27 Complaints About Web Design Companies

By Andy Crestodina

People like to complain. And since I talk to people about web projects, I hear a lot of complaints about other web design companies. I regularly hear horror stories about long delays and failed projects. So in 2011, I started keeping a notebook next to my phone. And when I remembered it was there, I would take a few notes.

So far, I’ve collected 27 complaints about web companies (to see the full list, scroll down). Although not exactly a PhD thesis, there is enough data to draw a few conclusions. I’ve put the complaints into three groups:

  • Planning and service: includes all complaints about communication issues, such as listening, managing expectations and meeting deadlines.
  • Technical and programming: includes capabilities complaints, technical limitations and hosting issues.
  • Design: includes alignment with brand, lookin’ good.

Some of the complaints were wide-ranging and added to more than one category. This chart shows the percentage of complaints for each category.

Bar chart showing resource allocation: planning & service at 78%, programming & technical at 25%, and design at 3%.

It’s immediately obvious that service is the biggest problem clients have with web design companies.

Why do web design companies suck?

Here are some of the main reasons:

  1. Web design firms are project-based, not account-based like traditional ad agencies or IT support companies. They may not have the people and process in place to provide the kinds of ongoing enhancements and support that clients inevitably need like a support team or account managers.
  2. This is an industry where almost anything is possible, so clear communication is desperately important. Dozens of options may be discussed, each with pro and cons. This means misunderstandings are common…and sometimes disastrous.
  3. Web designers are busy. Clients often need months to get comfortable enough to sign a proposal. That makes it very hard to manage capacity. A lot of web companies, especially the very cheap and very good ones, are slammed.

So what should clients do?

First, keep this in mind: when choosing a “web design team,” you’re choosing a project management approach, a process, a help desk and ideally, a long-term web partner. If something goes wrong, it won’t likely be a design or programming problem. It’s all about service and communication.

I once wrote a post called 20 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Design Company, but I’ll save you the click and summarize it here.

  1. Check references. Just pick up the phone and call some people! As with job candidates, the best indication of future performance is past performance. Have a genuine conversation with companies the vendor has worked with. Or at the very least…
  2. Read reviews, but don’t stop there. Search around for a few minutes. Go to the Better Business Bureau website and see if there are any complaints.
  3. Get a demo. Of course, you’ll want a demo of the content management system, but also get a demo of the project management tools. Wait, they don’t use project management tools? Bad sign…
  4. Are they taking notes? There may be indications of vendor chaos in the first meeting. They should be capturing goals and requirements in an organized way.
  5. Meet the team. Again, just like a job interview, nothing replaces the face-to-face meeting.

Lessons learned…

Many web design companies just aren’t focused on service and don’t know how to keep a project on track. A good designer and smart programmer can start a web company and make websites – Barrett and I did. But they may not truly realize what it takes to offer great service – Barrett and I didn’t at first. But we figured it out.

  • Partners: Focus on communication, process, project management and support.
  • Clients: Carefully vet companies for service and commitment, listen for direct answers.

The 27 web design complaints

A word cloud with the words slow and non responsive.

Inept, Old Technology, Slow, Non-Responsive
Non-Responsive, Disappears
Too Slow
Doesn’t Listen, Incompetent
Misled, Poor Communication
Technical Limitations
Never Delivered, Overpromised, Missed Deadlines, Offshoring
Non-Responsive, Offshoring
Rude, Short, Doesn’t Exist Anymore
Design Problems, Relaunched Site without Approval
Database Crashed
Company is gone, can’t access the site
Vendor was always slow, one-person shop, now retiring
Slow to respond, Poor Service
Overpromised, Over their heads, Going Out of Business
Out of their Capabilities
Couldn’t execute, Overpromised, Lack of Capabilities
Non-responsive, not committed
Didn’t explain Flash, SEO problems
No control, Developers won’t give access
In over their heads, CMS constraints
Can’t find developer
Had amnesia, Missed Deadlines
Hates their vendor, $20k to add a Flash piece, Bad project management
Delays, Lack of capacity, Over-promised
Communication problems, Designer fell off the earth.

NOTE: Two of the complaints mentioned that the vendor was using offshore resources, but the complaints weren’t about programming or technical capabilities, they were about service.

There is more where this came from…

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