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WORD ON THE STREET

Talking about DIY Web Builders—Part I

There’s a lot of information out there on DIY web builders like Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy GoCentral, and SquareSpace, and a lot of people talking about taking website creation into their own hands (at least figuratively).

As a creative agency that’s hired to design and develop all kinds of websites for clients big and small, we certainly have a vested interest in what’s being said and want in on the conversation.

So, we asked James, our web development manager and UX strategist, and Brian, SLS’s digital creative director, to just sit down and start talking about the good, the bad, and the unexpected of using these new solutions. Then we listened in.

Here’s Part I of their conversation, with more to come in Part II.

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Easy Does It…Maybe

Brian: Just like with all technology, there’s things that are just getting simpler and easier to do, and very smart people are creating software to do these things. With DIY web builders, it’s basically the same software that’s used by experienced coders and developers.

James: Yeah, it’s really just building on the WYSIWYG editors that have been used for ages—simplifying them and building them out, adding more drag-and-drop templates that can be used by novices and non-coders.

B: I think they’re really great resources if you want to do it yourself, but they do require some skills. They give you the tool, but you still need a few things beyond just the interface you drop stuff in. You have to ask: What’s your website going to look like? Have you thought about your content? What happens if you run into trouble?

J: And while you now have a tool to build a website quickly, there are still limitations to the type of site this is designed to create.

Results May Vary

B: Saying you can build a site in 15 minutes is ambitious. It’s like wanting to go from 0 to 60 in under two seconds, but you’re driving a Buick LaCrosse. You can’t expect to keep up with the Tesla Roadster that just pulled up next to you—although I still try!

J: Cars, websites…it’s a matter of having the right tool for the job. I think DIY web builders make it very easy to just jump in, but then disaster can strike because you haven’t done the upfront work and you have nothing to populate it. You shouldn’t even go in until you have a wireframe, design concept, quality content, and your images cropped and sized. Otherwise, you’re left scrambling, and you end up with something that doesn’t really fit your business.

B: I would think most small companies with a simple business model—maybe a handful of products—could benefit from a DIY approach. But when you start talking about trying to connect different backends and getting into other types of functionality, it’s just not going to do that very well.

J: Like if your ecommerce site needs to tie into the SAP backend of your inventory system, it’s probably not the best solution.

The Upshot

B: The other way to think about it is cost. If you’ve got a huge requirement for all these other backend integrations, no $9.99/month hosted software platform is going to do it for you. You’re completely at an enterprise level at that point, and with that comes additional cost. Because now you start needing experienced resources to help pull that all together. Generally, it takes expertise across different types of skills to deliver a modern website experience to your audience.

J: In my experience, the technology is only one part of developing a great website. You have to factor in the client—not just what they do but who they are. Some personalities aren’t as suited to DIY as others.

B: Exactly. If you know you’re a person who likes to have granular control, then DIY is probably not going to be a good fit for you. Trying to save a few nickels by using a DIY solution is going to leave you frustrated in the end because you can’t bend and pull and stretch it the way you want.

J: Or keep it the way you want. There’s a shelf life for most websites. You can pick a template that looks fresh and works for today’s standards, but two or three years down the road it may not look so fresh anymore. There may be new technologies or ways of navigation that have become popular that weren’t popular when you originally built the site.

B: With the top tier, you’re able to morph in a new template without necessarily changing content, so it’s not that difficult to keep it fresh with features that are trendy. But it’s not always compatible—you just have to be careful which one you pick.

J: Yeah, always read the fine print. Downloaded paid templates, for example, are not always compatible with the DIY’s WYSIWYG editor. You may not be able to just swap your content and photos into the template. Sometimes, you just get raw code, despite the fact that DIY is supposed to be designed for people who know nothing about code.

B: Generally, the DIY options that rank the best in terms of features, benefits, and support offer the advantage. It’s like anything else. When you start looking for the things you didn’t even think about until you needed them, that’s what usually separates the top tier from the lower tier.

Again, the biggest downside with DIY is you don’t have any real creative control as opposed to using Magento or WordPress where you’re relying on more skilled people. And another thing about control, if your DIY provider goes out of business, that introduces a new critical pain point—and you’re gone.

Cost and Control

J: So, we agree. DIY web builders are fantastic tools that have minimized the barriers to getting on the web regardless of your skill set. But not all of them are created equal and the end product will vary even among users of the same DIY software.

B: Yes. It’s like giving one paint-by-number kit to an amateur and a second kit to an artist. Same picture. But it’s going to look completely different. While drag-and-drop tools are a great resource, and epitomize the way technology is going, you still have to understand the limitations of what it—and you—can do. It’s all about how polished you want the end product to be.

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Like all technology, DIY web building is moving at high speed. Touted as fast and easy, it’s an obvious offshoot of our current no-wait culture and reflects a growing assumption that this kind of tech makes almost anything possible for anyone.

Brian and James agree that right now, we’re at a crossroads. Building your own website is not as complicated as it used to be, but there’s still knowledge (both self-knowledge and technical know-how) and a certain level of skill required to pull off great results.

That’s where Street Level Studio can help take it to the next level. Stay tuned!

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