Rise of DIY websites – The high cost of a free website

A DIY (do-it-yourself) website builder allows anyone with no website development experience to a create website and publish it over the internet for a recurring fee. DIY builder tools of the past allowed creation of simple pages connected with links. Over time, these have evolved to allow more complex functionality such as blogs, ecommerce and portfolios.

How do DIY website builder work?

These DIY tools can be categorized as Software as a Service (SaaS) in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet. Generally, it allows the user to login to a backend portal where she can pick up a website template as a starting point and then customize to match the business identity and features required. The website builder service hosts all user files, such as photos, documents or other downloadable content (usually subject to certain limits). The website can then be published and made available to public by associating it with a domain name which can be provided by the business or the website builder tool.

There is a plethora of DIY website builder tools available. Here are some of the popular ones:

  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Wix
  • The Grid
  • Shopify

Now that we have tools that take web developer out of the equation, one must ask an important question: what are the pros and cons of building a website yourself versus the traditional method i.e. a “handmade”, “designer” or “tailored” website built by a web developer? Read on.

When to choose a DIY website builder

Saving costs

You are a fresh startup and simply do not have the funds to invest in a tailored website for your business and debut of your online presence. You only want pay a small subscription fee and have little to no time to invest in setting up the website.

You do not need a tailored website

You really do not want a unique identity or custom features. This may apply to non-profit organizations, bloggers or online retailers. You believe that the DIY website builder offers everything you need to get the ball rolling.

Its temporary

You plan to have a built website down the track once/if your business takes off and have sufficient funds to invest in a tailored website.

A certain DIY website service offers exactly what you need and it does it effectively

There might be situations where a DIY is more suitable than a custom website. E.g. incase of online retail, there may be compelling reasons for a business to use Shopify instead of developing a proprietary selling platform. A business could cut costs by not having to worry about CDN, integration with payment gateway and email marketing tools or availability of feature expansions (plugins or 3rd party apps) to enhance customer loyalty. If there is something specific available for your specific business needs, there is no harm in using it. It is preferred to use a proven platform instead of wasting resources recreating the wheel.

The caveats of using DIY website builder tools.

Do you know what you want?

Things work a little differently on the web. Part of it is understanding the difference between what you wish to put on the website versus what your users should be seeing. Lack of user experience knowledge may result in you putting up content that your website users may find distracting or useless. Do you really need that flashy image carousel in the sidebar? Or your latest Instagram feed occupying significant screen real estate on the homepage?

Optimizing homepage content is critical and requires in-depth knowledge of user psychology and usage habits. It is no surprise that Google ranks websites based on their quality of user experience.

One Size does not fit all

There is no doubt that some of the templates offered by DIY website builders look fantastic. However, they are still limited when it comes to features and how many there are to choose from. The template you choose may be good for your brand’s look but not suitable for the content or vice versa. Also keep in mind that other businesses who use the same website builder tool may be using the same template. Creating a completely unique look using these rules is challenging due to a lack of surgical precision over your website template when it comes to showing off your brand.

Learning curve

While website builder tools make it extremely easy to build your own website, it still requires you to have some technical knowledge about online media (e.g. file formats or image resizing). Documentation is made available but depending on your background, there may still be time involved in setting things up properly, sometimes more than you like or have.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

DIY tools had horrible SEO in the past. Though the situation has improved over the years, they still do not match the SEO quality of a tailored website. If you do not have a background in web marketing, your copy may suffer from ineffective copywriting that can hurt your SEO rankings. If you choose to hire an SEO team, they might not be able to work with the DIY tools due to limited technical control of the website.

Mobile optimization

You may need more customization with the mobile experience of your website if it matters to your business. This holds especially true to business like restaurants or online retailers who are expecting significant user activity from their smartphones. You may want a unique experience for desktop and mobile users which may not be provided by the DIY website tool.

Content ownership

If you choose to terminate your subscription with a DIY website service, it is possible that they may not allow you to download your website files. It is helpful to discuss the nature of content with their support team to confirm that it does not violate their terms and conditions. Although a rare occurrence, it is possible that your website may get shutdown without warning because you violated their terms. Its always a good idea to clarify this before you get in a contract with an online service.

Technical Support

DIY website services often offer 24/7 support. It works well when you have questions about how to navigate around the backend. However, they may not be able to give you advice on what’s best for your specific business. For example, you want a popup on the homepage reminding users to signup to a newsletter for special discounts. You can set this up with their help but they, rightly so, can’t really comment on whether it’s a good idea to do so as they don’t have any idea about your specific business model.

Agility

With DIY tools, you have no control over changing certain aspects of your website in order to improve the online experience for your customers. Let’s say, your marketing team informs you that a one-page checkout would perform better than a multi-page checkout, there isn’t anything you can do about it unless its offered by the DIY website builder. In fact, it is possible that the DIY tool updates a certain feature that actually hurts your business, instead of helping it.

How to minimize side effects of DIY website tools?

Debuting your business website with an unproven or untested user experience can potentially result in a bad first impression and non-recoverable bounce rate. So, if you have built your own website using a DIY builder tool, it is a good idea to have it reviewed by an agency that specializes in assessing online content, user experience, SEO and testing.

Is a custom built website always better than DIY website?

Generally, yes. A custom built website by an experienced team will always outperform a DIY website. If you go the DIY route and don’t know what you are doing, you may soon find yourself paying a high price for a free website.

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