Website Builders for Small Business

Blog Post by Arias & Thompson Digital founder, Ian Philip Thompson

July 17, 2018

Ian Philip Thompson

Ian is the founder of Arias & Thompson Digital, an Estonian eResident, and a frontend developer.

Website builders such as SquareSpace, Wix, GoDaddy or any other have become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years making them viable options for small and large businesses who need an off the shelf website created without touching any code. For a minimal fee you can be up and running in a matter of minutes with a decent website that will tick all the minimum boxes from design to SEO.

When are Website Builders Good?

When small businesses have very little budget to spend on marketing or website creation, the low cost options of the Wix’s or SquareSpace’s make for great, entry level websites that will provide a piece of digital real estate for them to point their customers to. They have made great strides to improve their mobile usability, SEO and responsiveness.

In our mind, they have met the basic minimum requirements necessary for a functioning website.

But do you really want your business website to function at a D+ level?

Why are Website Builders Bad?

There are several reasons why I take issues with the likes of Wix and SquareSpace, but let’s count down a few reasons.

Code Bloat

More notably used to describe backend languages or JavaScript, code bloat is essentially redundant, inefficient and mostly unnecessary code. Website builders require this level of redundancy in order to prepare for the unexpected. With customers creating their own website through drag and droppable entities, their developers need to create bomb proof code to account for every possible use case scenario.

In the case of a website builder, this results in an intense amount of code.

Demonstration of code bloat with SquareSpace, so many body classes.

Demonstration of code bloat with SquareSpace, so many body classes.

From the image above, you can see the body of the html document has approximately 85 classes. The average website we build has somewhere between three to ten depending on which CMS we are using. These are used to create CSS hooks for specific design elements. This makes for very difficult editing if you ever need to customize anything. When I checked SquareSpace when writing this post, they say you can customize the site with CSS and JavaScript, however I would not want to be the one to try to target this.

Cost

Cost is a huge motivator when people go for website builders. In the UK, the cost of SquareSpace is £15 per month. The first meaningful Wix plan that doesn’t involve a Wix domain or Wix advertising starts at £8.50 per month (don’t get me started on how long it took me to find Wix’ pricing). Wix says it gives you one email account hosted through G Suite, SquareSpace does the same for the first year only. Any additional emails are at the standard G Suite cost.

If you were to go with a web host, you can have unlimited email, a WordPress, Drupal, or static site and access to your hosting control panel for as little as £2.00 per month (an example and definitely not an endorsement or affiliate). Other plans that range for a few pounds more will give you unlimited websites as well (not domains, those are different).

The point here is that people pay more for a product that might not be doing them that much in the end. They could have a better solution such as a WordPress site with a free or premium theme for less of a cost.

Scalability and Portability

A website builder does not scale well, nor can it be ported to another webhost. They are built using custom programs and codes that don’t play nice with anything else but the original environment.

Let’s give an example. Say the business has grown and it now requires another ten email addresses, more web and email storage, and faster bandwidth. Within a website builder, you don’t have the option to do all of these within their ecosystem. Some are achievable with additional cost, however if a webhost was in use, this could all be done or the website could be moved to a different webhost that offers these services.

SEO

This one is controversial and it is more of a commentary on those who build their own websites in general without seeking help from an expert. Wix and SquareSpace provide their users with enough flexibility to make their websites SEO friendly. You can see our post on getting your SEO basics right for more information, but in general you can get your basics right with Wix and SquareSpace or with any other webhost.

The larger issue here is whether the typical small business owner has the knowledge to get their basics right and acknowledge when they don’t. I spoke with a client recently who told me her website was in perfect working order, she had done all of her SEO correctly, but wasn’t getting any traffic. A five minute audit showed that she had in fact checked a lot of boxes, but had left off very significant semantic components, missed out on third party registrations, and was missing several opportunities to fill in meta data on her html components.

This scenario I find is relatively typical. My solution for most is to either have the website undergo an SEO audit from a developer or SEO specialist, or pay for a developer to populate the content on the site to set up the semantics and styles correctly the first time. This can be done with a WordPress theme or with a Wix or SquareSpace site and help get you set up correctly from the start.

What Are the Alternatives to Website Builders?

Firstly, there is no such thing as a free website. If you use Open Source software like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, the software is free, but it does need to be hosted somewhere. There will be a cost here. There will also be cost for the domain name. Many webhosts in addition to Wix and SquareSpace will give one year free.

If the business is looking for growth, wants to get the best SEO, but has a next to nothing budget, find a WordPress-specific hosting package, a free theme that provides some customizable options like colour to ensure it has some relation to the brand, and create the website and company emails.

If there is budget, pay for an SEO audit to identify all the components that are missing (there is always more to be done), and get to it.

What is the Ideal Scenario for a Small Business Website?

The ideal scenario is that you pay a designer or developer to create a custom website that aligns with the business’ brand and ethos, that engages with its customers, and converts. Smaller agencies or freelancers can do this at a fraction of the cost of larger agencies. Find someone that is qualified, is used to working with SME’s, and is a good fit for the company.

The point of having a custom website built specifically for the company is that is the company’s main digital real estate. It will provide the best hope for success for the building.

If your business does need a website built, give us a shout, we’d be happy to help.

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