In an industry dominated by experts who don’t have much time to explain things, it’s easy for clients to be suspicious of getting ripped off by web designers. Much like car mechanics, web designers are infamous for overcharging for services, struggling to fulfill promises, and not putting the proper time and care into getting results for their clients.

This suspicion is not without reason. Plenty of web designers do function by overcharging their clients for services they don’t understand. That’s why a considerable part of any valuable web design company is making sure clients know what they’re paying for, and not pitching a service to them if they don’t need it. A web designer should have the client’s best interest in mind- not their own.

When a web designer doesn’t explain the way their services work, it doesn’t show the client the respect they deserve to make informed choices. Even more, it misses out on the opportunity for clients to see their growth in action and how successful specific tactics are. Every client should be able to understand how a digital marketing agency will help their business and personal goals.

Hopefully, this won’t happen to you. But in case you’re wary, here are 13 ways to tell your web designer is ripping you off– or how to spot a bad one.

1. You don’t have access to your website.

Log in on a computer laptop screen isolated on white background, front view. Internet security concept. 3d illustration

It’s smart to have a web designer manage your website to make regular site updates, so you don’t have to worry about it. It’s necessary to maintain the site’s performance and rankings on search engines. But that also takes a tremendous amount of trust.

If a web designer is the sole owner of your online properties, if you can’t also access your websites, or can’t access or download your website’s files and database (or worse, if you state that you also want access, and they shut you down), don’t walk, run, to the next agency. You should know your passwords and have administrative access to block out anyone (including trusted partners). You wouldn’t give just anyone the keys to your office. Your website should be in the same light.

Anyone who makes themselves indispensable through demanding exclusive control of your assets is not someone you can trust.

2. They don’t explain their services.

It’s indeed difficult to explain technical or niche-specific industry tools and techniques in everyday language, but it is 100% doable. Ideally, this would be a priority for every web designer. They should want their clients to understand the technical value of what they offer so the client can see how great it is. That takes extra time and planning, but if your business’ success is on the line, you should be willing to spring for an agency that is equipped and able to explain the pros or cons of website design techniques or strategies.

There is also the concern of whether a web developer knows what they are doing. In a world of “DIY” website builders, any tech-savvy 10-year-old can create a website. But building a website and building a website for a business that can generate leads and sales are two different things.

3. They don’t ask you about your goals.

Good web design or digital marketing agency works to make a client’s goals a reality. Any web designer worth your time will take the time to get to know your company, its primary clientele, and what you want from your website. Then, the designer’s role is to create a website that helps you meet those goals without charging you for flashy features you didn’t want.

It’s also part of a web designer’s role to include you in the brainstorming process. They might have an innovative idea about how to revamp the way your clients book appointments online, but if you already have a sound system in place, that feature is of absolutely no use to you. Your needs as a client should always come first, and a web designer should use their skills to make them happen for you creatively.

If you don’t get the feeling that they care about investing in your business goals, news flash: they probably won’t be able to help you reach them.

With that said, spending too much investment in your goals, which brings us to our next point.

4. Your web designer makes you promises they can’t keep.

If a digital marketing agency guarantees that ads will make you X amount of dollars, deliver X amount of conversions, or generate X amount of engagements- they are lying to you because that is just not how digital marketing works.

It’s true that with the right skills and strategy, it can be reasonably possible to predict increases in your engagements or sales, but a web designer or digital marketer should never, ever promise you something they cannot guarantee.

If a digital marketing consultant says, “I can get you, 15 new clients, by the end of the week,” or “I promise I can get you the number one ranking in Google search results,” watch out. (Unless, of course, they are also willing to wait to get paid until after they deliver- which means your service is probably free!)

Instead, a digital marketing consultant should explain to you how exactly this new strategy will impact your chance of acquiring new clients or earning more conversions so that you can make the decision. They also let you play an active role in measuring your success.

In the real world of web design and digital marketing, it’s talked about because of the probability and previous indicators. And backup plans are always in place to rework models or strategies if the results are not living up to projections. That way, you’re never left at a loss.

5. They don’t answer your questions.

If a web designer gives you vague, evasive answers when you ask them questions, that is red flag number one.

Everything a web design or digital marketing agency does should be monitored and make them meet your needs. If they dismiss your concerns with a “we know best” attitude and no explanation, you probably shouldn’t trust them.

With that said, an in-depth explanation takes much time (and we all know time is money). So if you’ve hired a freelancer or unusually cheap developer, they may not be ill-intentioned but merely unable to provide you with the services you need due to lack of time.

6. They give you Analytics reports that are just massive chunks of unintelligible data.

Did your company choose a digital marketing agency to run your Analytics or Google Ads? Great choice. You probably don’t have time to do that yourself, and it’s a great way to measure how your digital presence is faring.

But here’s the great thing about metrics and Analytics: they are, well, analytical. Meaning that you can objectively view the average ROI for each ad spend or statistics about each engagement.

Any digital marketing consultant familiar with Google Ads or Analytics knows how to compare this to average cost-of-purchase and measure the value of conversions for that particular ad- which brings it full-circle back to language business owners understand a bit more.

If your web designer or digital marketing consultant hands you report full of jargon, pie graphs, and projections that make no sense to you, those aren’t helpful to you at all. Since you’re the one making decisions about your ad spend and digital marketing goals, you deserve to know how they’re faring. These expectations not unrealistic.

An excellent digital marketing consultant or web designer should narrate these reports, write up their takeaways, and explain what they mean so you can make informed decisions. Otherwise, you’re not their priority.

7. They’ve never heard of SEO.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a set of principles and best practices for how to help your digital assets (website) get more organic traffic (people clicking on your site from search results, not ads) so people can find you on the internet and you show up in search results.

Web design plays a huge role, if not the single most crucial part, is SEO. If your website is not created with SEO in mind, you are wasting your time and money on that website.

8. They don’t technically exist.

A web designer should have a portfolio of previous work. You should be able to look at websites they’ve designed, and you should be able to verify (on the internet) that those websites exist.

Are those businesses real? Also, does your web designer have Google Reviews? Are they referenced on internet sites other than their own, such as local business aggregators like Thumbtack, Manta, or Yelp?

If they have reviews (which they should), read those reviews. To find out how a web designer treats clients, listen to what their current or former clients have to say.

9. They offer to work without a contract.

RED FLAG, RED FLAG, RED FLAG. This is what a scammer would do so that they don’t hold any responsibility for the project. At the same time, it also protects the web designer isn’t being scammed as well. Like adding additional work that wasn’t originally agreed upon, or non-payment. Not only does offering to work without a contract means a web designer is not legit, but it also means that they can rip you off with no legal recourse. Without a contract, they could completely ghost you, take your money, and bail.

Contracts also firmly solidify which services you are paying for and what your expectations should be. That way, if someone doesn’t meet their end of the deal, or if any misunderstandings arise- and misunderstandings happen- communication is so much easier on both ends. It saves everyone time.

Any web designer offering to work without a contract is not a professional- and if you’re paying a web designer to design your website professionally, they should, at the very least, be an expert, This means making sure to have a contract.

10. They charge way more than their competitors or way less.

This is also a red flag. It’s as simple as doing a Google search to find out the average price range for the services you want.

What is the cost of services, especially in web design, web design prices always varies depending on the needs of the customer, but there is a standard range of what’s generally to be expected. The other thing to take into consideration is how effective your keywords are, another reason why maintenance is needed, also when it comes to maintenance keeping an eye on your competitor’s website and what they are doing, which a professional designer would know how to monitor.

If their price is dirt-cheap, it’s probably dirt-cheap for a reason. If their price is exorbitant, you are probably just getting ripped off (unless your website requires a lot of custom design or custom web applications).

11. Your web designer is the human equivalent of a disembodied voice.

You should be able to meet with your web designer regularly. Communication is critical when it comes to web design; you should be able to talk to your designer whenever you want, whether it’s via text, phone, Skype, or in person.

Your web designer should check in with you, show you mockups, update you on reports, and keep you in the loop of the entire process.

Otherwise… What exactly are they doing? Since your paying them.

If your web design agency is terrible at communicating, expect that to be an ongoing problem.

If they don’t answer their phone, don’t reply to emails, and refuse to set up in-person appointments (and yes, video counts as in-person)– how do you know they are not a man living in a basement in Ukraine? Or a con artist on the run? Or worse, an actual web designer who just doesn’t care enough to make time for you?

12. They have way too many clients.

This one ties in with number 11. There is nothing worse than committing to an agency, feeling great about what they can offer you, and then realizing they have way overcommitted to too many clients.

While lots of agencies are careful, skilled, and adept at managing large numbers of client portfolios, you can quickly tell when someone is overworked- they forget what your business goals are, you always feel like they’re in a hurry, and sometimes you even feel like you’re wasting their time by checking in with them on the services your paying for.

Taking on too many clients is something many designers are guilty of (mainly freelancers), but it does every client a disservice: when an agency overcommits, none of their clients get 100%.

And if you’re paying for web design or digital marketing, you’re putting a considerable asset of your business into someone else’s hands- and that deserves 100% of their attention.

13. They haven’t learned new web design skills since 1997.

There are tons of free tools online for checking your website’s speed, last update time, and if it’s running on an outdated version of current software. If a web designer promises you a website that’s fast, sleek, or accessible, you are paying them to know what they’re doing.

A good hint is to check the page speed on their website. If their page speed is slow, their site is an antique, and they don’t maintain it- which means your website will probably not be up-to-date either.

Even if their website looks flashy on the surface, it’s the stuff underneath the hood that reveals whether or not the designer knows what they’re doing.

Especially in the web design industry, if your brand-new custom website runs on old codebases or takes longer than four full seconds to load a visible page, you just wasted your money.

You deserve trust, transparency, and the very best. (And a website that doesn’t run on techniques used in 1997.)

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