Online website builders – like Weebly, Squarespace and Wix – claim it’s easy to build your own website with no technical or design skills and still achieve a professional-looking result. So, why spend thousands on hiring a professional web designer when you can buy into a cheap DIY website?
If you’ve never had to create a new website, it’s a perfectly legitimate question. And it’s one we hear a lot.
Here’s the simple answer we give:
If your business is just getting started, you have plenty of time available but not much money, and you just need a brochure website – a handful of pages to list your services – then an online website builder is a good way to gain an online presence.
We’ll actually recommend start-ups with small budgets to go DIY, because a professional website is a sizeable investment when your business isn’t properly established.
But if your business has been running for a while, you want to develop an effective marketing strategy and increase customer awareness and sales, a DIY website probably won’t cut the mustard and a template-based online builder will sell you short.
The advantages of online website builders
It’s the number one advantage. It’s never free, if you want to be taken at all seriously, because completely free versions tend to be supported by ads and are usually restricted in various ways.
Easy to use
Providing you’re not totally web-illiterate, web builders work on a drag-and-drop basis. Enter your text, upload your images and, where the template allows, drag and drop items within the design.
Free or cheap design
Website builders give you a choice of templates – website design layouts – which, to varying degrees, you can tweak for personal preference. Some are free, usually the most limited or basic, others require a payment or subscription.
Quick to set up
So far, so good. But what about the drawbacks of website builders?
The drawbacks of online website builders
Especially if it’s your first time, even the pretty intuitive set-up of DIY web design sites still requires a learning curve. That’s fine if your time isn’t better spent making new contacts, building relationships, making sales calls or looking after existing customers. If the time you spend learning to use the website builder is actually costing you unseen money, it’s a false economy.
Free or cheap templates are great for hobbyists or simple sole trader operations. But as soon as you want more control over the design and layout of your site – sometimes even the colour palette – you’ll find them frustratingly limiting. All too often, you’re trying to shoehorn your brand into a fixed layout. Sometimes, you’ll spend hours working on a template only to find that your logo can’t change position or, worse yet, doesn’t fit properly within the space provided.
Website builders don’t tend to feature much additional functionality. After all, multiple, bespoke functions don’t really fit with the cheap-and-speedy selling point. For anything much more than a contact form, a standard photo gallery or a simple shopping cart system, you’ll need something more powerful and flexible.
Not always, we must stress, but in a lot of cases, the designs you’ll find on online website builders aren’t the most professional. We’ve actually seen some very good template designs, but often the fixed format simply means that thousands of websites end up looking either very much the same or looking worse once the business owner’s own images replace the stock images supplied with the site. The result is that it can look as though you’ve gone cheap and basic.
Poor SEO performance
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the expert practice of helping a website to appear high up in online search results for your business category. Online website builders have very limited SEO tools built in and only basic guides to teach you what you need to do. A professional web designer will usually understand every aspect of SEO, from clean code to correct image tagging, to make your website really easy to find.
Slower website speeds
Online website builders tend to use shared servers for hosting. This means less bandwidth and slower page load speeds, which is fine for small brochure sites with low traffic and minimal media, but not ideal for large visitor numbers, streaming or hosting videos.
Servers hosting hundreds or thousands of other websites require top-level security; hackers hacking one site may well find an ‘in’ to yours. It pays to be thorough with security.
Not every do-it-yourself web builder provides automatic backup services, which can be a problem if there’s a security breach or if you want to upgrade or move your site and its content elsewhere at a later date.
Nobody to correct your mistakes or guide you strategically
This is the biggie, really. With a cheap website, you aren’t going to get an outsider’s view of your business. Or any understanding of how users interact with a website and how to guide them to do what you want them to do. Or expert input into all the things you should consider before you start, like site structure, usability and future-proofing to prevent later expense.
Or an idea of how your website could develop over time. Or experience and insight to integrate your online and offline marketing. Or complete search engine optimisation that maximises your visibility with your target audience.
Or what website functionality could save you time and money or publicise your business better or serve customers more effectively. Or the ability to build future features into the initial build. Or guidance, planning and hands-on help with content – from the words that sell to shareable images and downloads.
A decent professional web designer should have none of these business-limiting restrictions. We’ll be honest with you: it’s a slower, more expensive process. No question.
But it’s slower because it’s carefully considered, painstakingly planned and strategically sound. It’s more expensive because it’s actually designed to fit your business, your customers and your future development – with room to grow.
Ultimately the decision about whether to design and build your business’s website yourself or whether to employ a professional web designer is one that every business must take themselves.