Website Builders

Website Builders – Fact or Fiction?

There are a number of affordable “Website Builder” services available to startup businesses that are designed to help you fire up a marketing presence with minimal time and effort. They often advertise that you can build a “Professional-looking website in minutes.” They also all seem to have the same cheesy commercial featuring overly happy actors that are building their website while hanging out at a park listening to the same song that sounds like it was invented by a 10 year old with a xylophone. Let’s throw some tomatoes at these.

“Build a professional-looking website in under and hour” – Fiction

What are some things that can be done in one hour? Cooking dinner, working out, holding a company meeting, and taking the dog for a walk. For comparisons sake, I spend at least an hour selecting imagery for the masthead area of a website. It is unlikely that anything other than the most basic website could be built in one hour, regardless of how easy it is to use the website builder. At a minimum, you will still need to select a theme, write your website content, select and add photos, insert your logo, add company contact information, and test the end product, all while using a software platform for the first time. This isn’t happening in under an hour unless you rush through the process, which means that you are rushing your presentation of your business. This won’t reflect well on your company, and it won’t look professional to your customers and competition.

“Start a store for free” – Fiction

For business owners, time is money. Whether you take time out of your day to build the website or you ask one of your employees to take care of it, there will be an inherent cost incurred by the business owner. Furthermore, the “free” part of that statement usually refers to a free trial, after which you are locked into paying a subscription cost until the end of time. If you cancel before the trial is up, then you have wasted even more time by creating a website that only existed for a month, only to have to start from scratch. For example, you can’t port a GoDaddy website builder site over to Wix, and visa-versa. These are proprietary systems that are designed to function within the company’s hosting environment. You are locked into paying monthly fee, or you lose your site and start over. For a business that depends on maintaining an active online presence, this could cost the business owner tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales while they work on building the new site with a new developer and getting their site back online.

“Every tool you need to grow” – Fiction

The internet is an amazing place in that there are a constant flood of amazing ideas and solutions that have fueled a revolution in business technology. Every day, new and innovative ideas become reality through the power and flexibility of the modern internet. Need a service that orders a free pizza to the home of a contest winner every month? Easy. Need to install such a service in your website builder? Unlikely. No pizza for you. These are extremely limited systems that offer only the most generic services, and are unlikely to offer the flexibility that is needed to run a state of the art business.

“Nobody wants to deal with code, anyway” – Fiction

Developers do. That is specifically what we do, and we love it! So why wouldn’t a business owner? The assumption that writing code is everyone’s worst nightmare is wrong. I have worked with plenty of business owners who love contributing to the development of their site and have taken the steps to learn some basic HTML and CSS in order to give them the skills they need to do the job well. Surely, this is a small percentage of owners. However, if you are building a site yourself, then you are a DIY-type. In my experience, few DIY-type owners are afraid to get their hands dirty with a little coding.

Yeah, but wait. You’re a web developer.
Of course you hate website builders!

Of course, there is a ton of natural bias on my end because I am a web developer, but none of that comes from a fear of losing potential business. Price-wise, I can’t compete with a $5/month subscription to a website builder tool, so I don’t directly compete for the same client pool. I do however, have a hard time with the type of false advertising that sends new business owners down the wrong road with false hopes and misconceptions. As a business owner myself, I can attest to the frustrations and lost capital associated with taking the wrong turn. I don’t think that it is fair to try to sell business owners on the notion that their web presence can be slapped together with minimal effort or and no investment at all. If it looks like it was designed for free, in one hour, using the same tools as every other cheap website, it will make your business look cheap.

Of course, there is always a place for these services and they aren’t all bad. I know plenty of people who have built effective websites on their own using website builders. These people have also spent much more than a single hour working on their site, and were at places in their business development where they had the time to spare. Many of these individuals also had some sort of formal training in art, design, or marketing. In addition, some website builders have come a long way since their inception and have started to include more advanced tools to give the owner greater control over how their website looks and functions.

I strongly encourage any business owner to weigh their options before making a decision regarding their website, to evaluate their needs in comparison to the costs associated with each option. Either way, a website builder solution is essentially going to be your first website and will eventually be replaced with a professionally designed site.

Before using a website builder to build your site, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. “Does this system offer all of the features that I think my website will need in the next year or two?” Remember, these systems are restrictive and usually cannot be transferred to another hosting service.
  2. “Do I have the spare time to take away from running my business to get this up and running?” You should give yourself a minimum of 20 hours to devote towards learning the website builder and polishing the website.
  3. “Do I have a friend or family member in the web design community that can critique the project?” Even web pros ask for feedback before launching a website.

If the answer is no to any of these questions, then it may end up costing you more in the long run to spend your time distracted from running your business and battling the shortcomings of website builders.