Website builders are evermore popular with small and medium size businesses, as they offer an easy entry point to creating and managing a professional website with minimal up-front costs. With simple-to-use visual tools rather than lines of code, even complete novices can create a website with a professional look and feel in a very short time. Sites can also be refined to deliver a great user experience for the consumer, from a niche blog site through to a full-fat ecommerce site, the opportunities are endless.
However, there are plenty of pitfalls along the way – choosing a suitable website builder can be a confusing nightmare. There are reams of different providers, offering a bewildering range of enticing packages to get you started (and lock you in). Once you’ve made your choice, changing lanes can be tough and unscrupulous providers do their best to make swapping out or migrating even harder.
Then there’s the small print, which can result in you either paying for unwanted upgrades, or being left short of vital functionality when you need it most.
However, there is an easy way to avoid all that pain – just get it right the first time by achieving that ideal fit. Unsurprisingly, that’s easier said than done! Here are my top issues to avoid when on the hunt for a perfect fit website builder – I test website builder providers on a regular basis, so know many of the tricks of the trade.
Think mobile first, not last
Mobile has never been more important, and will only become more so – mobile usage has rocketed in recent years, with more than 50 per cent of website traffic now originating from mobile. Whether mobile users are a big part of your current business plan or not, ignoring this area today will come at a huge cost later. Google has made it clear that non-mobile optimised sites will get less preferential ranking in search results compared to optimised ones.
Make sure your chosen website builder creates mobile friendly websites, and knows what AMP is – don’t make your site visitors swipe left!
Bespoke is your enemy
Although a good website builder will make your site look original and stunning, it will be made up of regular building blocks or units that each deliver different functionality – the ‘toolbox’ of the site. If the functionality you need for your business isn’t in the toolbox then you’re probably using the wrong website builder – or shouldn’t use one at all.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking: ‘we can get a developer to fix that later’ – that’s the bespoke route, which will add considerable cost and/or not work at all in a builder environment.
Most importantly, the bespoke route will often commit you to updating the code regularly to match any other bug fixes, as well as any APIs that may be involved – a significant ongoing cost overhead, as well as a constant source of compatibility pain.
Reputation is important
There are plenty of website builder providers out there, and many offer amazing deals – completely free in some cases – but you’re trusting them with your digital business storefront, so don’t be blinded by incentives or add-ons that you do not need and will not use.
Some of the highest-rated providers have been around for years, and there’s plenty of good reasons for that – competitive pricing, good customer service, etc. For example, publicly-traded Wix was established in 2006, Squarespace in 2004 and Weebly in 2007 – these aren’t fly-by-night options.
The customer is always heard?
It’s tempting to assume that customer service is always a top priority for businesses, but seeing your emails go unanswered and leaving desperate recorded messages is often the result of a rushed decision.
Visit the customer service Slack groups, check their forums, phone the free phone numbers and check that the emails don’t bounce before you sign up – any red flags at this stage might save you a lot of hair-pulling later. Talk to peers in your industry too if possible – they can often give you advice from personal experience.
Don’t go all in
Try and register your domain with a separate provider (for example: Namecheap). This ensures that if you ever need to leave the website builder, you can be confident you have control of the domain name. This separation also benefits your domain registration – some providers increase their fees year on year, which can drive up costs.
Being able to switch to another domain registrar without impacting your hosting setup can be a valuable cost-saving strategy, especially if you control large numbers of domains. However, do read the small print, as some registrars add in small ‘package’ costs to help you manage your domains, which will continue running even after you switch unless cancelled separately. It’s also worth taking the time to setup to auto-renewal on domains if you’re managing domains across multiple registrars, as dropping the ball on a valuable domain can be catastrophic.
Don’t wear budget blinders
As with most products, choosing only based on price can cause you to lose out. Because there are so many website builders, competition is fierce, and the industry tends to be pretty cut-throat. This can result in website builders offering aggressive pricing plans, which of course you want to take advantage of; however, it also leads to website builders seeking to pad their revenues elsewhere.
For example, some website builders offer highly attractive cheap introductory rates ($1.95 / month) that increase to $22.95 / month after the first month. In these cases it’s worth either working on an annual basis, or averaging out the monthly cost to get a fair comparison.
It is also important to remember that a cheaper price often comes at the cost of better service – if you look at the pricing comparison on Site Builder Report you’ll notice that the cheapest plans all belong to website builders with poor quality product reviews. This tool is intended to show up these inconsistencies, and allow you to make an informed buying decision.
Another handy safety net is the website builder provider’s refund policy. Not having one is somewhat of a red flag, but even the big boys vary between 14 (Wix, Squarespace) and 30 days (Weebly). Avoid any firm that does not have a fair, reasonable and transparent refund policy or corresponding money-back guarantee – bearing in mind most services are provided on a subscription model..
While you’re checking through the financial terms and conditions, it’s also important to check how payments can be made – perhaps only via PayPal or excluding certain types of credit card? These details can make a considerable difference, and may complicate or simplify your business accounting if picked up early.
The agony of choice
It might seem like there are just too many options out there to choose from – Site Builder Report has more than 50 different options that we review – but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the choices.
Create a list of vital attributes you need from your finished website as well as the real deal breakers. It’s an old trick, but means you’ll find it easier to resist the bells, whistles and interesting features that you just don’t need. Write down as much as you can about your goals, required featureset at launch – such as a blog section, photo gallery, online store, reservation system, contact form, or homepage slider.
Although it might seem like obvious advice, be honest with yourself about your business needs – it’s tempting to cut corners to get the costs down, and equally let ego pump up requirements ‘just in case’.
Do spend some time looking at the future growth curve too – what might you need to expand in short, medium and long term? Will regular content updates be required, for example, and in the case of shopping environments how will they expand to showcase wider ranges and greater volumes of products?
Also double check which regulations you may need to comply with, and be prepared to ask providers how they manage compliance – in the EU the upcoming GDPR legislation is a good example. Avoid any provider that doesn’t have a solid answer! If you’re planning a high-value or high-traffic site then checking bandwidth costs is of course essential, and double checking any additional benefits or potential extra charges such as DDoS mitigation is well worth the effort early on.
Don’t be afraid to get sucked in
Many website builders will offer a trial period, or a basic free version, which means you can have a play around with the visual drag-and-drop interface. Get your hands dirty, fiddle with the templates and generally get under the hood – if you spend 15 minutes trying a website builder and find it comfortable, it will probably work for you.
Equally, if nothing makes sense and you’re immediately struggling, now is a brilliant time to test that customer service with a tech support call…
In short, there is a website builder out there for you and your business, a perfect fit. It might take some investigation to find it, but by taking a little time upfront and heeding the tips above you’ll have a beautiful and easy to use website for many success-filled years. Happy site building!
Bio: Melissa Tirey is a digital expert with a background in neuroscience. She has worked extensively in B2C and B2B marketing across the USA. Melissa specializes in seamlessly integrating the precision and expertise of communications teams with the digital measurement tools to help clients target, reach and convert their desired audience. She is a private consultant and a contributing insights author for Site Builder Report and on Wise Buyer.