A few weeks ago, a friend of mine said, “In a year, back-end development won’t even be required to make a completely custom, beautiful website.” I found that a strange statement to make to a web developer, essentially telling me that I won’t have a job in a year. However, unbeknownst to my friend, I’ve been hearing this nay-saying tale of doom since 2005 when the first drag-and-drop web tools showed up and advertised themselves as a way to cut the coder (and the costs) out of web development.
Web tools and hosted website solutions like Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace (plus many other smaller competitors) claim that their drag-and-drop functionality can circumvent the web development process entirely. Their marketing centers on the idea that a custom, beautifully designed website can be built by anyone with an Internet connection and browser, and that businesses can avoid costly overhead by using a DIY approach. Admittedly, there message is effective and empowering.
Open vs Closed
But let’s talk about the truth of what these systems really are and how they compare to other platforms. Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, and most other hosted web solutions should be classified by what they truly are: closed solutions. What do I mean by closed? I mean that you are entirely dependent on that solution for hosting your website, maintaining it, and supporting it when issues arise. It’s like buying a Ford and being told you can only use Ford parts, Ford gasoline, and go to Ford mechanics.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are open solutions like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and others, where you can host on any hosting platform, work with a UI/UX designer to create an impactful, singular look, and find a developer who can code your totally unique site (as well as make bug fixes and additions as needed)–much like buying a car, picking your mechanic, and getting your gas anywhere you wish. It’s actually more like you conceiving your dream car and having it custom built from the ground up. Pretty awesome, right?
The Suggested Advantages (and disadvantages)
As I see it, these are the main selling points of using a closed solution, but buyer beware. They all have distinct disadvantages:
ADVANTAGE: You Can Build a Website Without a Developer (DISADVANTAGE: Your Website Doesn’t Perform Optimally)
I think this is the most attractive aspect of these hosted solutions. While it is true that you can get a site going on these platforms with little to no development, you have to ask yourself “at what cost?”
I’ve been running site speed tests on all these platforms for quite some time, and what I can tell you is their average site speed score is 30 points below comparable open solution websites. The code used for closed solutions will always be bigger and heavier than what is needed for simple sites, and common ways of optimizing page speed, such as enabling compression and caching assets, are not available in closed solutions.
This doesn’t even take into account that most closed solutions do not optimize image uploads.
Open solutions like WordPress have plugins that automatically optimize images, trimming their size up to 90% without any loss in visible quality on your site. A raw photograph on your digital camera can be many times bigger than the container it’s in on your website. Squarespace, Wix, etc., will serve up this large image without any attempt to optimize its size. A website that should be only 2 MB at most can balloon up to 8 MB due to large, unoptimized images, effectively killing your load time and site speed.
ADVANTAGE: You Have Full Control Over Every Page (DISADVANTAGE: Your Website and Brand Lack Clear Vision and Messaging)
For the small business owner, it can be difficult to surrender control over their website. The ability to make text big, make it small, make it blue, green, or bold, and add photos anywhere and everywhere at once might seem like the type of freedom you want and need. The problem with this freedom is that without a clear, strategic vision conceived by a professional graphic designer, your website and even your company’s brand can become diluted and less effective. The best brands have a set of brand guidelines; what fonts, colors, font sizes and complimentary styles work best to convey who you are and what you offer. A fully custom site will have these guidelines ingrained in the development, plus a clear focus for each page.
ADVANTAGE: You Don’t Need to Call Your Developer or Agency for Every Little Change (DISADVANTAGE: Your Content is Not Strategic and Thus Not Effective)
Simply put, the ability to make ‘one quick addition’ to your website with no restraint can stop you from strategizing about the best way to deploy this content. Let’s say your business has a job opening. If you are using a system like Squarespace or WIX, you can easily go into any page of your site, drop in a content section, and put in some job listings. The content is added as quickly as you conceive it.But what if it would work better if you put the job listing on your About page instead of your Home page? What if you have multiple job listings, and you end up burying the content on your About page versus creating a Careers page?
The strategy of where and how your content is deployed is extremely important. Clear, concise content on each page makes your search engine visibility better.
While we’re at it, let’s discuss SEO. You may think that you can build your own website on Wix and then just work with a search specialist on the page content and metadata in the back end. But site structure is a huge part of search success. The language of code is also a crucial element in how you are ranked with Google and the others. You will be leaving these revenue-generating opportunities on the table if you choose not to work with a seasoned developer and website team from the beginning.
ADVANTAGE: You Only Need to Pay One Bill a Month (DISADVANTAGE: You’re Locked into Their Terms)
Another advantage I keep hearing about these closed solutions is that, as a one-stop solution, there’s only a single bill for the domain and hosting. For many small businesses, consolidating their bills as much as possible seems like a great way to reduce paperwork and stress.But what if Squarespace isn’t working out for you?
What if their hosted sites went down during a peak period for your business? What if their price goes up? You can’t migrate a Squarespace or Wix website to another server. The hosting comes with the site, so you can’t shop around for the most reliable and cost-effective hosting solution without losing your entire site.
Ultimately, this discussion comes down to that old business adage: fast, cheap, or good. You can pick two, but you can never have all three. When it comes to drag-and-drop, closed solution services like Squarespace and Weebly, in my opinion, you’re sacrificing quality to have a site up quickly and cheaply.
At Steadfast, we care about doing things right. We care about strategy and the effectiveness of your message. We care about your goals. If you are looking to promote your business with a site that has your brand integrity intact, where each page’s message is clear and concise, you will be better off consulting with an agency like ours about a custom developed WordPress site.