A few tips before you build your own website.
There have always been free (or cheap) ways to get your website out to the world. Remember AngelFire? GeoCities? Free website hosting? Free .co.cc domain names with advertising? Blogger and TypePad? Microsoft FrontPage? (Disclaimer: I did use all of these at one time or another)
Now, in 2019, it’s easier than ever before to create your own website. And unlike the above services, well, you actually have a lot of good options. But is this the right step for you to take with your business?
It might sound contradictory to hear me say it, but I have nothing against people building their own websites. Yes, I make my living selling website services to people and businesses, but if a free, self-made website is right for you, who am I to take your hard-earned money?
First off, who are these site builders for? They’re super handy for small websites: one-person or a few people operating a blog or a small business website, or even a personal portfolio or something similar. Squarespace has heavily focused on portfolio websites, and for good reasons: they’re a great solution for a simple website with light content needs. What’s more, everything (hosting, domain registration, email accounts, etc) is bundled into one monthly payment. It’s an all-in-one, convenient solution.
But there are a few caveats to the self-built path, mainly for business owners. If your business grows, you might spend even more money to totally redesign your website for a platform that supports new features you require. Your website won’t really stand out from the crowd; while Squarespace’s templates are beautiful, they’re also very generic and used by a dozen other businesses before you. Finally, the most important ingredient of any website will still be your responsibility: the content and marketing.
Accommodate for Growth
I often meet with clients who ask me whether they should build on Squarespace, or on a more robust platform like WordPress. Even if they’re small to begin with, I always counsel them to go with WordPress from the start.
WordPress is more complicated than Squarespace; that’s just a fact. But even if you start out using a very small subset of its features, you’re building a future-proof plan for your business. If you’ve taught employees how to use the software, for example, you won’t need to retrain everyone as your website grows more complicated and adds new features; it’ll still be built on WordPress. WordPress is as good as you make it: there are thousands of plugins which, when used judiciously, can extend your website in a hundred different ways. The tools you need for your business – however uncommon — will be present on WordPress.
If you do build a website yourself, make sure your platform will accommodate your business in five years, and not just today. Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are good platforms, but they’re all developing features that they believe will be most helpful to most of their customers. Unless your needs are very modest (or you’re building a personal brand), I usually recommend WordPress over a site builder.
Tweak the Design
Another concern with site builders is their design. Squarespace has invested a lot into nice-looking templates, but every template is already being used by a dozen businesses. And this shows. As a web design professional, I can spot a Squarespace website right away (Here’s a tip: if you’re wondering whether a website is built on Squarespace, hit ‘Escape.’ This brings up the login page, and 90% of Squarespace website owners don’t take the time to disable this default, insecure feature. Or, just look for the ubiquitous ‘crate’ favicon in the browser tab).
You’re not standing out from the crowd when you use a template for your website. Sure, there are design tools you can use to modify it, but is that the best use of your time as a business owner? Standing out from the crowd with a Squarespace website will require a good bit of extra time investment, using their design tools to make your website fit your unique brand.
If you do build a website yourself, take some time to modify a default template. Less is usually more, but even using a few colors and fonts that match your existing brand goes a long way.
Write Good Content
Finally, there’s the content. When I build a website for a client, we always start with the content. In fact, we work together to develop the content before I even start on the design.
Content is the lifeblood of a website. Everything else — the design, features, and code — is just an aid to help your message land with your audience. With bad content, your website will be bad: and that’s true regardless of which platform it’s built on.
If you do build a website yourself, start with a good content plan. Here at Mosaic, we walk our clients through a 12-question discovery form, that helps us and them learn more about their business, what they hope to communicate, and how we can best say it. We do content planning for every page on the website, so that when it does come time to design the page, we have a clear idea of what we’re trying to say.
Web design is communication, pure and simple. If you build your own website, save yourself a headache and start with the content and the message. A flashy design is nice, but without a good message underneath, it’ll just be flashy, and won’t make a true impression on your audience.
Website builders are genuinely useful tools that many people have used successfully. If you’re a small business owner, looking for the best option for your website, it can be overwhelming and confusing. I happen to be a small business owner and web designer, and this has been just a small peek at our process, so that other small businesses can take this and learn from it.
Have you used website builders for your business? What are tips you would give to first-time website creators?
Image credit: Ilya Pavlov