In recent years, the rise of online tools has democratized the web in ways that enable business owners to quickly publish websites, landing pages, and other digital marketing assets quickly and efficiently. What once was the sole domain of the IT department, is now readily available to non-techies everywhere.
Online website builders have lowered the barrier to entry as well. What once would cost thousands of dollars and months to complete can now be live in a few hours and for just a few dollars a month.
Like most things in life, online website building tools have their pros and cons — just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
You can certainly invest in knowing what you are looking at in the first place. Look at websites. See what secrets are in good website design.
First, a look at the cons of doing it yourself.
Clearly, the cost will always be a primary consideration for many new businesses. Unfortunately, the true costs of DIY website development are not always observable and present and upfront.
Most popular online website builders use a freemium model, which is to say that it many cases, it costs nothing to create an account and “build” your website. That is until you assign your domain to it, want an email address @yourdomain.com, or add most any basic functionality features like a contact form.
Need support? That’s likely going to cost extra as well.
But the biggest cost for your new free website is often not calculated into the equation: your time. Indeed, these online website tools are just that: Tools. Some are relatively easy to understand, but others — especially the more feature-rich versions — include a steep learning curve.
It’s not uncommon for novices to spend months getting their website to match their vision. It’s also not uncommon that many people leave frustrated and hire a professional company to either fix their problems or start over entirely.
It’s not all bad.
There are several online tools that have been around for years, are clear about their pricing, and have thousands of satisfied customers. It really comes down to the purpose of the website.
For creative types like artists and photographers, Squarespace really shines. Most of their templates are designed for portfolio-type websites.
Need a space to showcase your writing? WordPress.com is a great choice with hundreds of ready-to-go blogging templates. And WordPress is specifically designed for blogging, making it easy to copy from a Word or Google document and paste directly into their online editor, with little formatting cleanup.
A good online website builder is likely to cost somewhere between $10 - $30 a month. Not bad for something that would cost thousands more if it were developed from scratch.
But there are some caveats.
It’s important to fully understand the potential pitfalls of online website builders.
In most cases, you’ll be using a template as your jumping off point and there will be limitations to how much the design can be changed. And many of these themes require a lot of photography to look good, so you’ll need to have access to quality image assets.
Make no mistake: the best-looking examples in the galleries of these companies were developed by seasoned professionals, experienced in working with that specific platform.
Possibly the most problematic issue is the one of content ownership.
You spend countless days (and possibly nights) working on your website, tweaking this, adjusting that, adding content, and writing articles, only to login in one day and find that all of it is gone. Not just unavailable, but gone.
The terms of service for many website builders outline that they have the right to determine the ownership of “User Content.” Yep, that means, in many cases, you don’t own or control your content.
You know all those times you just check the box to agree to the terms of service when signing up for an account? This is one where you should really take the time to read the terms of service.
And other than WordPress, most website builders do not work from data-driven content systems, which is to say each page you create stands alone instead of being stored in a database. The importance of this feature lies in the ability to easily backup or export your site’s content. With static sites, the only way to move your site’s content would be manually. Think: copy, paste, repeat. While that may not be too bad for small sites, migrating content-rich websites, especially those with extensive image assets, is likely to be less fun than a root canal.
Search Engine Optimization features.
At one time, online website builders like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace were so horribly built, it was nearly impossible for search engines to find your website and its content. That’s changed in recent months and all those services now feature the ability to customize your URL, add alt tags to images, and create custom page titles and descriptions.
Search the review sites and you’ll likely find a lot of complaints about the lack of SEO tools, but most pre-date the software upgrades.
While Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace seem to have this important piece figured out, many still do not.
Website builders can be a great tool for someone with a marketing background and a little web knowledge who needs to get a website off the ground quickly. And there are several great options available for doing just that. There are also a ton of terrible tools out there as well.
There are many potential downsides with the do-it-yourself route. Choosing the right tool for the type of website you’re building is an important decision that should be made after considerable due diligence.