Free, Cheap & The Criminal Element


Ok, I thought it was about time for me to do a write up (rant) on this topic.  In the title of this article I’m referring to  free web site services, cheap web developers, SEO telemarketers and the criminal scammers that have been taking advantage of Aussie business people who often don’t know enough about Web Development, Social Media Marketing, SEO and what to look out for…

“Free” Web Sites

Firstly, I have something to say about these “free web site” companies.  I don’t like them.  Not just because they are competition taking local business overseas with inferior results – but because they are often misleading and not as easy as what they market themselves to be.

This whole “free” thing is simply there to get you to invest time in learning and using their systems, and once you’ve invested (wasted) all your time setting up your (usually amateur looking even though they boast easy and professional) web site, you will find you then have to pay to get your own business domain name, email services and other features added. This almost always ends up costing more in the long run than if one had a site built and hosted it with a reputable local provider.

I do understand why people use them = they have a low setup cost, if you don’t include the value of your time.  Sure, you get a “site on the Internet” – though is that site going to actually increase your sales / lead enquiries?  Are you wasting your time with them…? in most cases that I’ve seen the answer is “yes” to “probably”.

Once your site is on one of their web based systems, there is no easy way to move your web site to a different provider, and from what I’ve experienced they use a few tricks to even sabotage you moving your domain and site elsewhere.  In worst cases an improper setup of their systems has left clients without email and bad redirection loops that break the site all together.

We have even seen cases where people calling themselves “web developers” are setting up their clients on these free site builder systems (most likely because they have no idea about web development, programming, SEO, domain DNS management, or digital and social marketing at all) and then locking these businesses to the paid service without the client understanding the full implications of using these (no longer) free web site builders.

I’m not talking about Free Web Site Software such as WordPress / Joomla! / Drupal etc., but the web sites that offer you free site builders and free hosting services as the hook.  These are sites that you go to, create a free account and start building your free web site with them.

Most free website builder providers use proprietary software and/or are closed systems so there are fewer ways to customise and expand your site without paying more monthly fees.  Many of these sites are not even search engine friendly and it can take a lot to get ranked in sites like Google.

Your time is valuable. Your business is valuable. Don’t waste your time or business prospects on “free”.  Quality is worth paying for and you will get more results from a true professional.  Save up your money and get a proper web site from a proper web developer that fits both your budget and your expectations.   Get your business hosted on a high quality reliable service where you will have control over your domain name registration and hosting control panel.  This will give you the choice to change providers at any time…

Cheap Web Development = Buyer Beware!

Everyone want’s a bargain.  Given today’s economy, more and more businesses want to get things done cheap.  Looking around there are a veritable plethora of cheap web developers.  Dime a dozen these days.

So are these developers any good? Are their portfolios legit? More importantly can they be Trusted? From what we’ve seen and heard from clients who have been down that road: it’s a roll of the dice and the odds are stacked against you…

We have all received telemarketing calls, SPAM emails from web developers and digital marketing companies promising the earth (and mostly 1st page Google Rankings = tasty bait).  Many even claim to be “Australian Based” though all of their developers and workers are are based overseas…

Today there are more and more “Australian Fronts” where someone will start or profess to be a web development company with little or no knowledge of the industry, and then simply outsource everything to their white label partners overseas.

Every once and awhile someone gets sold or hunts out and chooses a super cheap developer… signs up, hands over their money… and rolls the dice.

If you are (extremely) lucky, you will get a somewhat experienced, well rounded, web developer and digital marketer who actually cares about your business and your business success… but these professionals are rarely cheap.  More often than not the “el cheapo” is someone with little experience and can “build a website”, but doesn’t understand any or some of the complex SEO requirements, effective digital marketing, varied business processes, site optimisations or proper statistics analysis etc…

Cheap developers are almost always cheap to win your money, not to help your business succeed.

Keep in mind, when you hire an overseas developer you generally have NO RECOURSE TO THE LAW – so unless they have an Australian ABN that you have verified as being legit and you’ve done your homework with their clients – your chances of having a bad experience are unfortunately fairly high.

If I only had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve heard “got the site built by someone cheap, but can’t seem to find them anymore / phone dead / email bounced / have no idea where my site is hosted or where my domain name is registered / my site isn’t helping / site needs fixing / used an overseas contractor and the site etc. etc.”…

What we’ve heard and seen from “el cheapos” over the years:

  • money taken and job never finished as they refuse to finish unless more money is paid for any requested changes to what was provided
  • money taken and a bang up job done and they disappear leaving the client with a poor quality site that has no benefit to the business
  • money taken and a cheap site built on one those “free website” providers and the client gets a site that can’t be ranked well in search engines
  • money taken and site completed, but not up to a standard where it will have any benefit to the business
  • money taken and the site appears completed – but basic functionality such as eCommerce shipping calculators disabled as they didn’t know how to work with the software.  In more than one case the client had no idea their site was broken until we inspected the site informed them that it was “crippled / broken”.
  • money taken and a web site that was functional, was worked on and subsequently broken by an inexperienced programmer, with no backups of the original working site taken before work commenced, losing valuable data and no way to revert back to the original working site.
  • money taken and a theme based site created, insecure plugins used and the site was subsequently hacked = inexperienced “cheap WordPress developer” – this is the most common result of shoddy web development.
  • money taken and site completed, after some core software security updates by the owner or other professional, the site breaks and requires additional cost to repair
  • money taken and a poor quality WordPress site created where lots of plugins, code bloating, poor optimisation and poor SEO outlook made it so the site won’t rank well in Google and a lot of repair work required
  • money taken and a nice looking site is created though developed without any thought to effectiveness, web site optimisation and site speed… one site was loading 17MB of images into a homepage photo gallery…!  While the site looked good, it was completely impractical, and actually got the client booted from their hosting provider due to excess data usage on a supposedly unlimited data account (watch out for “unlimited” hosting marketing scams = there are almost always fine print in the TOS of any hosting provider offering “unlimited storage / unlimited data” – READ THEM)

Worse than dodgey developers are the criminals…

Don’t trust anyone that you don’t know personally, haven’t been referred to you, is not based locally in Australia, or you haven’t checked their references and local projects.  There are a lot of Cyber Criminals out there and most people wouldn’t have a clue and often blindly trust people.

Most Cyber criminals will do anything to get access to your web site hosting and WordPress  / CMS passwords. Offering impossibly cheap services is often the most effective way to sucker people in…

Here at Cyanweb we have seen many sites come to us from other developers and SEO providers that have been compromised or used for criminal purposes. Many of these sites were voluntarily given access to criminals by the unwitting business owners themselves.

These security flawed sites and hacks are usually created by overseas developers picked up off popular classified sites, freelance bidding sites, microjob sites, were telemarketed or email spammed.  Some sites we’ve inspected were created or compromised through an outsourcing web company that didn’t even know what their own contractors were doing!

I’m not saying that all overseas developers are bad – though all it takes is one person who doesn’t care about you or your business with login access to open the door to major problems.

Be extremely careful about who you give your logins and passwords to.  If you don’t really know what you are in for, ask a trusted professional for advice. Once they have access to your site admin they can do anything they want – even long after you have changed all your passwords!

Beware of anyone calling or emailing you saying they have discovered problems with your web site, or better yet:  never ever respond to web service provider email spam or soliciting phone calls!  If you want your site checked, find a reputable developer and have your site inspected.  Most will offer this service for free or a very small fee for their time.

Examples of discovered criminal activity on inspected sites:

  • web site code added that was later used for spamming, ruining the reputation of the domain name which can cause ongoing email issues for the business
  • malware was installed for the purposes of infecting site visitors, which eventually gets picked up by Google and the site gets a warning stamp, triggers virus scanners, often ruining the reputation of the business until fixed
  • multiple backdoors installed on the hosting account so later the criminals can come back and access your database / hosting even if you’ve changed all your access passwords
  • we’ve seen a few eCommerce sites developed / accessed by overseas SEO or Web companies with scripts added that forwarded collected credit card details to 3rd parties or stored them in the site database for later collection.
  • hidden “phishing” pages put onto the web site that the owner would never see – but are linked to from phishing scams trying to steal bank account logins or other account details.
  • SEO linking pages created that link to illegal pharmacy or adult sites, often hidden behind the scenes similar to “phishing pages”

The reasons that criminals do these things are simple: money and more money.  They make money from spamming, SEO linking, infecting users, selling site logins, stealing credit card details, identity theft, or simply going for a quick turnover on the black market.

A hacked business site or user logins to an Australian based web site can go for upwards of $50 USD on the “dark web” (black market) and even more for eCommerce based sites.  This way the criminal makes a quick sale of access to the site, and lessens their risk of getting caught. Not only can a dodgey web or SEO company make money up front for their “services”, they can make money later on by selling access or information they’ve collected.

It’s often difficult to prove who did what and when as hacks are often discovered much later, sometime months and even years! When a hacked site does come to our attention, 9 times out of 10 a dodgy overseas developer, sub-contractor, inexperienced developer or shonky SEO company is on the radar somewhere in that site’s history…

All that said, I will be writing soon another article on what to look for in a quality web developer and digital marketing provider.

author: jonathan huckabee – director