Apparently I’m part of a small minority of web developers who believe that the developer has a level of professional responsibility toward the client, regardless of whether the client knows, understands, or requests same.
I’m currently participating in a discussion on the SitePoint forums in which the topic of discussion is a web site developer who offers “SEO friendly CMS” (content management system) — but this developer builds his clients’ sites in frames. Not only does he use frames, but the framed content is actually hosted on his domain, not his clients.
There are many, many reasons this is a terrible idea. I won’t go into those here.
What I want to talk about is the statement by one forum member who wrote, “When the pages are indexed, yes they’ll show his domain but unless the client has specifically asked for that not to happen it’s not unethical.”
That’s completely wrongheaded thinking, in my opinion. Clients should not have to know enough about the website building process, the architecture of html pages and framesets, and the inner workings of search engines to request that the developer avoid certain practices that would be bad for the client’s site.
The client hires the web developer because the web developer allegedly has expertise in this area. Any monkey can peck at keys on a keyboard; it’s not the web developer’s time-on-keyboard the client is in need of. It’s the web developer’s expertise.
When I hire professionals or specialists to perform a service for me, I rely on their expertise. I don’t think I should have to study up so that I can tell my mechanic how much torque to use when tightening the tires on my car, or tell my plumber what not to do in order to avoid damaging my plumbing system, or tell my doctor which medicines are contraindicated, or provide my lawyer with the exact wording necessary for a business contract. I hire those people because they supposedly know what they’re doing. They’re supposed to know how to do the things they’re hired to do, and they’re supposed to know what techniques and processes to avoid due to potential damage.
In a similar vein, I believe that anyone who holds him or herself out as a professional website developer — and particularly one who claims “SEO friendly” anything — has a responsibility to perform the promised service using industry-accepted “best practices” without regard to whether the client has sufficient knowledge to request those best practices specifically.
I believe, in fact, that it is unethical for a website developer to engage in the types of practices discussed in the SitePoint forum thread, and in many other practices as well.
But unfortunately, from the client’s point of view, I don’t have a solution to offer. The client, who is usually not an expert in these things, doesn’t even know the right questions to ask, much less have any way of evaluating the answers. It’s all too easy for the unethical developers to give impressive-sounding, baffle-’em-with-bullshit, high-falutin’ answers. It’s easy to talk the talk; but how does the client assess whether the developer walks the walk?
A lot of the things the client should be assessing aren’t obvious from looking at the developer’s portfolio, unless the client himself becomes an expert on web technology. It’s not rocket science, but in my experience, most clients just don’t have the time or the inclination to do that. They’re too busy running their businesses.