Ads for do-it-yourself website builders like Wix and Squarespace are everywhere, from sidebars to Super Bowl XLIX. Are the promises of having your own website, made by you (or Jeff Bridges or Brett Favre), and launched in minutes too good to be true? When is it best to go with a builder site vs. having a professional create your website for you?
Website builders are inexpensive to set up; they give you lots of templates to choose from, and their software is fairly intuitive and user-friendly. They often come with inexpensive or free hosting, support, and add-ons that allow you to create contact forms, social feeds, and newsletters. Their code is proprietary, so their private development teams are the only people working on the software, creating apps, etc. This can be a good thing, since their developers can fix any technical issues that come up for you, and they know how everything works. They also typically manage software updates; their sites are increasingly mobile-friendly; and the newer ones use non-Flash methods like HTML5 for animations and video. You can sign up anytime, day or night, and create your website on your own time.
For small starting businesses or individuals with a small budget, website builders could be the perfect fit. They’re easy to access, inexpensive, and their template designs get better all the time.
But for bigger organizations or those individuals requiring more customization, support, and expertise, hiring a WordPress web professional is the wisest choice. Your website is your number one marketing tool, and web professionals know the best ways to get your message across to your target audience. Color palettes, calls to action, the placement of different types of content on your pages, even how things are worded online vs. in print make a big difference in how you’re perceived. They should be considered carefully, with decisions made intentionally, based on defined goals and research. Creating a website that doesn’t work for you won’t be worth the time and trouble. Creating one that does will pay for itself many times over.
A professionally-designed-and-built WordPress website offers advantages for growing businesses and larger organizations that simple website builders aren’t meant to achieve.
With Wix or Squarespace, you make the site yourself using one of their templates (Squarespace has some especially artistic ones). However, customization options to make your new website fit your unique brand are limited. Freelance designers offered by the builder companies typically require a plan upgrade, and it’s not entirely clear how far their freelancers can go. Flexibility is also an issue: Once you choose a Wix template, you’re stuck with it–you have to start from scratch and build a new site in order to have a different design.
With WordPress, you have unlimited design options. An experienced WordPress designer/developer can create a look-and-feel for your website that perfectly fits your personality and brand, and build it into a custom theme that does everything you need it to do now, and gives you room to grow. And since a WordPress theme is essentially like a “mask” for your site (with your content sitting comfortably inside the underlying database), it’s easier to update your look down the road–or change it entirely–without having to reinvent the wheel.
Entering your site content is easy with most website builders, as it is with WordPress. Features can be added using website builders’ addons (usually with upgrade to a premium plan) or via WordPress plugins. But that snazzy drag-and-drop interface that makes building pages so easy? It can result in some pretty messy code behind the curtain. Browsers and search engines prefer clean, well-formatted website code, letting your site load quickly and be easily crawled by those all-important Googlebots.
WordPress puts all code in the right place, keeps it to a minimum, and presents it properly for search engine optimization (SEO). Because it’s open source and completely accessible, an experienced developer can easily make changes to functionality, design, layout, and other elements directly in the code anytime.
Ease of Use & the PITA (four words starting with “Pain”) Factor
It doesn’t matter how great your website looks if it doesn’t get launched. Website builders provide a low-cost way to create your own site, but there’s still a learning curve. The 30-minute estimate they give you can easily balloon into days, weeks, or even months, so patience is a virtue. Less than one year ago, it was announced that DIY website builders (the people, not the software) create only about 3% of new websites, and of those, 98% fail to make it all the way to publishing their website on their desired domain. So budget enough of your time to figure out how the builder software works, and how to make it best work for you. Things aren’t always as easy as television commercials make them appear, so the simpler you can make your site, the better for your schedule…and happiness.
Other facts to consider:
- Website builders’ free and basic plans come with ads (they have to pay for their services somehow). So every time a user views your site, they’re going to hear or see an ad, often placed in the header or footer of your site.
- Some of the functions that are built in to WordPress (like SEO and blogging capabilities) come as add-ons to website builder sites. Native capabilities are inherently more stable than “bolted-on” versions, and they’re easier to administer and maintain.
- WordPress has a Content Management System market share of 60.6%, making it by far the most popular CMS today. Squarespace’s market share is 0.6% (yes, that’s zero point six percent), Weebly’s is 0.4%, Wix’s is 0.3%, and GoDaddy’s Website Builder’s is 0.2%. Market share isn’t necessarily a determinant of quality, but it does mean that your WordPress website can be supported and influenced by a large community of users for many years to come. Online training resources are plentiful, and regular updates to the core software and plugins means that your site will be taking advantage of the latest technologies.
When deciding between the DIY (Do It Yourself) and DFY (Done For You) approaches to a new website, budget may well be the determining factor. Professional website creation requires a financial investment, sometimes significant. But a well-planned website scope and budget that focuses on your goals will get you the most for your money, and it can quickly pay for itself in increased business and a better, more professional online presence.
There’s also no substitute for personal attention and assistance. When you hire a professional website firm, you have a team of experts to collaborate with. People who are devoted to your site, your cause, and your goals; who want to see you succeed and know how to help you get where you want to be; who live and breathe this stuff, know WordPress through and through, and love using it for the good of your business; and who have the project management skills to get your new website completed on time and on budget.