In a previous article we shared with you the process by which a web designer builds a website for their clients. Because, if you understand each step, then working on your website project will be that much smoother.
But what if you want to build a website on your own? What are your options in the “DIY” (Do It Yourself) side of things, and which technology or software will be the best to use?
In this article we will attempt to provide a look at the various DIY options for building a website, explain some of the “hidden truths” of a DIY website that you’re not being told in those slick and enticing advertisements, and give you the keys you need to make it work for you and your business.
Is it possible to build a website yourself? Absolutely!
Is it easy? Not nearly as much as you might think.
But also easier than you probably realize. With the right perspective and understanding, your learning curve can become considerably shorter.
Let’s get started!
What the web builder services aren’t telling you
Take a look at this advertisement for WiX:
Cute ad, right?
Doesn’t it make you think “Wow, building a website must be super simple and easy. I should do it too.“?
But hold your horses! There are a lot of things this ad isn’t telling you about building your own website.
Just like a training montage in a Rocky movie, you aren’t learning the process by which a person goes from “I need a website” to “Check out my beautiful and amazing website”. It is all the stuff in the middle that is actually the hard part of building a website.
In fact, here are four things that you are not being told that you should know:
1. Content doesn’t appear out of thin air.
Here’s the deal: Your website is only as good as the content you put in it. You (or someone you hire) has to write every word that goes on your website. Not only that, but each image, video, audio file and downloadable PDF also has to be created by you (or your team).
If you aren’t committed to spending the time creating and producing engaging content for your website, then making a website can actually hurt your brand and business, not help it.
As they say “content is king”. And lack of content can make you a pauper.
2. Someone has to make all those amazing visual elements.
Take a look at this image from that advertisement:
It looks amazing, right? (Especially his ridiculous back muscles.)
But they don’t show you the many rounds of design mock-ups that it took to come up with those logos, let alone develop a cohesive color scheme, typographical look and consistent branding methodology.
And let’s not even talk about hiring a photographer to take all the amazing photos.
This is what a web designer sees when he looks at that picture:
There is a lot of things that go in to making a website.
You will need to either hire someone to create all of the branding and design elements, and take all those photos, or do it yourself. There is a time investment that isn’t being shown.
3. Traffic doesn’t auto-magically happen
Sure, these NFL super stars probably have a huge following, so getting people to go to Brett Favre’s charcuterie shop is probably not too hard.
But for the rest of us, making a website is just the beginning of the battle. You need people to go see it. That means making sure your content is primed for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and you know how to read an analytics report so you can tell the difference between “unique visits” and “page views”.
Getting your page to rank well on Google is a topic for another blog post, but for now just know that it doesn’t happen magically overnight. It takes a strategy, work and time.
4. What do you do with the traffic when you get it?
And what would you do if you did magically get a ton of traffic overnight?
Besides “buy my stuff” or “come to my store”, the websites shown in that ad don’t really present you with an idea of how the websites are directly contributing and converting into sales.
A website is not an online brochure
One of the big myths about websites is that they are essentially an online brochure. That is sort of like saying playing a concert in front of a packed audience is just a real life version of listening to a record. Or a trip across Europe and Asia is just a real life version of Eat, Pray, Love.
The difference between a brochure and a website, (besides the obvious paper vs. computer thing) is that a brochure isn’t interactive. You can’t direct people through a series of actions with a brochure. They open it, they read it, they close it. But on a website, the possibilities are almost endless.
Which begs the question …
Which of those endless possibilities is best for your business and your audience?
Will you capture emails through an opt-in campaign? Or direct them to your educational webinar? How about asking them to subscribe to your YouTube channel? Or sending them to iTunes to sign up for your Podcast feed?
A game plan for what to do with the people who come to your website is an essential part of building the website in the first place. The days when having just a “contact us” page are gone, and you need a way to engage with your audience and help them understand your unique value in the market place.
So, then it isn’t possible to make your own website?
As I said before, it is possible. But it is just not possible in the #ItsThatEasy, “just drag and drop” way that you are being sold in that commercial.
But, as I also said before, neither is it as difficult as you might think.
As with many things in life, if it seems super simple, it probably isn’t. And if it seems super complex, it is probably much simpler.
So, how do you make your own website?
Making your own website is actually relatively easy, but you have to have your ducks in a row before even considering opening up your browser and typing in “weebly.com” or “squarespace.com”.
In our free report, “6 Steps To Your Best Website”, we outline six things that everyone should figure out before they hire a website designer. We won’t get into the details here (and you can just download it for free using the form on the right), but here they are in a nutshell:
A is for Audience
You have to know your audience better than you know your own family members. The more specifically you can define your ideal audience member and customer, the better position you’ll be to make a website that resonates and builds traction.
B is for Brand
You have to have a clear understanding and design for your brand. Whether you have a full out brand book, or just stay consistent with your typography, colors and layout, you should make sure you know the message of your business (and how that message translates into visual elements) before you start your website.
C is for Content
As I said earlier, you have to be committed to the idea of creating regular, consistent and engaging content for your website. Whether those are videos, podcasts, downloadables or articles, prepare yourself to get into the grind. The key is consistency, so just make sure you make a schedule that works for you, and then stick with it.
D is for Design
Your website experience should be carefully thought out and designed. What is your primary objective? What is your website visitor’s primary objective? Do you understand your main CTA (Call To Action)? Create a flow chart of how your ideal customer will navigate your website and design the workflow into the website itself.
E is for Engagement
When you have people going to your website, how will you engage with them and build a relationship that makes them want to come back for more (and maybe even buy your products or services)? Whether you are pulling in email addresses (which you really should be doing), or directing people to your social media channels, make a connection with your audience so you can keep the conversation going long after they’ve left your website.
F is for Functionality
You also need to understand the technology requirements to do what you want to do. If you’re going to sell products, which payment processor is best to use? How will you manage order fulfillment or inventory tracking? Do you want a chat room? Or a forum? Make sure that whatever DIY website building system you pick, it is able to do what you want it to do.
Why are we telling you all this stuff?
This probably seems overwhelming. You just received a lot of information.
From looking behind the curtain of what those advertisements for website builders aren’t telling you, to sharing things you need to have done before you start building your website.
And, to be honest, this article is front loaded with all the hard core, paradigm shifting information so that you know what you’re really getting into with a DIY solution.
Contrary to what you might think, we actually think it is great if you want to learn how to build your own website. At the end of the day, we support whatever solution is best for our clients, even if that solution is not Akamai Websites.
But it is only a solution if it solves a problem, and doesn’t create a new one. As long as you understand what you need to know (and do) before you build your site, then we consider our job mostly done.
You can equate building a website with learning martial arts (or any skill, really).
If you don’t put in the time building a strong foundation — kicks, punches and stances — then you will look horrible doing the advanced forms.
Likewise, if you don’t put in the time understanding your audience, content, brand, user experience and engagement, then no website builder, regardless of how slick it looks and how easy it is to make, will be good for your business.
A look at different DIY website systems
But what about the DIY systems themselves? Which one is best? You came here for a conclusion to this DIY story, right?
Well, lucky for you just last year we put together a research paper on that very topic. We compared several popular website builders for the Kuha’o Business Center in Maui County, and you can get it for free and see the results of the analysis.
Keep in mind that this report was specifically related to businesses on the island of Moloka’i in Hawaii, but it still provides some insight into a lot of the considerations that you should know about each of the systems I mention.
In it, the different methods of making websites are analyzed based on four different parameters:
- ease of implementation
- time frame.
As you can see from the results of the analysis report, “Hiring a Web Designer” was actually the best option. However, the purpose of this article is to only look at DIY website builders, from which the top selection was …
This might seem hypocritical based on the bashing we gave the WiX commercial at the beginning of this article, but in the analysis this page builder ended up on top, mainly because it wasn’t the best nor the worst in any of the categories. In fact, it scored “3” out of 5 on all of them.
If you want a system that helps you build a website, but isn’t particularly spectacular at it, then WiX could work for you. Annual costs for the full featured system on WiX can run you between $30 / month to $300 / year.
Weebly tied with WordPress.org for second place. Where is faltered was functionality and cost. The functionality options are limited and not updated nearly as often as others. But despite this they still feel compelled to charge $49 / month, which is much more than others that provide better offerings.
Where Weebly excelled was in the ease of implementation and time frame. It is considered one of the easiest website builders to use which a great interface. This, of course, translates to a faster build time for your website.
It is interesting that while WordPress.org (a self-hosted wordpress site) tied with Weebly for 2nd place, it also had the exact opposite pros and cons.
On the plus side, the functionality of what you can do with a self-hosted WordPress site is almost limitless, and the costs can be dirt cheap (depending on your web host).
But unfortunately the ease of implementation and time frame to build your websites are both quite poor. You basically have to know how to install and build a WordPress site yourself, and that is something that could take a lot of time depending on how you want your website to look and function.
#3: Squarespace (or #2?)
Squarespace is popular among designers and artists because of their beautiful interface and themes. While their score puts them in 4th place, given that they scored four out of five in all categories, you could really argue that they were in 2nd place behind WiX since they weren’t as bad as the negative scores for either WordPress.org or Weebly.
The pro’s for Squarespace is their beautiful interface, super simple eCommerce integration, and nice blogging system. Where they fail is in the learning curve to use their system and their cost of services. You can end up paying up to $46 / month depending on your package.
At the bottom of the pack was WordPress.com. This one faltered due to its limited functionality (compared to other options), and being harder to use than a true drag and drop page builder. In fact, it is just as complex as using a self-hosted WordPress website, but without as much of the back-end headache.
The only place that WordPress.com had any positives was in the cost. It was the second cheapest options, coming in at around $24.92 / month for a “full featured” website.
But what about ….?
There are a LOT of other page builders out there. But many of them had one or two super negative elements that prohibit us from recommending them.
For example, while Infusionsoft has amazing CRM (Customer Relationship Management) functionality and eCommerce capabilities, it is really not suitable for a quick business website. In fact it is a beast of a software and costs more than rent for most apartments.
Or something like ClickFunnels is really good for marketing sites, but we wouldn’t recommend it unless you are already making money from your online business. (And if you are, do you need a new website since you’re already producing revenue?) It is easy to use and have great functionality, but their costs are prohibitive for most businesses.
Things to keep in mind about your DIY website
So, before you jump in on a website builder there are eight things to consider when evaluating your options:
- First, there are new website builders coming out all the time. Several a year, in fact. So, rather than get the latest shiny object, focus on using a product that has a reputation for stability and good customer service, and has been around for a little while.
- Research the functionality of the system to make sure it has what you need, as well as the functionality you think you will need in the future. These are things like eCommerce, blogging, media, digital downloads, forums, and much more.
- Do some research so you understand the true cost of the website. Analyze the free vs. premium features for the website builder, because often time you might end up paying just as much as if you had gone and hired a web designer in the first place.
- We know we sound like a broken record, but make sure you’re ready to be consistent with your content and your branding elements. Don’t go switching fonts on every other page, and don’t go weeks without blogging only to launch a flurry of posts in one week. Slow and steady wins the race.
- You need to have someone who’s main responsibility it is to maintain the website. Maybe that is you. Maybe it is someone else. But once the website launches you will need a person to take care of it. Treat it well, and it will help your business for months and years to come.
- Make a plan for your website. Just like a business plan, you should map out where you want your website to be in 3, 6, 12 and 24 months from now.
- Make sure the page builder has training and support, either through a built-in system which they provide to their customers, or a large supply of tutorial websites on YouTube. Even a course on Udemy or Teachable will work.
- Ask questions! Don’t be afraid not to know something. Ask around. Ask Google at the very least. You’d be amazed at what you can learn online.
Of course, if all of this is overwhelming and confusing, then hiring a web designer is always an option. If you’d like to talk more about the vision for your website or even just “talk shop” to better understand your options, reach out and we’ll chat about different solutions.
Building a website can be a pretty rewarding creative outlet, but it isn’t without its challenges. Lots of them, in fact. But when you come out the other side you may find that you actually enjoy the process. Heck, you might even start offering to others too! #newcareeroptions
If you have gone ahead and built a website for yourself, go ahead a post a link below so we can all see it! We’d love to check out your work too. 🙂
If you want a real “no holds barred” article on why a DIY website builder might not be the best choice for you (or it might, depending on what you need to do) then read this great article by Christina Hawkins over at WP Elevation. Some nice tough love to soak in. 🙂
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