A website builder helps you construct a website without relying on a web designer or coder. Extremely user-friendly, they’re becoming increasingly popular amongst small businesses that are looking to launch a beautiful, functional website quickly and without breaking the bank.
There are two types of website builder, online and offline:
Offline versions are downloaded to your desktop and can build your website without an internet connection.
Build your website anywhere, on-the-go – no internet connection required (but must have the machine with you that has the software on)
Easy to use
Free versions available
You can only access via your PC (you have to download the software to your computer)
Limited portability if on your desktop
Powerful hardware required
Manual installation updates
Many considered more costly than online website builders
Web hosting must be organised separately
Online versions create everything in the cloud and operate on an editable template system – you have to be connected to the internet to access, build and update your website.
Update your website from any machine, wherever you are, as long as you can access the internet
Easy to use
Extremely quick to build a website from scratch
No need to update software – this is handled directly within the software
Hosting handled within the platform, with most managing the annual renewals for you
No requirement for powerful hardware
Large selection of templates with a drag-and-drop approach
Must have an internet connection to access and edit your website
Must sign-up to website builder
Fewer opportunities to work with code
Many require a fee to remove the builder’s branding on the website
With the above in mind, we’ll be focusing our insight on online website builders as they are cheaper and easier to use, offering better flexibility for small businesses and startups. You won’t require hefty hardware, have to run regular software updates or have to handle separate hosting arrangements. Offline website builders are slightly more geared towards professional web designers who would make more use of the wider range of customisation options and would likely have the powerful hardware to support the downloaded software.
All in one or license based?
There are two types of online web builder, all-in-one and license based.
Select your favourite template and apply a drag-and-drop approach to updating and modifying content and functionality.
These platforms offer everything you need to create, publish and maintain your website. They will secure your domain name, organise your hosting and ensure the software used to run your website stays up-to-date.
You’re free to use any hosting provider you like and can transport your site at any time. Once you’ve paid your template and hosting fee, you don’t have to pay anything else (e.g. monthly/annual renewals)
If you’re a brand new business, the chances are you’re not at the stage where you need to hire an agency to create your website. Even for more established businesses, committing to an agency could be a risky move when there are a number of user-friendly, affordable website builders out there.
Here are the main advantages of doing it yourself.
Retain control – update content quickly without relying on third parties
Reliable and secure
Retain control – update content quickly without relying on third parties
Domain set-up and web hosting
Domain email hosting
Template designs ready for editing
Stock photo library
Integrated analytics as well as Google Analytics integration
SEO (search engine optimisation) features
Many offer free trials so you can explore the software to ensure it’s the right fit
Responsive design (looks great and works well on any device)
Supports different content formats e.g video
All under one roof – avoid conflicts
Support team including video tutorials and resources
On the other hand, you’ll need to consider the downsides of doing it yourself:
Your time. While the website may be relatively quick to create, you’ll still need to plan the navigation, content, images, call to actions, etc. An agency would take care of this for you.
If you’ve never had experience with websites before, even the simplest of website builders could feel overwhelming at first, as many offer a variety of style and functionality options.
You’ll struggle to move your website onto another hosting platform in the future as the majority don’t offer export/import tools.
You may pay slightly more for a domain than if you went directly to a domain name registrar.
If you don’t have an in-house marketing person or team, you will have to be responsible for the population and maintenance of the website content, including meta data creation to optimise your site for search.
You might find that two-to-three years after launching your business, you’ve got some money coming in and are questioning whether it’s the time to bring in the professionals to revisit your website. Consider how much money you have to invest at this stage. If it’s around the £500-1,000 mark, that still won’t substantially improve your website. Re-invest in other elements such as social adverts or photography for your website to encourage continued income and help your business grow.
Do I use an agency?
An experienced digital or web design agency will bring a wealth of experience with it. Here are some of the main advantages of using a web design agency:
A unique website designed to suit your business requirements and branding.
Web designer and coder expertise.
Responsibility to deliver and maintain platform including security updates.
Domain set-up and web hosting.
Ensures website responsive.
Additional service options e.g. social media, content marketing, PR, email marketing, data analysis.
May provide a dedicated server to load your site at the highest possible speed.
Can adapt activity to business plans.
Tailored, more personal service.
Checklist: Things to think about when picking a website builder
When you’re starting out it will likely make more sense to go with a DIY website builder. There’s a lot of choice on the market but, as ever, it’s important to consider your business needs and capabilities first and foremost.
It’s important to do your research when choosing a web builder as changing from one to another later on can be difficult. We’ve looked at some of the main builders on the market, including a more detailed summary below.
Founded in 2006, Israeli company Wix now has 150 million users across 190 countries.
Functionality includes contact forms, online booking forms, invoicing system, customer feedback surveys, and video backgrounds.
Continually being developed to benefit businesses e.g. Wix Corvid launched in 2019, offering additional options to integrate custom code into your site, which is great for those who are a bit more tech-savvy and want to develop their site beyond templating.
Wix Stores allows you to sell products and get paid online.
Ascend by Wix launched in 2018 allows you to connect with customers and automate your workflow (CRM).
The Wix app store offers 200+ apps and services that offer even more to your websites, such as branded videos and SEO tips. Ecommerce tools available if you decide to expand into this area in future.
Help Center where you can ask questions and browse articles.
Wix offers a free version but its worth upgrading to a paid plan to utilise premium features:
Connect domain: £3 per month
Combo: £6 per month
Unlimited: £8.50 per month
VIP: £18 per month
The bottom line:
Wix offers a competitively priced range of plans including the option to get started for free. If you’re looking to go DIY, it’s one of the best options on the market – easy-to-use with plenty of features to ensure your website looks and performs great.
Best for e-Commerce businesses, you need to keep an eye out for what’s included in Shopify’s plans. For example, Shopify Basic plan doesn’t allow you to construct a fully functional, standalone online store.
WordPress.org is a self-hosted content management system (CMS)
Best for tech-savvy/coders.
Open-source software: source code is released under a license, which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change and distribute the software for any purpose. Frequently developed in a collaborative public manner.
You retain complete control. You will need a WordPress hosting account and will have to organise hosting from another provider e.g. GoDaddy and installing WordPress software onto it
Plugin architecture and template system (“themes”)
It’s one of the most powerful blogging and website content management systems (CMS) of our time.
Initially a blogging platform but expanded to include functional websites.
Basic WordPress software is simple and predictable, so you can easily get started.
It also offers powerful features for growth and success e.g. 54,000+ plugins allowing you to add an online store, galleries, mailing lists, analytics, forums and more.
60 million+ users.
Monetisation freedom – You can sell as many ads as you want, and keep 100% of the profit.
Branding freedom – You don’t have to display any ‘Powered by’ links.
Enable all SEO features.
Install Google Analytics plus additional third-party analytics.
You can create a complete online store, selling digital or physical goods and accept payments via credit card, PayPal, etc.
You are responsible for keeping your site updated, backed up, having SPAM control options and ensuring it’s optimised.
WordPress.com is a fully hosted service, powering more than 34% of the internet.
‘Focus on your beautiful content and let us handle the rest’.
More blog-focused (great for businesses with a strong blogging requirement).
Get the best of both worlds by upgrading to its Business Plan.
Allows a lot of the self-hosted functionality e.g. plugins and custom themes.
Open a store: process payments, configure taxes and shipping, create a marketing plan. N.B. You can’t create an online store in the free version – with its Business Plan you can sell directly via tools such as WooCommerce– a free plugin with paid extensions).
Build a fan base by promoting products, using advanced statistics and SEO tools and connect with built-in audiences on social media.
World-famous blog function.
Thousands of themes.
Limited monetisation – not allowed to sell ad space but those with 25,000 monthly page views can apply for advertising with revenue sharing (Premium and Business plan users automatically get access to WordAds programme).
You have to pay to remove WordPress branding.
Free WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to install plugins so limited control over elements such as SEO. Business plan users can install third-party SEO plugins to maximise SEO.
Free WordPress offers limited built-in analytics. Business plan allows for third-party analytic plugins e.g. Google Analytics.
When it comes to selecting a website builder, make sure to do your research. Most builders offer 14-day free trials, so clear out as much of your diary as you can to dedicate focused time testing out the features and solutions. Have a clear idea on what you need your website to do, how you want it to look and when you need it by. Consider these elements within your available budget – then start having a play with the free trials. Ensure the platforms you’re looking at integrate well with any existing tools you rely heavily on and that the builder fits with your expansion plans – does it have the capability to grow with your business offering?
As always – ask around. Do you have any friends who run small businesses that would recommend a particular website builder?
Don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be as black and white in regards to going down the DIY route or employing an agency. You can hire freelance specialists to help set up and launch your website, or if you’re confident you can create your website within a builder, consider working with a photographer and copywriter to create your content, freeing you up to focus on other areas of your digital footprint such as SEO, email marketing and social media.
Just remember to walk before you can run. Avoid signing up to lengthy payment plans or agency fees. Keep things clean and simple, with clear calls to action. Always opt for well-respected, secure builders that provide you with strong support should any questions crop up. Downloading an expense tracker app will also help you to keep on top of ongoing costs, to determine which website builder is most appropriate for you.