What are DIY Websites?
When I talk about DIY websites, I’m referring to the service that allow you to choose a template, add a logo, some images and some text, and have a fully-functioning website up and running in minutes. Or at least that’s the claim. This type of service is typically offered by the larger web hosting companies, or by companies created just to offer this service. Cost can vary, but is usually considerably less than having a website created from scratch (with one proviso that we’ll come to shortly).
What are the alternatives?
If, as a business, you want to have a website to publicise and support your business efforts, then there are three broad approaches you can take…
- DIY Website
As we have seen, this is very template-driven and can be very quick and cheap.
At the other end of the scale, a bespoke website is one built from scratch, typically using software such as Adobe Dreamweaver or some equivalent. Typically you would outsource the work to one or more agencies who could cover design, hosting, building, initial launch and ongoing promotion. Can be pretty expensive, but you end up with a site tailored to your particular needs.
Sitting in between these two models is the hybrid approach. This is typically where content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal sit. These allow you to have a fully-functioning website up and running in minutes, but offer much more in the way of customisation and functionality than the DIY websites. Usually you have many, many designs to choose from (free and paid), and many pre-built ‘plugins’ that add particular functionality to the site. Sites built this way are often a lot cheaper than the fully-bespoke option, but can still offer almost the same levels of customisation.
The limitations of DIY Websites
It’s very tempting for new businesses to reduce outlay as much as possible, and one way of doing that is to use a DIY website template to create a web presence. This is a very short-term view, though, as you are immediately constraining one of the most important marketing channels your business has, at the very time that your business needs effective promotion.
How is it constrained? There are a number of ways…
Many DIY website providers state that they offer hundreds of different designs. Often this boils down to a much smaller number of templates offering in a number of different colour schemes. CMSs like WOrdpress, Joomla, et al genuinely offer thousands of templates/themes covering every variation of functionality and business area possible.But even assuming you find a design you are pretty happy with, different DIY site builders will give you different levels of control over that design. Some even allow custom HTML and CSS changes (normally part of an advanced package which costs extra). But ultimately you will be limited in what you can or cannot change. So if you like tweaking stuff until it is just right, or creating a slick, professional site is vital for your business, then its probably best to look elsewhere.
- Mobile friendly
Will your website look good on all devices that can access it? Many people now use tablet devices or mobile phones to browse websites, and not all DIY websites cater for this.
SEO is vital for websites, and is an ever-changing target as Google and others update their algorithms to try to ensure that search results are relevant and difficult to ‘fix’. You might expect that DIY websites would be able to keep track with the changes and provide regular updates to customers, but that’s rarely the case. Indeed, many DIY websites are built using a system based on Adobe Flash, a technology that effectively hides website content from search engines! So if you want effective SEO capabilities from your DIY website, you need to do some homework.
- Content Management
Managing the content on your site , particularly a blog/news section, needs to be as easy as possible. Again, some DIY sites make this essential task more difficult, and it’s not unusual for the cheaper packages to not include a blog, and to limit the number of pages you can create on your site too. All this makes site promotion much harder than it needs to be.
- Your own Domain
It’s unusual for any business these days to have a website that down not sit on a dedicated domain (instead of http://company.diywebsite.com for instance). Not using your own domain name screams out that you are not serious about promotion your business, and many customers may well assume that you are also not serious about your business as a whole. DIY websites will normally let you use you own domain, but at a price!
- Extending Functionality
Adding extra features to your website can be required to utilise new opportunities for promotion (e.g. Pinterest is quite popular at the moment) or to offer features to your site visitors (e.g. feedback form, live chat, payment gateway, etc). A popular content management system like WordPress already has many thousands of plugins offering almost any functionality you can think of. DIY sites tend to be more bespoke in this respect, with a dedicated development team building add-ons for the underlying platform. This usually means that there are fewer extra features on offer, the integration is limited to how the platform developer thinks it should be implemented, and again there is often an extra cost.
In a similar vein, if your intention is to use advertising on your site in order to take advantage of hopefully high levels of traffic, you may find that a DIY website will not allow this. Indeed, you might find that the cheaper packages add adverts to your site as a means of allowing the provider to gain some income to compensate for the low (or free) cost of the basic package. So again you’re looking at extra cost in order to remove the intrusive ads and ensure your site looks professional.
The Cost of Saving Money
You may have noticed a recurring theme running through the various points above. In short, it is certainly feasible for a new business to spend a small amount of money up front and gain a web presence. However, if you want that website to be slick, professional, SEO-friendly, and completely tailored to your needs, then you will end up spending a significant amount of money. One of the major DIY website providers has a top-end package that costs £25/month, or £300/year. That is significantly more that then ongoing costs associated with a hybrid site, and will still have some limitations in comparison.
Ultimately, if you are looking to create a site for your business you need to ask yourself the following question…
Can I afford to save money on my website?