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Evaluating the Competition
Checking out the expertise of competing web designers
altdelete




msg:3509989
 6:19 pm on Nov 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hello everyone!

I've been lurking here for awhile and really appreciate this site.

I am considering doing freelance web design, SEO, and web maintenance.

But I taught myself a lot over the past few years and I have always been a computer/techie type. I have a degree that included many programming classes. Lately, I have decided to "fill in the blanks" in my education and learn a lot of the things I don't know, so I'm taking classes. For instance, I'm really learning HTML (meaning CSS and layout with CSS and not tables, coding so that it meets w3.org standards and validates...)

A friend asked me to help them with a site and this has lead to my seriously considering my own business.

But I'm one of those people who really researches things and learns all they can. I've been looking at a lot of websites and reading all I can.

I have been checking out "Web Design" firms, nationally and locally, to look at their code, look at what they tell clients they do for them, see what they charge...all the particulars. I want to see how my skills and knowledge measure up. And as we all know, there are lots of myths out there and bad practices that some people still use.

Here are a few questions I have based on all my evaluating and looking:

1. What can you conclude, if anything, about designers who are still using tables for layout, not using CSS, using Frontpage, uses Javascript for menus (which means the search engines can't read them)...etc? To me, it says they don't understand their field very well.

2. What do clients care about all these things? I don't think a client cares if his site is coded using tables for layout or CSS, for instance. But couldn't you/wouldn't you want to explain to them the practical reasons for doing things a certain way? Put it in results they can understand?

3. Does it indicate lack of professionalism if a designer is or isn't using certain software or doing certain things in their design?

I'd be really interested to hear some educated opinions on all this.

Thank you!

 

phranque




msg:3510258
 2:38 am on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

welcome to WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com], altdelete!

- the web design firm doesn't always have control of all elements of a page

- sometimes the "actual" content is provided by the customer or others through a content management system or otherwise and inserted into a div or cell in a template.
(think:word doc exported as html)

- sometimes you can conclude that the customer specified something against the better judgement of an expert.
this usually involves some kind of active multilevel navigation or document selection mechanism.
money usually beats expertise in this case.
it's getting easier to provide alternate/seo-able content with w3c-conforming and platform-independent methods.

- for some customers, seo isn't even on the radar.

Fortune Hunter




msg:3510264
 2:48 am on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

But I'm one of those people who really researches things and learns all they can.

While I can appreciate someone that looks before they leap be careful you don't get caught up in what business people refer to as "paralysis of analysis" which means you spend so much time researching and analyzing that you don't actually do anything.

A good friend of mine told me this advice when I wanted to get involved in real estate investing, but didn't feel I knew enough to do it well...

"You don't have to be good to start something, but you have to do something to be good at it".

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Pedent




msg:3510431
 11:33 am on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

You've struck a nerve with this. :)

Yes there are best practices that should be followed in web development, and yes it reflects badly on developers when they don't follow them. Clients may not care about quality of code per se, but they do care about the success of their site, and accessibility, usability, cross-browser compatibility (etc.) can only help them to achieve their goals.

However, web development is an industry where most clients aren't able to assess the quality of the product they're provided with (as long as the site works for them, they'll probably think it's okay). Sadly, some developers exploit this by providing sub-standard work (a site that only works for the client and sufficiently similar users).

This isn't only bad for the client, it's also bad for the industry. I can see web developers coming to be grouped with used car salesmen and estate agents as people that you can't trust as far as you can throw them. That would be a shame, as there are some great developers out there.

rocknbil




msg:3510792
 7:44 pm on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

From a developer,

1. What can you conclude, if anything, about designers who are still using tables for layout, not using CSS, using Frontpage, uses Javascript for menus (which means the search engines can't read them)...etc? To me, it says they don't understand their field very well.

A bit of a mixed group of stuff here, in varying degrees.

Table layouts are one of the most debated topics here. CSS-only people will tell you "there's no debate." As a recovering table junkie myself, although I've managed to make the transition and am getting very good at cross-browser compatible table-less layouts, I can tell you there are very valid reasons for still using a lightweight table for layout structure. If you discount a site's quality on this aspect alone, you are on very thin ice for an argument, compounded by the items in #2 and #3 below.

Not using css, and using deprecated inline markup, or making foolish mistakes like **only** Javascript menus, I agree, puts the site's indexing at risk and loses track of the prime objective, see below.

There are many pro's here that use Front Page and use it well. The problem is sorting out who is a "dabbler" and who really uses this program to it's fullest potential to create semantic, valid documents that are just as good as hand-coded documents. A simple run though the W3C validator will often separate the two very quickly.

2. .... do clients care about all these things?

Absolutely not - UNTIL someone comes along and says, I don't know who built this for you, but "this" is all wrong or "that" is all wrong. In this case,

But couldn't you/wouldn't you want to explain to them the practical reasons for doing things a certain way?

This is when it's good to have this in your developer toolbox so you can explain it to them.

Most of the time, if you attempt to preamble your work with the technical, their eyes glaze over or they usually get annoyed thinking you're trying to bamboozle them with techno-babble. Leave it out until they ask.

There are clients that make YOUR job more difficult because, as they say, "a little knowledge is dangerous." For example, a customer who firmly believes a site is not technically up to par if it is not Flash-based, or thinks they understand and must pursue "Web 2.0" to succeed. So your task also becomes one as an educator. :-)

But most of them don't care, and some developers lose track of the prime objective for a client: it's not *really* about the presentation, or how it's coded, or what technical wizardry you put into their project - what they care about is traffic, sales, and an effective item for marketing their business. You can have the most technically advanced site of all time and if it doesn't do the above, it's as well coded in Netscape 3's editor. :-)

3. Does it indicate lack of professionalism if a designer is or isn't using certain software or doing certain things in their design?

Software, no, design, absolutely. This is also kind of mixed up with #1 - amateur mistakes like "under construction," "click here," entry or "splash" pages, mystery meat navigation, putting navigation in Flash or Javascript, or building a site that sells itself entirely on presentation - all this reveals something about the developer.

The means to the end is not important. I am a hand coder. Does that make me a cave man? (Uhhh . . . maybe I should rephrase that . . . )

I have Dreamweaver here, but never open it. I can code cleaner and faster by hand. But there are a lot of clean coded sites done in Dreamweaver. The same level of incompetence you hint at in Front Page above can occur in *any* type of software - in fact, it's pretty prevalent, because a lot of people are under the impression that if they throw enough money at it they will become recognized as a professional.

altdelete




msg:3510803
 7:56 pm on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Excellent advice, Fortune Hunter. I can tend to lean toward thinking I have to know everything before I can earn a particular title, you know?

There are just soooooo many people out there calling themselves web designers and there are a lot who, I think, shouldn't be calling themselves such.

Although the client doesn't know about standards and good/bad practices, I think you can explain it to them in ways that make it clear WHY they aren't good. Put it in terms they understand--the ramifications of things.

rocknbil...I appreciate your comments. By the way, I wasn't really picking on Frontpage. I learned on Frontpage, then moved on. I'm actually playing around with the new Expression Web, what Microsoft replaced FP with. Very nice. Clean code. Yet still some of the features I actually liked about FP. But I too would mostly rather code by hand. I like to have the programs though to do some things for me sometime. I think is important NOT to rely on programs. You have to understand the code.

I guess some of the things I see from "designers" irritate me. I feel like they are ripping people off. No, the client doesn't care, but actually they DO care, they just don't know they do. They don't know the ramifications of the things that are or aren't done. They don't know how things can and do affect the usability of their site, their traffic, etc.

I don't think you have to go all techie on them. I think I'm good at taking something techie and translating it into things that they understand.

I know---the CSS vs Tables debate will go on for years! :) I agree with you: I see some people cutting off their nose to spite their faces. I just recently took a course on HTML/CSS/design for mobile devices so I could really learn the code, learn to do some things I didn't know, etc. I just started playing around with CSS positioning.

UGH! I wanted to just give up. It looks so simple, but sometimes it can just drive you mad.

External stylesheets? Absolutely the way to go. But CSS layout---still needs some work.

Thanks for the welcome! Look forward to reading the posts around here!

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