Beware Website Templates
It’s a common idea to have a site designed and then take over the maintenance. Usually the request is pretty simple. Create a design and leave a system for updating text. At times this is a reasonable solution. Most of the time I encounter it, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Why? The answer typically comes down to a lack of qualification either from the site designer or the site owner.
Most potential clients are skeptical when I advise they don’t use a template. The thought is usually that I am trying to get an unnecessary maintenance agreement. So I thought I’d use my criteria for deciding if a template is a good idea or not into a written outline here:
- Is it a Free-bee or add-on from the web hosting company?
I can’t tell you how many people have become clients after getting into some kind of web template product. Many simply don’t work. The most common ones that fail come free with a website hosting package. Usually they have a handful of templates which are customizable (meaning you can upload a logo somewhere). I have yet to find one that actually lays the page out usefully and gives enough flexibility to update any content and expand the site. Most of the time it won’t even render tect edits where the user intended. Doing simple things like form submissions is usually out of the question. It either isn’t an option at all or doesn’t actually function. Remember, you get what you pay for and free templating is often as valuable as the price-tag.
- Can the designer/developer set up a usable site template?
Unfortunately in the web world people are quick to make promises and slow to deliver. If a designer or developer is putting in some kind of template that is editable by the client, do they understand it. There are a lot of good designer/developers and good template services. Unfortunately there seem to be more bad ones. Make sure when hiring the person that they can tell you what platform they will build on and how you will have access to it. I recently got a client who had to scrap an entire site template system because it was set up so strictly to initial demands and had absolutely no room for growth. Understand what you are getting and how it can adapt to you or your organization’s needs.
- Who is responsible for updating the content?
Many times the failure is not with the designer or developer but with the site owner. They place demands on what should be editable but never get to the editing. If I speak with a potential client and they can’t provide one or two names of dedicated people within the organization that will be responsible for the site, I always recommend not setting up a template. The reason is it won’t get changed. People are busy and unless someone has volunteered or been assigned the responsibility, it will fall through the cracks. That means wasted money on the setup for something that won’t get used.
- Is the assigned person technically competent?
When a person has been chosen, is it realistic that they can manage the process? The most common platforms used for templates can usually be set up with a simple interface. It isn’t uncommon to do an hour tutorial and have the user comfortable with the interface and features. However, this assumes that the individual responsible for site updates is relatively proficient on a computer. I once struggled through a tutorial with an administrative assistant at a small organization and told her the editing features were much like Microsoft Word. She let me know she didn’t know how to use that either. That site never got updated because the poor woman didn’t know the basics of computer use. It’s not her fault, the task never should have been given to her until she learned some basic competency skills.
So if you are contemplating having a site set up that you can edit yourself, think through these 4 questions. If you find that you are uncomfortable with your or the designer/developers ability to execute, rethink the idea. You’re likely just putting off the inevitable and handling the problem initially can save a lot of money and effort down the line. Having an editable feature almost always costs additional set up fees and if set up poorly will increase the cost of getting it transferred to another platform or technology. Often times a small maintenance agreement or a la carte change pricing is far less expensive and much less of a headache. Don’t assume in this case that handling it yourself is less expensive. Figure out what is most realistic and is most cost effective.