If you have been in the industry as long as I have you will remember the desktop publishing craze from the 1990’s. As the desktop computer found its place in most everyone’s home so did countless design software packages allowing artistically challenged people everywhere to output questionably passable graphic design. By the early 2000’s it was clear that your friend that took the night class in desktop publishing wasn’t going to be making a living in graphic design any time soon. What became clear is that a designer’s artistic talent and proficiency with professional design software can’t be replicated on a software CD. Software that outputs pre-made designs, templates and effects just isn’t the same thing and people know the difference.
From my perspective website builders (e.g. WIX, Squarespace, GoDaddy Website Builder, Weebly and, to some degree, WordPress if used as a DIY solution) are the web-based incarnation of this. They share a few of the same short comings as 1990’s desktop publishing software; over simplifying the tools, ignoring the design process, and lacking the most important ingredient – a skilled designer. Just as someone using desktop publishing software could pick a pre-made design and put their content in, so can someone using a website builder. These builders promote that “Anyone can design a website” and sets the expectation that these pre-made designs can solve all your needs, which is just not true. Because websites are interactive and not static designs there are many more things to consider such as portability, ownership, compatibility, and flexibility in making changes. Skipping this process really does setup the website owner for disappointment and frustration.
One of the biggest surprises for those using a website builder platform is that they don’t actually own the site that they build. Because website builders are web-based, the back-end software you use to create the site is not yours and cannot be moved. Additionally, the front facing part of the website and the design itself in most cases is also not yours. So be prepared to stay put or start over if you want to discontinue using their services.
Another issue that many don’t realize until they have a site well under way is how inflexible the platforms are. Their designs are not done by a professional with your goals in mind but rather basic multiple use designs with general appeal to maximize sales for their platform. If your content happens to match up really well to the pre-made design you are in luck but if you need to change things up many of these platforms make it very difficult to significantly alter the design. Moreover, by altering their designs you run the risk of damaging the template’s compatibility across different devices.
A concerning trend we are seeing is how many large advertising firms are using these platforms for their “custom” websites. If you have been approached by a phone book, radio, TV or newspaper sales person trying to sell you on their web design services, it is very likely that they are using these very platforms. Nothing like paying a third party for a custom site, that you don’t own, that’s built using pre-made templates.
If you are creating a website with little to no budget and design is not concern, using a website builder may seem like a good solution. I would advise you to pass on it and have a pro do your website. Businesses should have all of their marketing stand out and be unique in the marketplace. Building a professionally designed website will cost you a bit more initially but it will be a much better investment in the long run. In the end, you will have something that is truly yours and unique to your business.