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 anytime soon. What also became clear is that a designer’s artistic talent and proficiency with professional design software can’t be replicated by a software CD. Software that outputs premade designs, templates and effects just isn’t the same, 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: oversimplifying the tools, ignoring the design process, and eliminating 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 the idea that “Anyone can design a website,” and set the expectation that these premade designs can solve all your needs, which is just not true. Because websites are not static, there are many factors to consider such as portability, ownership, compatibility, and flexibility in making changes. By not addressing these factors, website builder software really does set up 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, including the design itself, is also not yours, in most cases. 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. Rather, they are basic, multiple use designs which can appeal to a broad audience, maximizing sales for their platform. If your content happens to match up really well to the pre-made design, you are in luck. However, if you need to change the layout or function of the site, many of these platforms make it very difficult. Moreover, by altering their designs you run the risk of damaging the template’s compatibility across different devices.
We’ve noticed a concerning trend of large advertising firms 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 one of these platforms. Nothing like paying a third party for a “custom” site that you don’t actually own, that was built using pre-made templates.
If you are creating a website with little to no budget and design is not a concern, using a website builder may seem like a good solution. I would still advise you to pass on it, and have a pro do your website. Businesses should strive for all of their marketing to be unique, and stand out 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 tailored to your business.