the situation.  Stranger still, a search on Google for Prestfield Motors returned no matches whatsoever.  In fact, there were no matches for Kenny Sinclair and the motor trade in Edinburgh.  Zero, nil, zilch, zip.

It was a fake testimonial from a fake business alleging benefits that were utterly fake.  It got me wondering who was in the picture, was this really Kenny Sinclair or was he a fake too?

Of course he was a fake!  Using the ever so handy Google Reverse Image Search facility revealed that ‘Kenny’ is a prolific chap.   He appears on a hair loss website in South Africa, an Arizona skin clinic site, a UK house sale site as well as countless social media sites.‘So what’ I hear you say, don’t we all embellish the truth a bit?  Well, yes and no.  It depends on how far you take the embellishment.  In this case, the deliberate attempt to mislead on pricing is pretty close to the widely discredited and highly disliked technique of “bait and switch“.  The use of a stock image in a testimonial whilst you are awaiting a photo from the customer is understandable but deliberately creating a fake identity, a fake business and a whole fake story to sell your services is downright dishonest.  As soon as a potential customer realises your claims are unfounded they should begin to question everything you say.

For example, is your support as good as you claim?  Is your uptime really as high as you indicate?  Are you truly based in the local area or are you a front for a “pile it high, sell it cheap” offshore operation?

It is all about credibility.  Most customers do not want to do business with a firm that feels it is OK to deliberately mislead and be dishonest on their website.  Why would you trust a firm that did this?  After all, if they do this on their own site, there is a good chance they could do it on yours too.

Whatever your line of business, think carefully before making unclear, misleading or entirely false claims on your website.  The consequences will inevitably come back to bite you.