Church Website – Should We Use a Web Designer? (Part 3 of 4)

February 13, 2013 Rick

In part three of our four part series, we’ll take a look at the option of using a “Web Designer” to build your church’s website. If you haven’t read parts one and two yet, you can see them here: Church Website – Should We Build it In-House? (Part 1 of 4) and Church Website – Should We Use a Volunteer? (Part 2 of 4).

The term “Web Designer” is a phrase that is used by many different people from many different backgrounds who do many different things. If you start looking and asking around, you will find a lot of people who will say they know a web designer. If you ask those same people what a web designer does, you usually get an answer such as “They make websites.” Even the web designer himself will tell you that they “design” websites. The real question is, how do they design a website?

When you visit a website, the pages you see are really just the tip of the iceberg. The images, text, and how it all is arranged is really only about 10% of what a website consists of; however, because the images and text is what everyone sees, it’s easy to see a good looking website and think it is a well “designed” website. This is not always the case. Many people who operate as “web designers” are people who are good with graphics and have learned a little bit of HTML code and some CSS. Again, HTML code is what you use to structure (or layout) the information on a page (columns, headers, titles, etc.) and CSS lets you control the colors, backgrounds, and other visual features. The danger of “web designers” is that they have become good with enough code to make a good looking website, but rarely do they know the coding languages that handle the more difficult tasks: PHP, SQL, and JavaScript for example.

Think of it like an antique car or an old house. You can clean up the exterior, give it a new coat of paint, and maybe add a few interesting details, but underneath the exterior may be a lot of problems. You end up in a similar situation with “web designers.” The website looks good on the outside, but it is very difficult to maintain and keep up to date because of the “hidden” problems. These problems may manifest themselves in many different ways. A lot of web designers will tell you that they have to maintain the website for you, usually at certain cost per update or hourly rate. Either they don’t know how to set up a website to let you maintain it yourself, or they are afraid to let you see how they have your site setup. This also causes problems with the designer gets overwhelmed with update requests. Usually a web designer is a one person operation. Once they have 4 or 5 websites they are trying to manage, they usually get behind on updating existing websites when they are trying to build a new one. This issue quickly snowballs and becomes a customer service nightmare. The designer is stressed and frustrated and will quit answering phone calls or responding to e-mails. It’s not that they don’t want to help their customers, but they simply end up more than they can handle. If you remember from Part 1 of our series, we said that you could use a staff person to build your website IF it was going to be their full time job. It is easy to misjudge the amount of maintenance a single website requires, and web designers can quickly become overwhelmed with even a few customers.

Once the web designer is sufficiently overwhelmed, it almost never fails that a severe technical problem will show up. Since most designers are only familiar with a little bit of code, a major (or even minor) technical issue can cause them to lose all productivity while they try to figure out what is going on. Their focus is primarily on the visual aspect of the website, and technical glitches leave them in a very bad spot. Some designers will put in their contract that they are not responsible for technical issues with the website, which means it is up to the church to try to figure it out on their own or find a second person to come in and clean things up. Needless to say, all of those scenarios will end up costing the church money either through loss of productivity or having to pay someone to fix the issues.

One thing that we haven’t even mentioned yet is that with a web designer, the church’s website is still in one person’s hands. We could share many stories with you of customers that have come to us needing a new website because their previous designer has “fallen off the face of the earth.” No one can get a hold of them, they won’t respond to any communications, and no one has any idea how to edit the website. We have had to help clients get a new website address because their previous one was tied up by their designer. It’s not fun, and it really is a nightmare for anyone that has to go through it.

The only time a church should use a web designer is if they need help creating images to use in publications or on the web. Are all web designers like this? No, there are always exceptions to the rule; however, when you’ve helped as many clients as we have with fixing the website that a “web designer” built for them, you simply don’t want to take the chance.

By now you may be thinking that there probably isn’t any option out there for a church to use to build their website. We still have one option to explore and that is using a Web Development Company. We will explore this option tomorrow, and see if it is the right choice for churches.