As an enterprising manager or business owner, you may feel lured by the siren songs of DIY website builders.
It happens easily. Almost every major web-hosting platform offers a DIY builder. At first glance, these tools appear to rain financial savings on businesses small and large alike.
After all, why would you hire a website designer when you can spend an evening using an affordable plug-and-play template to customize the site yourself?
The danger with DIY website designers is the potential for them to trick you into believing you possess the skills, judgment, and insight necessary to design a website that is not only functional, but excellent in comparison to others in your market (all while saving piles of cash). This concept is pretty, but unfortunately, this may be a bit of a pipe dream, unless you just so happen to have the training of a professional web designer.
A website built from a custom template can be useful as a placeholder while you wait for your web designer to complete a fully-functional digital representation of your business—but you should never rely on these inexpensive templates in the long term. Website design and management is a deeply strategic and fickle art form that is far from easy to master.
Still feel like a professional web designer is a waste of resources? Let’s dig a little deeper into the shortcomings of DIY design, along with the advantages of hiring a professional.
A website is your first impression.
Remember when your business card design was important? Everything from the layout to the font said something about the quality and professionalism of your business, along with your public persona.
In many ways, a website is the business card of the digital age. It’s a 24/7 ambassador to your existing clientele as well as potential new clients—and if you don’t think your audience will form an opinion of you based on your website, think again.
Although it can take weeks or even months to build a website, the average consumer decides in around 0.05 seconds (that’s 50 milliseconds) whether or not they want to continue interacting with your page. If they aren’t impressed enough to continue using your website, chances are the search engine results they were sifting through only seconds ago contained the links to the websites of all your top competitors. You’re not your customer’s only option—switching to one of your competitors is just a click of the back button away.
Some common mistakes that are sure to drive your customers away include:
- Images or buttons that take longer than two seconds to load.
- A layout that’s difficult on the eyes.
- A layout that doesn’t include intuitive and simple functionality.
- Cheap-looking designs that make your business appear like a low-scale operation.
Even with a DIY builder, you’ll likely make design mistakes.
DIY site builders are limited by your knowledge of industry standards, your list of necessary items and buttons, and your familiarity with coding and search engine operations. While these tools will make you feel comfortable building something that works, there’s a difference between a functional website and a good one.
Have you ever been to a party or coffee shop where some guy is playing the guitar and singing his heart out really poorly? Did you notice how everyone else in the room seems to be aware of how poorly he’s performing, but the performer has unphased confidence? This combination of illusory superiority and the Dunning-Kruger effect is a lot like designing a website on your own. It’s hard to be critical of your work if you haven’t been informed of the metrics by which its quality is measured.
Be honest with yourself: are you confident in your ability to sit down and create a checklist of all the items your website needs? Does that list include SEO optimization on the front and back end? Does it include mobile and tablet responsiveness? How about format consistency of contact information across platforms so google logs your site as reputable?
Now ask a few more questions: how confident are you in your ability to sit down and create a list of common mistakes you should avoid when designing a website? Does your list include inconsistent imaging and color patterns that conflict with brand messaging? Does it include a lack of beta testing across desktop and mobile devices? These are just a few of the most common mistakes when designing a website.
It can take years of schooling, tutoring, and independent study to become an effective web designer, especially when you consider the marriage of web design to the field of graphic design. This can include intensive summer bootcamps (be prepared for lots of homework), and 15-24 months of schooling. If you want your website to dominate your competition in both aesthetics and functionality, you need an expert. If you want your customers to view you as an amateur, go ahead and design it on your own. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Back-end functionality is just as important.
DIY designers may be able to help you piece together a page that appears functional on the outside, but relying on exterior functionality alone is a lot like cleaning your room by shoving everything into a pile beneath your bed.
Search Engine Optimization is as much about the code on the back end of your page as it is the content on the front end. DIY editors can often lead to messy and confusing back-end coding (something you won’t see when using a DIY builder, unless you dig deep into the more advanced coding elements, which are often too advanced for users who don’t code professionally).
Sloppy coding or overcomplicated designs will slow down your website, wreak havoc on the appearance of your site on mobile or desktop formats, and make the user experience a waking nightmare.
Plus, without an expert in SEO optimizing your site on the back end in addition to the front end, your customers will almost assuredly find your competitors before you (in which case, you’d better pray that your competitors didn’t do their due diligence in website construction). All the visual spectacles in the world are useless if your customers never make it to your site.
Mobile functionality is one of the most important features.
It’s vital that your website be compatible with cellphones and tablets. Mobile users make up 53 percent of web traffic worldwide and 63 percent of retail traffic. Additionally, 50 percent of consumers say they would not recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile website. The mobile version of your website needs to be as good or better than the desktop version.
Going even further, 85 percent of adults feel that websites viewed on a cell phone should have the same or better quality than websites viewed on a desktop.
Examples of mobile functionality mishaps include:
- Poor image optimization: Often, inexperienced web builders will use poorly sized images and iframe embeds (such as inserting a google maps widget) on the mobile version of the site. This can cause mobile browsers to lag, lengthening load times, and encouraging your audience to peace out.
- Building separate URLs for mobile and desktop: This is how it used to be done—designers would build a designated desktop site and a designated mobile site, each complete with their own unique web address. When you consider that the divide between mobile and desktop viewers is close to a 50/50 split, you can see where this becomes a problem—users sharing links likely aren’t aware of the platform the recipient is using, making it incredibly difficult for users to share your content. Your website should be intuitive enough to recognize whether or not your users are browsing from a cell phone.
- Forgetting click to call: While desktop sites can display phone numbers through standard text, it’s a minimum requirement that your mobile version has click to call compatibility. This means when a customer taps the phone number in your contact box, that phone number will autofill into their cell phone so they can call you without jumping between their web browser and dialpad.
- Forgetting Search Functionality: Navigational difficulties are one of the major drawbacks of mobile browsing. As a designer, your goal is to make the mobile site as easy to navigate as possible. Because of this, a prominent search bar that appears above the fold is a must, allowing users to quickly type in and find the web element they’re looking for.
When you use a DIY builder, unless you spend countless hours tinkering through trial and error, your site is probably only going to be optimized for one platform—meaning at least half of your customer base is going to be alienated.
Kay VanAntwerpen (they/them) is a genderqueer journalist and musician from Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition to Entrepreneur/FlexTal, they freelance full time. They have contributed to Mlive Media Group, Grand Rapids magazine, Revue magazine, Rapid Growth Media, and were a lead editor of author Christopher Andrus’s “Dough Nation.”