19 Things not to do when building a website

I found this fun post about what not to do with a website on one of my mailing lists this week. Josiah hits many nails right on their respective heads here…

Here’s my favorite:

6. This one is going to get me in trouble. If you are a print designer, and “do websites on the side”, STOP DOING websites and providing “advice” to your print clients about web design. Print design to web design is like designing an ad for a race car, and actually building and racing that race car. Don’t get me wrong, print is great and all, you make pretty pictures and wonderful messages crafted with great copy, but when it comes down to it, it’s still just a picture. People cannot buy the product with a print ad (yet), they can’t communicate with your business through a print ad. I can already here the grumbling coming from the print world, and look, it’s not that I don’t see a purpose for print advertising, just stick to print and don’t nose you’re way into a medium which you do not know and wouldn’t understand (same goes for general “geeks” who do websites ‘on the side’).

I couldn’t agree more. Earlier this week I got a call from a potential client – we were supposed to meet to discuss a site for her employer, who’s building a very large and very upscale business park.

She apologized but said that her employer had decided to ‘get a personal friend’ to build their site instead.

I wrote her back, thanking her for letting me know, and suggesting she contact me in six months if they need SEO help for their new site. I can just imagine what it’s going to look like – this is a huge mistake, IMO, that’s going to cost them down the road.

Just because you have Dreamweaver, that doesn’t make you a professional web designer, any more than having QuickBooks makes you an accountant. Sorry, but it’s too true!


  1. It depends on the company and the purpose for the website. There are websites where seo isn’t a consideration. There are websites whose function is exactly the same as a brochure.

    The problem with a novice is that they may not have the perspective to know. But even a pro issn’t necessarily given the purview to do what is necessary. It happens.

  2. I totally agree with that. I can’t believe the number of times people say, “My little cousin is designing my web site.” People don’t realize the impact a web site can have for their company. Your web site is there to offer information, support, advertising and more for your potential clients and people don’t get that! They wouldn’t just hire anyone to design a print ad for them, but they get any Joe who can turn on a computer and has Dream weaver of Front page, to design their web site. There is so much to consider from, cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility, load time, user-friendliness, while making the web site visually appealing. Web designers need the respect they deserve and we just don’t get it. This is also the reason why some web people are forced to do print work. It’s also ridiculous how, in order to get most jobs, you have to know print programs, as well as web design and coding. We’re going to end up with a generation full of Jacks of all trades and masters of none, if people don’t give respect where it is due. Whatever happened to specializing in the design world?

  3. I know designers who do both print and Web work and are very capable. And even those seasoned design veterans all began their professional lives as “beginners.”

    I’ve generally found that the real snag in most design processes are overzealous “Marketing Departments” and/or other non-technical and design challenged “upper management types” who all think they’re design experts. Their interference and dearth of design skills oftentimes make even the simplest design projects a walk through hell and back.

    And in your case, it seems a matter of “upper management” — of that particular company — continuing that very cycle.

  4. I kind of agree with you but, I am a wanna be web page designer. I wasn’t born a web page designer and I don’t believe anyone is. The only way to get good is to either copy someone else (unethical but still done A LOT)or keep taking on jobs that challenge you to get better. So, even tho I am only a geek inspiring to be a web page designer, I will not STOP. I would like to read the whole post on this subject. It could help me. Thanks,

  5. James, I totally agree – I learned how to be a web designer by starting with other people’s sites. I don’t know how you can learn otherwise – certainly hands-on is better than reading about it in a book for me, and taking apart other websites is a great way to figure out how they work.

  6. I sort of agree, to a certain extent.

    Deion Sanders was a great pro football player, and a pretty good pro baseball player. Does that mean every pro football player would make a decent pro baseball player? No.

    I think there are a few creative types that are good at cross-over design, however, just like the Deion Sanders example, it’s few and far between.

    In general, I think it’s better to stick with one media and try to be the best that you can at it.

  7. I started building websites (as a computer studies student) a few years ago. I teamed up with a friend of mine who is also a graphic designer. There is so much you need to know about building websites, and starting from the bottom can be very difficult. We were inspired by a lot of other web design companys who were churning out terrible websites, and there were a lot of them, when we realised we could compete we went for it and it has paid off! Lerning about usability, copywriting, seo, standards….blah blah is very difficult if you have coursework and a full time job to do! Web design takes a lot more than most would think, and learning to build websites of a professional standard is far far far from easy – and if you cant do that, then you should not be doing it at all! But of course – you have to start somewhere! haha

  8. I agree with you, again to an extent. I’m a web designer, not a print designer, and while I’m good with backend programming of databases, e-commerce etc. I’m better at frontend design and coding XHTML/CSS. I’ve started collaborating a bit more recently because I don’t want to do clients a disservice by attempting work that I could probably do, given enough time, but for which I know others that can do it better and faster.

    I think it’s essential to my creativity to learn new aspects of my business and I’m continuing to teach myself more about PHP and MySQL, but for the sake of clients my focus has to be on what I’m best at. If that doesn’t sound too wishy-washy.

    I take on programming work that’s at or just above my level, but unless it’s a personal project I don’t promise that I can personally do something that’s way beyond me at this time. I collaborate instead, and I usually learn something in the process that I can take to the next client.

    I suppose my take-home message would be ‘become excellent at what you love, but don’t get pigeonholed.’

  9. I fully agree with Debbie’s post. There are many designers out there who have equal training in both web and print, and do web design “on the side” because their full time job does not provide them enough web clients.

    With anything, especially web, if you do not keep yourself current, you lose it quickly. The trick is knowing where to draw the line. I design with CSS, HTML and Flash, but if a client wants database or shopping features on their site, I collaborate with a programmer.

    Like Debbie, I wouldn’t want to do my clients a disservice by claiming to be something I am not, but I am not going to stop designing for web just because my full time job is mostly in print.

  10. I know from experience that designing websites is not for every one. I am a backend developer (PHP and MySQL) but I keep refusing to do to much HTML (I use templates so the designers can do their thing). If you were to go to my personal site you’d see just experimentation.

    My header image I had a real designer do for me and she recommended the background color, but the rest is mine. What a mess.

    I also don’t have much time to deal with my own site because I have one client who has more than enough clients to keep me busy.

  11. Debbie, I hate reading a comment like yours – it’s like a cold slap in the face – because I know you are absolutely right. My sister developed an outstanding product, we had no money, just a dream. I wanted to learn about how the internet worked so I set out to design a website (simple FrontPage) to sell her product. It works (to a point) and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do but I’m an accountant not a webdesigner. I can only imagine how many sales we are missing out on by not having a professionally designed site. Please provide some feedback on what small businesses should expect to pay for some of these services. Are there straight forward canned-packages out there that provide the technical framework of commerce, passwords (special section for distributor ordering etc.) and other items so that the professional marketing and informational content can be built around it? It’s been in the back of my mind, but I needed that slap in the face to wake me up. Thanks, I needed that!

  12. Hi Carl – actually there are a lot of ‘canned packages’ that provide a framework for small businesses selling products online. They’re usually referred to as shopping carts, and there are a lot of them to choose from ranging from free (like ZenCart, which requires a web developer to do most of the setup for you) to hosted solutions like MonsterCommerce (which you can set up yourself, starting at $50 per month and going up to about $100 per month depending on your needs).

    I use OptionCart frequently because it can be dropped right into an existing web site – but this requires a programmer familiar with PHP and MySQL. Most non-hosted sites do.

    X-Cart is also a very customizable solution and like most non-hosted carts, will require a web designer/developer to set up for you as well as modify the templates provided by default to give your site a unique look.

    With most shopping carts you’ll need to have a merchant account with your bank as well as a payment processor for real-time online purchasing. These include Authorize.Net, TrustCommerce, First Data, Bank of America, PayPal, and many others. Typically $20-35 per month is what you’ll pay for this service. You’ll also pay the usual per-transaction fees and percentages for credit card purchases.

    Does that help?

  13. Josiah is spot on with this one. Billy Bob’s brother-in law’s third cousin is how we refer to ‘a personal friend’ who does web sites on the side. Generally the result is a piece of Cr@p.


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