Is Wordpress Destroying the Internet?
For those uninitiated with the world of websites, Wordpress is an open-source content management system. Open source in the simplest terms means someone wrote computer code, packaged it nicely, and made it downloadable to everyone for free. A content management system is a little more difficult to explain for the non-tech savvy, but for website users, it's basically the way a website is set up making it easy for people to add, edit, and delete content for their websites without having to be tech savvy to know how to do it.
In the past if you wanted to build a website you had to have at least a basic understanding of HTML, and later CSS, to be able to create a decent one. If you didn't, you called a web designer who had that knowledge. Once done, if you wanted to add more pages it usually required another call to the web designer who would charge for his time. Want to add a picture or extra functionality? Call the web designer and he would add it to the page for a price. Not only were there charges as more things were added, but you were also beholden to the designer and his schedule. In other words, you had to wait until he had the time to make the updates.
Enter Wordpress, and the internet turns into the wild west. In some cases, Wordpress has made things better. If you can point and click you no longer have to wait on a web designer to add pages to your website, or worry about being charged constantly on a site that needs things added and deleted on a consistent basis. Adding pictures or changing them on a page is just as simple. Even functionality can be added with a few presses of a button. Add a slideshow? There's a plugin for that. Want to add an online store and take payments from Paypal? Yep, there's a plugin for that too! Things that a web designer would have had to code and program in the past that could take several hours to a few week and that could run into the thousands of dollars in cost, can now usually be added by finding a plugin (another piece of prewritten code) and installing it.
In these ways Wordpress has made things easier. No longer is someone required to be beholden to a web designers schedule, or worry about charges every time something needs to be changed. On the other hand, it's created a lot of poorly designed websites and plugins, and web designers and clients are both struggling with pricing conflicts. Let's take a look at each of these issues.
Poor Website and Plugin Design
Don't get me wrong, there are some really great web designers out there but for every well designed website built with Wordpress there are likely a hundred more that really should come with a warning. The same goes for plugins. Because Wordpress makes it easy to install website templates and plugins designed by anyone regardless of the way they're coded, the bad templates and plugins get used over and over just because there are so many more of them.
Where this gets even more confusing is that a badly coded website template doesn't necessarily mean it looks terrible. Some actually look quite amazing. What people don't understand is that how a website looks versus the code that's used for it are in some ways separate, much like throw away cars they might use in movies where for the viewer it looks like a Ferrari, but what's actually under the hood is anything but.
Here's how that hurts you. One of the things that google uses to determine its website rankings is the formatting of the code, or how well it's written. A badly coded site makes it harder for google to index it among other things. Also, code that's written badly can run slower, making your website take longer to load than it should. This happens more so with plugins, but can be an issue with templates too. The longer it takes, the more likely those that visit will leave your website. Not a good thing if you're looking to build traffic. Finally, it can cause issues with browsers. A brand new web designer may be checking the design and the way the website looks in Google Chrome, and thinking it looks great. That same great looking site in Google Chrome though could be looking horrendous in Internet Explorer just because of the way the browsers read the code differently and therefore render it to your screen.
If you want to know if the template you're using, or the web designer you've hired, is worth the cost then head over to the code validator and run each page through it. Google Pagespeed is another service to use that checks things other than valid code that should be done by a knowledgable web designer if you're paying for a website. While the validator can't check how well coding languages like PHP are written, it will check HTML and CSS code to make sure it meets a certain standard for browsers. Also realize that coding can be a bit tricky in making things work properly in different browsers and there may be a reason for a few errors here or there. These are little intricacies that more experienced web designers understand. If there are a few, ask the web designer the reason for them as they may be little hacks need to make the website look similar in different browsers. If they can't answer the "why", or the page is riddled with errors and warnings, then you probably want to run or find a different template/plugin to use, or even a different website designer.
Over Charging for Websites
This one might be a bit odd depending on your outlook as there are those who believe that regardless of the time put in, or the means to achieve the goal, if a client is willing to pay then it's the clients problem.Granted, everyone's opinion will also vary as to something's worth based on knowledge, actual time commitment, etc. The difficult dilemma with web design is that those hiring someone to build a website many times lack even the basic understanding of what may or may not go into what they're hiring this person for, or what exactly the web designers will be doing.
This is where the "client's problem" raises issues. When a client is willing to pay upwards of several grand for a website, it's usually assumed that the web designer is going to put in time to do some work, particularly on the coding side, or at least with image editing, or something that takes more than several minutes to an hour to set up. With Wordpress that's not always the case.
What's happened is everyone all of a sudden claims to be a web designer, even without knowing one bit about coding a website or setting things up properly for SEO. I can't begin to count the number of times I've bumped into people at a coffee house, even at times speaking to them after they've signed a big contract for a web design job, and began talking to them about programming or coding standards only to receive a blank stare. Within minutes they admit to not knowing how to code, and a look at their previous web design work shows that they're all templates the web designer bought from someone else for a few bucks on the internet.
In other words, they're charging thousands of dollars as web designers, yet their process is to find a template on the web they can purchase for $20 and installing it along with a few plugins. It's something that amounts to a few hours of work at most, and that anyone can do after watching a 10 minute video on Youtube. Even basic work that should be done afterwards like caching, gzipping files, minifying code, setting up the website in Google Webmaster tools, etc. that would help the clients initial Google ranking isn't touched.
Don't get me wrong. Wordpress is designed to help web designers save time, and even people who program their own plugins or design their own templates will grab from previous written code to save time on new projects. Without such practices, developing a website would take much longer and likely cost much more. But there is a difference between someone who can go into the code and fix things when needed, or can tell which plugins are worth using and which are going to hurt various parts of the website. Not to mention an actual web designer should be able to make the adjustments needed on the website to increase Pagespeed rankings for Google. Those claiming to be web designers without knowing this stuff instead end up charging thousands for things they're just not capable of doing, or are unaware of, which makes it that much harder for actual web designers. This also brings us to the next Wordpress issue.
Web Designers Fighting Over Pricing
Along with those who have no knowledge of coding practices charging insane rates, there's also the discount web designers. You've probably seen the ads for getting a Wordpress website for just a few hundred dollars. Like those above, these are people who are basically installing Wordpress and then using plugins and templates they've purchased, but charging a more reasonable rate for the time, knowledge, and effort they've put into it.
In some cases, they actually do have coders and programmers working with them in hopes of upselling if the client needs something more than a basic template and plugin install. In other cases, they may not have any coding knowledge, but figure it's a fair price for what they do know. As was said earlier though, most clients don't understand what is going into a job and what's not and this creates problems for web designers when clients see deals like this on the web.
All of a sudden web designers find themselves trying to justify their prices, and explaining the difference between what these basic installers do compared to the actual code writing they do. If you've ever tried explaining code to someone who doesn't understand it at all, you'll realize your explanation is in most cases met with blank stares before you're accused of ripping them off again. While there are tons of plugins and templates that could be installed that would allow the web designer to install for the lower price, sometimes the functionality the client wants requires a bunch of code to be written, or a plugin to be modified to work in the way the client wants it to. Anyone who's ever had to go through someone else's code to make their own code work with it understands how time consuming this can be.
These issues didn't exist to this extent before Wordpress. If you hired a web designer before Wordpress took off, they usually had to have the ability to actually write code. The more pages you wanted, or the more functionality the website had to have, the more work the web designer had to put into it. In those cases, a client knew their money was going for that time and knowledge. Finally, even though there have always been good and bad coders, because templates, and to an extent plugin like functionality, weren't a 'find and install', bad code wasn't passed around like it is now.
So how do we bring some sanity back to the internet both for clients and for web designers? For clients, ask your web designers for previous work, and run some of their web pages through the HTML validator and Google Pagespeed. Another one that's nice to run checks on is GTmetrix. Run this on several different layouts of the website pages. This should give you a good idea of how well they optimize a website. Something in the 80's is okay for a score, although scoring in the low to mid 90's is preferable and should be achievable on every site. Also realize that on Pagespeed they give mobile scores and desktop scores, and some web designers are only paid to do a desktop version which may account for a low mobile score.
The HTML validator won't really help in knowing how well they code. It could be a template they're using but it'll at least let you know if they're using lousy templates. If they did code it themselves, you'll also know from the results if they know what they're doing.
Don't be afraid to ask them to open up some of their website files and take a look at the code contained within them. Ask them to explain different portions of code to you, even if you don't understand their response. This will give you a good idea as to if they're actually coding things themselves, or even have an understanding of code. Ask them to explain a function or variable to you. If they can't explain even a little bit, but are asking for thousands of dollars, you can probably get a similar website for far cheaper from one of the 'find and install' website providers. If you're paying thousands for a website, you want someone who has the knowledge to actually code things if needed to make the website work the way you want.
For web designers, explain to clients the information above. Be patient and walk them through what you'll be doing and why in the simplest terms possible. Ask them if they have bids from anyone else, and what those bids are along with examples of the work of the company your competing with. Run the websites through those same tests mentioned with the clients present, and explain templates and plugins to them. Chances are that with all the fake 'web designers' out there, a lot of those pages aren't going to return good results and the fight over being paid for your knowledge won't be as difficult.
Wordpress has made web development and creation a lot quicker and simpler for a lot of people. For those starting off without the funds to hire a web designer, it's become that much easier to get a website up and running without one. Alternatively, for those looking to optimize their website and take it to the next level along with improving their google rankings, a good web designer is an invaluable person to have on the team. By both web designers and clients communicating better, and trying to gain some knowledge of what each offers for the price being paid, maybe the plethora of badly designed and coded websites can be reigned in and the wild west of pricing can come to an end.
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