Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify, Gutensite, iPage – all of these have one major thing in common. They’re website builders, designed to make it easy to “build a website without hiring a developer”. “Build a website in 5 minutes,” one proclaims.
On top of that, almost every hosting provider offers a website builder of some sort. GoDaddy, HostGator, BlueHost, BraveNet – they all promise that, with the click of a button, you’ll be able to create a traffic generating machine. Just point, drag, click and publish into publishing heaven. They offer these services for free or for a very attractive low price.
But is it really that easy? Are you getting the best bang for your buck? Do any of the above really deliver on their promises?
As you can tell from the title, we don’t think so.
The Pros of Website Builders
It’d be wrong to just dismiss website builders right out of the box. After all, they do provide a service for a select group of people. The pros are there. For example, if you:
- Can’t afford to hire someone to build your website
- Don’t want/can’t afford a designer
- Don’t know code
- Are building a website as a hobby
- Want to build a website today!
- Plan on moving in the future
If you fall under one of the choices above, more power to you. Website builders are right up your alley. However, if you are serious about building an online business with all that entails and you’re considering a website builder, I strongly suggest you reconsider. Here’s why.
Why Website Builders Aren’t Good For Business
Many first-time online business owners just think about getting people to through the doors, so to speak. Kind of an “if we build it, they will come” mentality. They see these website builders and think, “Weeeell, now. I can do that! That will save me tons of money!” But will it really?
The truth is, website builders aren’t that good a deal for business websites. In fact, the cons are a much longer list than the pros.
While I could have started with something like design or loading speed, SEO is a major factor when it comes to website building cons. This is a subject near and dear to my heart at the moment, as we’ve been working with SquareSpace, Shopify and Gutensite quite a lot lately.
Listen. First, being able to enter a page title, meta description and a search-friendly URL is not the end-all and be-all of search engine optimization. Secondly, if you have no control over your base files and you’re building an online business, this is not a good deal for you.
Most website builders don’t allow for custom features under that free or low-cost banner. In general, most of them offer the low-cost option, but if you want custom features it’s going to cost you. One website builder told us that it would cost $160 per hour (with a half hour mandatory) to make changes to the site. So, while the builder itself was a fairly good price, the cost of changes was prohibitive. A five-minute necessary change cost our client $80.
This is a toss-up. Some builders have really bad speed, some builders have better speed. Regardless, a website almost always has room for some improvement if it’s never been technically optimized before.
Tough luck if you’re on a website builder. Not only can this cost you a ton of money under the customization clause (see the “hidden costs” section), but the changes may not be possible. Many website builders are built so that the underlying core code is shared between several client sites; in this case, some changes would affect all the client sites running on that platform. Universal changes aren’t usually good for business, so they just aren’t done.
Lack of Freedom
There are several other cons I could list, but the biggest is lack of freedom.
Our most recent website builder experience was an absolute nightmare and pinpointed the need for file control. I mentioned it briefly before, but control over your files is necessary if you’re going to provide users and search engines with a truly healthy site.
Optimization goes much further than titles, from the technical aspect of speed and redirections to content and content placement on the page. If you can’t get onto your server and reach your files, some changes can’t be made. Even miniscule changes become major costs. “Customization” begins to encompass smaller and smaller changes.
The lack of freedom you give up in exchange for a faster website and less money can eventually become the reason why you move off the builder platform and onto something more flexible, substantial, and worthwhile.
Why We Use WordPress
This isn’t a WordPress ad. It’s not even an anti-website builder ad. Not really. Think of it more as a precautionary tale.
We use WordPress (Read the difference between wordpress.org, which we use, and wordpress.com) specifically for its flexibility and the freedom you have to make changes. You have total and complete access to your files. When a client on WordPress comes to us and says, “we need SEO,” we don’t have to sweat, because we know WP is very flexible.
If the client’s site needs to grow, the worst thing we have to worry about is whether the hosting package can handle the traffic. It may not be worry free, but it’s the closest thing to it that we’ve found.
As well, it can be a low-cost solution. So you can start out with a template while you only have a little cash, but be ready for growth as your business picks up.
If you just want a site to tinker on, learn how the Internet and blogging works, sure; use a website builder. But if you want to take on the world with your new online business, can see yourself growing that business into something spectacular that will need room to expand, and take your business seriously, consider a platform that will give you that opportunity.