Should You Build Your Own Website?
With so many options available that offer the ability to build your own website, I don’t believe it’s a surprise when we see sites that simply do not perform to standards. We’ve all experienced websites that perform and well… those that don’t. I wanted to take the time to cover why these tools when in the hands of agencies, freelancers and do it yourselfers may or may not give you the performance your website deserves.
This blog isn’t to tell you that you should not attempt to build your own website… you most certainly can. It’s more about how to decide if it’s actually the best approach for your business.
Lets break down a few things that make successful a website:
- Information architecture that is designed around user experience research and data
- A strong understanding of user flows, business goals and overall client demographics
- Clearly defined goals and the path to achieve them
- Strong content that speaks clearly about what pages are communicating
- User interface design that combines bullets 1-4 with a balance that applies business goals with user expectations
- Proper SEO, meta, descriptions, site speed, alt tags, on page SEO and then an evolving SEO content strategy
- A site that implements best practices, web standards and is ADA compliant for accessibility
- Tested and assured for cross browser and device compatibility
That is the core of what separates strong vs weak performing websites and the base that all agencies, freelancers and do it yourselfers should build off of.
There’s a common thread that we have with clients, whether we’re auditing their brand or building a presentation breaking down their campaigns. It revolves around the question of performance and quality, and what are some of the key elements that factor into both.
Well… I like to keep this perspective as simple as possible and I usually refer to two quotes.
“There are many talented individuals, but talent does not necessarily equal experience” and “most tools are limited by the individual using them”. Obviously there are exceptions to both, but in most cases when we review work that isn’t performing well or lacks that level of quality that clients are investing into, it’s either one or both that applies.
This is not meant to be a dig, I get it… we all have to start somewhere. Thankfully there are options to help businesses and designers / developers get over this hump.
We have many online resources, Google it and you will most likely find the answers.
There’s also mentoring, hopefully we can all be fortunate enough to have mentors that teach us and help us grow and evolve at what we do. This approach ensures that Entry to Jr. level positions are working closely with Sr. level positions and growing, all while ensuring the job gets done right.
Let’s recognize the go-getters!
The final piece that we see probably more often than we should… individuals who feel empowered, optimistic and eager to impress… all admirable and commendable. While this approach may work out for a business internally to get around the investment of a professional, or a freelance designer / developer to help close a client on a small budget project. Is it really what’s best for the most important people, the end users?
Let’s dive a little deeper and take a moment to talk about the do-it-yourself website building platforms and plugins and explore what is really behind some of the bad rap they get.
So what are we talking about here?
Well, simply put, advertising and marketing is really no different than any other product or service. You get what you pay for and if you’re paying a lot and not getting it. Well then there is an entirely different issue at hand that requires a different conversation. I want to use this piece to focus on what businesses are not paying for and how it impacts them…and their end users.
The web world offers tools that offer simple to use interfaces. I’m sure you may have heard of Wix, BigCommerce, Webflow, Shopify, Squarespace, along with others; and then there is WordPress which is the preferred platform for most professionals. There are builder plugins that can be used with WordPress that remove the requirement to understand anything related to coding or web standards. Some of the popular ones are Elementor, Divi, Beaver Builder and Visual Composer.
All of the above mentioned use themes that are built on top of the core framework code. Themes are the files where you handle the uniqueness of your site, many are free, many are paid and each is unique in what it comes with as a base package.
Over the past 12 years I have taken the time to learn each of these builders and understand the nuances, limitations and application for each. This knowledge has helped me to develop enough of an understanding that I feel comfortable in my approach to web development and how we apply UX research to our clients designs. It’s also enlightened me and helped me to see the gaps in how not fully understanding them can create real world issues in performance and quality.
Let the debate begin… and probably never end.
There’s a constant debate in the wide world of webbies between developers, designers, hybrids, DIY’ers etc. It revolves around platforms or plugins that offer the ability to build your own website or require you to hire the experience of a professional. A majority of the hardcore coders tend to lean towards the anti-do-it-yourself approach while often referring to anything from coding best practices, site performance and compliance. They’re not wrong per se, while I can’t say there aren’t instances of this happening… I can say it’s not to the extent that they are having a drastically negative impact overall.
I respect the skill set of talented and experienced developers, they read and write code like I read and write simple math. But there is one attribute that coders share with designers… both can be overly critical, overly controlling and over think almost anything. Again, not a dig but a reality that can and does impact processes or outcomes for our clients.
So what’s my view?
Having reviewed thousands of websites, worked with many talented developers and designers and designed and developed hundreds of websites. The one common denominator between them all falls within both of my quotes. When auditing at this level, we need to constantly be mindful of the who, what, how, why and when.
When a site is done well it’s usually the result of talented and experienced individuals who understand the tools they are working with. Again, mistakes will be made by even the best of us, including myself, but these are the exceptions.
You see… a site with slow page load speeds, or bad SEO, or a non-existent information architecture is not 100% the result of the platform. I’ve seen many sites built on BigCommerce, Webflow or Divi that perform very well, are compliant and well thought out.
The issue with both the do-it-yourself and WordPress builder plugins are that they’re designed to be marketed to those who don’t know code or understand the fundamentals to web UX and best practices.
Well what does all of this mean exactly?
Well, when 90% of the sites using these platforms are developed by people without real experience and understanding in web development. That means 90% of the sites you see using these platforms or plugins are going to fall short of the real work that websites need to be successful. This isn’t to say that some of these platforms do not have limitations… they do especially in the areas of customizing to get your site beyond that out of the box feel. But one of the most common misunderstandings among many of my developer friends is that they don’t take into consideration the “who”, even when critiquing a vanilla WordPress site.
Your website is the epicenter of your digital ecosystem!
Social media, search engine marketing, search engine organic, Google My Business, Google Analytics, Search Console, custom events, newsletters, email blasts, promotions etc… they should all be attached to your website.
I always say… “you may know you have a website, but do search engines”?
Website design and development is now a data first approach that takes into consideration UX research, information architecture, content delivery, flows and wrapped in a user interface design that balances client expectations with end user expectations.
If these core fundamentals are not understood and applied by your business on your website and one of your competitors is… then you are already fighting that uphill battle for online presence.
Before you decide to build your own website…
Understand that you will never hear Wix, BigCommerce, Divi, Elementor etc. tell you that just because you can build it, doesn’t mean people will come.
Stop to take into consideration whether or not you understand the fundamentals and how they impact your digital ecosystem. There is no debating the intelligence of search engines and their validation process. While you may have a digital business card that you like, is it really applying the necessary components to fulfill the most important person… the end user?
How we do websites.
Our agency has been using the Divi theme for the past 10 years up to 2019. We’ve recently switched to integrating the Divi Builder into a base starter theme with minimal code and bloat. We chose this path because it offers us a framework of website components and simplifies development processes.
This approach offers us more time to really focus on what and who matters the most. User experience research, strong information architecture, accessibility compliance, site speed, SEO and a unique user interface design that is tailored to a brand and caters to end users needs.
We test our sites extensively and benchmark them against other well performing sites. Thousands of tests have been run testing our approaches to ensure our clients websites fall well within web standards and best practices, page load speeds and scalability that offers easy maintenance and site updates.
Our approach has reduced development time that our team now invests into UX research, design, best practices and fundamentals that offer our clients quality and performance with a unique touch.
We can see that these tools are not the primary culprit of a bad website, it really comes down to the fundamentals and ensuring they’re understood and implemented correctly.
Hopefully you found this piece enlightening… websites have become much stronger tools over the past 5 years and the trends moving forward are pointing towards a more digital ecosystem. This is why we encourage taking these questions into consideration before your next website journey. Having a website experience that not just exists, but competes in the digital world and guides users through a simple and enjoyable interface that answers the questions they’re looking for… is important and worth getting right.