How to decide if you need a free website builder, html website or a CMS and if you should build and manage your site in house or hire an agency or freelancers.
This article is written for someone in marketing or a business owner who needs a brand-new website, a micro-site, landing page or website redesign and is trying to figure out the best way to get it done.
Should you tap into one of those easy to use online website editors you see advertised everywhere and “create your website in minutes?”
Do you download WordPress or Dreamweaver or another program you’ve been told will make it easy?
Do you start looking for an agency? Or do you hire a web designer/web developer? What’s the difference anyway? Can the same person do both?
The answer to any of these questions, like so many others in life, is “it depends.”
I think one of the best ways to look at this is to review the pros and cons of each approach.
#1. Pros and Cons of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Online Cloud-Based Website Builders
Examples: Go Daddy, Wix.com Weebly.com, Squarespace
Advantages of Online Website Builders:
- Rapid implementation – realistically, once your content is ready, you can have a simple site live in a couple hours
- Budget friendly – can range from free (beware of sub-domains, ads and other drawbacks to a “free” site) to just a couple hundred dollars a year
- Easy to use templates with drag and drop design tools and WYSIWYG Editors
- Professional pre-packaged designs
- Most are mobile friendly or responsive
- Typically contain simple eCommerce tools
Disadvantages of Online Website Builders:
- Performance – since these sites are typically in shared hosting environment you may experience slower load times and other performance related issues
- With these cloud-based services you are “renting” your site, you don’t own it, these companies offer very limited back-up solutions and you cannot move your site to your own server or “download” it
- Lack of control – again, you are basically renting space in shared environment and using someone else’s online templates and platforms. If they have a security issue, or don’t like something you are doing, they can shut down your site. You have no to very little control over the back end or support of your site.
- Limited customization of web pages, forms, functionality, blog articles and types
- Minimal functionality included and no ability to integrate additional applications
- Weak to limited tools for improving SEO
- Hidden costs include your time and cost of any additional stock photography or video
Who is it for?
These types of online, cloud-based website builders are great for personal websites, especially hobby sites, or websites to support small businesses with limited marketing needs. Think small site with a limited number of pages and limited functionality. If you think this is the route for you, PC Magazine compares the best online web builders of 2017 here.
However, if you want to be sure visitors can find you quickly and easily by searching online, or you want to share content to market your business or organization, grow or move your website, or you are concerned about having full control over your site and/or the ability to customize your site to meet the unique requirements of your brand, product or service, these platforms are not for you.
WYSIWYG editor stands for “What you see is what you get” editor. No coding or html required! wphelp center has a built-in WYSIWYG editor.
#2. Pros and Cons of DIY Downloadable Web Builder Software sans CMS
Examples: Coffeecup Free HTML Editor, Mobirise, Google Web Builder, Dreamweaver
Advantages of off-line web builders:
- Templates or building blocks provide an initial framework for new designs
- There is no charge to use the software
- Most have the ability to customize SEO settings
- You can have a unique domain and control your site
- Some pre-integrated with eCommerce or popular email marketing programs
- Access to back-end and ability to add customized code
Disadvantages of off-line web builders:
- Tools and templates may not be as user-friendly as the online website builders
- Must manage the process of securing your domain and your web host which also means you own support issues related to hosting or domain registration
- Limited opportunities for integration with 3rd party applications
- Minimal opportunities for customization
- Hidden costs include your time and expense (stock photography or video, domain registration, web hosting) and any outside consultants or freelancers you need to hire for implementation or ongoing maintenance
Who is it for?
If you have the time and skill to build your own website and manage the technical aspects of your domain registration and web hosting, downloading and using an offline website builder and editor can give you a great framework and platform to build it. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that you or someone else with no technical expertise in front-end and/or back-end website development will be able to create anything other than a simple and rather ordinary website on your own.
There are plenty of businesses and organizations out there, however, that really don’t need anything beyond a basic website with very standard, limited functionality and ordinary, but professional layouts and design. If this is you, and you have more time than budget and want to retain full control over your website and its domain and hosting solution, then downloading a DIY website builder may be the right solution for you!
#3. Pros and Cons of HTML Only Websites
Example: A website built purely with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and no underlying software or infrastructure to manage pages and content.
Advantages of HTML Websites:
- The page designs are easily customized to any extent
- Standard frameworks (like Bootstrap) and libraries of templates are readily available
- You can update the colors, things and graphical elements easily by modifying the CSS
- Little to no maintenance in terms of updates
- Coders familiar with SEO drivers can optimize the site to perform well
- Ideal for simple sites made up of static content (text, images, and videos)
Disadvantages of HTML Websites:
- Requires you to have skilled resources with extensive HTML knowledge and experience for even the most minor updates
- To integrate functionality or tools like a database, search capability, shopping cart, social feed, etc. your developer will need to have experience and knowledge with those assets too
- Lack of any type of GUI (Graphical User Interface) for administration of the site makes it challenging for newcomers and non-techies to support or take over work
- No set installation program means website, images and graphics must be organized properly on the web server by a knowledgeable resource
- Metadata that supports SEO must be coded into the site manually
- Since an experienced coder will be required for even the smallest of updates, the costs of updating an HTML website may be higher
Who is it for?
HTML websites are great for primarily static brochure type websites with a simple, and custom or unique design. If you have access to reliable resources who can design your site or customize pre-existing templates and code them to suit your needs, an HTML only site may be exactly what you need and anything else may negatively impact your website’s speed by carrying more “overhead” than you will ever use.
However, if you want to provide non-technical employees or users with the ability to update the site, if you anticipate making regular updates, if you want to offer dynamic content, personalization, allow comments, ratings and other similar sophisticated interactions, or you want to add eCommerce capabilities, integrate with your email marketing or marketing automation platforms, etc., you should consider building your website with a CMS (Content Management System.)
#4. Pros and Cons of Websites Built on an Open Source or Proprietary CMS (Content Management System)
Examples: WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Sitecore, Ghost
Advantages of a CMS:
- Non-technical employees can create, edit and publish content
- Content development and web updates can be done by multiple employees/users
- Can automate personalization and dynamic content delivery
- Pre-established structure and tools for SEO
- Large community of trained developers, designers, plug-ins, themes, templates and support materials and agencies makes it easier to expand the site as you grow and find qualified help when you need it
- Huge pool of plug-ins and add-ons allows you to extend the functionality quickly and easily
- Almost every CMS has pre-established integration, plug-ins or APIs that allow you to connect your website with your email marketing programs, social media publishers and managers, marketing automation platforms, translation engines, eCommerce software and more. Established installation processes and standards make it easy to get started
- All CMS programs of a significant size are updated regularly to fix bugs, maintain security standards and introduce new features and functionality
Disadvantages of a CMS:
- Programs like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla etc. require a certain level of ongoing maintenance and updating to ensure optimal performance and security
- Finding the right hosting provider can be tricky and slightly more expensive for site running on a CMS, it’s key to find one that has optimized its environment for your selected CMS
- Non-technical resources unfamiliar with best practices in coding, content development, UX/UI and basic design principles, when given editorial rights to the site, can destroy the design and even make changes that ‘break” the website
Who is it for?
WordPress and other CMS’s provide small to mid-size and even very large enterprises with a robust platform for developing somewhat to very sophisticated websites that support their digital marketing programs. The reality is that today a Website is so much more than a “must-have.” It’s widely recognized that a huge percentage of every sales cycle, even the most complex B2B sales, are self-driven by buyers online. Read B2B Websites – Do they really generate sales? <link to this article> for more on this topic.
In addition, websites built with a CMS allow a variety of users to create, edit and even publish content and Google LOVES fresh content! Furthermore, the ecosystem that exists to support major CMS platforms provides you with the tools, templates, resources, and support you need, when you need it.
#5. Pros and Cons of Custom Built CMS Solutions
Example: A proprietary CMS built just for you, either by your internal team or an agency or developer you contract to do the work.
Advantages of a custom-built CMS solution:
- Complete control over features and functionality and how the CMS behaves
Disadvantages of a custom-built CMS solution:
- Resources directed at software development and maintenance instead of website design/development and digital marketing programs that have measurable ROI
- Huge investment in software development and proprietary nature of the program locks you into the development team
- Can be challenging to integrate with third-party programs depending on how the software has been architected
- Requires a knowledgeable team to keep it secure and up to date
- WAY more expensive in many ways that an off-the-shelf open source or proprietary CMS
Who is it for?
In our opinion, the only time it makes sense to develop your own CMS would be if it does something no other off the shelf system does and that “something” gives you a unique competitive advantage in your industry or your marketplace OR if you believe you can build a CMS that is better than everyone else’s and then successfully take it to market.
The bottom line is before you undertake any website project you need to pause to document your strategy and requirements. Your relative level of investment in terms of time and budget should dictate how much time you spend on this exercise.
At a minimum, you need to document measurable goals for your website and develop a quick list of requirements. Your requirements should cover both the aesthetics or design of the site and the functionality your website must deliver to meet its goals. From there you should easily be able to determine which of the approaches outlined above is best for you.
If your investment is going to be significant, we highly recommend taking the time to document buyer persons and think through their user journeys in addition to documenting the business goals for your website. Those two things will give you invaluable insights that lead to detailed requirements and help you make the best possible decision about your underlying architecture and design.
Still have questions? Want to discuss? Comment below or contact us and we’ll be happy to help you think through it.