We frequently have clients come to us after making an attempt to build their own site. Either they will ask if we can ‘spruce things up’ on their existing website or they will ask us to develop a new one altogether. The point being, much of our personal experience with these types of builders is with clients that have already run up against the inherent problems they pose. In fairness, I am sure there are lots of happy DIY-ers that we never come across.
If you are a hobbyist or selling gizmos out of your trunk, you likely do not have or do not want to invest a lot of resources into your web presence. But you want something. So you call a couple of freelance developers, assuming (correctly) that they will be cheaper than a company, and find out that you actually have to spend some money to get a professional. The ‘soup and a sandwich’ barter proposal wasn’t as appealing to freelancers as you thought it might be. And the ‘intern designers’ who you gave a shot quit the job half-way through when they couldn’t accommodate your revisions. So you’ve turned your eye toward a DIY builder such as;
- GoDaddy’s Website Builder
What follows here is not necessarily going to be true of each of the above or any other DIY website builder. Each offering is unique but there are a lot of commonalities across most of them. So I am writing a bit anecdotally as representative of a generic experience.
Very Little is Free in Life
The upsides are obvious. They typically start you off with a free package. Once you begin to work with this free package, you realize you are limited to only 3-5 pages and you need 6 pages. Or you have to use a subdomain of theirs (http://mydomain.weebly.com) instead of your own (http://mydomain.com) which not only is embarrassingly unprofessional but sucks for SEO purposes. Or they are going to have blocks of advertisements on your website which requires no explanation as to why it sucks. Free is no longer free because you now need to upgrade to a ‘Pro’ or ‘Business” package.
They Own You
The WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface that is so appealing with these DIY builders is proprietary. The power of it is that a non-programmer can build a webpage visually by point-and-click techniques and then the builder writes the code for you. Being proprietary, there are many tradeoffs for that power. Typically, it is required that you host your website with them. So you must pay the $15.99 monthly fee they charge rather than shopping around for hosting packages that offer twice as many resources for half the price. This brings us back to Very Little is Free in Life.
What’s worse,.. MUCH worse,.. is that you have no access to the source files. And there is no means to download your code. Or if there is, it is given to you in format that can be downloaded but not uploaded anywhere, as it is with Weebly. You cannot even upload it back to Weebly themselves! In essence, it is mostly useless. This makes the backup process difficult at best. If your site gets corrupted, or hacked, or Weebly goes out of business, or Weebly deletes your website for a Terms of Service violation you are not even aware of (this happened to me once with Yahoo!), or any one a number of situations, you are out of luck. Your website is gone and there is no way to get it back. Or maybe you just realize you are limited to an unacceptable degree or don’t like their service and want to leave for another provider. You are welcome to leave, but you cannot take your website with you for reasons I listed above.
Limited Functionality and Customization
You are limited in the access you have to your own website. Third Party API’s and scripts are frequently not permitted. You may have access to HTML and CSS but programming logic is not possible. CMS (Content Management Systems) such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal have hundreds of developers building all kinds of extensions, templates, and plugins for their respective products because they are Open Source. DIY builders do not. Because of this enormous limitation, DIY websites usually ‘look’ like a template and have limited features and functionality available to their users. A short list of the MANY things you frequently cannot customize on a DIY website include image optimization, third-party picture galleries (you are severly limited by what the DIY host offers) image meta information, inability to configure browser caching, webfont delivery optimzation, and the inability to use your own form data sanitization or field validation.
Each DIY builder has a small selection of templates that look professionally done and so upon first glance seem to be sharp looking. The problem is that ever other user of this DIY builder thinks the same handful of templates look sharp and you wind up having all kinds of websites using the same templates with variations in text and image content.
Poor Responsive Design for Mobile Devices
With the ever increasing use of mobile devices to view the web, Responsive and Adaptive design is critical. Some DIY builders say they are accommodating the needs of mobile views but their reputation for doing so has not yet won many professionals over. I myself did a quick search on the topic and found a Feb. 10th 2015 Weelby.com blog post on the matter. The very page they are actually discussing their responsive design prowess on lacks significant responsive design itself!
In this blog article, there is a long thread of user comments. Most unfavorable. That alone is indicative to me that there are some serious problems.
No Going Back
Template or Theme selection in some builders like Wix are critical to get right the first time because you cannot change themes without completely rebuilding your website. This is ludicrous and this single point alone will keep me from ever giving them a try. Wix also does not allow for access to CSS. So if you had a specific element that you want designed differently than the stock template offers, you’re out of luck Charlie.