When deciding to build a website, many people wonder if they should pay a firm to build a custom website or if they can do it themselves for less money upfront with a website builder.
Generally, this decision seems to boil down to the monetary side of the argument. But it’s important to know that site builders are generally not straightforward about their cons, while pulling your attention to their pros. Here are some things to consider before making a decision that could actually cost you more money in the long run.
Site builders do not generally make it known that you do not actually own the website. You own the wording and the images you legally uploaded to the site, but not the code that makes up the website itself.
What does that mean? If you decide you don’t want to host with that company any longer, you can’t download the site and take it somewhere else. Instead, you are put in a strange situation where you will have to re-build the site if you leave.
Conversely, with most design firms, you own your website and its content as soon as it’s paid for. This means that you can download the site, take it somewhere else, and have the exact same website with no redesign or rebuild time required.
Hidden Fees & Privacy
When you sign up for a “low cost” do-it-yourself website, there are often hidden fees. You may have to pay extra for website transfers, email addresses, image hosting, site security, and other services. They may charge you for these fees without notice or continue charging you even when you want to cancel.
Website builder companies may also sell your private information. Read the fine print if you don’t want to end up on mailing lists.
Professional Support & Advice
While site builder services give you the miraculous ability to drag and drop elements onto a webpage, that doesn’t make you a website designer–the same way that giving you a cookbook doesn’t make you a gourmet chef. You are left to your own devices. In other words, they give you the ability to do a thing, but they don’t give you any advice on how to (or even if you should) do that thing.
For example, one of the most common elements on a website is a photo slider on the homepage. Site builders make it insanely simple to add a photo slider. But where is the advice on when and how to use one? Not all sites should have a photo slider!
Sliders should be used to highlight important information on your site, to encourage users to dig deeper, and eventually lead to a sale or agreement. Sure, sliders look pretty, but a slider with pretty pictures only pushes your relevant content further down the page.
Website design firms employ designers and consultants trained to assist you in building a website. Part of their job is to inform you how design choices can actually help or hurt your business.
Most site builders offer you the ability to add complex components with a couple of clicks of a mouse, but they don’t offer you the ability to change or fine tune those components.
Take a real estate property listing. Typically, a property listing on a website will include a thumbnail photo, a title, a price, a few pieces of information such as the number of beds and baths, and a link to view more details. Most site builders don’t give you the ability to customize that information in any way. In a nutshell, you get only what they give you.
With a custom website, the name says it all. You can have almost anything you want. On custom property listings you can tailor the page titles for better SEO, display whether or not a property is waterfront, use a photo slider instead of a single thumbnail, use effects to grab attention, etc. And this applies to everything about your website, not just this example.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is arguably just as important as the website itself. Without a search-friendly site, it is difficult for potential customers to find you online. If you use a site builder, will you know how your design choices affect your site’s SEO?
SEO can also help make sure your site is unique and different from your competitors’ sites. Ironically, the thing that makes site builders work makes this impossible. Site builders function by having pre-built elements that you drag onto your website. This means that any other website on the same platform may have the exact same information. That’s called “duplicate content” and it can hurt your SEO efforts.
Most custom website design firms employ SEO specialists to make sure your website design and your site content is as search friendly as possible. SEO specialists can also perform competition analysis to help you display information that makes your website stand out from your competitors.
Site Performance and Scalability
Some websites built with site builders can be slow to load. This hurts both the user experience and your search rankings. They can also come with limited storage and bandwidth with a low cap that can limit how much you can publish on your site.
While custom sites also come with storage and bandwidth caps, these caps are adjustable. We can also use tools and services that are unavailable to site builders to improve performance and cut down on bandwidth usage.
Management & Updates
Site builders generally do not come with support staff to answer questions or to perform updates for you. Instead, they leave you to do all updates on your own. There are almost always going to be circumstances where you want to perform an update and, because you’re not a website designer, you won’t know how to get the webpage exactly the way you want it.
You may also have questions about best practices, for example, with compliance for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some site builders may have a few bullet points explaining how to make your site ADA compliant, but they don’t go into the details of implementing web accessibility. Moreover, ADA compliance requires constant effort in order to avoid a lawsuit. It is extremely complex and constantly changing.
In addition, the site builders that we checked don’t explain how to test your site for compliance much less how to fix errors. In fact, one of them didn’t even mention one of the most common infractions found in compliance tests–color contrast for readability. A custom website design firm should take these best practices into account on your behalf.
The Key Point to Consider
With a site builder, you are given the tools to build a website, but they are not very flexible and don’t come with the years of combined experience that you get with a design firm. So, how do you decide between a site builder and a custom website?
Have an honest conversation with yourself before you choose. Ask yourself if you have the time and resources to build the website, maintain it, research laws and standards as they change, make updates to the content, and fix any problems that may arise.
If your time is important, a custom website design will, in the long run, save you money.