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Huge Website Frustrations - Please Give Me Advice!

KateGKateG subscriber Posts: 12
edited April 2008 in Website Critique
Please help - I`m becoming ridicuously stressed out.
Awhile back I made myself a rather simple website for my product.  There was no way to buy the product on the site and like I said - it was simple.  I got some advice from this forum to have a designer redesign the site.  So I set out to find a designer who would redesign the site and set it up for ecommerce such that it would accept credit cards and not require the user to use paypal.
I talked to a number of companies but finally went with one who seemed responsive and like they knew what they were doing.  I paid more than others had quoted ($1650) hoping that they would do a really good job.
From the beginning it`s been an uphill battle.  I just don`t feel like they get the concept or the store.  The first designs were very template like.  I had hired another designer to design my labels, and he did an extraordinary job.  I ended up requesting that they try to incorporate design features from the label into the site.  It still didn`t look good.  Eventually I had to design the banner.
I can`t even tell you all of the obvious corrections that I`ve had to tell them, and it`s taken so long for everything to get done.  Here it is - April 25 and there`s no way that it will be up any earlier than Tuesday, and initially they told me that the site could be up by April 5.  I have customers waiting to buy the product, and - as some of you may know - I have to decide whether to move the business in July and whether to file patents in September. 
I have asked them to give me the ftp information so that I can change the site myself this weekend but they said that the earliest that I could get this info would be Monday and then they won`t warranty any of the shopping cart stuff that they`ve installed.  They`ve told me that I`ll be top priority next week, but every week they tell me that it`s going to be done and it just isn`t.  I feel like I`m going to be settling for a sub-par site, which really upsets me based on the price.  So far I`ve paid half of the price.
Here`s the site.  Please take a look.  Give me any suggestions.  I`m so frustrated, and I don`t know what to do.  Do I:
- Give them a list of corrections that need to be made and insist that it`s up by Mon/Tues?
- Demand to be given the FTP info and stop dealing with them?  In which case - I don`t know whether their store works, and I`m certainly not a professional webdesigner either.
- Other suggestions?
Old Site: www.shapeacakeclay.com
New Site: www.numatekdemo.com/cake/store
A subset of the problems I`ve seen with the site:
- Huge alignment problems when viewed w/ Explorer 6.0
- Loading time is long (and ridiculous for video page; I`ve suggested a redesign of the page where there`s an index initially and then only one video per page)
- Photo gallery looks bad.  They intend to make the spacing between pictures regular, but I still think it looks very amateurish the way it`s just two columns.  Obviously, it`s just what I did in my site.
- I don`t like the products page.  The pictures illustrating the use of the product are lost.  For the strip and clay products, the process pictures need to be in a line.  For the decorating clay product, there`s no picture of what can be done w/ the product (e.g., a finished cake) at all.
- And there`s been no search engine optimization whatsoever, which they said they would do.
I really wish I had the guy who designed my labels design the website.  Look on the product page at how nice they look.  Again - thanks for any advice.
KateG4/25/2008 8:49 PM


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    vwebworldvwebworld subscriber Posts: 40
    What contractual arrangement do you have with the web designer? Were there any terms, expectations, etc that you and the designer agreed upon? Have you paid the designer some or all of the fee?  Does the end product/ website and code belong to you?
    Is the shopping cart program proprietary or can you move it to another host?
    SEO is actually part of the shopping cart already... you`ll see the "title" of each page changes with the web page and product viewed. I don`t know if they are the search terms you`re targeting.
    The speed of the site may be because it is a demo sub-directory on their domain. But there seems to be some java which could be an issue. In addition the file sizes of your product images are just too large. The normal image is over 100K, the large images are over 300K ! This certainly affects the loading of the web page.
    You should certainly express what you expect to be done for the $$ and when. You should get a commitment from them on deadlines AND if possible add some financial ramifications if the deadlines are not met.
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    WeblineWebline subscriber Posts: 13 Bronze Level Member

    Sorry to hear that you have gone through a lot of uphill battles with this. Without knowing/hearing the side of your designers, I`m going to play Devil`s Advocate here; not to be negative, just to hear what they`ve told you, and shed some outside opinions.
    First, did you have a contract or guarantee with a finished by date? If not, you can`t go off on them for taking too long. If you did have it in writing, then they need to have legitimate reasons for the delay, and if it has happened multiple times, then maybe you should demand a partial refund of what you`ve paid, or on the remainder. Also, did you cover browser compatability and what SEO methods would be implemented?
    There should be no reason why they can`t provide ftp information when requested since you own the server space ( if that`s the case ); however, they do have a valid point of not being responsible if another party accesses the account and creates problems with the site or programming. And if you do stop working with them, can you line up another designer to take over and finish any sooner, and with the results that you want?
    For design and layout, remember that they are not mind readers; no matter how much you describe what you want, or envision it yourself, they can only get so close. Sometimes the concept is clear to you, but someone else isn`t going to see it the same way. This is when you have to be precise and overly descriptive of what you want, if you have an exact concept you want done. If something isn`t right in your eyes, tell them exactly what you want and how you want it. If you suggest something and they don`t follow your suggestion, then ask for a clear reason why it can`t/won`t be implemented.
    There are always going to be corrections during the process, sometimes more often on some sites than others, so this isn`t anything new. When you designed your original site, I`m sure you made changes and adjustments along the way also. Not everything goes into the first few drafts.
    Again, I`m not defending them, but I can understand both sides of the situation, and just throwing a few things out there to consider.

    Webline4/25/2008 9:54 PM
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    VideographyVideography subscriber Posts: 401 Silver Level Member
    Which web site do you need access to?  You own ShapeaCakeClay.com and Numatek owns  numatekdemo.com.  I would not expect them to give you FTP access to their web server.
    Don`t even think about SEO yet, get control of the look and feel of the site first.
    Site speed isn`t affected by being in a sub-directory on the server.  How many other web sites is the server handling and what size "pipe" is connecting the server to the Internet?  Large images can also slow the downloads.
    I`ll save the critique of your videos for a later time.  The "Number 1" video *did* make the whole concept clear.  Now if you can translate that to your home page, I think you may have a winner here.
    Re-read Craig`s post.
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    KateGKateG subscriber Posts: 12
    Thanks for all of the replies.  Having had a day to cool down - I`m doing much better.  I`ve got to say that this whole business thing can have a number of stresses.  It seems like a full time job just to keep everyone on task for getting the righ approvals and the product ready.
    My husband came up with a good idea - I think.  He said just make my own site this weekend with paypal access.  Then I can let all of the people who have emailed me about it that it can be purchased, but I don`t have to rush through the design process.
    Also - I`ve been able to integrate a lot of things that I was thinking of.  For example, I am putting expandable paragraphs on the tips and tricks, I`ve positioned the figures how I want on the product page, etc.  I think this should make the revision process with the designers go much better, both because they`ll have a clear idea of what I want and because they can copy and paste my code if they want.
    To answer some of the questions posed:
    - Yes, there`s a contract.  I signed it.  They haven`t, though there was a spot for it.  I don`t know if that means anything.
    - There wasn`t a `finish by` date on the contract.  We had just emailed some ballpark dates.
    - They`ll be hosting for 1 year.  (I can move it, though then it wouldn`t be warrantied.)
    - I won`t be using the website address provided above.  They should be moving it over to www.shapeacake.com, which I had purchased awhile ago from godaddy.
    - No - the designer wasn`t from this forum.  I just found them on a google search.  I`ve grown to appreciate a thing or two about picking a designer.  I have a friend who`s been searching for a designer for over 4 months.  He`s searching for someone local, who really gets his business idea and is excited about it.  At first I thought he was crazy for losing so much much time, but now I really appreciate the value of developing a good understanding/relationship from the beginning.
    Craig - there are 3 products.  The `clay` is very sweet with a subtle vanilla/butter taste.  The decorating clay has flavors a little similar to frosting.  The strips taste like chocolate or cinnamon bread both before and after baking.  Thanks for your comments.  I`m struggling how to get this across in the site.  It`s hard to describe tastes. 
    I`ll post again in a week or so when the design is nearly complete.  I certainly appreciate all of your advice.
    Thanks again for letting me vent about this and appreciate the other side of things!
    KateG4/27/2008 12:35 AM
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    klafranceklafrance subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Kate -
    All good advice, especially Craig. (as usual) It sounds like your plate is full! If you get to the point where you could use some outside help, please keep me in mind. I work with entrepreneurs to maximize
    their present website designs from a marketing standpoint. I set up shopping
    carts, contact capture tools, auto responders, email blasts and more. I find a
    lot of clients contact me that have a design in place that they either aren`t
    quite happy with and don`t want to pursue it with their designer or they have
    been doing it themselves and know that it can be better. Good luck.
    Kate LaFrance 
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    KateGKateG subscriber Posts: 12
    Thanks again!
    Ted - what do you mean by:
    "for example, the site under the current designer should be "no-index" right now, so the content doesn`t dilute whatever page ranking that`s already developing (it may show "0" now, but there`s probably some residual "juice" already developing, especially from conversations like this in SN)"?
    Does this mean that the site shouldn`t have an "index.html"?  If not, do I just rename that page something else?
    Kate - thanks for the offer.  I`ll keep it in mind.
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    VideographyVideography subscriber Posts: 401 Silver Level Member

    - They`ll be hosting for 1 year.  (I can move it, though then it wouldn`t be warrantied.)Kate

    Perhaps I am naive, but this makes no sense to me.  Just what are they guaranteeing?  If their warranty is voided the first time you FTP new data to your site, then what this means is that you are obligated to making all changes through them.
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    KateGKateG subscriber Posts: 12
    My understanding it that their only guarantee is that the site will function well for 60 days.  They have some sort of administrator`s console that lets you change text or add images, but I will want much more control of the site than offered by this console.  They have said that if I`m changing the code around then they won`t guarantee that the shopping cart will work.  It seems to me that I`m their first customer who`s requesting ftp access and the first one that knows anything about actually building a website, so it hasn`t been an issue for them before.  I understand their disclaimer, but at the same time I don`t want to feel limited by this console.  I don`t know what the answer is.  I suggested that I get ftp access once the site is approved and then if their are problems, we`ll go somewhat on the honor system.  I`ll email them, they`ll look into it, if I made a change in the code that caused the problem, I pay them to fix it.  Otherwise, they fix it.  I`m not sure what they think of this idea yet.
    When I first started working with them and I was asking what programs/codes they use, they said that that I would need to ask them or a programmer for any future changes to be made.  My take on this (I may get many corrections from those on this board more versed in this area than I) is that many software/template programs exist to help write codes in various languages.  However, at the end of the day, I think it still boils down to basic code.  At this point I haven`t yet decided whether I agree with their analysis that I will need to be dependent on a programmer or if I know enough about html/style sheets/java to figure it all out and modify it as needed.
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    VideographyVideography subscriber Posts: 401 Silver Level Member
    *No* requests for FTP access?  Sounds unlikely to me.  Still, as long as the site is hosted on their server, I can understand their reluctance to allow you FTP access.
    I have been hosting my sites on GoDaddy for years and I couldn`t be happier with their customer service.  Never had a problem with them.
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    KateGKateG subscriber Posts: 12
    Ted - thanks.  Makes perfect sense.  I`ll talk to them about it.
    Steve - I`ve been using godaddy too.  That`s who`s hosting the site that`s currently up.  However, they were persistent that if they were going to do the redesign they wanted to host it.
    I really like godaddy too.  One time I called their customer service and was on hold for 10 minutes.  While annoying, I`ve experienced far worse.  The tech who answered said that`s the longest hold time he`s ever seen and that they try hard to keep hold times down.  And they`ve always been helpful when I called.
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    leebsandersleebsanders subscriber Posts: 2

    I am sorry to hear that you have had so many problems, and I am sorry to tell you that you could have found much simpler solutions.
    My background is that I am an IT project manager for over 8 years. Over 14 years in operations.
    So dealing with developers is something of second nature. Whether they are within the company you work for or as in your case a vendor.
    One thing to make very clear, and you may have done this, is to have detailed functional specifications of what you want.
    And by detailed specs I mean a laundry list of what the site should do and what the site should look like.
    You can do this even at this stage of the game.
    If you have that laundry list, make sure that you list them in priority.
    I.e. High = Must have, Medium = Would like to have, Low = does not have to be installed at this phase.
    Functionality is easier, because you know how you want things to behave or flow.
    (Which is a great argument for creating a flow chart for the site.)
    Esthetics can be tougher, because everyone has their own interpretations of what "cool" or "cute" means.
    This is where samples come best into play.
    Ultimately, the designer should want to work with you and meet his/her dates.
    At least you only paid half the cost.
    Personally I like your first site better.
    One other thing about developers, many will tell you that they can do what you are asking for, but the reality is that many specialize if either design or functional aspects.
    Two different sides of the brain.
    There are those that are out there, but a good majority have strengths in one area.
    From the look of your sites, I like the first as opposed to the second.
    Which goes into my assumption that you have a web developer as opposed to a designer/developer.
    Here is the part that I regret telling you.
    There is absolutely no need to have the shopping cart built from scratch.
    And that is what it looks like you are having built.
    I would have suggested working with Yahoo or Amazon to build your site.
    A lesser cost solution is going through GoDaddy.com.
    They have web hosting, templates, shopping carts that are very inexpensive and will potentially barely touch your bottom line.
    They have staff that can assist or you can hire your own designers.
    Hell, I could even recommend a few for you.
    One of the biggest pieces is to research your designer and see the work that they have done and talk to the people who the site was built.
    See how long it took and if they got everything they wanted.
    If you like, I will even offer to help you get your specs up to snuff and get timelines in order. (No charge.)
    (This is what I do - practically in my sleep.)
    Maybe it will serve your company best to look for a better solution.
    Like one of the options listed above.
    Let`s get it fixed and get you up and running!

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    playmulliganplaymulligan subscriber Posts: 3
    I had similar frustrations in the development of our very simple website www.playmulligan.com  We are selling one product and it seemed to take forever and we felt like we had relatively little control over the process.  Stay calm and remain professional, you are getting a decent rate.  Who is hosting your domain?  They should be able to give you access to the information.
    Also some feedback on the site:
    Overall it looks very nice and I like the banner and is easy to understand.  Some things I found confusing or unneccessary due to the limited number of products:
    Eliminate the shopping options on the left hand side (you only have 3 products - why do you need a sort by price or the option to view 10 on a page).  It just takes away from the products you are selling.
    Also, I cook but am not a baker - is strip mix like cake mix?  Do you eat the clay?  The definition seemed confusing to the novice.
    Good Luck
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    MonaMona subscriber Posts: 0
    Hello Kate,
    Just read about your website problems, sorry to hear about it, especially since that`s what I do for a living, design websites.
    Aside from that, if all you want to do for now is add credit card processing to your current (old) website, then just upgrade your PayPal account to the Premium level. Just a thought!
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    StephenStephen subscriber Posts: 0

    Kate, you`ve already received a lot of excellent input.
    As a former Business Website Developer there are several items to be aware of:
    1) Most developers like to host Websites they build on their own `servers` as it allows them easy access for modifications and updates - the next reason is why
    2) E-Commerce software i.e. shopping carts require frequent updates to keep up with security upgrades that are applied to the server software. Servers use a number of programs to operate everything from the database to the HTML serving. These include PHP, Zend, SQL, Red Hat, and a many more. Every time one of these pieces of software is updated on a worldwide basis, it has the very real potential of crashing your e-commerce site. If it does, then the e-commerce program must be immediately modified (upgraded) to get the operation back.
    I spent a lot of time just keeping my clients e-commerce Sites operating correctly.
    3) I began recommending to my business clients to use one of the many e-commerce companies that have a turnkey system that you pay for on a month-to-month basis. The cost is more, but they keep everything running and updated - totally transparent to you. For a price, they can integrate your look into their e-commerce platform.
    4) Speaking of price - A couple years ago I was charging at least $6,000 for a small, simple e-commerce Website. Today, $1,600 wouldn`t even begin to build out a nice non e-commerce Site. And we all know we get what we pay for.
    5) I now have a small company that manufactures and sells an outdoor lighting product. We have our own Website that I handle the hosting for, but we`ve used Paypal (Business Pro) for the last couple years with no issues. Our customers pay through our Paypal buttons at >$150K per year with no problems or issues. We also have the ability to use the Paypal Virtual Terminal for those that place an order over the phone.
    Also the Paypal fees are less than the total cost of most merchant accounts (which we used to have), and when we leave the money in Paypal, we get a reasonable rate of interest.
    AS one who`s been there, I strongly recommend not operating your own e-commerce Site, as the cost it time, money, frustration, and down time will distract you from your primary business.
    Regards, Stephen Stephen2008-4-29 14:13:53
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    rtwMSIrtwMSI subscriber Posts: 0
    Here goes.
    From only a quick  view of your code.  The site is written using css (which is the trend and only way to go at the moment) This alone will make your editing not easy unless you understand CSS.  CSS keeps the code clean and runs the pages faster.
    Now the part I didn`t like it was written using simple html code. This in NOT the best way. Most people can tell you that. But again it is simple to understand and correct from your prospective. It should of been written in ASPX or something like that using CSS and db driven web pages. Maybe a language like VB or C# would be the basic here.
    Again modifing your web site will take a lot of patience and training on your part. Their are plenty of good inexpensive commerce web sites that would of made this headache of yours go away much faster. Most are driven using a portal type of development in the above languages but allow you to make changes easly.
    You might want to check this site out.


    Hope this helps.
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