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Beware the Hype: The Problem with Website Builders

Website builders such as Squarespace, Weebly and Wix are popular with millions of business owners. They all have strong brands and offer the promise of simplicity, something which appeals especially to the technophobic.

Two of the platforms mentioned, Weebly and Wix, even provide the compelling offer of a free basic website. Who could argue with that?

The Myth of the Free Lunch

So you’ve been tempted by a celebrity-backed ad to sign up for a free account – what’s the catch?

For a start, your website will have to carry the Weebly or Wix brand name. It will also be hosted on a domain with Wix or Weebly in the name. In short, taking the free option from either of these site builders immediately screams out ‘the cheap option.’ How are you then going to convince your customers that you will go the extra mile for them and not cut corners?

You will also face bandwidth restrictions which means you will have to limit the number and size of the files you upload. Worse still, the number of visitors to your site will be restricted. Imagine launching an ad campaign which goes viral only to find that the majority of your prospects are fenced out of your website!

In short, free website builder plans are for the hobbyist – not the serious business person.

Flexibility of Design

So you’ve decided to upgrade to a paid plan. Are you free to get creative?

Not totally. You should still expect to face restrictions. If you are happy to compromise on design, you may find that the templates on offer are fine for your needs. Wix certainly offer a large number of templates to choose from while Squarespace opt for a fewer number of more polished designs.

However, if you want to let a designer loose on your website, they will quickly tell you that their hands are tied. This is a problem in a globalised world where competition is fierce. A talented designer working with a flexible platform can make all the difference when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

Contrast this with using Squarespace, for example. Squarespace designers have created some sleek, engaging designs but with around 40 templates shared among a user base of a million, your website will share the bulk of its design with tens of thousands of similar sites.

Customising your site to differentiate it is limited to what the platform provides for you. This is because the code you don’t see is closed source.

Portability limitations

When you design and build a website, the content and assets belong to you. However, the way that content is organised and displayed is governed by the platform. In practical terms, this means that you are dependent upon the platform continuing to exist and provide the service you expect.

Should Wix put their prices up, restrict their services or, even worse, vanish overnight, the millions of businesses it serves will find themselves with no means of moving their website.  

The Power of Open Source Code

The restrictions above are the reason why so many web designers and the businesses who employ them, prefer open source platforms. This means that the underlying code is completely free for designers to copy and amend as they see fit. Anything that can be coded into a website is possible via the open source route. This is one of the reasons why WordPress-based sites are so popular (by 2015, nearly a quarter of websites were built on WordPress).

Providing regular backups are taken, it is comparatively easy to take your open source site to another developer if anything goes wrong.

There are other issues that have been associated with website builders, although not all of these have been proven. For example, while many people complain that search engine optimisation is poor, Google have said that they do not penalise websites for using a website builder like Wix. Likewise, some people complain about slow page load times while others experience no issues.

What is certain is that website builders, free or otherwise, trade simplicity of use with a certain amount of ring-fencing. To maximise the flexibility and scope of your digital presence, investing in a talented web agency and following their platform guidance is the smart strategy.

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