Web Development Is Not Copy & Paste

I’ve noticed a dangerous trend developing in the past several weeks – the amount of clients claiming that web development is copy and paste. While most of them don’t say all of web development is copy and paste kind of work, most of my conversations (with several people, clients and close friends) have gone something like:

“Can you take this from website A, this from website B, this from website C and put them all on website D? You won’t have to code anything, just copy and paste.”

While we won’t even get into how bad copying code from other sites is, I want to just touch on the copy and paste issue and what it does to us as web professionals.

Coding is NOT copying & pasting

One thing clients seem to miss, due to the fact they aren’t developers themselves, is that even if we copy and paste code they want, it never works right without modifications.

While it may seem confusing as to why this would be, as it’s the same code on both sites, it’s easy for a web developer to understand:

  • Code is not the same on Site A, as on Site B, as there are external factors affecting one piece of code, for example: CSS, PHP or even the server itself.
  • Code often has to be modified from one site to another, because even if the functionality is the same, appearance often isn’t.
  • It’s often more difficult to piece together multiple themes, code snippets, etc than it is to just code the whole thing from scratch – often due to compatibility/CSS issues.

Most people don’t understand what code is

This is obviously true, otherwise we wouldn’t have a job. However, clients who don’t understand even the basics of HTML can misinterpret what you do and potentially bring in problems.

Just today, my mom called to rant about her Linksys wireless printer router not being compatibile with her new Windows 7 laptop. They told her they were working on coming out with a software upgrade. My mom asked me why they just couldn’t “make it work before the new operating system came out??” When I explained that Windows 7’s “code” isn’t the same as her XP, and that Linksys may not have had the privilege of having access to it before Win 7’s launch, and that it takes serious time to develop software, as well as the fact Windows 7 hasn’t been out very long, she calmed down. Sadly she represents many of our clientale.

Teaching our clients the basics

Most of us are always super busy as freelancers and don’t have time to write a book defending our expertise and why what we do is what we do. However, it’s important to take the time teach the client, instead of brushing it off or arguing with them, about why “X Changes” aren’t just copying and pasting.

If you don’t make sure they client understands this, they could either fight your hours on your invoice (“Why did you take 10 hours to code this site when I told you it’s exactly like Site B???”) or by not arguing with them, you continue to give them the impression that what we do isn’t valuable or knowledgeable.

Even if you’re just writing one paragraph in an email, explain to them in easy terms the process it takes to code what you’re coding.

Some replies

There are various ways to reply to clients about why something isn’t as simple as copying and pasting. Here are a few sample ways to show them what it would take:

  • The containers of the site are different, and I will have to modify the CSS to make it fit and work.
  • The image colors are different, so I’ll have to reslice the PSD and change the CSS to match.
  • The functions in theme A, aren’t the same as theme B and will have to be recoded, plus the jQuery on both sites will have some compatibility issues

And so on, sometimes it’s just a quick and simple reply, just make sure it’s truthful (none of these excuses should be used when copy and pasting a paragraph of content for example!)

What about you?

Have you run into people or clients who thought our jobs were simply copying and pasting? Who didn’t understand what we did and thought we just hit the “code” button to make a website? What did you do?

Photo courtesy of eelke dekker