The ads on TV make Website Design look so easy a monkey can do it. While they have come a long way, there are things you need to know before designing your own site. Things that will save you time and money in the long run. Besides, do you really want your site to look like a monkey made it? The good news is, there are some great DIY (Do it yourself) site builders available but it will depend on your skills and the website builder you choose whether your site will impress in the end. In this blog we will give a few pointers for what you should look for in a DIY builder, things to definitely avoid and arm you with information that will hopefully help to pick a DIY website builder that fits your needs. To keep this blog a readable length we will limit this to non-e-commerce website builder options. Though many of the ones we discuss have e-commerce plug-ins or options available.
That is the name that comes up when most people think of websites and rightfully so. WordPress sites make up an estimated 27% of the internet. There is this false impression though that you can pick a template, punch in your content and everything will work perfectly. Some of you are laughing right now because you know that is often the opposite of how WordPress works. Some other interesting stats about WordPress are found here. The one I found the most interesting was that 40% of WordPress sites aren’t up to date. The main reason for this is because it is there are over 47 000 plugins available. Without going too much into the deep end, that is the power of WordPress, but also, in my opinion, its greatest liability. Many of these plugins are free. So if they stop working with the latest WordPress updates(which happen all the time) there is no incentive to keep them working. They become obsolete and one of WordPress’ biggest security issues, as hackers use these vulnerabilities to infiltrate it. I’m not hating on WordPress, I’m merely pointing out that if you are looking for a low maintenance, easy to use and update website builder, then you should look elsewhere. If you are computer savvy and want to create a very robust site and are willing to invest a large amount of time and some money. Then you can create a very powerful site with WordPress. Otherwise, 27% of the internet wouldn’t use it. Another important factor to note with WordPress is that it is a platform that requires knowledge of how to update and host. To do this not only do you have to learn at least the basics of WordPress’ backend. But you also must possess a good grasp on the general workings of uploading your site on your particular web host, definitely not for beginners.
Squarespace Is a very popular website builder that combines with cloud-based hosting. Squarespace basic site rate at the time of publishing is $12 USD / Month. This combination of builder and cloud hosting has become a popular model and for good reason. These web builder/hosting solutions are closed platforms. That means every plugin or feature that is used and every template that is built has been approved and tested for use. It eliminates the security risks and bugs that exist with plugins. Squarespace is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) builder. You can drag and drop within your chosen template and add text or images. When testing Squarespace myself I liked how easy it was to pop things in and out and switch between templates. But I became frustrated with the lack of ability to customize and I found the CMS (content management system) or database a little complicated to navigate. I do think Squarespace is a great option though for DIYers that want something that is relatively easy to learn and manage themselves. If you have the time and skill to invest you can create a good- looking site. Keep in mind Squarespace also has a fourteen-day window to build your site. Though, they were more than happy to give an extension to me when asked. After this initial period, you begin to pay for the service whether you are finished your site or not. Also, when you finish your initial trial your site is live and any changes you make whether finished or not will show up on your site for visitors. This can be a pain if you are making large updates or changes.
As I mentioned in the Squarespace section there are other WYSIWYG site builders. WIX and Weebly lead the pack but I have also seen Sitebuilder do a pretty decent job. There are a few things that these tend to have in common:
· They have varying degrees of mobile responsiveness. The good news is most new templates are mobile responsive. Which means they are formatted to function on different screen sizes. This functionality varies greatly though as our understanding of what mobile responsive is develops. In the past our understanding of mobile responsive meant the page shrunk down to fit the screen. Today mobile responsive is much more about the functionality for the mobile user. What information do they need to find fast? What do they need to do on your site? That often translates to having a different mobile site from the desktop. The ability to do this at least for now is quite lacking on most WYSIWYG builders. If you want a good explanation of mobile responsiveness. Check out Alex Nichol’s blog on the topic.
· They are limited in their scope and they all function in their own way. Each builder has its own set of strengths and challenges and unfortunately the skills you learn with one are not necessarily transferable to others. Which
· They are very limited in their import or export functions. Because these are closed systems they only work independently or each other. The information is not easily transferrable. For instance, Squarespace only has limited transferability and only with Wordpress. What this means is that if you spend the time building a site in one of these builders you can’t move it to another one easily, if at all. If you wanted to move to another platform you would have to build a whole new site.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the builder I use. I will put a huge caveat here right away, though. Webflow is an advanced DIY website builder. In my opinion, it is way easier to learn than WordPress but it requires knowledge of HTML and CSS unlike the simpler easier to use Web Site builders.That being said Webflow has a large amount of how-to videos and the forum is very active with community users of all varying levels of expertise willing to give a hand. Webflow like the other WYSIWYG builders is a closed cloud-based platform that combines with hosting. Webflow was designed for designers to bridge the gap between design and coding and it does that very well. Like the other WYSIWYG builders, you can build an entire site without any code. If you are familiar with Adobe products then you might want to give Webflow a try. The setup will be familiar to you. The power of Webflow also lies in its ease of updating content. They have a new CMS(content management system) database that is very user-friendly. It makes changing content a snap. If you are curious you can explore it for free and only pay when you decide to host your site. One of the other things I like about Webflow is you can export the HTML and CSS code. This means you take a static site and the structure of a dynamic site and move it to another host if you wish.
This is something people seem to gloss over with website design. Website builders are essentially programs and as with any program, they take time to learn and master. Ask almost anyone who has built their own site how much time it has taken them. You will most likely be surprised by the answer.
With all these ads on TV that say anyone can build a site, "it’s easy!" I think there is an undervaluing of what a website brings to you and your business. This is your online business card. Often your first impression to your customers or people you want to reach. Yes, I believe anyone CAN with an investment, of time and patience, build a website. But will it be good and give that great first impression you want to give? That will depend on your skill level and the website builder you choose. Website builders are leagues above where they were even five years ago. But in the same way that you hire a plumber or an electrician you might want to consider hiring a designer. They have spent the time learning and keeping up with the technology so that you don’t have to. Web technology has changed dramatically and will continue to do so and good web design is more a service than an end product. It is adaptable and if built well can be changed somewhat easily without a complete site redo to grow and adapt to the changing web.
So, that was a bit of information overload. To summarize, you can use one of many different DIY website builders depending on what you are looking for. Some, such as WordPress and Webflow have a very large learning curve but once you master them, you can build very powerful sites. Others, such as Squarespace are good to go right out of the gate. Though the features and customization available with these builders is limited.
The number one rule, though, your site must be truly mobile responsive. If the template you are working with does not have a good responsive design, do not use it. There is no way we could touch on all the DIY platform options here. But this is a very good list to start with. In the end, you have to ask yourself. Do you have the time, skills and patience to build a site that will impress? If not, consider a professional. That’s what we are here for. If we can lend a hand let us know firstname.lastname@example.org