Right off the bat, this article is not to diminish the effectiveness and importance of website builders such as Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, and Shopify. No, that is not the goal. If you’re an artist, run a pop-up shop, sell hand-made good from home etc. then surely these builders can add a ton of value to your small business. Rather, this article exists to break down a worrying trend we see in larger businesses moving to these builders and it has NOTHING to do with the software.
In fact, the software is marvelous. Especially with Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify. You can whip up a site within a couple of hours, purchase your domains through them, use a beautiful pre-built template, and you almost never have to worry about maintenance. These companies have completely managed products so they’ll take care of everything. These are wonderful value-adds for the small, non-employer business.
The worrying trend I mentioned above is that I see article after article, blog post after blog post detailing hoow “Major Company X” has moved at least some of its web presence to one of these web builders. I’m not here to call out any large companies so I’m not going to link to these stories, but a quick Google search will show you all you need to know.
Now some of these brands will create a custom site but do just their store through Shopify. This makes a lot of sense. Shopify contains lots of features, great support, and documentation but running an entire brand through Wix seems like a problem waiting to happen.
Before we jump into a list of reasons why using a website builder is a poor technical and strategic choice I’d like to touch on some reasons that may push a larger business in this direction.
The first major reason that would move a brand away from a custom build or WordPress would be maintenance. What was once a no-brainer, definite line item in the budget has now become a stumbling block for many-a-large organization. The reasons are myriad. For one, many companies encounter errors or issues when upgrades are performed. Another reason, the price of front-end developers in many markets have skyrocketed. Finally, platform upgrades can come in many shapes and sizes. Take WordPress 5.0 for example. Organizations are going to have to put serious resources into planning for Gutenberg, and it won’t be the last time.
Another reason a brand may move away is just the sheer amount of time it takes to fully design and build a new web presence from scratch. It can be an expensive long term engagement and the results are never guaranteed or written in stone. For a company that doesn’t necessarily view web as it’s main business driver, this cost can seem daunting. It is not uncommon for managers at such companies to flinch and avoid these costs. Though the technical community always says that you can’t skimp out on web, ever, some peoples’ experience doesn’t necessarily tell the same story.
Okay, so these seem like fair reasons. Maye not good reasons, but at the very least they are fair. So why are we here to tell these organizations to bite the bullet and go custom or use WordPress? Well let’s get into that now!
When you use Wix or Weebly the world is not your oyster. These are locked down systems that write the story for you but allow you to work within those boundaries. Again, for an artist selling paintings from home, this can be wonderful. But for an organization it can be troublesome. Here’s an example. The EU in May pushed out its first round of GDPR Regulations. These regulations provide a legal mandate surrounding how data is accepted, used, deprecated, translated, and transmitted. This radical change forced organizations to expand their opt-in protocols on the web. When using a locked down system, it may not be possible to properly comply. The workaround is to move people to a separate landing page with an opt-in but this is terrible UX. With a custom-build or WordPress (with custom development or a plugin built specifically for this purpose) it would take very little time and monetary investment to get your opt-in forms GDPR compliant.
WHEN YOU USE WEBSITE BUILDERS YOU DO NOT OWN YOUR WEB PRESENCE. I’ll repeat. WHEN YOU USE WEBSITE BUILDERS YOU DO NOT OWN YOUR WEB PRESENCE! That’s right, it is not truly yours. If Wix shuts down (unlikely) your web presence goes with it. Think of it like Microsoft Word for a moment. Sure, you write the words, distribute those words, and can do with it what you please. But the program is created by Microsoft and you are indentured to that program. A code change can alter your workflow and even the existence of your document. It’s “yours” but it’s not “yours yours”. It’s the same with these builders. Sure your web property has your business name on it but you don’t really own it. The company providing the builder does. Any large corporation should own outright their presence on the web. Many people ask how WordPress is different since it is owned by a corporation, Automattic. WordPress.com definitely has some of the flaws listed above, heck they can even put ads on your site. But WordPress.org is open sourced and you can host it wherever you like. WordPress.org operated on a GNU GPL license where GPL stands for General Public License. This form of license guarantees users the ability to run, alter, and share the software without fear of repercussion.
As we’ve already seen this year with the Weebly acquisition by Square, these website builders are not guaranteeing that they’ll remain independent and thus keep the customer top of mind. It is not yet clear how the acquisition of Weebly will affect end users but what is clear is that the product will become more integrated with Square products. This doesn’t mean that those users will be forced to use Square, but it means that those users will probably be forced to use Square. This type of product-service integration is extremely common in corporate acquisitions so it is not surprising. The upsetting part is that those pre-existing Weebly users did not choose Square, they chose Weebly. If they do not like the new direction, they’ll be forced to move providers. This should act as a cautionary tale for those of you looking to use website builders.
In summary, it is not a poor decision to use a builder for your portfolio, home-grown business, side-hustle etc. but if you are a large organization, you need the flexibility, ownership, and guaranteed future that a custom build or WordPress will offer you.
As always, ultimately, it’s up to you to decide.