Build your own website? The ‘Do-it-yourself’ vs ‘professional designer’ conundrum ….
One of the first things you’ll probably be asking yourself if you’re considering a new website for your business is this: do I take the DIY option and build it myself, or get a professional designer to do it?
There’s plenty of room for both approaches in the world of web design, and this article, we’ll look at some of the main factors that you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and creating your website yourself.
You can hardly fail to notice that there are plenty of organisations out there offering ‘DIY website builder’ products – I might as well name names as we all know who we’re talking about – the 1&1™s, the Go-Daddy™s, and the VistaPrints™ of this world, to name just a few. Often, providing website builder products as an extension to their core domain registration and website hosting business, they try to offer a one-stop-shop for all your website needs.
Now, I’d like to be clear from the start: I’ve got nothing against these types of DIY products; they can be just the ticket – but it depends on what type of website you’re looking to create, and what your expectations are. I’ll try to be as unbiased as I can and leave you to make up your own mind…
OK, so what can you expect from a DIY website builder?
I need to talk slightly generically now, as I’m not referring to any particular company’s product here, it’s just my take on the many products that I’ve seen (all in the name of research, you understand)
- As a rule, they will be able to help you with all of the core elements of getting a website online – you can register your domain (website address) with them and they will undoubtedly offer website hosting facilities, often as part of the website builder contract. And that is handy, having everything in one place;
- Where they do include website hosting, all of the attractive ‘low-monthly-cost’ options will most likely be on their ‘shared hosting’ platform, whereby you and all of their other customers fundamentally use the same, shared technology to power your websites. That’s one of those ‘swings and roundabout’ things, which I’ll come to when we talk pros and cons later.
- When it comes to actually building your website, you will be asked to choose from a list of existing website templates as a starting point for your own. Chances are, you can choose to change the overall colour scheme, and upload your own logo, images and textual content. Some even offer ‘industry-specific wording’ to help you on your way – but more on that later.
- You’ll be offered different levels of product, at increasing monthly costs, and the most basic and inexpensive level will seem very reasonable indeed (I’ve seen some as low as £1/month). The cheaper options will tend to impose limits on the number of pages your website can have, the amount of storage available for your pages, images etc, and the amount of ‘bandwidth’ that is available to you (which effectively limits the amount of data that can be sent between your websites and its visitors each month, somewhat like the way some home broadband providers limit your upload/download quotas). The ‘premium’ options may be somewhere between £20 and £40 per month.
- There will be a variety of ‘add-on’ products that you can purchase, notably including Search Engine Optimisation or ‘SEO’ services. SEO is a very important factor to the success of any commercial website (arguably less so for personal sites), so we will cover it further later.
- You will be undoubtedly be offered some form of online or telephone support to help you through the process.
Pros and Cons of DIY website builders
- Cost: While there are some free, open source website builders out there, in general terms you will need to be pretty IT-literate to be able to take advantage of a genuinely ‘free’ option – after all, you’re on your own with that option. You will also always need some form of hosting, and that’s never free.
So, that being said, a DIY website builder is probably the cheapest way of getting some form of website online. Indeed, if you have a very limited budget then a DIY website builder may be your only option. BUT, as with everything, make sure you understand how the pricing works – the ‘from £2.99/month’ option will often only refer to a component of what you need, and there will be a variety of other costs to add. Also – watch out for tax: prices will often be quoted excluding VAT, and if VAT represents a real cost to you (i.e. if you’re not VAT registered), then you’ll need to remember that everything will be 20% higher come the final invoice.
- One-stop-shop: you tend to be able to register your domain name, arrange hosting and buy your web builder product from the same place, which does usually mean you have only one number to call if you’ve got a problem. Whether you get through or not will vary from company to company.
- Cost (and yes, I know this was a ‘pro’ as well!): they’re often not as cheap as they first appear. The products you need will often come at additional cost (e.g. web hosting and the website builder may be separate costs) , with minimum term contracts and remember to watch out for VAT;
- Shared hosting: website builder packages will inevitably use a ‘shared hosting’ platform, meaning that your website will be hosted on the same servers as (potentially) thousands of other customers. The notable down-side to this is that other customers’ website activity can have an impact on your own. If someone else’s website attracts a large increase in traffic, for example, your site might slow down or even stop working entirely for a period of time – and there’s not a great deal you can do about it. It’s just worth considering the impact to your business were this to happen. In fairness, the flip side to this coin is that shared hosting providers do tend to resolve issues relatively quickly when they do occur, because they tend to affect a large number of their customers at once.
- Templates: there’s no denying it, your website will be based on a template that many other customers have used, and so the results can sometimes be a little predictable and clichéd. For many businesses, that’s not the impression that they want to portray. And just consider that many DIY web builder companies offer ‘industry-specific text’ for you to use on your site in case you can’t think up your own words about your own business – surely this is the worst example of mass-produced, generic content? We should all strive for our websites to be better than that.
- Flexibility: many website builders are sold on the basis of user-friendly website editors that don’t require you to have any technical knowledge whatever. These editors inevitably have constraints, and you will not be able to dictate exactly how your website will look – after all, you are simply configuring a predefined template.
- Over-simplification: with the best will in the world, creating a website that looks good, does what you need it to functionally, and has a chance of competing against other company websites in the search engine wars is complicated – you do need at least a basic understanding of design and search engine optimisation in order to avoid even the most fundamental and important site design errors.
- Support: If you’re not technically-minded, do not underestimate the amount of support that you may need from the company providing your website. And consider this: the business model that they employ for their websites is the ‘low cost, mass produced’ type, meaning that the quality and availability of ‘real person’ help is often very limited, and often off-shored to places where call centre facilities are cheaper. Perhaps enough said.
What this all boils down to is this: for personal (i.e. non-business) websites, DIY website builder products may give you everything you need. They will be reasonably cheap, and it may not be the end of the world if you have issues with the site. If your site looks generic and ‘templated’, that might not be a problem.
Businesses, though, have a brand or reputation to worry about. You may be more worried about the specific design (standing out from your competition for example), site performance, uptime or your position in the search engine rankings.
For this bigger picture approach, where your website is a crucial part of your business, you may feel that you need someone who can pull all these components together for you, and create a site that reflects your business brand. For that, you would need a professional website designer; they will probably be more expensive than the DIY option (although possibly not that much) but you should find that the result is significantly better.
Blackbox Web Design provides professional website design, hosting and personalised support.