Why you Shouldn’t Use a Website Builder
Website builders like Wix or Squarespace are a dime-a-dozen these days. And for good reason. They offer a simple-all-one solution for those that just want to build a website and build it fast. When discussing different options for building a website let’s get the elephant out of the room. Building a website can be tough. Especially for those that have never done it before. You have to decide on a platform, potentially a theme, a host, and install a domain and SSL. Between all this you must make sure your file structure is sound and all media is organized. Site builders aim to take all this complexity away by rolling all necessities into one web-based drag-n-drop interface.
But they aren’t perfect. In fact, some of the downsides are severe and mean that a website builder isn’t going to be a good fit for those that want to keep their site long-term. To explain website builder downsides and alternatives, I will introduce two other options which are building using an HTML tool as well as using a CMS (content management system). After understanding all three you will hopefully decide whether a website builder fits your needs or if you need to explore other options.
Let’s start with HTML tools. HTML is just raw code which can be edited directly or it can be edited with tools like Adobe Dreamweaver to make the process easier. Tools like Dreamweaver provide a live view of the website, an area to edit code, and quality of life features like FTP server connection, search functionality, image replacers, and more. Other alternatives to Dreamweaver like Amaya and Bluefish are also free and open source.
Though the least friendly to those new to web design, HTML tools can be made simple to work with. A great way to start is to download an HTML theme off a place like Themeforest. The theme will include a layout as well as all CSS, java, HTML etc needed for the site to run. You can then edit the sections of the code to customize your site. For example, replacing logos with your logo, re-writing paragraphs etc. And because all code is visible, you can go as deep with changes as you want.
Beyond simply being more open and flexible, working with HTML code has two main advantages. The first (and most significant for SEO) is that HTML is faster than a comparable CMS site or website builder site. The reason is that there are no plugins or extras packaged with the site so it loads faster. The second advantage is that because there are no plugins leading to external sources, an HTML site is almost always more secure by nature.
Those that would benefit from HTML include large businesses that might have dedicated personnel that can code a website for them. Features like better security, greater reliability, and a higher degree of customization are all important for enterprises and businesses with a significant online presence.
A CMS (content management system) is a platform that still relies on regular HTML files, but also includes a platform that is typically web-based with a live viewer so that users are not interacting with the code itself very often. A CMS usually either includes a drag-n-drop WYSIWYG editor, or like in the case of WordPress, lets you add that functionality with a plugin. A CMS will let you administrate the site from a settings panel and even let you assign different access levels so that you can collaborate on your site as a team. CMS’ are most known for their ability to extend functionality via plugins. For example, you can connect a CRM like HubSpot to your WordPress site via an official plugin so you can track your website, add a chat bot and more.
CMS’ really excel at allowing users to make frequent changes easily. Examples include blogging and or managing an e-commerce platform. WordPress is especially common among bloggers because its robust publishing tools let authors write, schedule, and publish blog posts all without making any changes to the code. For e-commerce, plugin functionality lets you add shopping carts like WooCommerce to make managing a storefront as streamlined as possible.
As stated before, plugins remain arguably the greatest advantage to a CMS over HTML tools and website builders because they allow extensive functionality without having to edit code. Companies like Mail Chimp, HubSpot, WooCommerce, all have tools for CMS platforms. And extended functionality like linking pages directly to external documents, SEO tools, price, and decision pickers, and more can all be added with the click of a button. WordPress alone has hundreds to choose from.
Finally, many CMS platforms are free and open source. This means there is no extra website building cost other than your hosting and the platform is managed by a community dedicated to keeping the CMS up-to-date, secure, and feature-packed. If a site is built in a CMS, it can be moved around just like regular HTML files so you are free to pick your host or even host your website yourself!
Website builders aren’t new, but they’ve been revitalized in the public eye by a slew of new features as well as multi-million-dollar awareness campaigns by companies like Wix and Squarespace.
Website builders are web-based and offer a no-code drag-n-drop website editor. They also take our other complications like domain registration and SSL installation by providing the option to do those all within the interface. The goal of a website builder is to make website building as approachable as possible by making the process similar to building a PowerPoint. You begin by choosing a theme, then build out pages by dragging and dropping text, media, widgets etc. When you are complete the website will be hosted on that builder’s platform.
Ease of use and approachability is the biggest advantage that website builders have over HTML tools and CMS’. The drag-n-drop editor means that you do not have to learn how to code at all which makes building a website easier for small businesses or those without any web development experience.
The second biggest advantage is that extras like installing a domain, installing an SSL, or choosing a web host are all taken out of the equation. Installing domains and SSLs are arguably the most intimidating steps to building a website and something few understand.
Major Downsides to Website Builders
Despite the strong upside of making web development more approachable, there are also strong downsides that come with website builders. Strong enough where I’d argue those that want to keep and scale a website should look elsewhere.
The first issue is website builders treat SEO as secondary to design. While it’s incredibly important that you have a great looking website that converts leads once they find you, it’s only half the equation. Users find you through search engines which don’t consider design but rather meta descriptions, color contrast, title tags, and backlinks. Website builders will include tools to add details like meta descriptions and title tags, but often don’t make users aware of just how important it is to research and fill in these details.
In contrast, a WordPress site can use a plugin like Yoast SEO which not only allows the author to fill in meta data, but also explains why those details are important and actively gives suggestions for keywords and readability.
Themes are another area where website builders fall short. Website builders typically incorporate a set of themes within the platform that the user chooses when starting their site. But do not allow outside themes to be used. Alternatively, CMS and HTML sites can use any theme from markets like Themeforest which naturally gives them many more choices than website builders. Themeforest also receives hundreds of new submissions each year which allows you to easily keep your website fresh over the years.
Price can also be an issue for website builders both for the platform and hosting. Wix for example charges for each plan and ads greater website functionality with premium plans. For example, users must use one of Wix’s premium plans in order to remove the Wix watermark from their website or use a non-Wix domain. Website builders like Without/Code may offer their builder for free, but force the author to use a more expensive hosting plan than they would find at a provider like ZebraHost.
But arguably the biggest downside to website builders is that you can only host your site exclusively with them. They may claim to have “specialized” or “complex” technology that makes it impossible to host elsewhere but they really don’t. Instead, offering you the website builder for free or at a low cost then making their money back on the hosting is how they profit. There are three main issues from this. The first is that they can charge more than hosting providers because they are the only ones that can host your website so they face no competition. The second is that they have no incentive to provide great customer service because if you were to leave you would have to leave your entire site behind. So by using a website builder you run the risk of losing your bargaining position as a customer if you receive poor service. Finally, your business may grow and scale to the point you would prefer to host your website in dedicated hardware or in a VPS where it can have more resources. Website builders are almost certainly always going to use a low-resource shared hosting system where all sites are kept together on a large server, all splitting resources. If you use a CMS or HTML tool to build your site, its completely mobile and you can host it anywhere.
To be clear, website builders, CMS’, and HTML tools all have their advantages and disadvantages. Website builders are ideal for one-off sites you don’t intend to keep long term like a campaign or promotional website. Small businesses and those without dedicated IT teams can also benefit greatly from the simplicity of the no code editor. CMS’ are excellent for bloggers or anyone else that makes frequent website changes. They are also a great alternative to website builders because they can feature plugin functionality, drag-n-drop editors, and SEO tools. HTML tools are great for those such as enterprises and those with dedicated IT teams. These groups will have more experience working with code and will greatly benefit from the additional security of HTML and less restrictions by working with pure code.
Businesses typically keep their website around for years before refreshing it. Limiting your hosting options, theme options, and SEO understanding will ultimately hurt the foundation your online presence is built on. For those considering a website builder like Wix or Without/Code, I would seriously consider looking into something like WordPress with a drag-n-drop builder like Elementor. It provides a similar feel to a website builder, but provides far more options and portability in the long run.