In today’s ever-democratizing digital marketplace, there is no shortage of web designers and web design companies.

GTI website redesign concept by Jared GrangerIn some ways, this is a huge advantage for those of us with no web design experience who are looking to create or revamp our websites. We now have a wide variety of options in terms of price range, features, aesthetic, and more. It is easier, faster, and cheaper than ever to create the exact kind of website you may want.

On the other hand, this abundance of web design options can be a negative: web designers understand the competitive marketplace in which they are working. As professionals, they also understand that they know much more about making and editing a website than you do.

Sadly, some designers will use this knowledge against you. Here are some unfortunate ways that a web designer could scam you:

1) Taking your money but not doing the work
Let’s say you’ve found a wonderful designer who you can’t wait to work with. After they receive your initial deposit, it’s possible that you may never hear from them again. To protect yourself, never pay the full amount up front and try to set up a milestone payment plan. Be cautious of any web design firm that wants more than one third of the cost of the design before the work starts.

2) Doing some of the work, but not as agreed upon

We recently received the following review for a SEO and web design firm from a dissatisfied customer:

“This company did nothing that was in the contract. Resolution of super bad photos, email and form not working. Google analytics not working, unfinished SEO, horrible designer. Awful service. I do not recommend their services to anyone.”

The best way to handle a situation like this is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place with strong communication with the design firm. If no amount of communication helps to solve the problem, you could try using a third party mediator. If you need to go that route, choose someone with enough industry know-how that can easily pinpoint the problem from a technical angle. If none of those options work, your next step would be to contact another web firm and have them do an audit of the current state of your site.

3) Inflating the price of associated costs

Whether it’s graphics, fonts, plug-ins, or themes: if you allow the web designer to purchase them and then bill you for their cost, you might be paying more than you should. If you buy them yourself, you have the added bonus of access to licenses and support as well as the ability to transfer them to another designer if you decide to change direction.

4) Hijacking your website or holding it hostage

hijacking a website web designerAlso make sure to purchase your own domain name. It’s tempting to have the designer take care of such details on your behalf, but there could be long term repercussions with that choice. The designer could remove your site from the domain and replace it with spammy or malicious content or ask additional money as ‘ransom’ for ownership transfer. Remember: If a web designer buys a domain for you – they own that domain name. 

5) Telling you the design is custom when it’s really a modified template

While both avenues of web design have their advantages and disadvantages, you should not be paying a custom design fee if the designer is using a pre-made template or theme bought off the shelf or downloaded for free. Ethical web designers will be transparent with you about what you’re getting. Make sure you confirm the design type with web firm and don’t be afraid to check for yourself whether the site is template or custom.

Due to the prevalence of these common scams, you should be prudent in your choice of web designer or web design company. If you have no experience in the field, making sure you are getting the best website for your investment may appear to be ultra complicated.

So, how can you hold your web designer accountable and guarantee that your website will be the one you want, for the price you want?

Here are our tips:

1) Be realistic about your budget and deliverables

Clearly, a complicated, aesthetically beautiful, and modern website will cost you much more than a simple blog. You may find it helpful to create a checklist so that both you and the web designer or web design company you choose understand your desired outcomes.

2) Prioritize what your needs are for your website

In order to get an honest estimate from a web designer, like most other services, it is essential to prioritize your website needs. If you are creating a personal portfolio, for example, you will have different needs and expectations than if you aim to sell a product or provide more visibility for your company. Which brings us to our next tip…

3) Be clear about what you want your website to ultimately look like and what features or content you want

Web desgin designer This includes not just the overall look and feel of the website, but also social media integration, plug-ins, and other features. Both you and the web designer you ultimately choose should be clear on these fronts. The agreed-upon budget should reflect the content you will need (e.g. photos, banners, social media integration) and the tools that are needed to put these on your site so that these are not considered “add-ons” later—as this can drive up the final cost in a major way.

4) Make sure the company/web developer is able to fulfill the needs and expectations you have for your website

They should have a working knowledge of all the tools and programs they will be using in order to create the site. This includes, but is not limited to:

• What coding languages the designer uses
• What editing tools they have at their availability
• Their level of experience in using these tools

Bear in mind that not every web designer is well-versed in all the platforms that may be needed to create your ideal website. It is not uncommon for web designers to outsource some of their work.

This can happen for multiple reasons: the web designer may not have the time or the resources to work on every detail of the website, or they may not have the knowledge required for all the features you may need. Outsourcing, logically, will drive up the cost of the project. As such, make sure you ask what percentage of the project (if any) will be outsourced, and understand what the cost of this will be.

5) Know what Content Management System (CMS) the web developer will be using

CMS Content Management Service SystemIdeally, the web designer should use an open-source (like WordPress) CMS so that you can more easily edit both the content and the format of the website after it’s built.

If a web design company uses an unusual/outdated/difficult CMS, it becomes much more difficult to make changes in the future. This could mean having to rely on the design company for longer than desired. Of course, this also depends on your level of familiarity with these platforms.

If you want to be able to make further changes to your website without having to rely on the web designer in the future–which will ultimately cost you–make sure you are somewhat familiar with the platform they are using. If you want to be able to edit your website later on, this may mean having to make sacrifices in terms of the complexity of your site. Even if you or your company have the internal resources to be able to edit a more complex website later on, it is still essential to make sure all parties are able to navigate the CMS that is used to create the site.

Ultimately, it is most important to be clear on the front end of the project. This decreases the likelihood that a web designer tries to “scam” you, or–most likely, come up with more “add-ons” on the latter end of the project.

Have you ever been a victim of web design deceit? If you have additional advice for vetting designers or firms, please let us know in the comments!