Website Builders 101
A beginner's guide to website builders. Learn about website builders, how they work, and if you should use a website builder for making your own website.
Welcome to our Website Builders 101 page. Here, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about website builders and help you decide whether a website builder is right for you and your business. Making a website yourself will take time and there are many challenges waiting ahead for you. If this is your first time making a website, we’d recommend watching our full video series guide on how to make a website. If you’re looking to learn more about website builders, then continue reading on!
What is a Website Builder?
A website builder is a tool that lets you create a website, typically without knowing how to write code in HTML and CSS (the basic markup & style sheet languages used to make websites). A website builder will allow you to create a website by using a more intuitive, visual method, such as dragging and dropping objects onto a blank web page, and then automatically convert what you’ve built visually in to code.
Below is a quick video from Wix, a popular website builder showcasing the “simple to use” functionality of website builders:
Note how you can easily edit any text on the page, much like as if you were using a text editor. You can visually see how the text looks when you adjust the various settings, such as font, font size, and font color. You can also easily edit any images on the page as well. Furthermore, most website builders will allow you to “drag and drop” any text or images you see to your desired position on the page.
Quick Recap: Website Builders are meant to make building a website as easy and as fast as possible, without having to touch a line of code. You build your website visually.
This is not all that website builders do. Apart from being a handy building tool for non-techies, today’s website builders are now a complete package for having a website. They come with everything else your website needs, such as as domain name registration, web hosting, technical support, and a number of add-on services like contact forms, social media integration, SEO-friendly markup, an eCommerce store, etc.
As you can see in the screenshot above, many website builders integrate a variety of additional services, making them a convenient, all-in-one solution for your website. For example, you can easily add an eCommerce store to your site, start a blog, create your own professional email addresses, and even do some email marketing – along with a variety of other things related to your website. The sky is the limit and you can search for more apps that are easily integrated.
Quick Recap: Website Builders are more than just a building tool – they are an all-in-one solution for your website. Everything your website needs is integrated into your website builder, providing a more convenient experience for beginners.
Before Website Builders Came Along…
When the first websites came to the scene in the early ‘90s, they were pretty simple pages with some splash of color and a few images. They were static and hardly did much more than linking one page with another. Yet, to build a website you had to know HTML, a markup language for structuring web documents. Nothing too difficult, but it was enough to put the average person off, leaving website building to the professionals. The good news was that having a website wasn’t the norm, and small businesses could easily get away with not having one.
In time, websites became more sophisticated in terms of functionality. Dynamic websites using databases and building HTML on the fly started to make their appearance, and creating websites was more and more the business of specialized geeky developers.
But where did this leave the small business owner who didn’t dispose of the big budget to hire a professional?
One option was not to have a website at all. This was fine if your business relied a lot on local customers and you were already very well known in your area. It wasn’t a great choice for those just starting out or targeting a wider market.
The other option was to get by with a few rudimentary tools just starting to come out in those days. These allowed you to put together a brochure website, at least if you had the time and determination to have a go. I’m talking about tools like the Save as Web option in Microsoft Word or the well-known Macromedia Dreamweaver, a fully-featured WYSIWG (What You See Is What You Get) web editor. But these efforts looked amateurish at best, and did not do much to put your business under the spotlight… until along came the website builder, and with it the idea that website design can be neatly packaged into an easy to use product for everybody. Let’s look more closely into this idea.
WordPress VS. a Website Builder?
WordPress is an open source blogging platform and content management system (CMS) you can freely download from WordPress.org. The software lets you create and manage content like pages, blog posts, images, etc., without the need to mess with code. From this perspective, WordPress resembles a website builder.
However, to what extent you can easily customize the appearance and functionality of your WordPress website without touching code, varies according to the themes and plugins you use (themes control the appearance of your website, plugins extend its functionality). Some themes don’t include any user-friendly customization options, others give you the ability to control the layout, colors, fonts, etc. This is one aspect in which WordPress is different from a website builder.
Also, unlike the most website builders, with WordPress you’re responsible for finding a web host, registering a domain name, applying updates, looking after the security of your website, installing themes and plugins.
WordPress is a great choice, although unfortunately, it’s use requires a much steeper learning curve than most website builders. However, WordPress is so versatile that you’ll find top-notch website builders which use WordPress as their platform.
The most popular example is WordPress.com, which offers packages that include web hosting, domain name, site maintenance, access to great customizable themes and a custom CSS editor for users with CSS skills. Another great WordPress-based website builder is BoldGrid. This platform offers uses WordPress, but acts more like a website builder.
Are Website Builders Only for Non-Professionals?
Website builders mostly appeal to do-it-yourself users, although this doesn’t mean professional web designers are immune to their many advantages. In fact, the best web designers are those who know how to meet each client’s needs. If these are best served using a website builder, no responsible professional will shy away from making full use of it.
There is, however, a second type of no-code-required website building tools available out there, which is aimed at professional designers. Designers are great at creating pixel-perfect artworks, but often don’t love coding all that much. Website builders like Webydo and Adobe Muse give designers the tools they need to turn their original creations into fully-fledged websites without having to depend on web developers for the coding side of the equation.
In this article, I focus exclusively on the first kind of website builders targeting the ever increasing number of non-professional designers and developers.
Pros and Cons of Using a Website Builder
Some website builders could have been somewhat clunky in the past and the code they used to spit out was atrocious to say the least. But all this has changed and website builders are technically sophisticated platforms that make possible the creation of standards-compliant stunning websites with no need to touch anything resembling code.
Just click, drag, drop, and voilà – you have a website.
At least this is how website builders are marketed. But how much of it is true and how much is just marketing talk? To find out, I’m going through the main pros and cons for using a website builder. Let’s first talk about the pros:
Pros of Using a Website Builder:
- Ease of use – Website builders are, by far, the easiest way for beginners and require the least amount of technical know-how. There is still a small learning curve involved, but our awesome, free online course will help you with everything you need to know about making your very own website with a website builder.
- No programming – You don’t need to code! That’s the whole point of a website builder!
- Affordable – It’s also very affordable and you can often make your own website for under $15/month. Compare that to hundreds if not thousands of dollars you could easily spend if you hire a professional web designer!
- No need to hire a web designer – As somewhat mentioned above, you can do it yourself without having to hire someone.
- Support when you need it – You can often get support from your website builder company if you get stuck and need help.
- Customizable designs – Most people think website builders all use the same templates and your site won’t have a unique look and feel. While the quality and degree of customization may depend on your website builder, many website builders nowadays do use templates that are highly or even fully customizable. For instance, Wix offers a blank template that allows you to drag and drop all the components for the web page to create a unique design.
- Responsive, mobile-ready designs – Website builders nowadays are fully aware of the importance of having websites that look awesome no matter what device they’re viewed on. Responsive design is the norm on the modern web, and you’ll find it hard to come up with a reputable website builder company that doesn’t use mobile-ready templates. However, make sure you try before you buy.
- Clean & SEO friendly markup – Forget the blood-curdling code of older builders. Today’s website builders produce mostly valid, SEO-friendly HTML markup.
Cons of Using a Website Builder:
- Limited functionality – Functionality may be limited to what your website builder offers. Website builders are typically not the best choice for website's that require unique features – although there are some that are geared toward specific business niches which can suit your needs almost perfectly. For example, vevs.com is a website builder that caters towards unique websites such as car dealer websites or vacation rental websites. Typically in the past, you would have to hire a web developer in order to create websites with this kind of functionality.
- Transferring your site may be problematic – website builders often use their own specific system and switching over to a new one may be tricky. You may even need to recreate the site from scratch. For example, Wix doesn’t offer any export function so you’re pretty much stuck if you ever want to leave them.
- Cost – Although website builders certainly cost less than hiring a good web designer, not all the services they offer are free, and the final bill can come as a surprise. Quite a few website builders advertise as free, and while they do offer free websites, they usually come loaded with ads and limited functionality, such as not allowing you to use your own domain name. Of course, if you’re building a website for your business, penny pinching doesn’t make good business sense. If the service is great and frees you from the time you need to run your business, you’d probably view the extra money as an investment rather than a cost.
- You may not own your website – If you use the builder’s images and assets, it’s likely you can’t copy them over to your computer or publish them somewhere else. However, you should be legally entitled to do whatever you like with any piece of content you create and upload yourself. It’s super important that you check the user terms and conditions regarding intellectual property of your website’s content before committing to a website builder company.
- Not best for large websites – website builders typically aren’t well suited for large websites, although if you have one, you’ll probably have the budget to hire a web developer anyways.
Tips for New Website Builders Users
The web design industry represents $24B of the market in the US alone, with millions of new websites added every month. An awesome infographic by Webydo illustrates who are the people who make these websites. It turns out, 74% of websites are B2B solutions made by developers and designers using professional tools and processes. Only 3% are DIY, non-professional players using platforms like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and the like.
Furthermore, according to the same source, only 2% of Do-It-Yourselfers succeed in publishing a website.
Newbies are attracted by the promise of an easy to use platform that lets you create a great looking website in a few hours, even minutes, with no code, no hassle, at almost no cost. When they find out that putting together a successful website does take a lot of time and effort, a high percentage of them gets frustrated and gives up.
The truth is that business websites are a never-ending work-in-progress. You need to work out the site’s goals and choose the design and content which best meets those goals. Not only that, but you have to monitor your website and check if it keeps meeting those goals over time. Websites require nurturing if you expect them to get results for your business.
Also, all the customization options available can paralyze rather than empower some users. It’s true that the cookie-cutter look of templates is off-putting, but starting to experiment with countless options for colors, fonts, etc., can result in a messy outcome if you’re not the artistic type.
Here’s some tips to help you make the most of what a good website builder has to offer.
- Your business website needs some of your time. Time to plan its design, time to promote it on social media, time to write valuable content for your visitors. Therefore, my first tip is: take some time. Using a website builder is great to save coding time. You still need to put in the effort for everything else.
- If tons of color palettes and typefaces leave you confused, or worst still, get you to mix and match without really knowing what you’re doing, take some time to learn the basics of color combination, font pairing and what constitutes good design. You don’t need to dive deep into any of this, but it helps to get familiar with a few concepts.
- If you find that design is not exactly your forte, or you’re not too sure your copy works, get someone you trust to offer a second pair of eyes. It can be your spouse, your brother or sister, your best friend.
- Finally, if you’re looking for more adventurous modifications of the templates available or you get really stuck, get a professional on board. Because you’re hiring a professional to deal only with piecemeal modifications, it won’t cost you a fortune, and the final result will make it a thousand times worth it. The best website builders give you access to a custom CSS editor and even to the HTML markup:
Using a website builder may be the solution for you. If it is, take the next step and compare website builders to make the best choice for your small business.