With cloud services like Wix and Squarespace that allow users to build websites on their own, it’s not unreasonable to ask why you should pay a professional to design it for you. In fact, if you’re just starting a site as as a blog to record your thoughts or as a place to showcase your photography, a website builder might not be a bad way to go. But most startups and small businesses are not just interested in selling widgets, but building a brand – which means that you want to differentiate yourself for your competitors however you can. Imagine showing up to a Halloween party wearing the same costume as three other people. Awkward! And it should be no different for your business—you want your website to represent your brand, with all the wonderful uniqueness and personality you strive to bring to it every day. Also, if you’re on online-only business, chances are you’ve got some unique functionality that will need to be built out that simply cannot be purchased off-the-shelf.
Building a website that will be an effective representation of your brand (or, in the case of online businesses, the brand itself) takes time, skill, and planning to make sure it does exactly what you need it to do in order to meet your business goals. Back in the early days of the Internet, there really wasn’t much to it. Of course, having a good design sense helped, but in terms of actually building a site, there were only about 20 HTML tags to learn, which you could accomplish in an afternoon. Most sites were “brochureware”—static informational sites with very little interactivity save for perhaps an email link, since even online forms didn’t exist. There was no Google and, to most people, SEO still meant Southeastern Ohio.
Oh my, how things have changed.
Today, there are innumerable variables, feature sets, code snippets, scripts, user experience (UX) and design considerations that must go into even the most simple business websites, and the unique combination of these is what will make your site shine. Out-of-the-box website builders like Wix and Squarespace can provide a basic framework for a simple, informational, “brochureware” site, but what’s more important is what they can’t do. For example:
- Responsive Design: Now that over half of all users access websites via mobile, it’s more important than ever that your site is built to be responsive (i.e. mobile-ready) for all devices. While Squarespace does list responsive design as a feature, it does not give you granular control over how, exactly, your site will appear on a mobile device. This is true of most off-the-shelf “responsive” WordPress themes as well. Wix, on the other hand, does have an editor that allows you to design your users’ mobile experience, but this essentially requires that you have to build two websites—one for desktop, and one for mobile. With a custom website, you’ll be able to work with experts in desktop and mobile design to determine which features are important to your business and will be featured on both versions, not just one. Remember that the user experience for both desktop and mobile need to take into account when and how your visitors are accessing your site, and make accomodations for users who may be visiting your site on the go. This is something that a one-size-fits all website builder simply cannot do.
- Search Engine Optimization: In 2018, it’s no secret that Google is the number one way that people find websites, which means that if you’re not ranking well in SERPs (search engine results pages), you risk missing out on thousands of visitors and the business they may bring. Since Google’s algorithms are among the world’s best-kept secrets, optimizing your site’s structure and content to rank highly is more of an art than a science. Even SEO experts who have been doing it for years are constantly studying the landscape and adjusting their methods—often on a weekly, or even daily basis—to ensure their clients’ sites are ranking well. Templatized solutions often claim that they are “SEO-friendly” but, at the end of the day, this is an empty promise, a marketing hook. Good SEO requires intimate knowledge of your business and your customers, something only an expert who is working closely with you will understand.
- Dynamic, Database-Driven Websites: Unless you want your website to display static content that doesn’t change or update for different users or types of users (like the ‘brochureware’ mentioned earlier), you’ll need a website that is dynamic— meaning that it grabs information from a database on-the-fly and displays that content to the individual user. While solutions like Wix and Squarespace do offer tools to accomplish this (like Wix Code and Squarespace Developer Platform, respectively) these platforms require a good understanding of coding and development that’s over and above the skillset of the average person. When you have a custom website built, you can be sure that your site will be built by experts who have the user in mind.
- Security: To be fair, the most popular site-building platforms like Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix do provide excellent security measures for their clients. Security issues with self-built sites usually come into play when you’re building your own site either from scratch or using a CMS on a shared hosting service. It’s possible to install your own security protocols or plugins if you know what you’re doing and what to look out for, but when you have a site built by pros, you can rest assured that they are well versed in current vulnerabilities and will take measures to prevent them—ensuring you’ll sleep well at night knowing that you’re not open to attack from malware and hackers.
- User Experience (UX): This is probably the most important thing to consider when deciding whether to build a site yourself or to pay to have someone else do it. UX is the overall experience a user has when accessing your website or mobile app, and includes many variables. How pleasing is the design? How easily can the user find what they’re looking for? Is purchasing something from the site a quick, painless experience or an exercise in frustration? Most importantly, the fact that you have a website in the first place assumes that you want the visitor to actually do something on your site, whether that’s buying a widget, visiting your brick-and-mortar store, listening to your podcast, or signing up for your newsletter. This may sound like an easy thing to accomplish, but the fact is that, statistically, most visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on your website, so you have to grab their attention—and get them to take action—right away. UX and UI (user interface) experts have, by definition, lots of experience in designing an experience for your users that utilizes the tools of their trade to help “funnel” your site’s visitors to the place you need them to be.
If you simply want a personal blog or portfolio website, then sure, a free or inexpensive templatized website from Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, or another website builder might be perfect for you. Here at LLD, however, we specialize in building a custom web experience for startups and small businesses that showcases your brand in the way you want it to be seen. If you’re ready to start the journey towards a web presence that will make your brand stand out, contact us and we’ll be happy to get you on your way.