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Save me from amateurs.

April 29, 2014

One of the early posts on this blog was "Beware the SMEG. That's a winning strategy", in which I commented about the way that clueless and inexperienced people hold themselves out to be experts. I came across another example this week and my irritation level at what amounts to theft was raised.

I don't spend a lot of time looking at my clients' web sites because almost everything I need to know about them is stored in Act! (including a tab which will show me what the site looks like). I do go to these sites, however, if I find that something has changed or I need to find out some additional details. I had one such occasion this week when the monthly newsletter produced a bounce message about an email address that doesn't exist. I went to the relevant web site to check and found that the person I used to deal with had retired since I had last been to their office (coincidentally the person who replaced him was already in my database but working for a different company). The fact that at least four previous newsletters had been delivered without problem since he retired suggested that whoever looked after the company's IT systems was a little slow on system maintenance. (It only took two years to cancel his email address.)

The web site is a horror story of incompetence. It is a brochure site with about five pages of static content (home page, contact page, brief company history, staff, testimonials), but it was built with the WordPress blogging and content management software system. WordPress is a very fine product (and is bringing you the page you are reading now) but it is meant for sites that need constant updating at irregular intervals or ones that allow comments on articles and pages. It is a blogging platform, because blogs need to be able to be updated as the owners think of new things to say, but there are far better ways to build a site for the purpose required in this case. One drawback is that without a lot of work all pages in the site have to have exactly the same layout, with only one section of the layout having different content on different pages. Unfortunately the person who built this site didn't know how to do that sort of work.

Every page in the site has a menu at the top of the page, but every one of the menu links goes to a page that doesn't exist. That is amateurish enough, but the 404 page that is displayed is just the page layout without any further information. Put another way, you only know that the page doesn't exist if you happen to notice the "404 Page Not Found" title that WordPress puts on the default "Not found" page and which appears in a tab at the top of the browser screen.

As an aside, I just went to the client's site to check something and it has been in WordPress maintenance mode for at least the last half an hour. This mode gets turned on automatically when WordPress is updating software components and I've never seen it take more than a minute or two on any of the blogs I manage, so I have no idea what is happening. It will be quite unfortunate if Google drops by to index the site while this is happening, because it might interpret it as saying that the site no longer exists. It will also be unfortunate if a potential customer drops by to find the phone number or street address.

I suppose I should be grateful that it isn't showing one of those old Geocities style "Under construction" animated images.

The missing pages are bad enough, but on pages with content there is evidence that the words have been pasted from Microsoft Word and no proofreading has been done to check that special characters have been correctly transferred. And by "special characters" I include the apostrophe in words like "clients' satisfaction". This has now moved beyond simple incompetence into laziness, both of which show contempt for the person paying the bills.

(After more than two hours I gave up waiting to get a screen shot of the "special characters" problem. It contained such wonders as "couldn't" and "words like “this”".)

Now I just have to figure out a diplomatic way to approach the client to tell him that his web site is not presenting the sort of corporate image that he wants and thinks it is doing. And to get him to pay me to fix it up, of course.

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