How Is Building a Site Like Flipping a House?

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the successful completion of a web project requires more than just building a website: it is a balancing act of fulfilling a client’s expectations within a specific timeframe and budget and making sure it works across a wide array of browsers and devices.

One element that isn’t as visible to clients but is still crucial is to make sure that the code of a website project itself is done properly. It should follow industry-wide standards and best practices, be documented and formatted in such a way that other developers can make modifications as needed and allow for regular security and performance updates.

Sadly, this is one area where many developers and web agencies miss the mark. Here at Watermelon, we inherit websites fairly frequently that may look good on a web browser but are a snarled mess under the hood. This raises two questions: why is properly written code important when it usually isn’t visible to a client, and how can you maintain the proper standards as part of your agency’s culture?

The answer to both comes as a minor digression.

Flipping a Website

A little under a decade ago, my wife and I decided to buy our first house. After looking at several, we came across one that checked all the right boxes: it was reasonably priced, in a decent neighborhood, and had enough room. The person selling the house had purchased it with the goal of renovating it and flipping it; he had never actually lived in the house itself.

It wasn’t too long after we’d moved in that we realized that his renovation wasn’t everything it seemed at first. A doorknob came off in my hand, a light fixture fell from the ceiling when I was changing a lightbulb, and several other minor details in the house seemed shoddy at best. This came with a fair amount of frustration (getting hit in the head while changing a lightbulb will do that to you), but also a realization. The seller had a very different standard of success from my wife and I. He just needed to fix the house enough to be able to sell it. We actually had to live in it.

This is analogous to the “one and done” approach many agencies take to website development. A site is meant to be done, handed off, and not revisited, in short, they view it as a website to be “flipped.” Any shortcuts or sloppy work that is not immediately visible in the first days, weeks, or even months ultimately isn’t their problem, it’s the client’s, or the next developer’s.

When we take on website projects, we do so with the intention of going into a partnership with the client, where their website or sites is something that will continue to be developed and maintained, if only on a minimal level, for years to come. By maintaining this expectation at the outset, we’re able to better anticipate client’s needs in the long-term, but also produce code that we’re likely to have to revisit in the future.

This approach may take a little more effort on our end, but it ends up benefiting everyone involved: our clients get websites that are created with a greater degree of technical quality, our developers can more quickly and easily work on one another’s code, and as an agency we are able to build relationships with clients with a greater degree of trust and respect than would be present in a short-term project.

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