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The Caiman Web Design Blog

Site Builders and Custom Websites: Two Very Different Options

A small business owner has an enormous number of important decisions to make, especially at the beginning of his or her venture. Not least of which is the logistics of the company’s website. Small business owners know they need a website – that decision is easy. The hard part is deciding what kind¬†of website they need. Researching the possibilities inevitably leads to two general choices: a do-it-yourself website through site builder services such as SquareSpace, Wix, Jimdo, and Weebly; or a custom-designed site through a professional web design company. Which should you choose? Well, you probably have an assumption about my opinion on this matter; I obviously have a good reason to be biased. But you may be surprised to hear me say this: both choices are completely valid and will result in a good website,¬†so long as you choose the one that fits your needs and accomplishes your goals.

Site Builder Logos

For those who don’t know about DIY site builders, they generally work like this: You pay a monthly fee, usually ranging anywhere from $10 to $30 depending on what options you choose. You then choose one of their available templates. SquareSpace, for example, currently has 32 templates you can pick from. Then you use a browser-based WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor to piece your site together. You upload images, choose colors, and alter your fonts as needed. The service will host your site for you and provide a content management system so you can go in and make content changes any time.

Why am I even talking about this stuff?

You may be wondering why I, the operator of a web design company, would take the time to mention these alternative services. Isn’t this my competition? The answer is simply that these site builders are good options for some businesses, perhaps even yours, and the last thing I want is to sell you something you don’t need. Having an understanding of these services will allow you to make a more educated decision and prevent any potential regrets. My goal with Caiman Web Design is, first and foremost, the satisfaction of my customers.

Despite the restricted nature of these template-based site builders, they can, admittedly, look pretty great. SquareSpace especially has some sharp, modern templates. And most of them are mobile friendly. If you aren’t happy with the limited out-of-the-box options, some of these services offer more in-depth design customization, but to pull this off you’ll need to edit the HTML, CSS and JavaScript yourself.

Who should use these services?

DIY Site builders are perfect for simple blogs, portfolio sites, and companies who only need a simple “business card” type of website. The key term here is “simple”. The lack of custom functionality will leave some businesses wanting more. Similarly, most business owners have a specific key purpose in mind for their new website: to reflect their company’s unique identity. Presenting a wholly custom branding via a site builder is nearly impossible. Your SquareSpace/Wix/Jimdo/Weebly site is going to look like a SquareSpace/Wix/Jimdo/Weebly site. To create a website that thoroughly promotes your company’s brand, a website designed by a professional is the better solution.

But that isn’t to say these DIY services don’t have a place. Quite the contrary. For business on a tight budget or those who require little customization and don’t mind that their website might look similar to many others, a site builder is definitely the smarter option. In fact I would even say it would be a mistake to hire a professional under these circumstances, as a custom site would be overkill. Additionally, these site builders are great for people who don’t mind – or even enjoy – doing things themselves. You’ll save some money that can be spent on other aspects of your business.

Who should hire a professional design company?

There are inherent limitations to DIY site builders, the most obvious being the finite amount of customization features available to you. While site builders like SquareSpace offer a good handful of them, you’ll eventually reach a limit to what your site can do. Sure, you’ll get images, contact forms, and other basic functionality. But what if you need, say, a live chat feature? Or custom animations? Or an integrated PayPal system? Or any other feature common to small businesses? You’ll be out of luck. The biggest advantage of hiring a professional is knowing that the sky absolutely is the limit when it comes to customization. Even if you don’t require any advanced features now, you very well might later down the road. At that point your only choice will be to cut your losses and start from scratch with a design company.

Similarly, your customization options regarding your site’s look and feel are also endless when hiring a professional. Like I said, many of the sites put together with site builders look pretty great. But they all sorta look the same too. A professional designer not only offers an entirely unique design, they’re able to work with you to come up with precisely the perfect design for your company. A skilled professional is able to make design decisions, both small and large, that tie your company’s brand directly to the design of its website. A site builder will output a site that represents the template being used; a design company will make a site that represents you.

What’s most likely to turn many small businesses away from the site builder option is one simple fact: you still have to make the website yourself. Granted, you won’t need any hardcore JavaScript skills to crank out a pretty site, but you’ll be required to put in many hours of your time to piece your site together. Many business owners would rather use this time for other things. And if you use a site builder, you’ll be missing the guidance of a professional – someone who understands the needs of your company. A designer will work with you in making good decisions about how your site should look and function, and how it can best speak to your target audience. Automated site builders simply cannot provide this valuable service.

To summarize:

Site builders are great for:

  • Sites that don’t require very much custom functionality
  • Sites that don’t need to look entirely unique
  • Businesses on a tight budget
  • Avid do-it-yourself-ers

Hiring a web design agency is great for:

  • Websites requiring functionality beyond the basic
  • Businesses requiring a unique, professionally designed look and feel
  • People who prefer to place their website in the hands of experts

If you consider your requirements carefully and choose accordingly, you’ll end up with the right kind of website.

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