Tips on selecting the right website builder (and avoiding costly custom coding)

While we are not web developers, Sinu strives to be a source of info for all things tech for our customers, and many ask our advice about website development and design. Since we started our business over 10 years ago, we have always recommended using custom website builder services. Back then, there were fewer options and they were hard to customize unless a developer inserted quite a bit of custom code. Today, there are several options that can provide all of the most often-used elements of web design built right into customizable templates – complete with a variety of content management system (CMS), design, and developer functions. We have always believed that you should not spend time and money for someone to write custom code to build what thousands have already built, instead, start with a proven website building platform that can be customized to meet the unique needs of your company.

Website builders are tools that allow the construction of websites without manual code editing (Wikipedia). There are a number of excellent web builder services available today, and you will want to first determine the basic look and functionality of your website or blogsite to help you select the one that will work best for your company.

Each platform offers a different degree of ease of design and development. If you need more complex page designs, then you may want a platform that provides your designer a bit more flexibility. A few years ago, some robust website functions (such as solutions for e-commerce, polling, and mobile-responsive) would have required costly custom coding by a developer, today hundreds of plug-in options or themes are available that provide advanced website features for little to no cost, saving your developer time and your business money. If you are looking to get a basic one-to-five page website up quickly, there’s a platform for that too!

A few other considerations when selecting a custom website builder:

Does it offer hosting and how much storage space does it include? (Make sure you are comfortable with the web hosting policy and that it is hosted under the name of your business and you get all the login information from your developer when the website goes live.)

  • Is the site mobile-friendly – does it offer responsive design? (Google ranks websites higher if they are mobile-friendly.)
  • What level of SEO does it provide?  (They typically offer some level, but you may need to consult with an SEO specialist to identify keywords in your industry to ensure good search rankings.)
  • Can it easily push your updates out to your social media sites? (This can be especially important for bloggers or online storefronts.)
  • How does it handle video and other media file storage? (You do not want your website to load slowly or you will lose visitors.)  

There are a number of website builders to choose from, and it can overwhelming to sort through them all, so we’ve compiled a few of the leaders in the field and summarized features below. We also included information from performance reviews from a number of sources, including Digital Trends,Site Builder Report, and Website Builder Expert.

Squarespace

A favorite here at Sinu. Squarespace has years of experience and has built a mature platform. All its themes are mobile-responsive so they work well across a variety of devices. It maintains a large ecosystem of developers who know their tool well, so you can get assistance with customization and any fixes later down the road. Designers and artists embrace the elegance and flexibility of the stylesheet designs, and the latest version of Squarespace has a wonderful array of galleries. Squarespace does have good e-commerce tools, but it does not have the extensive number of plug-ins available with some other platforms such as Wordpress.

Wix

With 63 million published websites, Wix is rated one of the top free website builders, particularly for consumers and smaller businesses. The hundreds of available HTML templates are extremely user-friendly and reliant on the software’s drag-and-drop interface, which makes building a website a similar experience to crafting a PowerPoint presentation. While Wix offers integration with several third-party plug-ins, its designs are not currently mobile-responsive.

WordPress.com

Because of its open source nature, WordPress excels when it comes to ready-made themes, mobile-optimized templates, and widgets that allow you to include everything from comments to images. However, the platform’s exhaustive tools also require a baseline knowledge of coding at times, and some plug-ins definitely work better than others. To rearrange the layout of a particular template, for instance, the code needs to be modified. Given about 24% of today’s websites are powered by WordPress, there is a large community of developers able to make adjustments or fixes to your website if needed. 

Weebly

Weebly is considered by many to be one of the easiest free drag-and-drop website builders in the market. Straightforward – yet effective – tools enable a business or consumer to build a decent-looking website in a matter of hours. The template is a bit more limiting than some other website builder options, since elements can only be inserted into designated areas of the  webpage. Although the service is not mobile-responsive, it offers a customizable mobile site. It also offers a wealth of commerce tools for putting up a storefront.

There are also a number of website builders that have robust e-commerce tools, including Jimdo and Shopify, however they do not offer the development and design flexibility of some of the other services on the market today.

Some smaller businesses – particularly in service industries – have opted to use social media in lieu of a traditional website. Social sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter are typically free, easy to use, update automatically, and allow interaction between a small business and its customers. These social networks can expose a business to groups of people who are “friends” or connected in some way, and because of that connection, they would be more likely to want to learn more about a product or service if they see their “friends” likes or recommends it. There are some companies who have leaned heavily on these social networks and may only use a one or two-page website to provide contact info and links to their social media sites.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on custom coding a website that is dependent on that one developer who has the keys to the code. It is analogous to a custom built car. Would you pay the price for a custom car when there are hundreds of models that could provide just about the same functionality for a fraction of the cost? And if you would, who would know how to fix it?