You should Fire your Web agency when …
It seems I go from client to client and have the same conversation. I spend time educating, explaining and laying out the basics of why they need to ensure that their Online strategies are not based on supplier lockins. It makes sense therefore that I detail some of those issues here and explain the reasons behind them; but first a little potted history.
In the early days of web development designers were using Frontpage or Dreamweaver and relying on basic server or client side scripting techniques to create some dynamic content. Customers who wanted to change content would contact the designer. It was always possible to have a complete copy of your website which you might choose to pass onto another developer or designer. As web hosting companies matured and grew they offered more services and features and suddenly every web designer that worked out how to make more than a basic “Hello World” application was building their own Content Management Systems and then reselling these services to their clients. This was a great time for web designers since they could now encourage clients to view the service as liberating and flexible all the while discouraging their clients from looking elsewhere since they had locked them to their own Content Management Systems.
Not all developers and designers took this approach though and a few used the competitive and creative business models of Open Source to create Content Management Systems which could be freely copied, installed, modified and managed. Initially for many end users though the value in this appeared to be very little since the work in installing these CMS’s was almost too much for many. Again the web developers would coo into the ears of their clients and lull them back to apathy. After all, they were managing everything so it would all be okay.
Things however have changed and its time for a few brave consultants and designers to take the lead and wake up our clients and customers to realise that not only can they manage their content but they can choose their own paths to freedom from oppressive and misleading web agencies. Its now possible to set up a domain , add a content management system, manage email and run a website all for as little as $300 a year and still have the freedom to bring in external consultants, developers and designers to add features, design and content to a website and to have the freedom to allow work to be handled in a more competitive market, which leads me to the title:
You Should Fire your Web Agency When…
They wont build you a Website or Online Strategy which uses off the shelf and Content Management Systems such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.
I love to hear the reasons from these agencies for not doing this. Apparently its not well supported, or you cant do as much programatically with them, or you wont get as good a design choice as if you went with their system. All the above excuses are vanity and laziness.
They wont tell you that you can install and manage a blogging tool as easy as joining WordPress or picking a suitable hosting provider who manages it all for you.
I once listened to a very well respected PR company educate a room all about blogging but continue to downplay the ease with which people could get started. They focused on coming to them for the help and advice on installing and delivering a blog. Seriously are we that Web1.0 in the community that such actions are going to be continually acceptable?
They wont allow you to backup every part of your content of your website for yourself.
Oh the promises I have heard of backups and archiving and protection all of course with an added cost and an added recovery value. Yet more consultancy shenanigans which mislead and misdirect a client to believing that ‘things with computers are still difficult’.
They wont allow you to migrate your website , database, design and content from them to another Host.
Can you imagine paying for a booklet design only to be told that you cant print it anywhere else but with the designer. The serious point here is that if thier back end systems are so “special” and “unique” arent they more a liability that a benefit ?
They wont offer to run a local copy of your Website.
Want to test out ideas, content, layout , design ? Sure but only if you spend a little more with the designer again to have some other hidden site for testing. Again using off the shelf content management systems the client is going to be able to play in their own sandpit and teach, train and learn without risk to live content.
They wont integrate third party widgets and scripts without making your walk through hoops.
They provide meaningless URLs to address your content.
Are you seriously telling me that there is a benefit in delivering a URL that looks like
Compared to one that looks like
Its going to be good for Google, Good for your readers and good for your searches if your content is created with names that humans can actually read.
They rename Images and Image content that gets uploaded.
Do they realise that Google searches images as well as text ? It helps then to have Images stay the way you named them if only to help you and others locate them at a later day ( see above ).
They dont provide a pingback mechanism to update sites like Google of content change.
This one always makes me laugh. Every time I talk to a agency they either do not know what it is or dont understand its value. Either way what is hard about reading this line in wordpress and understanding what it means ?
They dont provide multilevel RSS feeds for content, categories, tags etc.
RSS is hardly an uncommon component for many sites. Again this feature seems to be considered an added extra by many home made CMS products or it is limited to a very narrow series of content on the web. Meanwhile , yes you guessed it , off the shelf CMS products seem to be able to deliver RSS for every occasion. Further its worth checking that the RSS feeds are actually readable by Google reader and not just whatever the in house CMS designer has been using for a reader.
For example add /feed/ to the end of http://www.loudmouthman.com or http://www.loudmouthman.com/category/events . It creates the feeds so you dont have to .
They dont offer a proper Sitemap.
This has to be the most annoying conversation to have everytime. No a sitemap is not just the nice collection of links which mirror your menu structure for your visitors to read. It is also a file which search engines are reading in order to be informed about what pages are where and their frequency of change and well plenty more content besides.
Plugins are ten a penny for WordPress to create sitemaps for you on the fly
Their product runs on expensive architecture to deliver a website.
An occasional caveat from Webagencies is that they will allow you to run a local or another copy of their content management system but you will need to purchase some additional product and application licenses on which the site will run. If they have built a CMS on such architecture then you can expect the costs for hosting and managing just such an environment to continue to grow.
The software to run this website consists of an operating system called Linux which runs a Web Server application called Apache that uses a database server called Mysql and its tied together with PHP ( L.A.M.P ) oh and its all free to own, use and access. I can run it on a machine as cheap as £99 and still serve a few thousand page hits a day.
They cannot point you to a number of other consultants, hosting companies and agencies that can support the work they did.
Interesting point this one. Many companies choose Word because, well everyone else uses it. They choose Windows because well they can go out and get support from a number of suppliers. Likewise they choose Personal Computers from suppliers because they can choose from a range of suppliers. However when they choose a supplier for their online strategy they seem quite happy for the answers to be based around technology that can only work in one place and with one supplier. Go Figure ?
They cant point to training material that supports using their services other than those upsold items of their own devising.
Pretty much the same point as above. Would it not be better to train staff in technologies and toolsets that are transferable not simply provision locked ?
There we go , there are many more reasons to Fire Your Webdesigner but the above list seems to cover the core information which I repeat.
The of course in being the little boy in the crowd shouting out about the nakedness of a clients strategy is that your never going to be popular with the crowd but at least the Client ( and the Emperor ) are going to appreciate getting better cover.
Thanks for reading.
[update] Dont be afraid to pimp yourself or your agency if you dont break any of these rules. Also if you can think of more things I can add in then drop them into the comments. Thanks again.