I recently couldn’t refer a great company I know because they didn’t have a website. What kind of business doesn’t have a website and how would I look if I’m the one referring them? This is a dilemma for too many business owners that don’t know how to launch a digital presence. Any legitimate business these days has to have a website.
The problem with that is that any ‘real’ graphic design company charges at least $2,500 for a basic website. I say ‘real’ because there are plenty of people who’ll charge you about $400, but there’s a very high chance the end result is completely unacceptable and will end up damaging your reputation more than not having a website ever could. If you’re going to have a website, it has to be at least somewhat aesthetically pleasing and functional.
You could always do it yourself.
The Pros and Cons of DIY Websites
Cost – There are a lot of benefits to creating your own site. First, it can be relatively cheaper up front. You don’t have to pay a 50% deposit; instead you can pay about ten bucks to get started. It can, however, cost you in time as you’re learning the ropes.
Time – You could be spending more time on this project and less time running your business – which will also cost you. A professional could get it done in half the time and deliver a design that attracts clients.
Professional Appearance – Unless you have a very strong sense of personal style that can engage customers and translates well online, you run a high risk of setting up a shoddy online shop.
SEO – DIYers also don’t understand the mechanics of site building, which includes SEO that can boost ranking and visibility.
Understanding Your Business – One of the big benefits in building your own website is that you end up really understanding the ins and outs of your business. You have to think about every function, every page and every service. You will hone your craft, whether you want to or not.
Customization – DIY sites will always have limited customization. You can’t get all the bells and whistles you want. Be prepared for that.
Weigh the pros and cons of cost to see which route is best for you. If you’re really running a tight budget, you can launch a temporarily DIY site until you collect enough funds to hire a pro.
The DIY Website Market
There are a few companies out there that help you launch your own site. DIY websites were not often marketed a few years ago; now, I see at least a commercial a day for them. I think this has a lot to do with the economy, with people being budget strapped for professional designers (not to mention the confusing graphic design process) and with more people wanting to try their hand at launching their own business.
Here’s a review of some of the most prominent DIY website creators around:
1and1.com – They offer websites starting at $4.99 a month, domains for $.099 and e-commerce shops for just under $12/month. Their site looks very professional and trustworthy. So why did user reviews give 2.2 out of 5 stars for this service? They complained of limited tech support, with some calling it “impossible support.” They also complained of limited customer support, mediocre software and didn’t feel the site was user-friendly.
Even if you don’t go with 1and1.com, the complaints are a wealth of information and make you realize there’s a lot more that needs to go into a site than just a pretty page. Website should be able to support your site; if they can’t, your page becomes pretty pointless by handicapping your ability to navigate through it on the backend where changes are made.
Homestead – I used Homestead a few years ago and did like how easy it was to use at a time when I knew nothing about design or functionality. The downside was that I couldn’t use it for content storage due to limited bandwidth. But if you’re looking for a quick storefront with some useful info and/or graphics, this is a good choice.
Homestead currently has over 12 million users and can be worked on as both an online and offline website builder. The pros however weren’t a fan of the site builder program, citing that it had limited functionality. Again, this is a great choice if you’re just looking to get online without too much of a fuss.
You can also use Homestead for e-commerce, add HTML coding and include SEO. However, you can’t really make use of forums or blogs here. They offer a free one month trial. After that, it’s $4.99/month.
Big Cartel – I recently signed on with Big Cartel after being referred by a friend. Big Cartel specializes in e-commerce storefronts. Their website clearly attracts a young hipster DIY crowd, with a visually clean site, simple content and lots of great example sites from current users. The example sites sold me but I was really disappointed after I joined in for about $10 a month. Turns out while it’s super easy to use, you don’t get the customer look of a site unless you know coding. If I knew coding, I’d create my own site and wouldn’t need DIY.
That’s one of the big pitfalls with DIY websites. They sell you on the idea that your site, especially e-commerce ones, can look like the pros but they don’t tell you that you need pro knowledge to achieve that.
If these DIY sites are also too confusing, and you don’t have e-commerce needs, I recommend going with WordPress. It’s the simplest platform to use and very SEO friendly.