When the Internet was just getting its sea legs, building a website was an expensive ordeal. You needed to hire an HTML coder, a designer, and a copywriter. Sometimes you also needed to hire a project manager to make sure everyone was working together in a coordinated fashion. The website was built exclusively for you and you actually “owned” the website, including the code itself. Price tag for that operation? About $50K.
Not surprisingly, only larger companies were able to even consider building a website. Small business owners were left to fend for themselves in the print world, along with nominal help from the Yellow Pages and other organizations that scammed small business owners into single “web pages” at exorbitant prices.
This clear pain point spawned a host of website builders eager to court small business owners in search of a site.
But first, what, exactly, is a website builder or platform?
A website builder or platform is a solution that includes the tools and software necessary to design, build, publish, and maintain your website. These components could include your website creation tools, website navigation, website hosting, and even your domain name, as well as other bells and whistles such as email captures and pop-up windows.
Below is a partial list of website builders out there. There are plenty more, but these should give you a good flavor of available options.
A word about WordPress.
WordPress was a radical entry into the marketplace. The culmination of work contributed from engineers around the world in an admirable egalitarian effort, WordPress finally gave business owners with smaller budgets the opportunity to create a good looking website using pre-existing templates and other cost-saving frameworks.
Designers jumped on the WordPress bandwagon. No longer reliant on expensive coders, designers were able to craft “custom” websites for clients using pre-coded templates. These templates were flexible enough to allow designers to tailor color, font, imagery, and even some layout elements to create sites that met the individual needs of clients.
WordPress introduced the concept of “renting” technology as opposed to “owning” it. The basic infrastructure behind each WordPress site was – and still is – a pre-coded template that the individual user will never own outright. Rather, the user will pay for the right to use that template. Although this continues to be an uncomfortable concept for many small business owners, it’s an important milestone as it affords good website engineering at affordable prices.
Weebly, Squarespace, and Wix enter the marketplace.
While WordPress did an amazing job of starting the “democratization” website creation, there was still work to be done. WordPress, with all of its great intentions, was built by engineers for those who at least had some understanding of coding systems. The interface is still quite complex and can be unforgiving to those who are new to website systems.
WordPress had unwittingly created an elitist system in which only companies who could afford designers trained in WordPress could have access to decent websites. Although these designers were certainly charging less than $50K, they usually charged at least $1500 to get a baseline website up and running. Small business owners without those resources tended to throw up their hands and just give up. That’s why an astonishing 46% of small business owners still didn’t have websites as recently as 2016, according to an article by Entrepreneur.
A large number of small business owners began clamoring for access to an easy-to-build website that didn’t require hiring expensive outside help. The marketplace responded with a growing number of DIY website builders, including Weebly, SquareSpace, Wix, and many others.
A look at Weebly.
Weebly was one of the first “drag and drop” website builders that dramatically improved the ease of building a website. Started by an engineering student at Penn State as a classroom project (which the student wisely requested technology ownership of rather than defaulting ownership to the college), Weebly’s growth began virally as many successful online companies do. Weebly is still one of the most intuitive website builders in the marketplace and is quickly grasped by anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of Word and other simple online applications.
A look at Squarespace.
Squarespace was started by a group that felt design issues were not being addressed by DIY website builders. Although the Squarespace system lacks some of the engineering ease that Weebly offers, Squarespace has carved a strong presence in the marketplace with aesthetically pleasing templates that make good design accessible to business owners who lack design training.
A look at Wix.
Wix entered the marketplace in 2013 with much fanfare and a huge capital infusion. Wix has been savvy from the very beginning about aggressively marketing through online and offline media. Wix quickly became a household name through Super Bowl ads and other expensive bets that prove to be paying off.
Unfortunately, the engineering behind Wix seems to be lacking a bit. As an example, if a user changes templates, they lose everything, including all content and photos. They have to start all over again. Also, Wix uses AJAX coding, which is rumored to “scramble” the website’s SEO, making Wix websites less likely to appear in online searches.
So, what do you make of all of this?
The inside joke is that Weebly was started by engineers, Squarespace was started by designers, and Wix was started by marketers. In our research, it appears this adage proves to be true.
We’ve found that Weebly best serves our needs, which is why we use this platform for all of our customer sites. The technology is robust and is constantly being improved upon, the editing system is a snap to use, and the design system is flexible enough to allow us to create personalized websites for each customer’s aesthetic preferences.
But, as the other adage goes, different strokes for different folks. So we encourage you to check out the different platforms and see which one resonates most for you. Also, if you Google any one of these platforms, you’ll find plenty more research to guide you in your final decision.
What’s your website story?
Thanks to the rapidly changing technology, there are plenty of ways to create a website that will make you proud. As expected, there are always trade-offs: cost savings vs. complexities, ease of use vs. bells and whistles, custom design vs. ready-to-go templates.
If you have a story to share about creating your website, I’d love to hear it. Just fill in the comments section below and let me know what your experience has been.
I’ve built my site with Weebly (a work in progress) and am delighted with my success so far, as someone who’s even shy of using a mobile phone. Squarespace only baffled me and WordPress… forget it!. Glad to read this appraisal, which reinforces my conviction I made the right choice.
Thanks for sharing, Joanie! You’re not alone in your struggle with WordPress. It’s a powerful platform – but the interface is way too complicated for us normal, non-engineering folks. We’ve been thrilled with Weebly, not only for its technological capabilities, but also for its ease of use and terrific customer service.
I’m about to tear my hair out and scream. I’ve gone with Shopify and it has been a mess from day one. Their support is good..the problem is the “oh, you didn’t know that?” “oh, that’s your problem? You should have known.” And of late, I have had Flip the Wonder Dog who was going to transform my crappy site (almost his words) into Shangrala. But wait! Yes, I work for S…, but even with my password (ding), he couldn’t get it. Then – “well let’s try such and such site. Oh, I’ve been put hold and can’t get through to them. I am now going through WordPress and S trying to map my site, which is a domain which is up in the air because nobody can seem to map it. Oh, “S” offered Kit at a certain extra price…now it’s free. Let’s just say I am applying to every job possible!
Sounds like a maddening experience, Anne! It’s tough to navigate – especially when it comes to e-commerce sites. Hang in there!
I think TemplateToaster worked the best for me. I usually build WordPress themes from scratch using it for my clients and it really saves time and fun to work with.
Thanks, Mike! Great tip to know about.
You’re welcome, Elicia! I’d love to hear your thoughts about it too.
This is really helpful, thanks.
Glad to hear it, Gena!