The DIY Dilemma: Why a Do-it-Yourself Website May be a Bad Idea
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There’s an old proverb which says; “A man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.” There’s a grain of truth in that, not just for legal matters, but for any undertaking what requires specialized skills, from rewiring your office and repairing your delivery van to, yes, designing and building your business website. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but is it worth the effort and risk?
Designing and developing a business website requires competence in several specialized skills. A professional designer has to have those skills to stay in business. A business owner or a professional may have one or two of those skills, but the odds are against any one person, outside the design profession, having all of them at the level of competence required. Think about it. Just how confident do you feel at the thought of putting together a website?
Make it look pretty
You may be able to paint a picture or write a song, but does that mean you can design a website? Maybe, but it might not be as easy as you think. So, you found the perfect font for your text? That’s good, but it might not be available on all computers and it’ll be replaced by the default font. You have every element of the homepage arranged just the right way? What happens if a customer looks at it with Internet Explorer 6 and the whole thing’s thrown off kilter? That happens. A website can look radically different when it’s viewed in different browsers. Just ask any web designer. They have to know that, and how to deal with it.
Maybe you’ve been using computers for years. You know basic html. You can make Word and Quickbooks bend to your will. Those are useful accomplishments and should put you a step ahead, assuming your site is just a few pages of static html. But can you make a contact form? JQuery animation for the homepage? Integrating a content management system? What if you follow all the instructions in the DIY website guidebook you bought and you still can’t get that PayPal button to work? Don’t even think about a shopping cart. You’ll end up gibbering. A professional design firm has to know how to do all that, and more.
That gets old fast
Let’s say you built your own personal website when you were in college. It was fun and useful experience. But take a look at your competitors’ websites. Things look a lot different nowadays. They look so slick and professional compared to the white text and animated gif’s everyone was using back then. Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw the dancing baby? The internet has changed, and so have the skills needed to build a website.
The upshot is…
Most business owners, with a lot of reading and research, a lot of trial and error, and a massive amount of time and effort, could probably build a workable website that doesn’t look awful. But is it worth it? Is your website going to make you look professional if it just “doesn’t look awful”? Is it really worth all the time and work you’d put into it? Time is money and a business owner or professional’s time is valuable. Wouldn’t it be better to pay a professional web designer and developer to build your website? It may not be as expensive as you think, and it might save you some DIY-induced headaches. View it as an investment, which will present your business in the best possible manner, while letting you spend all that wasted time doing what you do best; running your own business.
Websites are showing up all over cyberspace, offering free website templates and promising you,…..well, promising you a free website template. That’s pretty much it. The question of what you’re supposed to do with it is left open. You’d better be ready to answer it yourself before clicking “download now”, and be ready to answer a few more questions, as well.
How does it look?
Free templates vary. Some look good, some look awful. It’s all a matter of finding one that fits the image you want your business to present. The problem is, you have absolutely no control over how many other businesses are having similar thoughts and downloading that same template. What happens if your competitor down the street chooses it? Tough luck. He can. What if you’re an established business and someone wants to duplicate your website to offer a cheap knock-off of your product? Not much you can do, except face the fact that anyone can download that template and use it as they please. You have no control at all, and, if you don’t like it, the free template site you used isn’t going to care. They exist to provide cheap solutions, not unique branding.
How does this work?
So, you’ve found a template you like and downloaded it. Now what? The instructions said you can add your own content. How? Maybe full instructions will be provided. Maybe not. Adding text should be easy. Then again, maybe not. How will it handle formatting? Default, or do you have to do it? What fonts can be used? Can you add your own pictures? If so, where and how? Can links be added, and, if so, how? Can you integrate social media? If you end up missing a typo, how easy will it be to go in and change it after the site’s live? That brings up another matter? Can you edit or update the content? SEO optimization? Dream on.
What’s that in the fine print?
Every free template source will have terms of service. Read them carefully. Most will be under Creative Commons licenses. Make sure you know exactly what that means and which sort of license is involved. For example, let’s say you figure out all the details of how your template works and you know how to modify it. What if, some time down the line, you decide to replace that generic photo in the header with one of your own, or you’re getting tired of the background color and want to change it? Does the license allow you to modify the template? Some do. Some don’t. You need to know all the details.
And the upshot is….
You may be able to find a nice looking template that seems to meet your needs. After that, you’re on your own and you’d better be absolutely certain you’re prepared for anything that might crop up. Help desk? Customer service? Are you serious? You get what you pay for.
But, I have a (insert social media platform or review site here)…
The latest do-it-yourself website craze is the idea that a Facebook page, or an Instagram account, or TikTok, or Yelp, or any other can take the place of a website. We’re told that social media will, for all intents and purposes, take over the internet and, of course, no one can afford to be left behind in the rush. Besides, setting up a page on these platforms is free and you can do it yourself. I’m not saying to not have these or set them up (it can actually be a good thing for your business if you get into engagement). I’m just saying, don’t rely on them as your only internet presence.
Who controls your web presence?
Who do you want to control your web presence? You or that social platform or review site? With a website, your content, design, and pretty much everything about how your business is presented, is your choice. On these platforms, you’ll have to work within all the rules, regulations, specifications, terms, guidelines, etc. and if we take Facebook as just one example, those rules can change without warning. They’ll make the decisions. You’ll do as you’re told. If that’s the way you want to go, get used to it.
And the upshot is….
Well, the upshot is that you CAN use social media, but just make sure to use it in a complementary way to your actual business website.
The last form of do-it-yourself website I’d like to discuss is the “free website builder tool” sort of thing often offered by cut-rate web hosting companies, advertising packages, and assorted other services. This may be the worst of the lot.
Free and easy
Maybe, but don’t count on it (pop on over to our post about the high cost of “free”). Few website builder tools, free or otherwise, are a walk in the park. They range from the mildly complicated to the maddeningly complex. Instructions may be minimal. “Do this” may not help when you have no idea of just how you’re to supposed to do it. Make a mistake on Step 3c and not notice it until Step 8b? Let’s hope you can go back and change it, but that’s not certain. Sometimes, editing isn’t part of the package.
Forget about it. You’ll choose one from column A and one from column B, and be satisfied. You won’t be offered multiple choices. Layout? Don’t expect much room for creativity. Your options will be limited. Color and content. That’s your department. Everything else will be decided for you. Text right up to the edge of the sidebar? Maybe you can move it, but maybe not. Flexibility just isn’t a hallmark of “free website builder tools”.
How does it look, though?
That’s the worst part. Maybe, somewhere out there, someone managed to get a professional looking website out of one of these things, but I’ve certainly never seen any evidence of it. I’ve seen homemade websites that didn’t look terrible, I’ve seen free templates that looked half decent, but I’ve rarely seen a site produced using a “free website builder tool” that didn’t look like jumbled-up, shabby, thrown-together garbage (complete with code errors).
And the upshot is….?
Don’t. Just don’t. If you want a website that will set your business apart from the competition, make you look like a professional, and make the best possible impression on your customers, hire a reliable, qualified designer to do it. If you can’t possibly afford that, settle for a template, even with the inevitable drawbacks, or go with one of the paid platforms (ex: Squarespace) and hope for the best. But steer clear of the free tools that, supposedly, make it all so easy. They won’t, and your customers will be able to tell the difference.
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