Do it Yourself!

By  |  0 Comments

Why DIY Websites Could be a Shortcut to Savings… but are they right for you?

By Adam Bell with Valerie Anastasias

So you’ve got a business? Great. Now to get the word out. Social Media? Yes, but it’s only part of the puzzle. Email? Sure, especially for advertising a special offer. Website? Without a doubt. But some smaller to medium-sized companies seem to think they no longer need one, thanks to Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and Instagram posts. However, they could be missing out on huge profits. A website remains a vital portion of any business’s overall marketing strategy..

No doubt you’ve seen the ads for a variety of cheap or even free do-it-yourself website services. They’ve used celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Brett Favre and Jeff Bridges while spending big bucks on ads at the Super Bowl just so you can sign up for your very own version of Heidi Whities.

But do you really think Heidi Klum built that herself?

Of course not. Someone at Wix, the current leader in this space, designed it. That’s why it looks as good as it does. Can you do as well? Maybe. But is this really the right solution for you?

Currently, there are four major players in the DIY space: Wix, the one using Klum, Favre and Rex Lee from Entourage fame in their ads; Squarespace, which uses “The Dude” and his unusual yodels; and two that don’t spend the huge bucks on big game spots: Weebly and Jimdo. In addition to the big boys, several major web hosting companies such as GoDaddy and 1&1 offer their own DIY solutions along with web hosting packages. Even major software companies like Adobe have gotten into the act with Muse, which is designed to turn print and graphic designers into instant web gurus!

The premise with all of the Big Four is that they make it simple to build a site, generally from a series of templates. Just as you can currently purchase themes for popular Content Management Systems such as WordPress or Drupal, these give you a major head start in building a professional website. But there are pitfalls, especially if you don’t tweak the theme enough to match your overall branding.

Case in point: I recently attended a major beer festival in downtown Los Angeles and met many of the brewers. After receiving tons of business cards, I checked out some of their websites. It turns out that two of them, Sanctum Brewing of Pomona and the Rev Brewing Company in Covina, have eerily similar sites, particularly at the bottom of their respective home pages. They even use identical photos. Sure enough, both sites were created by Wix, probably with the same template and in both cases, neither tweaked them enough to make them truly unique. Kind of embarrassing.

Don’t let this be you. A common feature employed by these DIY methods is utilizing a drag-and-drop, position-it-anywhere-you-want model. Therefore, you can basically place elements in any place you desire. However, this kind of positioning results in a lot of excess code, and while a business owner might not be concerned about this, a web developer knows extra code results in a slower website performance. And if a webpage doesn’t load fast enough (5 seconds or less), visitors will likely leave your site without seeing anything.

Additionally, though these services advertise the ability to create anything the major players do, there will be obvious limitations. I was recently given the task of editing an existing Wix-produced site for a real estate company. The owner had used a premium feature to create the photo gallery and wanted to add descriptions to each image that would appear on the thumbnail page. Turns out you can only achieve this when the main photo appears on the screen. Therefore, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be able to do just anything using these services. They can and will handcuff you.

While Jimdo, Wix and Weebly let you edit themes, SquareSpace does as well but at a price. If you take a theme and start changing colors, fonts, pictures, etc., you’ll get support from SquareSpace staff. But if you hire a developer to make major changes and something goes wrong, you are out of luck. SquareSpace will not support any tweaks to a theme. This is why many SquareSpace sites, while slickly designed, tend to look so similar. In truth, you can spot a SquareSpace site online rather easily since there are only so many themes to go around. And SquareSpace was originally designed mainly for photographers and designers to showcase their portfolios. It was never intended to create business websites. There are developer accounts available from SquareSpace, but most pro developers tend to stray away from this service and go to more advanced systems like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla or custom coded dynamic sites.

GDC Online 2011_Show Environment_Jesse Knish Photography for GDC Online

Photo: Official GDC

 

Then there’s e-commerce. Surely you want to sell your own variation of Heidi Whities, don’t you? All four of these DIY site builders offer e-commerce, but in limited capacity. Wix is by far, the weakest. An e-commerce plan with Wix ranges from $16-24 a month, but you can only sell a limited amount of items in your stores with only a handful of variations, like sizes or colors, per item. And if you want to use services like Stripe or Square to process your customers’ credit cards, you can’t. It’s not an option on Wix. Likewise, with SquareSpace’s e-commerce, Stripe is the only option. Want PayPal? Go somewhere else. Weebly has the most options as you can offer PayPal and/or credit card processing via Square, Stripe or authorize.net. It’s probably the most complete solution but certainly not as effective as a true self-hosted e-commerce service like Shopify, BigCommerce or Volusion and certainly not as full featured and flexible as eBay’s Magento Commerce or WordPress’ WooCommerce.

GDC Online 2011_Show Environment_Jesse Knish Photography for GDC Online

 

Now, even major website players like WordPress are getting into the act. Thanks to third party plugins like WP Bakery’s Visual Page Composer and themes like Elegant Themes Divi as well as ThemeFusion’s Avada, web design is becoming easier and simpler for the average person. Elegant Themes plans to release Divi as a stand-alone plugin shortly to use in any theme you choose. I’ve used all three and I find VPC very clunky and slow but Divi recently upgraded and is a lot faster. I highly would recommend that theme and the eventual plugin.

None of these DIY services will ever replace quality web development from a specialist, whether an experienced independent freelancer or a large agency. You will do much better overall hiring a web pro with a great track record and multiple quality references over any DIY service. So what is the biggest advantage? Primarily, that the service is essentially your webmaster. You never have to worry about your site being hacked since they host the site themselves and provide those security features standard.

So if you can afford a pro, do so. You’ll thank yourself later. If you can’t afford one, then one of these services may be right for you for the time being until you’re ready to make that next leap in your business and your life.

Adam Bell

Adam is Vegas 2 LA Magazines technology guru.  Adam Bell is the Design Director and CEO of dataTV, a web design, branding and marketing company based in the Los Angeles area. You can check out dataTV at www.datatv.com  Email: dzign@datatv.com.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login