Website builders trading on ignorance

So I was chatting with someone, who will remain deeply anonymous because they should have known better, and they proudly showed me the new four page website that they’d paid a local professional over $2000 to produce.

In a poker-face moment I did not, at the time, scream “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Although. I have to admit. I did say that one of my teenage sons would have given him twice as good a site for half the price. Meanwhile thinking that even spending $1000 would be a complete rip-off.

So we’re clear, this was a basic site with some simple information, produced by the client, about his business. It was obviously done with WordPress and obviously from a stock template. The only reason my interlocutor was happy was because he had absolutely no idea how easy to produce such a thing is these days.

Now there are two points to this story. The first is that it’s really unconscionable for people pitching web services to trade on their clients’ lack of knowledge to overcharge so significantly. I’m sure they’re charging what the market will bear, but that’s a flaw in the market. Use your powers for good!

But let’s face it you can’t really rely on people paying off their mortgage to not charge as much as they can. And therein lies the real point. Market inefficiencies spring from unequal knowledge. And if you are, let’s say, a plumber – your knowledge of website building and its attendant market is not likely to be that great these days. So, and here’s the sting: This is why we need to spend time in school teaching our kids about coding and technology. It’s a key life skill for navigating the modern world.

I keep seeing articles recently with pundits arguing that teaching coding is a waste of time. The analogy they use is that people drive cars without knowing how an engine works. And to them my answer is that for most of my life it has been nigh-on impossible to talk about mechanics without venturing into stories of people who don’t understand how cars work getting ripped off. (That’s only stopped recently because these days absolutely no one knows how cars work!) Knowledge, at least at a functional level, is what makes a market economy function fairly.

OK that’s great but what do you do if you’re that plumber and need a website? Well for a start do exactly what people do when they are looking for a plumber – get competing quotes and ensure the quotes are broken down. Break out the cost of supplies and the hours of work. And understand that copying and pasting text that you’ve provided into a WordPress template is, at best, a couple of hours work. Adding on stock items like a contact-form or a gallery is truly trivial. And a shiny end-result does not equate to the complexity of the task – installing a gold-plated tap is the same work as installing one bought from the local hardware shop.

Now before I get screamed at by the web designers amongst you – yes, getting an original, professional website with interaction is, of course, a different kettle of fish. It’s the difference, for my theoretical plumber, between changing a tap and running a new sewage pipe. But that’s not what most small businesses are getting; they are getting a basic, text-heavy site with little interaction. And they’re getting ripped off.

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