Don’t let me talk you out of building your own website. There are plenty of good reasons to do it yourself. There are equally as many valid reasons to hire a professional. It’s not really a debate about website builder vs web designer, rather it’s about finding the best match for your unique situation and aligning your expectations.
What is a Website Builder?
Building a website used to require direct coding and a fluency in programming languages. Fortunately, times have changed. We now live in the age of automated website builders. These online platforms allow you to create your own website without a degree in computer programming. The variety of template options is impressive. And their technology is becoming more sophisticated. For example, you can now set up your own online store, incorporate a media gallery and pipe in your Instagram feed. Also, you can expect their mobile-responsive websites to display properly on smartphones and tablets.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of do-it-yourself platforms available online (Here are 3 that happen to start with the letter “W”: Wix, Weebly, and WordPress). The biggest benefit of these editors is the ability to create a memorable project with minimal graphic experience or programming skill. You’ll still need to know your way around a computer, but you don’t need any special training. Just drag and drop your own content (text and images) into the editor and you are off to the races.
Who Should Use a Website Building Tool?
Shouldn’t everybody be using a website builder? That’s a million-dollar question. There are certainly groups of people that would be better off constructing their own site. And there are other groups that should, without question, hire a professional company to handle their online presence. But first, let’s consider who should choose to go-it-alone:
If you’re an unfunded, solopreneur in start-up mode, then you should absolutely choose an online editor. Even small companies with limited revenue would benefit from taking this path. A professional design agency can be expensive. With all the other costs involved in launching a company, you need to ask yourself if it makes sense to make a significant investment in your website. Probably not. Unless you are expecting a sizable proportion of new clientele from website traffic, then your money might be better spent on hiring extra help or investing inside your business.
A hobbyist who wants a digital presence, so they can share their passion with the world, also qualifies for a build-it-yourself site. It is also a popular route for local non-profit organizations doing valuable community service on a shoestring budget. If there’s a common thread here, it seems to be the creation of a web presence without the expectation of substantial commercial gains.
Urgency is another factor. If you desperately need to have a new website up and running on the same day, then a template is the way to go. Using a professional service can take weeks of design revisions and development coding before launching a final product. In comparison, a DIY project is lightning fast. You can register for a domain, customize a template, and launch within a few hours.
Businesses in competitive markets can justifiably spend thousands of dollars for a custom-designed website, but smaller organizations and individuals don’t need to incur that kind of expense. For about $20 per month and by investing a few hours of your time, these platforms can affordably help you personalize an attractive website.
Downside to Website Building Platforms
For all the benefits of web-building platforms, there are some notable drawbacks. One glaring limitation is that most template sites have terrible Search Engine Optimization. Even though they feature beautiful designs and simple controls, their SEO tools are limited in scope and clumsy to use. The analytic details are coarse-grained and rudimentary. They may allow you to edit title tags, headers, and meta descriptions but they are simply not robust enough in addressing all the important things that need to be done to properly optimize your site for search traffic.
As do-it-yourself programs grow in popularity, it has become easier to spot these generic-looking, 1-page websites. It isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker if you have a cookie-cutter website, but it is a consideration for organizations hoping to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace instead of blending in.
It’s interesting to note that many providers even offer free websites. At first glance, this seems terrific until you discover that your URL lives on their subdomain and displays branded advertising. Read the fine print before choosing the free option.
An often-overlooked downside of do-it-yourself websites, is that they are not always portable. Meaning, if you decide to move to another host, you could be out of luck. This makes it difficult to graduate from a template to a professionally designed site. Some services may allow you to convert their custom code into the standard WordPress format, allowing you to find a provider that specializes in managed WordPress hosting. Otherwise, you might have to abandon your current template site and start from scratch.
Why use a Professional Web Design Service?
So, what does a professional website development agency bring to the table that you can’t do yourself on GoDaddy? Well, it depends. There is a wide spectrum of web design companies to choose from. Some do better quality work than others. Let’s suppose that you have chosen a top-notch agency to deal with. Their consultants will take the time to understand your business and design a custom website that resonates with your target audience. They’ll perform a competitive analysis and then craft a site that elevates you from your competitors, instead of blending in with the herd. Most importantly, they are trained in conversion principles to generate more sales. “Conversion” is the term that addresses the most effective methods to entice visitors to perform a desired action, such as: subscribe, download, purchase, or inquire.
What is the point of having a beautiful website if nobody can find it? Marketing agencies typically have SEO experts that provide valuable technical optimization including: loading speed, security, structured data, and tagging). Keyword research and content optimization is another fundamental strength that an agency can offer. Also, external factors like social media management, link building and citation development also come into play. If it’s important to drive traffic to your website, then a design firm wins every time.
Another compelling reason to use a professional designer is to simply take something off your plate. Small business owners wear a lot of different hats. You’ll need to decide if the “web development hat” is among them. Probably not. Same goes with fixing plumbing and solving electrical issues. Focus on growing your business and outsource the rest. You’ll be especially glad you did if things start going sideways … let the experts deal with any loading issues, browser compatibility, and other glitches.
Who Should Use a Professional Website Design Company?
Local businesses in a competitive industry. If consumers have many competitors to choose from, your business needs to rise to the top of the rankings and stand out from the rest. A professional service can make the difference in being chosen or left behind.
Businesses with a high transaction value. This is an easy one. If a single sale is likely to bring in thousands of dollars, then your investment in professional service can pay for itself in just one or two deals that you would have otherwise missed.
Established entrepreneurs and professionals. Lawyers, accountants, real estate professionals, and small business owners would likely be better off choosing a custom-designed website versus a template design. In fact, using a cheap template design could cost your business in unrealized revenue. If you are planning on using your site to attract new customers, then don’t leave money on the table with a template design.
Complex Projects. If you are planning e-commerce functionality with inventory management and shipping modules, then you should seek digital agency assistance. Or if you are planning a dynamic, interactive site then you can quickly get in over your head by building it yourself. Agencies often have a staff of programmers and coders to help you with tricky technical hurdles. Really, any project over 10 pages, and you are in agency territory.
If your website has commercial intent, then it pays to use a professional service. Most businesses have an expected return on investment (ROI) for equipment and resources. So, it makes sense that a website should be treated as a marketing investment that produces a measurable return in terms of leads, purchases, subscriptions, etc.
Words of Caution When Choosing a Professional Web Design Agency
Here’s a scary thought: what if you spend thousands of dollars with an agency and don’t love the final design? It can happen. A simple way to minimize this possibility is to evaluate their 10 most recent projects. If you don’t love their portfolio, then you probably won’t love the work they’ll do for you. Move on.
Here’s another scary thought: how do you know if you are choosing a talented digital design firm? The sobering reality is that our industry has a low barrier to entry. Just about anyone can start a design firm from the spare room in their parent’s basement. Step one: arrange a face-to-face meeting (if you are invited to a coffee shop or an hourly-rented office suite, then keep looking). Step two: check social reviews. Have they amassed an impressive collection of 5-star reviews in Google and Facebook? If reviews are negative or non-existent, then move on.
Here’s yet another scary thought: who owns your website once it has been launched? Reputable firms hand over the keys upon launch. You should retain full ownership, logins and passwords to your domain and hosting accounts. However, a small minority of web companies handcuff you into a maintenance plan without furnishing ownership rights. This is rare, but every so often we run into a client that is being held hostage by their current provider. Worth being aware of.
Finally, when selecting an agency, make sure that you have full control of the content management system. You don’t want to be calling them every time you need to correct a typo or add a picture. My philosophy is that the end-user should have the independence to make their own edits without agency assistance. By standardizing on an industry-leading content system like WordPress, you are assured the freedom to adjust your own content. A development company will even offer to train your staff on how to log in and make simple changes.
The decision whether to build it yourself or hire a professional often boils down to budget, time, and purpose. If the intent of your website it is to drive sales in a competitive marketplace, then hire a professional. However, if you are a solopreneur and just need a basic web presence, then GoDaddy or Squarespace is your best bet.
If you feel that an agency might be the best direction for your web project, then feel free to reach out to us for further information. There is a never a fee for our consultation. Together we can determine if a professional agency, like NetGain, is the right choice for your circumstances. Call us at 1-888-797-2455 or send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.