White's Papers #1
Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Using a DIY Website Service
By Dominic White. Posted February 5th, 2015.
Two of the more celebrity-laden, high profile ads during Super Bowl XLIX were for the Do-It-Yourself web building platforms, Squarespace and Wix.
This paper isn’t going to be about comparing Squarespace to Wix or to any of the other DIY web services out there, like GoDaddy’s Website Builder or Weebly. There are plenty of online resources to help you compare these services.*
The aim of this white paper is to let you know some of the questions you should ask yourself before you commit to a DIY web service versus hiring a web designer.
This paper is intended for small business owners and freelancers looking to have an informational, promotional marketing website or blog.
Most DIY platforms offer some kind of e-commerce option, but that won’t be covered in this paper.
One final distinction before I get into the questions: This is purely for DIY website services that are hosted by the companies themselves. Content management systems (such as WordPress**), which could be considered DIY, can be hosted with any web hosting company you choose to use, while a Squarespace site is hosted only by Squarespace, a Wix site is hosted only by Wix, etc. in other words; they are proprietary platforms and non-transferable which is a nice segue into the first question…
This is not an anti-DIY Websites paper. I simply want to inform small business owners that building a website may be so easy even a celebrity can do it (according to squarespace), but there’s a lot more to consider than 30 second commercial spots may lead you to believe. The most important thing to remember if you own a business of any sort is: It’s better to have a website than not. Even a small one-page site claiming your business’s spot on the internet can keep you from losing customers.
The biggest benefit of DIY websites is that you can build your own website without having to hire a designer and without knowing any coding at all. If any of the potential issues raised by the questions in this paper don’t bother you, or you can’t afford a web designer, and you have the spare time, then DIY sites are a great option.
If hiring a designer is in your budget then there’s no real benefit to a DIY site. In a future White’s Paper I will discuss what to look for when hiring a web designer for your small business.
I hope this paper gives you some insight into the pros and cons of Do-It-Yourself websites and encourages you to do your research, think about what your time is worth, and also what you want your website to say about you and how you want to be presented online.
Question One: How much of a control freak am I?
When you pick a DIY web company, you are committed to that company. The site you have made with their service is built with proprietary software and cannot be moved to another service. As of the writing of this paper, you cannot easily transfer a site from one DIY company to another. Some of these companies will allow you to download blog data and content into a spreadsheet / database of some format that could be migrated to another site if needed, but that is not something that should be attempted by a beginner. The transfer process is further complicated by the fact that the data would just be content and not include the information needed for the actual visual layout and functionality of your site.
In a worse case scenario, if your DIY website company suddenly goes out of business, you have to start from scratch. That is unlikely though: these companies have millions of clients and aren’t going anywhere soon. However, I have had clients who have come to me because they are unhappy with their DIY web hosting company for one reason or another. Sometimes they raise their rates. Sometimes there is a bad customer service experience. Sometimes the client just went with a web builder that came packaged with another service and they didn’t find out until later that it lacked the capability of what they needed it to do. Sometimes the clients realize building their own site wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be or expected it to be easier based on a commercial or sales pitch. Some clients just didn’t like using the platform and preferred something else such as WordPress. (In all fairness, I’ve had WordPress clients that have switched over to Squarespace. The website that is right for you is a very personal choice. There’s no real “right” answer.)
This lack of flexibility on where you can host your site isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things as whatever program you build your site with is going to have its pros and cons and would present a major undertaking if you wanted to switch platforms. However self-hosted sites and content management systems do have a lot more flexibility when it comes to where you can host the site.
A great analogy for this is Renting versus Owning. With DIY Website services you are renting your website and your options on what you can do with it are limited to that platform’s capabilities. If your DIY website provider decides to raise your rent, there’s nothing you can easily do about it. With self-hosted sites you own your site outright. You have a lot more flexibility with what you can do with your site. If your web host decides to raise your rent, you can easily move it to another host. However, like owning a home, owning your website means you are responsible for all routine maintenance. (Web site maintenance varies widely between platforms. A static site requires almost no maintenance while a WordPress site running multiple plugins can require weekly maintenance. Fortunately most of these tasks can be done with a simple mouse click.)
Question Two: Do I get frustrated easily if things aren’t exactly the way I want them?
Squarespace and Wix offer scores of great templates that will make your site look beautiful and professional right out of the box. Of course they’ll also make them look like every other site using those templates. You can customize them to a degree with your own background images, font selections, and with your own photos and logo. There are advanced tools for people who know how to tweak CSS and HTML code, but at the end of the day, you can pretty much identify when something has been built with a pre-made popular template.
There’s nothing wrong with templates. The web, like everything else visual in our lives, is affected by shifting tastes and hip new trends and the latest in bells and whistles. Right up until recently it seemed like almost every site was being built with a slideshow on the home page. Now more and more sites are being built with the trendy vertical page scrolling. Of course not all bells and whistles are good. I’ve been doing this long enough to remember when blinking, scrolling text was the big new thing.
The template model can lead to something that can be a big issue for some people (myself included). What if you have found a template that is close to what you want, but can’t quite tweak it to get it exactly the way you want? If “close” is good enough for you and not having it exactly the way you want it is fine, then quite frankly I’m jealous. If you are the kind of person that is going to tear their hair out because they can’t solve the problem of how to tweak their site to perfection, then it’s going to make for a frustrating experience. This is especially true when it’s something that seems like it should be easy but the solution just isn’t coming to you. That’s when you can find yourself spending hours trying to tweak little things that other people might not even notice. This compulsion to spend time on something to get it just right at the expense of working on the products or services your business focuses on leads me right into question three…
Question Three: How much is my time worth?
If you are only considering building your own website because you saw commercials telling you how easy Squarespace and Wix are to use, I encourage you to ask yourself, Is it worth my time to do this? If you are a small business owner or self-employed individual the more appropriate question is, Do I even have time to do this? You are most likely already the bookkeeper, marketer, office manager and janitor on top of the core purpose of your business itself. Do you have time to also be the webmaster?
The other thing to think about is how quickly do you need your site up and running? There may be a situation where you start the website but run out of time to finish it. In that case you’ll need to hire a designer who knows the platform you started with. If you feel like you may be in the position where you’ll need to hire someone to help finish your site you are probably better off hiring a designer before you start the project. You will have more options open to you right away.
Question Four: What is the primary goal of my website?
Is your site the kind you’ll be spending a lot of time editing and adding content to, or will it be more of an online brochure to claim your spot on the internet and be a supplemental marketing tool for people to visit after you hand them your business card or brochure?
If you are going to be updating your site a lot, interface is important. You don’t want to dread logging into your site every time you want to upload a new blog or change your restaurant’s menu for example. If you haven’t ruled out hiring a designer, I also encourage you to try demos of popular content management systems and if you find one you feel comfortable with, try to find a designer in your area who specializes in that system (opensourcecms.com is a great resource to try out online demos of hundreds of content management systems).
Are you building a brand to attract new customers with a unique look or style, or do you have a utilitarian purpose, such as offering current clients and returning visitors industry or product related information of a drier, more practical nature?
How you want to be viewed by your site’s visitors, and what you want them to get out of your site, can help determine if you can get by with a DIY site or if a more customized, professionally built site would be better for you.
Question Five: Are there any real benefits of having a DIY site
DIY websites are attractive because you can easily enter the site and make updates and changes on your own, however you can do that with other website platforms as well, and even so called static sites can be built with some minor editing capabilities if your designer is clever enough, although DIY sites will usually be the cleaner and more elegant solution.
Some other major factors when building your site, besides content, are Search Engine Optimization, Site Performance, and Flexibility / Adaptability.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the technique of increasing your website’s ranking in search engine results such as Google and Bing. This is primarily through use of focused and accurate content although having access to behind-the-scenes sections of your site’s individual pages helps a great deal. Most DIY Website services offer this, but do not give any advantage to search engine optimization results.
Although page load time is another factor for search engine optimization, the most important factor in speed is how it affects your visitors. Google recommends pages load within one second, however most studies currently show most people will wait for a site to load for three seconds. Most DIY sites have powerful servers letting their sites usually load in well under one to two seconds. This is fantastic as clients won’t be left waiting for a long time for your site to load.
Page load speed on mobile devices according to Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool:
Even though the human factor is the most important, page speed is a growing metric in Google’s search engine algorithm. A site that seems fast enough for a human, may seem slow to a search engine. You can see how a seemingly fast DIY page stacks up against a custom built static site in the diagrams above. I won’t claim that DIY sites will hurt your SEO because of barely perceptible speed issues, but there certainly is no gain in SEO performance with DIY sites.
Flexibility and adaptability are also things to think about. For instance a few years ago before smartphones and tablets existed, no one built responsive sites that would resize themselves across multiple devices. If you built a site using Squarespace or Wix, or similar, you would have had to wait for them to adapt to the changing technology and also hope that the template you love and tweaked to perfection will be updated as well, instead of the new technology just being built into newer themes.
In the case of mobile devices, there may be information you want to prioritize when a visitor is looking at your site on a smart phone or a desktop. Using the restaurant example again, a visitor looking at your site on a mobile phone is probably looking for quick access to contact information or directions, whereas a visitor on a desktop computer is probably looking for a menu or prices. Swapping this information on your home page from desktop to mobile is a piece of flexibility your template or service may not have.
Another example is the more recent rise of open graph data. Open graph data is information you add to your site in an invisible area called the <Head&rt; that tells social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter what you want your page’s description, title, and photo to be when shared on social media. As of this writing both Squarespace and Wix allow some sort of open graph customization, however research on their support forums indicate this was still an issue right up until July, 2014.
Most DIY sites will adapt to newer technology. You will just have to wait for them to do it.
Please feel free to Contact Me if you have any questions or comments about this white paper.
**I DO NOT recommend WordPress as a DIY option for small businesses owners, especially ones on a budget. While they offer many custom themes that you can instantly use, these themes are often bloated with unnceessary code and very slow on most economy hosting plans, which are the most common. Wordpress sites also require constant monitoring and maintenance. The ins and outs of WordPress for small businesses will be covered in a future White’s Paper.
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