The difference between an amateur and a professional web developer

The difference between an amateur and a professional web developer

Author headshot - ClintN
15 September 2022
Updated // 19 May 2023

Why write a post about telling the difference between an amateur and a professional web developer? The ability to discern Professional Dev Ops from the Amateurs that are vying for your business is a critical skill for a website owner to possess. Yes, there are quite a number of mere amateurs out there in the marketplace when it comes to web development. To the uninitiated, these rank amateurs appear like a credible option. Unfortunately, amateurs are in the website game at the expense of their clients ever achieving digital growth for their business. These amateurs can be freelancers, or even appear as flashy web development agencies. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with amateurs in any field. An amateur website developer who is donating their time can be a great option for a club or charity to build their website. But if the process of delivering a website involves the exchange of money, then it is a professional venture.

A professional web developer needs to adhere to a set of standards. Hopefully, these standards deliver a positive result to the client, by looking out for their interests. Professional standards are key to delivering a website that is dynamic, scalable and maintainable. And the website needs to be built on a great platform that will rank well on Google, and hopefully still be relevant in a few years’ time.

Pro’s vs Amateurs

Telling the difference between a web development pro and an amateur is not evident to a layperson. When provided with a professional estimate to build a commercial website, many ill-informed business owners have a particular reaction to the proposal. Their reaction goes along the lines of something like: “Wow really, this much money just to build a website? My nephew in high school builds websites on the side you know”.

I can completely understand this view, it’s human nature and it applies to so many disciplines. But there’s a huge gap between a common Amateur and a Pro. I like to remind business owners of this fact, with a comparison to the sport of Grid Iron. 

I also have a nephew at high school, and he can play a game of Rugby. However, he’s just a teenager that plays footy on the Wednesday afternoon school team. This is not even close to the arena of playing NRL for a local club, let alone professional NFL in the United States. Whilst being the one and the same discipline, Amateur Footy and Professional Footy are so many miles apart from each other.

I then don’t really have to spell out the vast difference in the gap between an amateur and a pro when it comes to web development. Particularly when one considers the salary gap that exists between a pro and an amateur in sport.

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog

On the internet nobody knows you are a dog

Back when I started out online in the mid-90s, one of my favourite adages was “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” 

To me this meme symbolised the essence of the internet of that time’s power. The internet then was like a super-power of sorts that small players and start-ups used to gain an advantage over the big corporations (at the time corporations were slow adopters, but now these corporations are very influential and powerful online). The internet empowered the little guy working from their garage, to have an equitable position in the marketplace. This was achieved by providing them with the opportunity to present the market with a ‘Website that Provides Credibility’, bypassing the process of building a brand of relevance over many years.

This very principle is still being used by amateurs to impress the ill-informed. They tend to operate behind a flashy modern-looking-looking website. They will spruik that they can build a website just like it for your business, just take a look at their client portfolio. Later I will show you, here, a little technique that you can use to gauge a website’s effectiveness on Google as being professionally built to high standards.

Knowledge is Power

Presenting yourself as a subject matter expert to others, and convincing them of that as a fact, is not difficult. “Catch Me If You Can” is a book and a movie, about Frank Abagnale, a gifted con artist that posed as many things including an airline pilot, district attorney, pediatrician and university lecturer. 

When Frank was finally caught by authorities and interviewed, he was asked how on earth could he present himself as a lecturer, for an entire semester, to Sociology students at Brigham Young University in the United States. Abagnale responded, “All I had to do was read one chapter ahead of the students”.

Amateurs just need to possess a little more knowledge than their prospects, in order to appear like a seasoned pro. Believe me, in the past, I’ve often come across this in commercialised Martial Arts schools. Unlike traditional schools led by a master, in these bigger academies, the instructor is often merely one belt in the grade ahead of the students that they are teaching. However, the instructor’s gap in experience becomes apparent to seasoned enthusiasts that are taking a class in order to check out that Martial Arts school.

It’s your responsibility as a website owner to endeavour to obtain digital growth, to be enthusiastic about all things digital, and to gain a little bit of high-level conceptual knowledge on digital development and marketing matters. 

You may not necessarily possess the skills to perform the digital tasks yourself. But, you will possess the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to obtaining digital services.

Pro Dev Tools vs Amateur Webpage Builders

According to many in the web development field, there is a “right way” to develop a website. Here I emphasise “right way” because this is a fiercely debated point of view when it comes to hand-coding.

By hand-coding, I refer to writing the code, line-by-line. In this camp, a web developer meticulously outputs the necessary code to build a website platform.

These developers have in-depth knowledge of technologies and frameworks such as:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript 
  • PHP

And Programming principles such as:

  • Strings
  • Variables
  • Operators 
  • Loops
  • Filters
  • Hooks

It can be hard to convince some web developers in hand-coding camp, that there are some viable tools out there that make working with the above-mentioned technologies faster than hand-coding.

Automobile industry analogy

The evolution of car manufacturing is a good example to compare with the brief history of web development. 

The first cars were built by hand by coachbuilders, who up until then crafted horse-drawn coaches. These early automobiles were beautiful pieces of engineering, and they were made available to the coach builder’s customer base: the wealthy minority.

Then along came Henry Ford with production line innovations to building cars. And the Model T Ford was introduced to the world. The Model T was by no means a well-built car, but economies of scale made it far cheaper and available to working families.

The rest is history as we know it. Nowadays a minute fraction of automobiles are hand-made, and you need deep pockets to acquire these beautiful pieces of engineering. To some extent, the engineering of websites is evolving in a similar way.

Modern alternatives to hand-coding

On the web there is now a plethora of tools that can assist the common layman to build a professional-looking website, ‘without knowing a single line of code’. I am sure that you’ve heard that phrase in the past. 

However, some of these tools are more like toys in the professional web-development arena. Sure these tools are a great asset in helping a student, or an everyday person to get something online for their studies or for a hobby/club that they’re involved in. The companies selling these amature level tools also provide shopping-cart or eCommerce functionality for them.

These tools, however, bypass the best-practice standards that are required to have a credible and competitive commercial website, according to Google. This can be a technological pitfall for business owners that are aiming for digital growth. 

Amateur web developer charging money for building a website in Elementor
Do you know what exactly you are paying money for on a web development project?

What can seem like a great professionally built website in your eyes may not necessarily be viewed in the same light by Google.

Meet the judges

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, when it comes to discerning whether a webpage, or an entire website, is built to the professional standards that go toward delivering growth online for your business.

The following online tools are used to evaluate a web page:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Page Speed

As of 14 Sept 22, the Wikipedia definition is: Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).

Developing websites to start meeting the standards of accessibility, with minimal page load times (page speed) requires additional development resources. The payoff is that Google favourably views webpages that meet this criteria, and rewards them with higher ranking in their search engine. 

A professional developer with your interests at heart will develop pages to this standard. As a business owner, you should ensure that these standards are clearly defined in the Statement of Work and any other specification documentation.

Disclaimer: I am by no means claiming that my website meets these standards. At the time of writing, I have not decided on a final template design for my website. My particular digital strategy involves starting out with the ageing domain:, and then producing a number of blog posts as a website foundation. Then optimising with template designs and service webpage content.

Accessibility tests

Accessibility testing is typically a three-stage process:

  1. Using tools: catching the easy 30-40% of issues
  2. Human tests
  3. Using assistive technology

The first stage of using tools is typically enough for the average business. Your vendor selection process for web developers should include running their web pages through an online testing tool to see how well they have addressed accessibility.

I also go to their customer’s websites, via the portfolio page, and really scrutinise their client work for accessibility. It’s one thing to have a website that is a ”work in progress”, like mine, but a professional’s finished client project websites should have OK accessibility, if they really care about delivering the best outcomes.

Page speed test

Part of a professional web development process is performing speed tests on the pages of the website as they are being developed. The idea of a speed test is to evaluate how well the page is performing against the criteria that Google uses to judge and rank web pages. This process also involves diagnosing and fixing issues or errors.

Not considering, or spending the time that is required to speed test, and optimise a website, could well be a reason behind lower pricing. If speed testing and optimising is not in scope, the development costs quoted may be considerably lower. This is effectively cutting corners, or not a consideration to a lay web developer.

Worse still, a business may be paying the industry average for web development, yet not receiving this vital service. 

Building construction contractors in Australia are heavily regulated to protect domestic customers against shoddy workmanship. But software and web developers are not regulated; the onus to ensure a web developer has the right processes and standards resides with the business owner. 

I have intentionally not detailed the tools that enable laymen or amateurs to build websites. As I am sure you have seen them being advertised. My intention is to keep this as greenfield as possible, as these tools may evolve into powerful developer tools, Nobody knows what is in the future.

Your future as a successful website owner should be a little more secure now. A couple of quick tests that you can use to peel back a website, to verify the level of coding expertise may well save you time and money. And hopefully, these skills can contribute to digital growth for your business.

Conclusion: The difference between an amateur and a professional web developer

In conclusion, understanding the difference between an amateur and a professional web developer is crucial for website owners seeking digital growth for their businesses. While amateurs may appear as credible options, they often lack the necessary standards and expertise to deliver dynamic, scalable, and maintainable websites that rank well on search engines and remain relevant in the long run.

Differentiating between a web development professional and an amateur is not always evident to a layperson. Many ill-informed business owners might question the cost of professional web development, citing examples of amateurs who can build websites on the side. However, just as there is a vast gap between amateur and professional athletes, the gap in web development skills and expertise is significant.

On the internet, appearances can be deceiving. Flashy websites created by amateurs can easily impress the uninitiated, but they may lack the necessary standards and best practices required for credibility and competitiveness, especially in the eyes of search engines like Google.

Knowledge is power, and as a website owner aiming for digital growth, it is essential to gain a high-level conceptual understanding of digital development and marketing. While you may not possess the skills to perform digital tasks yourself, having the ability to discern the quality of digital services and identify professionals from amateurs is invaluable.

There are debates about the “right way” to develop websites, with some advocating for hand coding and others embracing modern tools and frameworks. Like the evolution of car manufacturing, where handmade cars gave way to mass production, web development is also witnessing the emergence of tools that allow laymen to build websites without coding knowledge. However, it is important to note that these tools may not adhere to the best-practice standards necessary for a credible and competitive commercial website.

To evaluate whether a webpage or website is built to professional standards, you can use online tools to assess accessibility and page speed. Accessibility ensures usability for people with disabilities, and meeting these standards can lead to higher search engine rankings. Professional developers with your interests at heart will prioritize these standards, and it is crucial to define them clearly in your project specifications.

Remember that accessibility testing and speed optimization are vital components of professional web development. Lower pricing may indicate the omission of these services, which can compromise the performance and success of your website. Unlike building construction contractors, software and web developers are not heavily regulated, placing the responsibility of choosing the right developer on the business owner.

By conducting simple tests to verify coding expertise and understanding the difference between professionals and amateurs, you can save time, and money, and contribute to the digital growth of your business. Embracing professional web development standards and working with experienced developers will ultimately set your website on a path to success in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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