The myth of DIY websites and its impact on web developers

Do-It-Yourself websites are here, and they’re not going anywhere. That’s just a basic fact of our industry. However, there is a large misunderstanding about the ease of use concerning WordPress and other Do-It-Yourself website-building platforms, and it needs to be addressed.

To start off, WordPress is fantastic. I use it for building the majority of my sites, it’s great for navigating throughout each site, both the front end and the back, and has a fantastic group of folks who write beautiful plugins for everything from slideshows to grid layouts to complex contact forms and beyond. That is all true because I know what I am doing. The myth I speak of is the ease of use of the DIY website-building programs for the untrained, who are under the false assumption that websites can be created in 30 minutes or less.

Let’s look at WordPress for a minute. As far as setting up an initial site is concerned, it works wonders, even for someone who doesn’t know a <div> tag from a <video> element. It allows the user to create a URL, setup a username and password and it even includes 2 decent-looking themes to start them on their web-building journey. That’s about where the fun stops and the frustrations set in. If you’d like your site to look like thousands of others who also use the Twenty Fourteen theme on their blog, you may be okay here (but most likely you won’t). If you want your site to be creative, innovative, unique and popular, there’s a good chance most people won’t be able to do it on their own, no matter what they read on the Internet.

One of the most frustrating things is that the expansive DIY website phenomenon has created an illogical, irrational and unsupportive way of looking at our profession. Clients are now more likely to haggle with you over something as small as an image change, a different link color scheme or a new logo placement. This is for fear that they must be getting the raw end of the deal, because everyone they know has built their own site, and therefore it must be a piece of cake, right? While that may be the case, that client should actually do a little investigating to see what these sites look like, and then hopefully rethink their position on your work.

There are a few techniques we can use, which will enable us as front-end developers to explain our jobs, maintain a professional attitude and appearance and keep the clients happy at the same time:

1. We are professionals: It is crucial that we convey this message (as nicely as possible) and explain that we know more about the web than they do. Sounds tricky, but it can be done by showing examples of well-built sites, maybe bringing in a book or two, perhaps even showing some research material or data. Just walking the client through the process can be a big help as well.

2. Communication: This is essential for both parties involved to facilitate a successful and positive working relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when needed, but also to give advice when it is warranted. A lot of times, the client will need to be informed of a procedure or design that they may not have known existed beforehand, and it’s our job to tell them about it.

3. Time management: Make sure to set a timeframe for the build of a site according to what the client wants, and then relay that info to them. It is a common misconception that web coding takes no time at all to do, which we know is far from the truth. Once again, make sure the client is educated as to the amount of work that goes into each specific job; otherwise you’re likely to run into problems further down the road.

4. It’s a process: You don’t just build a site in a day and say, “Well, there you go”, and you’re finished, although the client may be under that assumption. It takes time, revisions, additions and more to make a good site run smoothly. Make sure they are aware that you will need to twist, tweak and try to get their site performing as it should.

Now, it’s true that it might only take a few minutes for a developer to change that picture of the front of your law office, and it may be an easy fix for a programmer to build you a new page for your company’s annual summer picnic slideshow. But the bottom line is this: As in any business, you pay someone else to do what you cannot, like teaching you how to jump out of a plane, or operating on your heart, or making you and your dinner guests seared duck and foie gras ravioli. We are professionals, and need to be treated as such.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a great market for building new custom themes, especially the ones designed strictly for WordPress. That certainly exists, and is extremely profitable to web coders and designers around the world, and can also be helpful if you need a certain look for a client ASAP.  Custom theme building is very complicated as well, which is why the really great themes cost money. Once again, the client (or developer, for that matter) pays someone a decent amount of money for the service that they have provided. It’s not that difficult, really.

I talk to folks from all over the world about the ins-and-outs of design and development, and this has been any issue for a long time. We all run into it with our own work and clients as well, not wanting to pay such an “outrageous” rate for our services. I don’t know about you, but my student loans certainly aren’t going to pay themselves. Ideally, the clients are going to pay them for me. Isn’t that the point of choosing a profession and giving it all you’ve got?

While WordPress and other DIY sites have indeed helped lots and lots of people join in the blogging rampage over the last decade or so, it feels like it has diminished the value of web developers just a bit over those years. As I said before, I love WordPress as a development tool. I use it on a daily basis and am extremely thankful that it came into our little world. I just wish that the stereotype that website development is easy, and that anyone with a computer can make an unbelievable-looking site in about 20 minutes or so would disappear from our lives forever. Until then, let’s all focus on educating our clients on this business, and all that’s involved in making a great design and developing a great website. Sound good?

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