33 thoughts on “The end* of website development as a profession

  1. We've had very different experiences.

    If you're a plumber or a massage therapist or a lawn care company or an artist or a mechanic or just someone who wants to publish online, paying for bespoke design and development is mostly an effort in vanity. A $5K website should work and function better than something you paid next to nothing for or built on your own. Will this translate to 500 times the success? That's unlikely.

    If, however, you need to serve more than 1000 people on your site per day or your company needs to present itself more professionally or you need to create a community of people online or you want your content to compete in a competitive niche or you want to do something other than hassle with PayPal or you simply don't have the time, expertise, or patience to try to put something together, you need assistance.

    Using WordPress with free plugins, best-practice SEO that I learned from free sites like SEOMoz, an aesthetic that grew from what I saw and liked, and a broad suite of software, both free and paid, I served many, many different clients and businesses and saw no sign of that business slowing down.

    Take one step beyond what you CAN do and start thinking about how and why and it's very helpful to have someone with domain knowledge (no pun intended) on your side. I've met many more business owners who know that they can do it on their own but are ready, willing, and excited to work with someone that has done it many times before and can recommend a good path forward.

    You're drastically underselling decades worth of your knowledge and experience by saying that free/cheap tools can somehow replace your recommendations. It could take someone 100 hours to put something useable together, which could, in turn, cost them $10K in lost work time. Or they could pay you a half/third of that can have something they're really proud of.

    Web development as a professional will go away if, and only if, the web goes away.

  2. While I think what you've discussed is true in some circles, it's entirely not true in other circles. For example, many, many clients have the ability to do this themselves, yet they choose us because we can provide custom functionality when needed.

    A lot of companies still don't want to get their hands "dirty" with the web stuff and look to folks like myself or the company I work for to do that for them.

  3. I agree that to the fact that Web designing is more about providing great services at less price. Many of our clients as us how low we can finish off a site to make it professional, good, attractive, beautiful and search engine friendly.

    You would be surprised to listen that our competitors design a website for just $200 to stay in the competition. Hopefully there is little scope in WordPress development in near future.

    People are falling back on easy CMS ways to easy their work. So once we design a website, they should be able to navigate it, use it and never call us back. This way we are making a customer to visit us only once in a year.

    I know things are going pretty hard for everyone. Specially when we talk about SEO and marketing. Companies are ready to pay decent enough of money to SEO companies, but not for individual SEO experts or start up companies.

    Whatever it is, lets hope things get better very soon. I personally loved reading your story about end of website development. I hope you excel in other departments and employ hundreds of graduates 🙂


  4. Yesterday's cutting edge, high margin industry is tomorrow's invisible commodity. My first job was PC repair, an industry that no longer exists as the hardware became disposable in cost and construction.

    Although commodity web development may be the next technology industry to cease being profitable, the technology landscape is only becoming more complex and harder for businesses to navigate successfully.

    There will always be work for smart people (and businesses) who can generate more value for clients than they cost in fees.

    1. "My first job was PC repair, an industry that no longer exists as the hardware became disposable in cost and construction."

      Ummm...what world do you live in???? I have a friend that owns a HIGHLY successful PC repair buisness in my area. He made nearly 200k last year.
      I also ran a PC repair business from 2007-2010 and was VERY successful. The ONLY reason I no longer do that, is because I decided to follow my true passion: Web Design. I sold my PC repair business in late 2010 for 80,000. Today, it is still one of the most successful in Iowa.

  5. I started developing websites in the mid-90s and got into large custom sites for the financial industry, software companies and the direct selling industry. So large projects with a team of consultants and me on the look and feel and coding templates and some integration.

    Got out of that a few years back and downsized my life as the bloom was off the rose for me after so many years in technology. I've been setting up and hosting customized wordpress sites for small businesses and providing some training and support.

    As competition gets rougher and I make less and less on projects AND with the annoying DDoS attacks, hacked sites, malware, etc. I've decided to stop doing web as my mainstay. I'm sick of web and the payback has gotten skinny enough for me to just do a variety of odd job stuff to make ends meet. That and plant a very large garden. I sense the end of the web as a viable tool for research, communication and marketing is approaching. Just ask Cliff High and his webbot about the data holes in his reports...

    1. I charge an average of $300-500 per site I design, depending on complexity. Translated into hourly, I charge $40/hour. I recently hired 3 new employees because I was being forced to turn potential clients down because I had to much work to do.
      I just started my business a little under a year ago. So web development as a profession is ending? I can't tell!

  6. I agree and disagree with you. Seems like your business's target market are small mom-and-pop business and individual businessmen. Any established company which relies on web-based revenues would either hire full-time staff to maintain+develop their web softwares or contract those positions out. Sure there are freeware tools to use but even they have limitations sooner or later and that's where a modern web developer fits in. May I suggest given your current target market, you make a move to mobile app. development? Seems to be a natural evolution for business of your kind.

    1. No interest in more technology... I'm 54 now and I'm pretty tired of it. Got very tired of the jerk-offs at the fortune 500 companies (but $95hr helped me put up with them.) shifted to smaller businesses because it seemed more important. Right now I am focused on research, writing, seo and marketing and a few other things like fiction editing and ebook publishing. I'm convinced that the web is a dying format. Oversaturation, funky shit going on with search engines now and proprietary interests have taken the fun out of it for me. I loved it when it was a pretty level playing field and wide open...like the wild west.

    2. Web usage is growing at an amazing rate! Online sales are growing at a rate of 40-60%/year! That does not sound to me like a "dying format"

  7. Well, was is ever really a "profession" anyway? Certainly no degree or other qualifications were ever trquired. As some comments say, people picked up a bit of scripting, used their own aesthetic as design guide, and sort of pieced things together.
    And it made a ridiculously good living for essentially unqualified people, in the boom years.
    But now it's reverting to mean.
    That is, the right people to be doing this are the design companies. People who went to college to study graphic design, communications, journalism, and so on.
    "Web design" is just the medium, and unless you're an actual, bona fide, qualified designer, even the title is misleading, and should perhaps be called "web layout" or "web hot-type" or something.

    1. I am a designer...print, books, ads and magazines since the 80s. Went into web with the design thing already under my belt.

  8. Mobile-readiness has to be where it evolves. Mobile traffic is far outpacing and even close to surpassing desktop growth and most marketers (let alone business owners) are still wrapping their head around adaptive or responsive web design.

    Beyond that, demonstrating the value of proper UX is critical for web developers. Anybody can build a website. Few can build websites that rake in money and leads.

  9. I don't think those who can put together a site now using 'free' stuff would have used your services to begin with. Clients come for the experience of having everything in a single place. They don't feel like building sites like doing puzzles. And most have close to 0 technical knowledge.

    Why do you think people still buy tech books when it's all online. Because they don't feel like wasting ages to find the information.

    What you can do is leverage the power of free stuff. Use WP, buy a theme, PIMP it, add plugins, PIMP them, write custom plugins if necessary and get away a lot easier with your work.

    And use your web developer magic only on projects that require it.

    PS: And charge almost the same 🙂

    1. Considering I only went to college for 2 years to get my degree and am able to charge as much as some other professions do that require a 4 year degree, I dont feel undervalued at all. $50/hour seems pretty valuable to a guy who spent years making minimum wage!

  10. What you have written is becoming increasingly true for the bottom end of the market, but do you really want those clients?

    One could also argue that individuation through boutique development will see a resurgence as presentation continues down the path of WP-homogenization.

    Popular CMS projects do many things very well and easily for nonexperts; however, businesses that seek to differentiate themselves or deliver value outside the scope of an existing platform feature set will continue to consult specialists.

    1. 22% of the worlds websites are powered by WordPress. And that number is growing VERY quickly! Just a few of the MAJOR organizations/companies using WordPress:
      CNN, TED, MLB, NFL, GoodWill Industries, NBC, WalMart......the list goes on and on.
      I am an expert. I can code a website from scratch with ease. But why? What is the point when I can build an equally great site in a 1/4 of the time, at a fraction of the cost, by using WordPress?

  11. What I've seen as a trend too, is that a lot of people got excited over making their own site, and after being hacked, not able to update it or simply gotten frustrated over not knowing enough came back to me for more help.

    The web is moving fast and people want to do their passion, if they have to spend so much time on the web, they end up realizing they don't really want to have to tend to the web.

    It's a bit like saying, now everyone has a garden, farmers will loose their job. When people realize how much work there is in producing enough food for a whole family, they realize why we live in a society where we share the product of our work.

    I think the work as a web designer is shifting, the one who want to stay on board has to sharpen their skills, of course 80% of the so called web designer will be lost at sea. But it feels like web designer has just became a real profession. Sure you can build your cardboard house on the side of the street 😉 But you might want to hire an architect if you want that house to stay up for 100 years and protect your family!

    1. I agree, probably half of my clients are folks that tried to build their own sites but couldnt figure out certain aspects and ran into serious problems.

  12. First off, it's refreshing to hear from someone who realizes that the landscape has changed and is making a move, for whatever reason, towards something you can still be passionate about.

    We attract a wide range of clients, both small and large, and build 80% of our sites, applications and other functionality with third-party platforms/plugins/widgets like those you mentioned. One thing that I think helps to inform the change in the business and why web services are leaning more towards a commodity is the need for everyone to have a website. When you began in the 90's, that was not the case. Today, even the smallest, most revenue challenged business or organization needs a web presence, regardless of the direct return on investment the site may provide. I've heard some say that having a web address is more important than a business card...we would suggest having both.

    Again, I do appreciate your recognition of the changing landscape, and knowing what you want to do...or not do. We have encountered far too many "developers" who have not kept up with current platforms, business models or technologies...and are just bitter about not being able to charge 10K+ for a custom site because they never learned to do anything else. We work almost exclusively in WordPress, but we challenge ourselves regularly so that we aren't sitting around in five years, still only having learned one platform and bitter about the fact that the industry may have moved on. And to your point about moving towards other work, we even joke that we might not be building websites in five years because of the fast-changing industry and how it will affect what we enjoy doing.

    Lastly, I will also submit that our clients are paying for knowledge and expertise, not just the sometimes simple task of building the actual site. Yes, anyone can play around with WordPress and make some progress, but we talk with people every day who have only made a mess of doing something on their own because of the complexities of technology and how they can best put it work. And you are also right on with your view that many clients need much more than HTML and CSS. They need someone to walk them through the how and why of building the site and how it will help reach their goals. We often get three questions into a consult for a site and learn that the client needs to put their website off for a few months and firm up their vision, goals, target audience and online presence as a whole. Sometimes telling a client NOT to build a site until they have answered those questions is the best service you can provide.

    Perhaps web development is simply becoming one more easily accessible tool in an ever-changing marketing and communication strategy. Clients still need a professional to provide experience, expertise and the ability to deliver a turn-key product that helps them accomplish their online needs.

    Thanks for the insightful article...and best of luck going forward!

  13. With the web, there's a fusion between development (programming), and content editing and distribution.

    Sure, if the web site will only publish static contents, final users can do that more easily with wordpress or similar automatic systems.

    But if they need to have algorithms or business rules implemented in a web application, they will still need a programmer (or to become one).

    Perhaps there will be less "website" work, but there's still a lot of "webapp" work to do.

  14. I think you made some interesting points but I respectfully disagree with the notion that web dev is dying as a professional. If this theory were accurate, then so would house painting, construction, writing, etc. Sure people can definitely do things themselves and the internet offers a much easier to access wealth of information for the novice, but at the end of the day: if you want something done properly you have to know when to call a professional.

    Just b/c someone can use a template site doesn't mean the code is good or even half-way decent. There are principles to design that a cookie cutter site will violate and whether the average person realizes it or not, when presented with a really good design vs. a crappy design...they'll be inclined to go with the better design. Good design and good code rise to the top for a reason. Not b/c it was expensive, but b/c it is calculated and planned and not just thrown together.

    Same could be said for almost any profession in a services industry.

    Having said that, I do believe the web is changing and people will be shifting gears as to the type of sites they are willing to pay for, but I have yet to see any kind of decline in my business as a result of the "DIY" opportunities. The fact is: most business owners simply do not have the time or capacity to sit and learn how to design and code a website.

  15. I am not a web developer – but websites are always at the top of the “marketing to do list” as if it’s a one time task you can check off.

    With a little bit of education - I now see clients asking for a road map with long-term assistance for their entire online presence. Who better to assist them with that than an experienced web development firm! (at least in my opinion)

    I enjoyed looking thru your list of handy tools above and have one comment to add: UpCity is a great tool with checklists, reminders and reports on progress – but MANY of the to-do’s recommended require time and skill to make it happen. You need a professional to really guide you thru them.

    Looking forward to seeing what you come up with Chris. You guys and gals are a great asset to our community and you set a high standard for professionalism! I look forward to working with you again in the near future.

  16. QUOTE:"Instead of having us create an administrative interface for updating your web content, you could just install Joomla, WordPress or Drupal and do it yourself."

    ANSWER: We've worked with these clients who have tried the "DIY" approach and usually it goes one of two ways.

    (1) Either they completely failed and the site is in such shambles that it has to be redone.

    (2) Or, they piece it together with so many plugins and themes that the site becomes a maintenance nightmare and they get stuck with a widget focused site that does not produce results.

    You see, this post (like many business owners today) is focused on the widget, the "Website". When in fact, the focus should be on the goal or the desired result of the website (aka Widget).

    I do not know too many CEO's or CMO's that have time to build a website and still focus on the tasks they are responsible for. That being said, a web professional should be an asset to the business owner - saving them time, saving them research, saving them headaches from techy tools like Joomla! and the likes.

    I actually see Web Development evolving, like SEO (which another topic). It's no longer about this software or that CMS but it's about the business objectives. We (my company EBWAY Creative) are platform agnostic, we don't care what software the company wants to use - we focus on the "Goal" of the software and it's my job (as a web pro) to help the client understand the limitations of that software so they aren't let down when it comes time to upgrade or add features or extend the site in some fashion.

    Plus, I would also argue that to understand a business owner's true objectives nothing can replace an in-person meeting. No amount of screen sharing or online meetings could replace the energy that a room full of people produce when they collaborate together in a room. True, digital communications make things easier to do business long distance, but it's not the "Best" - it's an OK alternative at best.

    I do like how at the end you clarified that this post is about "General" websites, but I would argue that this is the problem with our entire industry. Generalizing web design and saying "Well, you don't' need a custom program or custom solution, so you (Mr. Biz Owner) should just go do it yourself…" is like saying "Your role in your company isn't important enough to stay focused on, so why don't you build the website too…" - My point is - the CEO and/or Business Owner should be focusing on their business goals, not going through CMS manuals hoping to save money. If Time is Money (and it is) then this is a huge waste of a business owners time. So, I can't really get on board with that statement.

    I have so much I'd like to say so hopefully this gets my point across. I don't disagree with you on the fact that the industry is changing and evolving, but this is precisely why I think web designers and developers have a firm place in this world - it's not getting easier, it's getting harder. We have never run into a business owner that said "Yes. I have 3 weeks to devote to putting my site online so I'll just put everything else on hold while I go play web designer." - This is a simple case of "Right Shoe" on the "Right Foot".

    In closing, I agree that most clients who come to a web pro need consulting first. Most web designers get trapped into becoming order takers and just giving the customer what they asked for, even if it is not the best fit for that client's needs. I wonder, what would happen if we )designers/developers) actually stopped focusing on the widgets and started focusing on the biz goals - could we help our clients grow their businesses?

    Thanks for getting the topic going, it's a great topic! I agree to disagree, but that's what makes this topic so passionate.


    1. I completely agree with this Johnathan!

      It's no longer just enough to design and develop a static site for the sake of having one online. Business owners need to ask themselves this question: "How is my website serving my customers?"

      The focus in web development is shifting. Tools are being developed to make the workflow more efficient and faster. The focus in the industry has shifted from desktop design to being able to take and use your website anywhere and on any device.

      Developers need to constantly enhance their skill-set and stay with the trend in order to be relevant. You can't *just be* a web developer anymore. You really have to know all the facets of what makes a website or mobile solution successful.

      Like you said Johnathan, it's becoming harder -- not easier.

      There will always be people and small businesses that want to get their web presence on the cheap. That market *is* saturated and *is not* lucrative. Then, when you stop and take a look at those websites and recognize that SO MUCH is missing from them. You realize that the web development profession is still very much needed.

  17. It seems clear to me that this article is aimed at someone with limited experience in the field. Seems like you are referring to small business only, ones that don't need quality. You get what you pay for.

    With tools that are now oriented toward measuring the return on your web-based marketing, you can be assured that companies (and I refer her to real companies not privately owned delis, t-shirt stored, and lawn-care services) are willing to pay for a measurable boom in business from a well-done web presence than the unmeasured return on a billboard, radio etc...

    Also, you may have forgotten (with your programming abilities) that this is not something you pick up over night. I have never seen a WP site done by an amateur that looked truly professional. What are we talking about again? The end of web-development? Have you forgotten about apps? Is there a web-app that builds efficient/customized web-apps? No? Call me. ;D

  18. Frankly, I disagree. I dont think Web Develeoper as a profession is ending. Evolving? Of course Ending? No way! Whether you develop with WordPress (as I do), HTML/CSS, Joomla, Drupal, etc, it is still web development by definition. Yes, many small businesses are opting to design their own sites using some of the aforementioned tools.For those with a minimal amount of computer skills, this is a great and cost effective option. BUT.....
    Firstly, the ease of using tools like WordPress can be misleading and fool people into believing that anybody can creat an effective, SEO'd website. But that is not true. If you are not up to date on the latest trends and standards, you will eventually run into problems.
    Second, many small business owners have little or no technical skills. They do not know how to install a PHP application like WordPress or Joomla on a web server. Sure, once it is installed, adding a theme and plugins/modules is relatively easy to learn. But you must also know how to fix problems such as heavey server load, plugin conflicts, etc when they occur. AND THEY WILL OCCUR! Many small business owners have no clue where to do this or find out how!
    Thirdly, our economy is now global. This requires even the smallest businesses to present a professsional image. Small businesses now compete fully with major corporations. You want an example? Heartland Web Hosting (http://www.heartland-hosting.com/) is small web hosting comapny with under 5 employees. Yet they actively and fairly successfully compete against major hosts like BlueHost, HostGator, and Green Geeks. My point here is that a small busnesses web site MUST be as good as or better than their bigger competitors. The big difference is that they have a smaller budget to do it. That is where tools like WordPress, Drupal, and others come in and allow them to accomplish this. But (as I point out in my next point), most do not have the expertise to DIY it.
    The final point I want to make is that just because you can build a website, does not mean you should! Your website is the online face of your business. It MUST make a great impression at first glance in order to bring in the sales that you designed your site for in the first place. If your site looks cheap or unprofessional, does not work properly ALL THE TIME, or is hard to navigate on ANY TYPE OF DEVICE, visitors will move on to the next guy!
    I am a web developer/designer. I am a certified WordPress Developer. I AM A PROFESSIONAL and I have the degree and the certifications to prove it. Just because I focus on WordPress development rather than "traditional" development models, does not change my profession.
    BTW, my argument is supported by the Occupational Outlook Handbook, considered the definitive source on occupational trends: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm

  19. This is so true. I've been doing web design for 15 years. I spent the first 8 learning how to do custom design, layouts and programming etc. Now, everything is easily bought or installed. I use to get $3000-4000 for my service. Its is down to $500 if I'm lucky. Its a tough business know because of these new off the shelf software programs and templates. anyone can do it now. It is has become so easy to build a site, Need a store locator install a plugin. Need a eCommerce solution install woo commerce. Now one cares if you can program. They just want it done quick and cheap.

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