Web designers in St Helens, Merseyside

This post: circa 7,800 words, estimated reading time: 40 minutes

Intro

This posts looks at web designers in and around St Helens, Merseyside, but can apply in practice to any town. It’s pedantic and at times harsh, even snarky. Enjoy!

I was and am umm’ing and arr’ing about starting a web design company locally, so I thought I’d look at the ‘competition’ like you do. Initially, it was for background research, but I decided to turn the research into a post. This post looks at the ‘web design’ offerings in the area and how I see them. It will be snarky!

If I were actually running a competing web design company, this article would be wholly unprofessionally, and I suspect trading standards might also want a word about it. Still, it’s a subjective review, so it stands. If you are listed below, perhaps learn from my thoughts. If you are not listed below, well, you might want to work on your SEO, ‘cos I didn’t see you in the first few pages of results.

If you look around Ackadia you’ll see I sort of offer web design already and even have a dedicated domain for it (ackadia.co.uk), which, if you look, is even more indifferent. It’s not that I don’t know how to run a business or haven’t developed scores of sites in the past; it’s just – complicated.

As for my laissez-faire approach to starting a web company, I could blame poor health, and it would be true. I could blame other factors, equally true, but the truth is the older I get, the more introverted I become, and I just don’t like people. I especially do not like ‘clients’, as they get on my nerves. Loyal customers, people that take me as I am, great. Mostly.

Please note that the comments and reviews of web developers and their sites are as I ‘see’ them, not as most people see them. I’m an old, grumpy, pedantic and obsessive perfectionist that, back in the day, was happy programming at the command line and in assembly machine code using Edlin and even ticker tape. I most assuredly do not see the same web site you ‘see’.


So, who did I find? What did I have to say?

Besides mentioning my own activities, this page looked at and considered:


Web design by Ackadia

Huzzah! You just knew I’d plug my own company first, right!

Now, Ackadia is a big ol’ site, hundreds of page, thousands actually, decades-old, so all sorts of warts and ugly corners. Typo’s, poor grammar, proper gnarly in places. I ain’t perfect.

(Glances at the previous link, eyes narrowed at the left-aligned images that were properly centered last I looked. Fixes it).

Also, Ackadia is not a company, of any description, it’s a blog. My blog. You might also note the lack of advertising, promotions, affiliate links or anything else to sully or corrupt this site.

Still, if you wander through the web design posts or hop over to the Wayback machine of the Internet Archives you’ll see I’ve been around since the dawn of time, almost. I had an internet café of sorts long before most people even had computers, let alone the Internet. I was ripping into Google for their poorly accessible code when they were barely an infant and slagged off the RNIB for the same reason. Similarly, I mocked the US government for their laughable security and slated giants like Samsung and NatWest for their failings. Then I disappeared for a long time. Stuff, y’know.

And now I’m back, sort of, and ready to take on the world. Well, this corner of it, maybe. I ain’t perfect – but I am a perfectionist. Clinically so. I obsess over details most people would never know, understand, or bother with if they did. Not just small local businesses like those below, but global companies like Heinz or teaching facilities like The Open University.

So, at present, other than friends and family, I do not do web design. Yet. But I’m thinking of it, ‘cos frankly even the best web design companies fail to meet my high standards! I’ll probably add an ‘if Carlsberg did websites’ section, but in real terms, if I can even be bothered, it would more likely be aimed at creating ‘at cost’ sites for charities and the likes that I feel like helping.

Incidentally, I have started drafting that ‘If Carlsberg’ article – and was not impressed. Carlsberg will have paid some posh agency vast amounts of money for their site, yet within seconds I was making a list of flaws: grammar mistakes, accessibility design failings, so forth. Teams of ‘experts’, consultants and fawning executives and they couldn’t get a basic feature right! Sheesh!

~ Ack


On web designer order, and on SEO

Apart from the first – Springwood – all the following web design companies appear in the order I found them after doing a Google search for “Web Design St Helens”, ignoring all the developers without a local address.

As noted in a bit, Springwood did not appear in my search, so – I feel – are rubbish at SEO. I only include them as an example of how not to do things because I am aware of them (having to suffer their castrated dashboard. (I help with a site they created and manage)).

Reminding you that your past search history and browsing activities affect your search engine results, I searched “Web design St Helens” – Springwood were not in the first ten pages, first 100-odd links. Allowing they are based in Rainhill, I expanded the search to “Web design Merseyside” and they still only made page 7, some 65 or so links in. I am not impressed.

I made a post last year to emphasise this point. It was called SEO: SomeLongUselessName. The article quickly and emphatically made position #1 in Google, as I knew it would. You could rightly argue that it would, given the unique term, but I have done the same in the past with a site for a friend’s apartment in Perpignan, and others. It was in the first three results on every search engine for the term “holiday apartment Perpignan” – out of some 300,000 results for that term.

That well-received site is also one of the reasons why I stopped doing web design for people. I pointed out to them that to keep it at position one, it needed updates. It needs to be fresh. They got a season’s bookings, were happy, and that was that. So the site slid off the map. Then, next season, they moaned because it was only listed on page 25. “Oh, how strange,” I observed. I had told them, keep it fresh; give me new content from time to time, and I’ll keep it up there. They couldn’t be bothered – until it mattered. Well, I couldn’t be bothered then either. It was mate’s rates. They got design, hosting, SEO, even managed a #1 rank, updates, all for about £12 a year (fixed domain fees).

You might want to bear that in mind if you approach web designers and they ask £2,000 for the site and as much again for SEO, all with no guarantees, of course. Unless they do ‘guarantee’ to get you listed on page one – in which case do not trust them. Seriously, don’t! To be clear, it’s not they can’t do it, it’s that they cannot honestly guarantee it.

See also, SEO: Go BIG or go home


Web design by Springwood Studios (and in general)

At present, as well as my own and friends, I help with sites like local breast cancer charity Pool of Life, designed by Colin at Springwood Studios – and it winds me up. He winds me up!
(‘It’ being the neutered wp-admin panel he forces them to use (presumably because of his insecurities), and the clunky and gods-awful visual framework theme he used).

On server choice
He uses a VPS server (most developers do), but it’s annoyingly slow to work with, and page loads are mediocre. I put a lot of it down to the Divi theme he uses, but even so it feels almost as slow a cheap ‘shared’ server (such as I use for ackadia.co.uk), and far slower than a dedicated server or high-end cloud computing option (as used with ackadia.com).

This frustration is subjective, and I’m impatient at times. If I save or update a post and it takes 3 seconds instead of under 2, I glare at the screen. By 5 seconds of seeing a spinning wheel, I’m getting ratty. Anything like 20 to 30 or more seconds each time and I’m livid. Those seconds and half-minutes add up!

It’s not that it’s a bad option, and indeed in many cases a dedicated for most sites is overkill, but – to my thinking – it’s cheap. Anything to get the profit margin up. (Acknowledging not all companies’ VPS offerings are equal at any price point, of course).

That said, I also acknowledge that dedicated servers are eye-wateringly expensive and can be a management nightmare. You need to understand and be comfortable with Linux at the command line, with essentials like cPanel and WHM, and you need to be a security expert. I’ve had dedicated servers, some managed. The management by others was less than I was happy with, so it’s a bit of a minefield. Hence my current preference for fully managed high-end cloud computing. Still, if you are charging a lot for a little, you are short-charging the client. That does not sit well with me


On themes
Now Springwood, he/they design using Elegant Theme’s Divi. Divi is described as “The Most Popular WordPress Theme In The World And The Ultimate WordPress Page Builder.” They (Elegant) also declare, “Divi is For Everyone.”

However, I, and developers like me, think it’s a clunky, bloated pile of junk and wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole if we could avoid it. Yes, you can quickly drag and drop fine-looking, well-featured sites together, easily (e.g. profitably), but really, it’s just nasty. I get in a bad mood every time I have to sully myself with it. Most of the time I bypass it, and code in text mode. Elegant Themes make many really great actual themes, but that page builder is not one of them.

Most developers – including myself – take an off-the-shelf theme and customise it. You can develop a theme from scratch, but you’ll only ever do it once, then you’ll take that and edit it to make new themes using the same code blocks. It doesn’t matter what you use, really, as long as it’s fit for the job and the customer and their customers like it. And search engines like it. And mobile devices like it.


On SEO
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is important!

Well, OK, it is questionably important as there is a lot of art and luck to it, but it matters. There are rules you have to observes or guess at, hundreds of them actually, and they change all the time. But sometimes, albeit rarely, the powers that be (read Google) will come out with a couple of stone tablets and tell the development community, “These are our commandments. Thou shalt…”

One such ‘recommendation’ is web security, specifically HTTPS, which you maybe know as SSL, or simply as the padlock. Without it, browsers now tell you, usually in less dramatic tones, this site is NOT secure, do not trust this site. Run away, run away!

Google doesn’t bother with the warning; they told the community, ‘fix this, or else’ and then wrote algorithms that look at your website and, if it’s not padlocked, dropped it down or even off the ranking.

I have trust issues. So, if a web developer says they are SEO experts and don’t padlock all their sites, well, I don’t trust them. It can cost a lot, at the high end, but about 99% of sites only require the most basic option, which is free with most hosts. The charity and I asked for such security. He wanted loads of money for it. This bothers me. Firstly, because he’s asking a lot for what should be free, as part of the service, and secondly, ‘cos it’s a deserving charity. What the hell!

Also, if you are on a shared server and one domain is insecure, there is a risk to all the others, so it’s in developers and their hosts best interests for ALL sites to have better security!

(For full disclosure, Springwood do give a 25% discount to charities, but if they then claw it back like this, I am not impressed).

For emphasis, this is a site I made for a friend: Lancashire Scooter Alliance. It’s hosted on low end shared server with Bluehost. Not the best, not the worst. The design is mediocre, the site has not been updated in years, especially due to Covid, but there it sits, waiting. It’s not great, but it does what he wants, his mates like it, and it only costs him about £12 a year. That’s about a quid a month and includes domain registration fees, hosting, backups, security patches – AND a padlock on an HTTPS address.

I can upgrade from shared to Bluehost’s ultimate VPS server – at $59 a month (£620 a year inc vat), but apart from being faster for me to work with, you personally would see little difference. For that £620, I could, if I so desired, design and host nearly 300 such sites of equal or far better quality.

If you assume an average web site costs £600 a year, and I charged accordingly, all in, that’s just shy of £90,000 a year profit. Yet…

Missing padlock

If you follow the above link, you’ll notice it goes to the ‘secure’ httpS address for the Pool of Life. You also notice the stark warning.

Now web designers often claim to offer SEO, security, peace of mind. For instance, if you look at the Springwood website, you’ll see they boast that:

We design your website with search engine optimisation in mind from the start – giving you an advantage over your competitors.

I may be biased here, but – given an HTTPS address – I personally do not consider a warning like the one below to be friendly or advantageous.

Your connection is not private. Attackers might be trying to steal your information from pooloflife.net (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards).

Browser warning connection is not private


On dubious charges

Don’t get me wrong; web developers need to make a living. Time is money. If you want a new page adding, it’s only fair to be billed at the agreed rates. But sometimes, y’know, you have to look at the charges and think, WTF!?

Now maybe Colin has cleaned his act up since, maybe I have heard it wrong, and certainly, I’m locked out of all but the most basic of elements, but it seems to me that he was/is charging a quarterly fee for ‘maintenance’ – for doing backups, for doing ‘patches’ to WordPress. That would be £140 a year on top of the domain fees, hosting, and everything else. As I’ve repeatedly told the charity, the rest of his charges are perfectly fair; this though, no. NO! I can do them a better site for £12 a year, all in! *shrugs*

For instance, at the time of writing, the site is running on a 2019 branch of WordPress: v5.3.7, though at least it has the latest patch (to that branch) applied. So, it’s up to date, and secure, right? Nope. That version of WordPress is two years old. While it is true that critical updates are maintained, that version is old. Too old, according to WordPress, on their releases page.

This is an archive of every release we’ve done that we have a record of.
None of these are safe to use, except the latest in the 5.7 series, which is actively maintained.

If you are claiming to be a web developer, run outdated software, appear to have turned off security patches and want paying to manually apply otherwise automatic patches, I have questions…

Billing for automatic updates


Funny, but sad, I think
I find hilarious it that Springwood Web Solutions (try) to protect themselves from having their content copied or scraped. It’s ridiculous, to be honest.

Firstly, it messes with search engines. I went through about three pages of Google link in researching this article, and he wasn’t there. His protectionist policy is harming his SEO.

Secondly, if you were a potential customer and wanted to copy a block of text you were interested in following up, you can’t. Therefore he’s driving away customers.

Thirdly, which really is a kicker, the only type of person he ought to be worried about lifting pages of text from his site is other developers. Like me, for instance. *glances downs*

<span class=”et_pb_image_wrap “><img loading=”lazy” src=”https … www.springwood.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/search-engine-optimisation-services.jpg” alt=”” title=”” height=”auto” width=”auto” srcset=… 😱

How’s that working out for you, bud?
But hey, at least you have a padlock for yourself, though I’m curious why a SEO consultancy service doesn’t even use SEO essentials like alt and title data with their SEO image.

Smiley having a coffee

Anyway, I’ve picked on this guy long enough; let’s consider a few more.


Blaze Media

Blaze Media is a Liverpool based company.

It looks swish. However, they give a starting price of £1,500 for the most miserly offering. That’s not to argue whether or not they are good value for money; I am merely considering these in terms of ‘how much?’, ‘how does it look and what errors jump out at me?’, ‘what do they offer?’ and ‘let me just peek under the hood’. For that sort of money, I’d expect whistles and bells.

I would not be ashamed to own a site developed by these people. Their show page for Lyons Estates is highly professional. The rebranding is great too. Honestly, top company. Better than I could ever do.

Almost. I can’t draw worth a damn, so there’s that, but it niggles at me that Blaze neglected to include a link to Lyons Estates. It bothers me that they, like the previous company, don’t bother with alt or title information for images etc. At £1,500 to over £6,000 they should be there!

Also, and paint me pedantic here, but Blaze also tells a wee fib.

Avengers, Iron Man, thought we wouldn't notice, but we did

If you scroll right down to the bottom of that page, it proclaims: "Lyons Estates, Powered by Blaze Media 2021". Putting aside my inclination to fix the punctuation, it isn’t powered by Blaze Media, it’s ‘powered‘ by WordPress. To be precise, it’s designed by Blaze Media and powered by WordPress.

Seriously, you guys are great, but you can do better.

Also, don’t be so miserly. Oh yes, and maybe employ a better proof-reader. For instance:

Blaze Media web design typo

I didn’t trawl the site; this is just the first one that jumped out at me. I’ll not point out the missing comma after the introductory clause (oops!), nor the overly dramatic hyperbole (‘living in fear’, really?), nor the dubious assertion that you can predict future algorithm changes. No, let’s get down to the nitty, gritty, to the fundemental problem.

If you are paying thousands of quid for a web site, especially one with only a handful of pages, there should be NO grammatical errors and no typos!

And on your own SEO page. Tut tut!

Do better!

Still, while they are below my ideal standards, even sloppy in places, they are the best of all the web design companies I looked at in the area. For a price, of course.

Lucy Webster

Lucy Webster

It is down at present for updates. I have no idea how long it’s been in this stage, but I’m intrigued enough that, if I remember, I’ll go back sometime and review it properly.

We’ve been so busy creating websites for our lovely customers, that we haven’t had time to work on our own! We’ll be back online soon!

What a nice message :).

An eye-catching logo, too, mostly. Just a shame she (in my opinion) ruined it by plonking ‘By Lucy Webster’ in the middle of the image, in a clunky, rounded, sans-serif font. it just looks wrong. It just does not belong. It could be improved with something like ‘Lucy Webster’ in the fancy script and, below, add ‘web designer’ in an appropriate font.

It’s art, so wholly subjective, but more so, in this case, it’s copy text, and that changes things. Compare these two sentences:

Web design, by Lucy Webster
Lucy Webster, web designer

In the first case the message is WEB DESIGN by Lucy Webster, so all the importance is applied to the task. However, in the second case, LUCY WEBSTER becomes the brand, while being a web designer is the product or service she is offering in this instance.

It’s a marketing thing. Think of top brands, like Paco Rabanne or Ralph Lauren. Do you pick the item up because it’s a PERFUME by Ralph Lauren, or are you drawn to the RALPH LAUREN perfume?

Update:
She didn’t say anything, but after my comment (which I send her a link to), she changed her logo.

The also went up in my estimation after a post on her Facebook page, which I’ve shamelessly lifed.

I cannot believe Companies are still providing websites that are not mobile responsive! And using platforms like Wix, Weebly, etc and calling themselves WEB DESIGNER’S!! And probably charging an absolute fortune for it too ?

How??? I will admit, I use wordpress to deliver websites to my customers, HOWEVER this is what customers want. And I have a full background in coding, and actual years of training and experience in building of websites from scratch using CODE. Not these pop up websites which look absolutely vile, are not mobile responsive, or even on the same level of service that a real web designer could provide.

In this day and age most people will use a mobile phone or device to look at a website. Google also penalises you if your website isn’t mobile friendly, and it could have a negative impact on your search engine optimisation, and the way your website ranks.

Web Design by Lucy Webster (on Facebook)


Bluefish

I took one look at Bluefish Digital and though, “Hell no, that’s FUGLY!” Subjective of course, by if that’s how they present themselves, ye’ – no!

Still – if you can read the dry prose without falling asleep(!) – they make some good points on their web design page, so worth keeping in mind, though there’s an element of ‘mansplaining’ type bullshit going on. Whether they apply what they say, I can’t comment; I’m only looking at these as if I was searching for someone to make a site for a friend.

Most of the time, when I look at web designers pages – who they are, what they offer, what makes them stand out – I’m drawn in. I may (OK, I do) mentally note all the errors, but the subject interests me, so I was happy to skim through. That was a chore! It was like reading the contents from the back of a cough syrup bottle. Please, guys, liven up your message!

On top of this harsh criticism, there are several design flaws, there’s a prominent internal link that is simply a #, so it goes nowhere, sliders that don’t slide, and the portfolio link spews out an HTTP error 500 because it’s being sent to ‘?Itemid=117‘, which doesn’t exist.

Furthermore…

Another design site was listed in the Google search, St Helens Web Design, It is the same site! Mirroring is one thing; big companies use it to avoid expertise downtime, (e.g. if the physical server ‘here’ falls over, a server with the same address but based in, say, London takes over). This is different. This is the same content on different domains. That’s just wrong. No! I’m actually surprised Google hasn’t picked up on it yet. They have been known to blacklist sites that do that.


CN Marketing Solutions

Didn’t spend a lot of time on this site. CN marketing solutions seem marketing orientated, which is funny ‘cos their logo is ridiculously tiny. The actual logo, including additional text, is only 61px high and barely readable, though they did add a title entry to the link.

Not so bad here, but on their site, *squints* CN Marketing Solutions logo

That said, the blurb suggests they have a wide range of skills, are “a leading application development company offering Web, Mobile & Facebook App Development services” and “provide software development services in: PHP, Drupal, Python, JavaScript/ jQuery and other modern technologies.”

Such portfolio sample as they offer seems competent, if unremarkable. I can’t comment on value for money as it’s a case of “ask for a quote”, but it looks like they’d get the job done.

Faint praise aside, *makes a face*; there are internal and external links that hash (#), so go nowhere, and other internal links open up in a new tab, which mortifies me. That’s just gnarly. Fix your damned links!

Just as an added observation, their footer link is for ‘SEO St Helens | Web Design St Helens’ – as they completely miss out on the start of the line beginning ‘CN Marketing Solutions ‘. You might want to fix that, guys.


Merseyside Web Design

Merseyside Web Design, Online Marketing Specialists.

Another I couldn’t be bothered to waste much time on. Their grammar and punctuation could be better, but that’s a ‘thing’ with me, so fair enough. However, their every-present contact form is ugly and invasive.

Like so many others, a number of their links (social media in this case) direct to ‘#’. If they cannot be bothered to check their own site, how can you trust them to check yours correctly hmmm? This is not simply a dig at this company; you see it a lot. It’s lazy, sloppy, and unprofessional. Do not be that guy!

Making a hash of links

Also, which particularly annoys me, there are no links for their portfolio examples, such as they are. There is nothing intrinsically wrong, as such, and it avoids link stuffing, which search engines frown on. However, if you say you made ‘that’, I want to see it for myself – not a postage-stamp-sized rendition. Furthermore, rel=”nofollow” takes a lot the edge of that *(probably)!

*(Vehemently noting that Google are complete hypocrites as their policy appears such that (paid) links are only tolerable if they (Google) are the one’s getting paid!)


GWiz, it’s Google Wizard

It seems to me that GWiz, like to live on the edge, picking ‘google-wizard’ for a URL, only needs Google’s to take notice – and they are fickle beggers… Google’s predations aside, I like the name, and they seem friendly enough. And reasonably cheap.

We have helped many small and medium businesses in St Helens, Liverpool, and Merseyside to get online. Take a look at our web design prices and see for yourself just how little it can cost. You can have a new website designed from as little as £295.

They continue,

“We are able to offer traditional websites for local businesses and organisations looking to showcase their services and for those who are looking to sell products online we also offer a number of eCommerce website solutions. If you are just starting out in business then we also offer advice on websites for start-up businesses in addition to competitive web design packages and a host of internet marketing help. Please feel free to read more about GWiz Web Design and the importance of choosing the best web designer.”

Spelling mistakes on the home page, though, so points lost there. ‘Lightening‘ speeds on mobile, for instance. Mistakes are seen on sites from his portfolio too, which doesn’t inspire confidence in me, but, those aside, he seems reasonably competent.

It’s run by Steve Grady, who describes himself as a ‘SEO Geek, Web Designer and Online Marketing Advisor’. One that doesn’t correctly – or even link – said page on his GWiz site. I only glanced through his ‘Website Design St Helens’ page (mentally tutting at little niggles) and found it informative enough and certainly worth a read. However, it’s a page about SEO that massively guilty of keyword stuffing, so, yes, Steve, not good, that.

Also, looking at one or two of the sites from his portfolio, the keyword stuffing is readily apparent, so I was interested to observe the particular site was still highly ranked. #1, actually. Either Google has relaxed their rules – or the rank kicking is delayed. It was #2 in another – less known – search engine, ecosia, so he’s getting results for his clients at any rate.

He needs to proof his own site a lot more though, one page in particular – websites for local businesses – is a mess! The alt tags are not great and verge on keyword stuffing, again. The alt tags are evident because the images are missing, also not good. And every other site I looked at in the list was gone. Those that were live looked OK but suffered the same problems.

For this page (the one you are now reading), Yoast suggests,Keyphrase density: The focus keyphrase was found 1 time. That’s less than the recommended minimum of 14 times for a text of this length.. The important point here is 14 times in 6,000 words – as opposed to 14 times spammed in 60 words or less!

As for his prices, which I was pleased to see he publishes:

Basic is… too basic, especially at £299.

Business web at £599 is fair to good.

eCommerce ‘from’ £999 seems fair to good.

Blog redesign is priced ‘from’ £699, fair enough.

The portfolio page is annoying as heck, the swishing frost over effect, meh, though the informative page it links to is decent.
However, just looking at two, one (Xibit Hair) had errors, flaws and no padlock (SSL), while another – also with no padlock and defaults to a www – had a critical error and refused to load. Needs revising.

Given my perfectionism, I’m not sure that I, personally, would be comfortable commissioning a site from here based on first impressions. However, in fairness, there is a lot of good advice on this site. If you are patient anyway, ‘cos the slow load times drove me to distraction. Blackhat SEO techniques aside, he’s not bad, if I am being fair, and he does seem to know his stuff.


Jelli’s design

My first (snarky) though on visiting Jelli’s design was “My EYES!” She is rather fond of bright pastel shades. Art is subjective, though, and I’m boring, so that’s on me. The second thought was to correct it to Jelli’s Designs, plural, but again, that’s just my preference.

The lack of a favicon is also apparent, and she wants to sort that; it does matter. I dare say others missed that too, but her site’s bright design makes the omission more apparent to me. It’s a Google thing as well as one of mine, so the favicon should be included. Ironically, the first line of Jelli’s home page says,

STAND OUT in a sea of ordinary
make sure your website is set apart from the competition

In the row of some 28 tabs I have open, her site stands out for being only one of two without a favicon. (The other is The Open University login page! 🙄) It’s the little details that stand out for me.

Anyhow, Jelli’s offers ‘Professional Graphic & Website Design (WITHOUT THE PREMIUM PRICE TAG!)’.

And I like her copywriting style. It’s the best I saw of all the sites I examined. Honest, refreshing, quirking. Works for me. Well done her! A fair chunk of text, but I like it and have copied it in full below.

Hey! My name is Jen Bolan nee Ellis (hence the name Jelli’s Design) and I’m an established, trusted and highly experienced freelance graphic and web designer based in St Helens, Merseyside.

As a solo designer with 10 years in-house experience and over 12 years freelance experience, my aim is to help individuals & businesses achieve their online goals by designing and building professional & modern websites.

With no overheads, I am able to provide professional design services at a fraction of the cost of a design agency. I specialise in designing engaging, affordable, well-written, user-friendly websites, logos and graphics… pretty much anything you could imagine to entertain, inform, or engage, and to make sure that your audience keeps coming back for more.

With a hunger to constantly grow and evolve as a designer, I have a genuine passion for art, typography, design, technology and creative thinking.

GREAT VALUE
I don’t throw my money around, and I wouldn’t expect you to either. I’m not the cheapest web designer in town, but I’m not the most expensive either! If you hire me I want you to feel satisfied that I delivered a good product at a fair price.

TO BE RESPONSIVE
Sometime’s it can be tricky juggling multiple projects and deadlines, but I will always reply to your emails and phone calls within a few days at most. If you ever have an emergency, or deadline, I’m always on hand and you will have my full attention.

Her prices for web design aren’t the best, but neither are they the worst either and fall squarely into the ‘average for the UK’ range. Under my ‘if Carlsberg made’ rules, her offer could be better, as could all the ones presented here, but I’ll temper that with her graphics and logos portfolio. If I need logos, or someone I knew wanted logos locally, I reckon I’d point them to her rather than the company I would normally use. She’s good; her graphics and logos show off her true talent, I think.

So far, so good, but, well, we are back to that Avengers meme. It could well be they she provided the graphics, while the other (previously mentioned) company provided the design, but seeing that XiBit Hair site in her portfolio was a bit of a curveball. I don’t like surprises like that. They could be a reason, so I’m not going to hammer on about it. However, the second link from her portfolio that I looked at – Sunnypets – had her style to it, loaded well and included the requisite padlock. (But again lacked the favicon).


Easy Website UK

Finally, we come to Easy Website UK.

When I looked the other day, various page elements were not showing or were just blank and very slow loading areas. I thought it didn’t bode well, but while my sites were fine, I got messages saying there were problems with hosting services in South America, and shortly after that, Facebook fell on its arse, completely out of it, so something major went down. I looked again today, their site loaded perfectly fine. That’s the thing when you do reviews like this; you have to make sure of some stuff.

I can’t say I like the company anyway; something about them makes me antsy. There are no prices, and the look and feel of their site reeks of ‘corporate’. Their offerings look highly professional, but everything about it says ‘suits’ to me, rather than techies or arty types like Jelli above. That said, I’m a t-shirt and jeans sort of person or trainers with a three-piece suit. I just do not like corporates.

Other folks may feel the opposite way entirely – each to their own. This bias probably goes back to my teens, when I alternated between rock clubs and discos. Bearded and tattooed bikers (sans their colours) in oily jeans, great fun, never any trouble. But the places you needed a suit and tie to enter, fights every week, people getting glassed, always trouble. An expensive suit doesn’t mean someone is a good or nice person; it just masks what’s underneath.

So, any dislike I have for Easy Website is an unreasonable and unformed cognitive bias. The sort of instant dislike feeling you get.

Take their web design page. They have a video (below) that starts off making good points, but about a minute in, start the snarky, veiled insults, and spew out corporate BS. Condescending much, Easy Website?

If I didn’t like them before, I really, REALLY did not like them after watching their video!

“Many people in the industry call themselves web designers, but really they are just a bunch of geeks with some basic coding knowledge.”

(Up pops a mocking cartoon, with the character saying ‘Actually, I just know a little about HTML’)

Phase 5: Development “Here, we actually create the site using Hypertext Mark-up Languages and Cascading Style Sheets, with help from databases and other technologies as well. Our
devices can be made accessible to mobile devices too.”

 

 

So – they just described every website in the past decade or so in the most condescending manner possible, while implying “but we employ agile methodology, so WE are awesome”. The fact their wee grinning character is wearing a sweater with a huge £ speaks volumes to me!

Don’t be bamboozled, most designers, from bedroom geeks to top agencies to FTSE 100 do it this way! The BBC, Sony, Disney and even Facebook rely on WordPress!, to name just a few.

But hey, that’s cool. They are a very slick company. Such a professional business would never make a mistake, unlike all the other ‘geeks’ and so-called web designers above. Hell no, if you want it done right, pay for the best. Goooo Easymedia.

Huzzah!

Three cheers for Easy Media. Flawless. Incredible! I, a mere ‘geek’ with some 20-odd years of web experience, am not worthy to lick their boots. Just look at the amazing work they did for PSD Vehicle Renals in St Helens.

Huzz…ah! Aah, ummm, sorry, what? Vehicle ‘renals‘? They sell kidneys for cars!?

Wait, what? 😝

A car RENAL company, really?

professional typo - car renal company

</snark>

Note
Yes – before Easy Website UK decide to lawyer up – the error is on their portfolio page (at the time of writing) and not replicated on the customer’s live site, but it serves the point. Their portfolio page IS their showroom – and they couldn’t even check it properly.

Furthermore, ‘cos, you know, I look under the hood, (and I usually know at a glance what framework is being employed anyway), for all their boasting about how they ‘create‘ the site, it’s another just a bog-standard WordPress drag and drop site with a couple of standard plug-ins and some extra custom code and graphics to tweak the theme. That’s basic bread and butter work for most experienced web designers.

Perspective
It’s not that I disagree with the merits of a professional approach, the meetings, the wireframes etc., nor do I disagree that’s there are a lot of cowboys out there. No, it’s that this company comes across as smarmy!

Take another look at my thoughts about Blaze Media. Sure, I pulled them apart on a few things – things most people, even experienced developers might miss – but I don’t take offence at them; in fact of all the companies I looked at, I would say – by far – they are the most professional. In contrast, whatever the quality of their work, after that video, for me, Easy Website just come across as arseholes.


Web design with real people. ‘Real’ customers

If you search you’ll find all sorts of horror stories from web developers, designers, and so forth. Some sound unbelievable, some funny (if it’s not happening to you), others, well they generally leave you with a lower opinion of humanity.

I had this one friend, he was into all sorts of businesses. He liked to bulk import and go off to shows such as the Ideal Home Exhibition to flog off the stock. Bear in mind, this is going back decades, to a time when broadband barely existed, nor smartphones. No CMS. He would come into my shop or one of my offices and it would go something like this:

Joe: “Hey mate, need another website.”

Me: “Sure, no problem, what for this time?”

Joe: “Digital cameras. This one. Here, take it, you can keep it. Have a play, put something together for me.”

Me: “Sure, no problem. When do you need it for?”

Joe: “I leave in an hour, can you have it ready before I go?”

Me: What he heck

Another time, he wanders in with another get-rich scheme. Two in fact. One for t-shirts with custom messages and images, another for magnetic jewellery. Not just show and tell but eCommerce.
“Sure, Joe. No problem.”
So I threw something together as a prototype, he was happy with that and it was ready to go live. Just needed his banking details, for taking card payments. He dodged it for a bit, asking when it would be live and finally said, “Can we not do it without telling the bank?” Okayyyy

Then there was this other person. She came into my office asking for a web site, cheap. Umm’ed and arr’ed a bit over the price, then came back a few days later. It went something like this:

Potential client: “My sister’s boy said ‘e just did a three-month course in web design at college an’ e’ reckons it should cost no more than £5. Says he can do it f’ that.”

Me: “Really? Let him then.”

Potential client: “Wait, no. I want you to do it, proper like, he’d just mess it up. I want you to do it, for a fiver.”

Me: “I don’t think so, no. Bye.”

You can be all professional, spends months on a project, say for Renal Car Rentals 😉, but really, most people and small business neither want nor need that, nor can they justify or afford agency prices. They just want the sort of site someone like Jelli’s design can provide. Something that does the job and gives them the feeling that the web designer is invested in them, cares about them or their site. Something that doesn’t need a second mortgage, or the developer holding out their hand for money for every little thing. This is St Helens, not London, eh!

It was the same when I sold computers. If a customer wanted a budget system for email and word processing, I didn’t steer them towards a custom rig for engineering design. I understood what they needed and built it for them. It’s not rocket science.

A simpler way of looking at it is this – we had a leak in the bathroom, we wanted a plumber to fix it. We didn’t want a schematic for the pipes, we didn’t want to know the brand of sealant, we just wanted it sorted and trusted the plumber to get on with it. That is all most people want and need.

Similarly, my friend is a fabricator; if we needed something welding, he’d sort it for us. Equally, if he wants another web site and I start talking about heuristics, child templates, wireframe prototypes and agile methodology he’s gonna throw a spanner at me. Sure, for a £10,000 a year project, you want all that, but a small site for an odd-job man, not so much.

Going back to the first web company I mentioned, the one with the cancer charity site. He provides, (badly in my opinion), but he does not look after the customer, because they aren’t a customer to him (it seems), they are a client, a source of revenue. A job. So, I do everything for them. That is the difference. Absolutely, put in place barriers against feature creep, set agreed fees for additional work, but for heck’s sake, if they deserve your respect, see them as a person, not as a tally on some spreadsheet. Word of mouth and customer loyalty is free, after all.


Web design on a shoestring budget and ROI

Maybe I’ll consider this, maybe I won’t, but it deserves mention because of marketing, budgets and that old nugget Return On Investment (ROI).

 

ROI

Firstly it isn’t the ‘cost’ of website development that matters, it’s a ‘total cost’, and folk rarely take that into account.

Here’s an example.
You are desperate for a web site to get your business moving, but flat broke. Like picking pennies out of dog poop in the street levels of penniless! And I come to your rescue. For just 2p a day I will do everything. A bespoke HTTPS website, professionally designed, thoroughly proofread, contact forms, landing page, social media help, the lot. Tuppence a day.

Well, actually 2p a day would cost you more than that ‘cos you’ll have to keep coming round here with shitty bags of copper, which costs you time, and time is money. Plus, ewww, so let’s say £12 for the first two years, so I’m not losing money helping you.

But, ideally, you still have to keep an eye on the site, follow up leads, see where your traffic is coming from, track your conversions. Factor in additional time to post on Facebook, build up your portfolio, start getting testimonials.

Even if I help you with all that, for free, it still takes up time away from work. You have to ask, “Am I making more than 2p a day from the site, or would I be better looking for loose change again?

In reality, there will be a raft of ongoing additional costs, ranging from charges by the developer to replacing stationery to hopefully chasing up new enquiries.


On self hosting to save money

Not only could I help out like that, I have done so a few times and at that price or less, but for me, it’s not a business, it’s just something to keep busy, to keep learning, or to help a mate.

I was looking around at ‘budget’ design companies. A lot lead with enticing marketing gems like for just £1 day* or from just £1 day*.

A quid a day is £365 a year. If I worked at the ‘churn them out’ level I could comfortably develop and manage about 1,000 sites a year. Even if I only charged £36.50 – including domain registration – so 10p a day – I’d still pull over £30,000 a year.

Plus, there’s that little asterisk. The * that, somewhere – in small print – adds, by the way, that’s “plus vat, T&C apply”. The T&C is a link to 5 pages of legal spiel, in a tiny 6-point font, loaded with caveats, binds, and get-out clauses for them adding that it’s a fixed-term contract, no refunds, no do-overs.

For a price comparison, for a single domain, a budget host like Bluehost normally charges about £93 a year, or, with special offers, the same amount – upfront – for the first 3 years, plus another fee on top for registration fees, perhaps another £48, which takes it up to £47 a year, pro-rata. That’s not for design, or anything else, that’s just hosting.


Solo designer vs agency, what’s that all about?

I’ve seen agencies and the like *glances at Easymedia* suggesting that only they can do a proper job and sole-traders are unqualified geeks, which is complete tosh, but for the sake of this argument, our sole-trader is up to the job.

Bob the Builder goes to Miss Solo, who works from a home, and gets quoted £600 for the job, which will take three weeks.

Then he goes to Team Rollex, at their swanky glass and steel offices on the waterfront. There, he marvels at the row of BWM 8 Series Coupés in the parking spaces. Then, after walking across acres of luxurious Cashmere goat hair carpeting, he meets the executives and is quoted £6,000, plus VAT, and three months to do the job.

One offers a prototype, and phone support, the other schedules many grandiose meetings (taking Bob away from building projects).

Bob is taken in by the latter’s pampering. The agency offers charts, spreadsheets, espresso coffee in china mugs, and it’s all very professional. However, at the end of the day, Bob’s wife notes, the offerings look the same. Based on his business card, the colours and layout are identical. The same number of pages. Bob’s wife wants to know, right now, why Bob splashed out ten times more for the agency and got nothing extra for all that money (and time).

Why do you think that is?

It isn’t because the agency staff have web design degrees because those are not worth the paper they are written on. Nor is it due to the cost of developing the underlying framework, ‘cos WordPress is free. It’s not because of the extra skills for graphic designers because Bob supplied the artwork. No, when it all comes down to the wire, Bob paid for the agencies overheads and inflated egos!

The agency doesn’t need a high rent glass and steel office on the waterfront, their staff don’t need to drive BWMs and wear Rolex watches, it’s all bling and dazzle. That’s not to say, in general, teams and agencies can’t do amazing jobs, it’s to point out that they are not charging huge amounts because they are sooooo much better, they are charging it ‘cos they want to look good. They – not you. That is my twist on it anyway.

These guys get what I’m saying!

We make no secret of where we work, we just have regular offices with regular walls and regular ceilings. I know since the creation of companies like Google or Apple, website design agencies (and other techy type businesses) have tried to emulate that same look.

…who do you think pays for that… Correct, the customer does! Now our regular looking office with little more than a Kettle and a microwave start to sound more appealing.

… Now that may sound silly but most web design agencies will hold meetings, and not just the one! It’s a major thing, people from all corners of their business come to the boardroom to talk turkey and make you feel like the only person in the country that is having a website built.

There will be post-it notes everywhere, clipboards, projectors and whiteboards. While all this is going on, those pound notes are adding up. After all, these website guru’s are charging upwards of £75 per hour EACH so they want you to ask as many questions as possible, to discuss your full requirements in detail.

Banana Sites

And, as I say, all that time having your ear bent in their office is time you are not working; it’s time losing you money.



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Ack

Been playing with computers since the stone age, online since the '80s, and developing websites since the '90s.

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