This little cheat sheet will quickly help you peer behind the curtains of the website design industry.
1. Themes vs Hand Coding vs Modular design
There is always a big confusion from our customers of what it means to install a theme or get a customized website coded by hand.
Let's quickly get the definitions out of the way.
What is a theme?
Themes to put it simply, are already pre-built and fixed-design websites that can be quickly installed within a few minutes.
The main benefit of a theme is that you can very quickly create a website just by changing the content and images.
Most web developers that are charging under $1,500 will probably use a theme to build your website under the pre-text of customized design.
The kicker comes when you ask for changes to the layout and you receive an additional bill because now that requires them to "break" the theme.
These themes are also often built by 3rd party vendors and if you are unlucky enough that the 3rd party developers have dropped support for your theme, you will soon see bugs that your local developers cannot fix.
You are only able to spot a "theme installer" after you have paid the bill.
The obvious sign is them asking you to pick a design out a list and then directly copying the exact design and structure for you.
What are the pros of themes
- Fast and easy to build
- Very low cost to install ( Check out fiverr )
- Client-friendly if built with WordPress
What are the Cons of themes
- Huge limitations when it comes to customization ( It's literally frustrating to change your layout
- What you see is what you get, need a new pricing table down the line? You will need to buy a different theme instead.
- Your online marketing strategy will have to fit into your website limitations.
- You probably won't be getting much revisions from your theme installers because they simply can't change things.
What is customized design?
These websites typically cost $5,000 to infinity ( Think Art prices ) due to the amount of labor involved (And that is a really fair rate!)
What are the Pros of hand-coding services
- Fully customized, the world is your oyster
- Dedicated support, multiple revisions
What are the cons?
- Long process
- From expensive to super expensive
- You are paying a significant mark-up most of the time
- Not client-friendly if CMS is not included.
Enter Modular design.
At Foxfire, we take a different approach.
We use multiple in-house designed segments built using page-builders to quickly create beautiful websites.
On top of that, because we designed these segments ourselves, we are still able to customize it to suit our client's branding.
This modular approach combines the pros of the two methods above while eliminating the cons.
We can quickly mix and match these pre-built components to produce the customization level of a "customized design service" at a price point closer to "theme installers" in the market.
What are the combined pros of a modular design?
- High degree of customization
- Low Cost
- Client friendly
- Fast Process
This design process is only possible if the website design company has picked the right framework and invested time into creating the process.
2. Newbie-Friendly page builders VS Developer-Level page builders
It is no secret that page builders have massively accelerated the speed at which websites can be produced.
But there are minute differences in page builders out there that can create staggeringly different built qualities in the final website.
The mass market page builders
Popular WordPress types: Elementor, Divi, WPBakery ( Formally Visual Composer )
Popular Non-Wordpress types: Wix, Squarespace
They often come with native features like forms and galleries and every building block is already pre-built for you.
But this ease of use comes at a cost.
These builders are usually bloated, slow and really buggy to use.
The ease of use and low learning curve early on eventually becomes a huge limitation when you want to scale your website for serious traffic and customizations.
There are very little things you can customize with custom code because that is how things are built, customisations would break many things in these page builders.
Also, these page builders are notoriously hard to remove.
You would then need to depend on the support help desk because there is no way to edit the page builder elements manually.
Summary: Good for beginners who want to build a website by themselves on a shoe-string budget, not appropriate for developers who are creating customized websites for clients.
The developer page builders
Popular WordPress types: Oxygen Builder, Beaver Builder
Popular Non-Wordpress types: Webflow
These page builders are difficult to use and require some knowledge of how coding works.
In fact, it's complexity pushes it more towards a "Theme builder".
But at the same time, they give you total control of how you want your website to be, similar to the level of control a developer has when building their website from scratch.
They do not load every "Training wheel" that mass-market page builders have thus made the final product bloat-free.
Also, the website can be build in a developer-friendly code structure that makes for clean and understandable code with easier replication later on.
The end result is a faster loading website that can seriously scale to the moon.
On top of that, the difficulty only arises in the built process.
Once the structure is built, it is very easy for clients to change content and images.
Summary: Not appropriate for beginners who want to build a website by themselves, the proper tool for developers who are creating customized websites for clients.
3. Front-end-Service-optimised companies vs Back-end-Service-optimised companies
Now that we have talked about the technology and design process of the website ( You should read the above sections if you haven't!), let's get into the type of agencies you will meet.
To achieve a competitive price point, all companies will have to seriously optimize their man-hours by either delegating, automating, or eliminating tasks in their processes.
Where they focus on can make a HUGEEE difference in the final product even if you are paying the same price.
What do we define as a Front-End-Service Company?
A Front-end-Service-optimised website design company will focus all its costs on the front-end to impress the customer.
With face-to-face consultations and design planning and also coming up with custom proposals.
Or even ridiculously high commissions to attract agressive sales personnel to push sales.
Almost 30% to 40% of the project cost would already be expended before any design work is done, taking into account that half of the clients will say yes to the proposal.
Thus in order to still maintain a profitable service, these companies will have no choice but to delegate/sub-contract your work to developing countries or entirely eliminate the website design process by using theme installations.
And that is not to say that the service is good all the way through, the after-sales service is often poor due to the lack of margin allocated for the back-end as well.
I can confidently say that almost 50% of website design companies offering an attractive offer are using this business model.
What do we define as a Back-End-Service Company?
More work, less pleasantries.
A Back-End-Service company, as you already can predict, will automate, delegate, or eliminate all front-end processes such as sales consultation, design planning, and customized proposals.
They will then be able to focus all their man-hours on creating better design work for their clients.
This also include investment if post-sales activties to create better results for our clients.
Which do you prefer?
At Foxfire, we are never focused on the front-end because we have experienced that customers who know how to evaluate services will be able to appreciate the value and quality of work done.
On the other hand, customers who like good impressions and personal relationships have difficulty appraising the quality of the final work because that was never their priority.
We want to create great websites and thus instead of having our consultant jump on every single call, we hope to educate our customers heavily before they jump on a call to answer only the important questions.
Again, Which would you prefer?
4. HDD Shared hosting vs SSD VPS hosting
We have talked about the technology, the different processes and also the type of web designers you will meet.
This section is all about hardware and usually conveniently packaged into a 1 year free hosting plan without telling you clearly what you are getting.
To put it into a consumer's perspective, if you are getting a laptop, wouldn't you want to at least know how much RAM or hard disk space it has?
We like to be really clear about that because it affects the speed, and the maximum amount of traffic your website can get, which ultimately affects your sales.
Let's start, to get your website online, you need a computer to run 24/7 to server your pages to customers who request for it.
Your website is stored on this computer and the server "serves" the website when a client requests it as a specific address.
Web hosting is basically a service that maintain this computer ( server ).
Simple so far right?
There is a huge range of hosting services and providers but for simplicity's sake, let's talk about 2 common types relevant to purchasing our service.
Shared hosting means that a bunch of websites is stored on a single tiny server.
You will never know your neighbors on the same server.
If one of them generates too much traffic through spam e.t.c, the server may crash or slow down and your website will be affected as everyone shares the same server.
Most website design companies provide this type of cheap hosting by default unless specified.
Also, these hosting services usually claim that their bandwidth is unlimited.
Given the explanation that I have given you above, I guess you would already smell that that is far from the truth.
There are only limited resources on a server, let alone a shared server. ( You may search around for complaints on this gimmick )
A rule of the thumb is, the cheaper the shared hosting, the more neighbours you have.
The more neigbours, the higher the chance of an agonizingly slow website for your visitors and even yourself.
Virtual Private Hosting ( VPS ) on the other hand uses virtualization technology to separate websites hosted on the same server.
This means that you have a dedicated amount of resources and other websites will never be able to affect your bandwidth consumption.
This will result in a consistent and faster website for both clients and yourself when it comes to editing the website.
HDD Vs SSD Diskspace
Now that we have answered the problem of bandwidth with the differences in resource allocation above, let's talk about diskspace.
Shared hosting usually has HDD that starts from 100GB or even 1TB of HDD while SSDs start from 5GB-10GB of disk space at the same price.
The next common myth between shared hosting and VPS hosting is that the more disk space, the better right?
What matters more important is speed because most websites after compression, only average around 150MB in disk space.
Having a 100GB hard disk in context is 600 times more than what the average website needs.
So diskspace should not be a deciding factor but most shared hosting providers ( Even website design companies )use that to lure unsuspecting customers.
Now let's talk about speed.
Whereas the classic hard drives can attain read speeds of about 230 megabytes per second, SSDs can reach around 700 megabytes per second.
That's a strikingly big difference.
On top of that, SSDs are more reliable are more durable than HDDs in extreme and harsh environments because they don't have moving parts such as actuator arms.
This means less server downtimes.
So in summary, if you are serious about owning a website, you should always invest in VPS SSD hosting, while it's more difficult to set up ( We can handle that for you ), the prices have become more competitive in the recent days.
Must you work with us?
If you have completed this entire article, congratulations, you are now able to confidently evaluate service providers and also now have x-ray vision against dodgy sale consultants who try to sell through "confusion".
However as much as we make it seem that we are the only right choice for you, we believe that there are many proper vendors out there too who have refined their craft in the same way we did.
But even as web developers ourselves, we find that it's pretty hard to spot them until you are deep into the process.
So to the question, "Must you work with us?"
The answer is, if you like us, pick us.
If you don't, no hard feelings, pick the right agency that gives you the good fuzzy feeling inside.