During the footie highlights last night there was an advert for one of the big hosting companies, (you know the 1?). Seems they’re punting their “Website Builder” tool as a viable option for small businesses looking to get online without having to shell out to us pesky professionals.
Well, coincidentally, I’d just spent the afternoon fiddling with their website builder for a new client who was looking for a bit of help with it. Naturally I tried to stress the advantages of a beautiful bespoke design, with hand-crafted code, all lovingly integrated with WordPress, thus creating a professional and reliable image for his business and giving him a website that would grow with his business and potentially wouldn’t cost him a penny more over the years. But he was skint and just wanted to see what I could do with what he had.
So, I gave it a go.
First up, the “1000s” of templates. Yup, there’s an enormous choice, but it’s like they’ve trawled the internet archives of the 90s for them. Lots of 45 degree corners (remember them?), tiny fonts, left-sidebar navigation. Urk, it was like the 00s never happened. To be fair I didn’t trawl through all of them, (I couldn’t, my eyes were beginning to hurt) but of the dozen or so I tried, I can honestly say I wouldn’t wish them on my worst client.
Next up, the supposed customisation options. For each template, there’s a limited choice of alternative colour palettes, so you may find a layout you could live with, but this won’t necessarily match your brand. As a result, I had to go back to Photoshop and recreate the new logo I’d created so it didn’t jar too much with the rest of the site. Then I tried to add it, which caused more grief. Each template has a specific logo size, some of which are pretty weird. The one I was using insisted that the logo was 240 x 51 px. Umm, okay. But what if my logo was portrait format? Do I just make it tiny and leave a huge margin at either side? Try running that past the “make my logo bigger” brigade and see how you get on!
All in all the “customisation” process left me feeling like I’d been playing with a Fisher Price baby shape sorter. Except I’d got fed up trying to bang a square peg into a round hole and started chewing the hammer instead.
Ah, but what about the cost? Small business start-ups are feeling the pinch as much as anyone, so anywhere they can cut corners must be a good thing right? Well, let’s look at the costs involved. For any requirement other than a basic “Hello, here I am, this is what I do and here is my phone number” website you’re going to need to sign up to at least the Premium version, at £19.99pm, or possibly the Professional one at £29.99pm. Okay, that’s bearable, if you’re getting a professional site out of it, or is it?
The average lifespan of a website is 3-4 years. This is the amount of time it’ll usually take before your site could maybe be improved by using new technologies. Whether it’s integration with a new content management system, or tapping into whatever the latest social media trend is. Also, after this amount of time, design styles will have moved on, and your site may start to look a bit old-hat. (To go back to my previous point, with the majority of the templates available you’re already showing up at a Lady Gaga concert wearing an S-Club t-shirt, and not in an ironic way).
So, how do the costs work out? Well, over that period, even the lower end of 3 years, you’ll have shelled out at least £720, possibly as much as £1080, for a website that looks like it came off the ark. If you’re not bothered about keeping up with the Joneses, (and let’s face it, if you choose one of these templates that’s highly likely), and you keep the site going for 6 years, you’ll have shelled out over £2000. Still, at least you won’t be alone, as there could potentially be 1000s of businesses with the same, weird-looking, website as you. So maybe it’s not all bad?
Consider that a bespoke WordPress website from 45b can cost as little as £795 and maybe the “build your own” option doesn’t seem like such a good deal? You’re getting the benefits that come with using a professional: a solution tailored to your requirements, easy to update and add to, one that that looks great, works well and has new business banging at your door day and night. All you need to do is sit back and think about how glowing your testimonial is going to be. WordPress can expand along with you, and it’s always being updated with new and fancy features at no extra cost. And if in a few years you fancy a makeover, you just need to pay for a new theme - which is much cheaper that rebuilding from scratch. It’s a no-brainer! Just sayin’ ; )
The option is there for you, if you’re the sort of person that gets their business cards printed at one of those machines in train stations then the “build your own” route may be right up your alley.