Build freelance client websites with WordPress

Is your web designer cheating on you using templates and plugins?

Last updated June 15, 2020

Last week I was in Hamburg for a few days of vacation. That didn't stop me from talking to a member of my Marketing magic circle to meet in beautiful Eppendorf and have a coffee there together. As is well known, social media only gets really beautiful in real life. Whenever you're in the area ... Anyway, we had a great time together. Why am I telling you this?

My member told me that his web designer had not finished the website for months and - which was particularly annoying - had simply used a cheap template for 79 € for a fee in the high four-digit range!

Since I myself had a similar discussion with a customer a few weeks ago, the thought occurred to me that many of them don't seem to be clear about what they are paying their web designer for and what effort is involved in creating a website.

This ultimately creates a wrong impression, which leads to resentment and annoyance - wrongly!

So I decided to write this post to provide more clarity.

What actually is a template?

So what is such a template used for and what is its function?

Roughly speaking, a template is a framework that determines the appearance of your website. A template is used to determine where which elements are located on your website and how they behave in the various views in the browser on the desktop PC, tablets and smartphones. The template gets the content from the database working in the background. As a result, content and form are separated from each other in WordPress. This has great advantages if you later want to change the look of your website again.

In theory, it is possible to switch from one template to another at the push of a button.

Theoretically.

In practice, this (nowadays) only works with the standard templates supplied by WordPress.

Incidentally, briefly inserted at this point: One also speaks of theme, layout or design when one speaks of templates. In addition, I didn't make a mistake when I write about “website” and sometimes “website”. A web page is a single page. The term website means the big picture, i.e. all your individual websites taken together. Strictly speaking, your “homepage” is only the start page of your website!

Paid templates offer much more than just controlling the appearance of your website. You can bring functions that would have to be added by a programmer without the template. Because templates do not (only) consist of simple HTML and CSS code, but they are written in a programming language called PHP.

There are now countless templates, many of which are specialized in certain industries and already provide the most important elements for them. There are templates especially for food bloggers, for photographers, for hotels or even for seminar providers.

But isn't the web designer just filling out a template?

That is the impression that a layman quickly gets when he hears about the tasks and functions of a template: Install WordPress, then insert the template and some content and the website is up and running! If it were that easy, there would be no web designers and WordPress specialists who make a living from it. Anyone could do it themselves. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Even if it were just a matter of filling out a template (which it isn't!), Building a website with WordPress would still take its time. I am thinking a little of “painting by numbers”. It was very popular in the 1970s and 1980s and is still popular today. This makes it possible to paint lifelike pictures without knowing anything about painting. Anyone who is familiar with painting will recognize these images immediately. It takes a lot of effort and time, but little skill. If someone works imprecisely or sloppily, it is immediately noticeable. Homepage builders are a little bit like painting by numbers.

Like a painting set

Working with a WordPress template is more like a painting set. All basic colors, many different brushes, a palette, painting medium, canvas, cardboard or block are included and you can start immediately. When painting, however, beginners and beginners quickly notice that it is not that easy:

A preliminary drawing must be created. Colors have to be mixed first. You have to clean the brushes in between. And hey, it would be cool if you could use a spatula (was not included in the set and has to be procured separately).

Somehow the motif doesn't look the way you imagined (so you first watch a lot of tutorials on YouTube or take a course right away to learn how to paint in the first place). You may also find that oil painting is not your thing and that you would have chosen an acrylic set. Or watercolor ...

Working with a WordPress template is similar. Templates provide you with the individual tools you need to build a website. In order to be able to work with the various templates, you have to read the documentation for each template anew - if there is documentation.

This is seldom the case with the free ones and you have to “think your way around” the functions of the template. In the case of the paid ones, the documentation is sometimes very extensive - and often only in English. Or they are only available as videos - which always annoys me personally, because it takes hours to find the tiny piece of information you need that you would have found in a few minutes if you had skimmed a text.

So what work does your web designer do for your website?

In order to give you an idea of ​​what your web designer does and implements for you, I am going to describe what normally has to be done before you see the website.

WordPress installation and setup of the template

First, of course, WordPress must be installed on your server (or web space = space on the hard drive of your web host). To do this, a database must be set up, the login information for the database entered in a specific file, the WordPress software uploaded to the server and an installation script started there.

Selection of the template

Before or after that, your web designer consulted with you:

  • What are you thinking about?
  • What should the website look like?
  • What functions should it have?

Many customers are already having a hard time here. Some have very specific ideas, but others think that this is the work of the web designer. This means that specific questions must first be asked in a consultation to find out what the customer actually wants.

If the web designer has an idea, he goes in search of a suitable template. Alone on the platform Themeforest has over 11,700 templates for WordPress! Making a selection here can take a long time. Because of every template you not only have to look at the functions, but also the sample pages.

Making a good preselection cannot be done in five minutes.

Then the web designer presents his selection (usually two or three different templates) to the customer. There are again differences here: Some can imagine exactly how such a pattern will look like, adapted to them personally. It's incredibly difficult for others.

The web designer often only has the option of just doing it - in the hope that it will fit. Unfortunately, it often doesn't fit. Many customers can hardly describe what they want, but what they don't want is clear to them the moment they see it. Then, unfortunately, a lot of work has already been done, which is then - for the bin!

In my experience of over sixteen years of consulting in the field of web design, this step is the most time-consuming and arduous. If you try to save time here, it will pay off later, because the customer may then want everything completely different.

Once the template has been selected, licensed and downloaded, it must also be installed. If the web designer has not yet worked with it, he will now read the documentation.

Logical structure, pages and navigation

The content usually comes from the customer, but it is seldom so pre-structured that the web designer can start creating the pages and the navigation elements (the menu) straight away. Here, too, coordination meetings or e-mails with the customer are necessary.

Once the content is clear, the individual pages can be created. The pages for imprint and data protection must not be forgotten, if a shop is to be built in, the terms and conditions and the right of withdrawal are essential. Customers rarely have this information ready. Often they also think that these are the tasks of the web designer. But they are not. Actually, the customer has to take care of it, because he is ultimately legally responsible.

Even if there are already many online generators for these texts (and I also use them for my customers): Basically, every customer would have to have their lawyer double-check them. After all, web designers are not lawyers and are not allowed to provide legal advice.

Then the menu is created. Here, too, there is a lot of material for discussions with the customer. Often the complete page title should be used as menu items and, if possible, all menu items should be visible without sub-navigation.

A lot speaks against it: confusion, user habits, design specifications. A menu itself is created in WordPress in a few moments - experience has shown that coordination can take time ...

Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization is not automatically part of a job to create a website.

This is also a point that is often misunderstood. In order to be able to carry out what is known as on-page optimization, the customer must specify the terms for which he would like to be found.

Since very few customers have sufficiently dealt with the topic so far, a consultation and at least a short training is required here too, so that the web designer can receive the necessary information from the customer.

Static pages are also difficult to optimize for “competitive” search terms. It's easier when the customer is ready to blog. Then you can always find fresh articles on the most varied of search term phrases (they are called in technical jargon long tail keywords - if you want to know more, read best my article on keywords) are written and published so that Google is always supplied with new, high-quality content.

Not all customers have previously dealt with the topic Bloggingset apart, so that advice is required here as well.

Optical design

Every customer has their own corporate identity, which of course also has to be reflected in the website. However, hardly any customer has finished ones CI specifications ready for his web designer: fonts, colors as hex code, spacing, imagery, decorative elements, logo specifications - these are all points that not only have to be asked by the customer, but often individually coordinated or even determined in the first place.

There are also discussions about the display of the colors on the monitor: "The yellow is not yellow enough!" - It is not only important to explain that the customer does not have a calibrated monitor, but also to find out in which form the adjustment should now take place. It can actually take weeks to determine the colors ...

Without pictures everything is boring and empty

A website today is unthinkable without pictures. But the subject of images can also cause delays. Only rarely do customers already have usable image material available for their website. The spectrum of what is made available here ranges from non-existent to high-quality images by professional photographers.

Normal are a few self-made snapshots with the mobile phone camera and a few stock photos from unknown sources without available picture credits. As a result, it must be discussed with the customer whether recordings should and can be made in the company, what should be displayed, the viewing directions of the people being photographed, image formats, backgrounds, colors and much more.

Photographers should also be recommended and it is best if the web designer speaks directly to the photographer about the details. If stock photos are to be used, it must be clarified beforehand who is researching and licensing the photos and, of course, what should be seen in the photos, so that everything ultimately results in a harmonious whole.

In addition, it must be determined whether there should perhaps be a slider with photos on the website (then which photos, in which order and display duration, how should the transitions be designed?). Instead of a slider, a gallery with images might be a better choice? How should the pictures be displayed in the gallery? Here, too, coordination of the content often takes longer than implementation.

The integration of sliders, galleries and much more is done via so-called plugins.

What is a plugin?

Plugins are small or large additional programs that add additional functions to WordPress. As with the templates, there is an almost unmanageable number of plugins. There is hardly a function that is desired for a website that cannot be implemented with a plugin.

The problem is: to find the right one!

Similar to the templates, the same applies here: free plugins are often less powerful than paid plugins. They are usually not that well documented. Interestingly, however, many customers shy away from using paid plugins. So that means for the web designer, in turn, to look for a free alternative and to have to familiarize himself with a poorly documented plug-in.

Administrative

In addition to the entire design, there are also many administrative points that the web designer has to take care of. Some of them are just small things, others require a high level of know-how. These include, for example:

  • creating users
  • protection against hackers
  • Establishing a regular data backup

Much of this also happens with the help of suitable plugins.

Set up special functions

A “simple” website is often not enough either.

For example, customers want their website to be linked to booking portals (hotels, restaurants, real estate agents). Or special functions such as booking seminars and events, the automated display of appointments or the integration of external platforms for making appointments should be included.

If the customer would like to offer a newsletter on his website, the corresponding modules of the individual providers must also be inserted here or, if the customer is still at the beginning, advice on the providers suitable for him is required here.

If landing pages are required, the same applies here. The functionality is also expanded here via plugins.

If the customer operates internationally, he of course wants to have a multilingual website, which in turn can be implemented via a plugin.

Or a shop should be integrated directly on the website - then a suitable system must also be selected here, the scope of services must be discussed with the customer and, of course, the basic configuration must be created. At least some sample products should be entered so that the customer later has a template for adding more himself.

Payment providers must be connected in this case and if the customer not only wants to automatically create invoices but also print shipping labels from the system, this must of course also be integrated and configured with suitable plugins.

Conclusion

You see, the creation of a website is a very complex matter that requires a lot of coordination between the customer and the web designer. A good part of creating a website consists of advising customers - even if they don't really notice it.

Templates and plugins provide the basic frameworks and functions required for implementation. The use of templates and plugins is by no means deceiving the customer but accelerates the creation or makes it possible in the first place. Otherwise, the wheel would have to be reinvented every time, and for everything the customer wants, individual programming would have to be created and commissioned. That would then be simply unaffordable for small and even for many medium-sized companies.

Did you know how much detailed work goes into creating a website? Have you ever annoyed yourself that your web designer “just took a cheap template” and sold it to you as an expensive website? Feel free to write me a comment about how you fared! And if you don't have much time, I'll be happy about a quick five stars!

About the author Birgit Schultz

I'm Birgit Schultz from Marketing-Zauber and I support solo preneurs (individual entrepreneurs) with their online and social media marketing. My focus is on the strategic and efficient use of social media and content marketing to increase awareness, reach and reputation. Because only those who know you can buy from you!