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by Tom Howlett on 1st February 2013
These types of websites offer a significant cost saving compared to hiring a web designer to custom design and build a website. They also don’t require a huge amount of expertise on the part of the business owner, offering one-click solutions, templates and straightforward tutorials.
Types of Services Available
There are a few services of this kind around, typically an arm of already successful online firms. Some examples include:
The above services all offer visitors the ability to quickly build a site by selecting a template, customising the content and on occasion offer SEO. They offer these services to a varying degree depending on how much you pay or what package you are on.
The Benefits of These Services
These services can offer certain businesses an easy and cheap way to get online. The extent of the services on offer may be suitable for certain businesses where the investment in a custom designed website is unnecessary or won’t create a significant return on investment.
Here is a list of benefits these types of services offer:
Problems with These Services
Each platform varies to a degree; some may offer more customisation options where others are more restricted. Some may limit the amount of content that can be added or even the extent to which it can be edited. Here are some common issues associated with these types of platforms:
What to Look Out For
Additionally to the above points, here are some important things to look out for if you are considering this type of service:
There are a number of technical elements that aid websites and help them improve their search engine presence, it is worth considering the ability to add these features and how easy this might be:
Your Online Presence and SEO
So how can these types of platforms affect your online presence and SEO progress? All the points mentioned above to some extent will affect your ability to rank and rank highly for any target keywords. By restricting the ability to customise elements such as Titles, Meta, Content, Address details, Domains, URLs and Links to external profiles; you are severely restricting how well your site is likely to perform within the search engines.
The greater level of access you have to edit or implement these elements (even through contact with the company), the greater chance your site will have in the long run.
If you are in the position where you are unable to fork out huge amounts of cash for a custom designed website, even though this may be the best option, there are some alternatives which can easily help you gain and grow your web presence.
Using a CMS
A huge number of websites use a CMS nowadays to manage it on a day to day basis. The most notable and popular platforms are WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and ExpressionEngine. Many of the sites utilising these systems will be custom made, others will have used one of the many themes available on the market.
This is a great way to create a unique and customisable website that has all the necessary features needed to rank well within the search engines. If needed, you will be able to enlist the services of a web developer to customise elements of the theme design which should be cheaper than a complete custom website from scratch.
There are a huge number of themes available for the different platforms, some for specific uses or industries; others are designed to be customised. For an idea of just how many different types of themes are available, I suggest checking out Themeforest.
Tumblr was predominantly a micro-blogging platform initially, for short style posts that could include images, videos, links, text content and more. It has since then started to target a broader audience by enabling users to create additional static pages for the site. Users can now create a working website that is completely managed with Tumblr; you can even use a custom domain.
As with the other CMS platforms, Tumblr has an ever expanding number of free and premium themes, some may be more suitable for use as a business website.
This platform enables users to create a site fairly quickly and customise it how they wish. There are a few drawbacks, such as being restricted from having access to the server to implement some of the SEO elements; this does however offer a slightly more customisable platform than the quick website solutions mentioned at the top of the page.
Other Free Website Platforms
There are other options very similar to those offered by the likes of 1&1, but are slightly less well known or less promoted.
Some of these have a larger number of features and enable you to have a bit more freedom within the customisation. Each of these is different and certain platforms may better suit your type of site.
Virb – This platform has many different themes and options, even the ability to create an ecommerce website. More importantly, it offers the ability to customise Meta for each of the pages and add a Google Analytics code across the site.
Create.net – This is another platform with a range of quality themes and features. With certain packages you have the ability to add a Blog and shopping pages. It also lets you optimise the Meta data on every package level.
Weebly – As with the above options, Weebly contains many similar features, themes and the ability to optimise your site for the search engines.
SquareSpace – SquareSpace is another similar platform. They have a range of professional quality templates that seem a lot more modern compared to some of the alternatives. They also offer customisation functionality for SEO elements.
Yola – Yola is another full service platform that has many extra options for customisation. They have ensured that SEO has been considered in the design of the platform and you are able to customise your pages.
Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Google+ Local
Rather than being a direct alternative to website build platforms, some would argue that businesses do not necessarily need a website to benefit from website referrals. A page on the popular social networks could be just as successful in finding your audience online.
Google have already started focusing on local and personalised search, looking at the location of the searcher and tailoring search results that are more applicable to that user from a local perspective. This is important for local and national businesses with a local presence.
By creating a Google+ Local page (previously Google Places); you are then able to fill the profile with information relating to your business and services. Just by having this presence you are quite likely to rank well within the local search results. On its own this may be good enough, however used in combination with a website is recommended.
Should you have a Custom Website?
I will always suggest that any business should have its own custom website, whether it is built upon a CMS or not. This is definitely the more expensive option, but you have complete control of the content and how it is structured and you can really easily convey your brand image to the site visitors.
You should definitely have your own unique domain; using a subdomain provided by a platform does not have the same brand value and people may struggle to find your site within the search (especially if they don’t remember what platform you were using).
A custom built website is also an investment in the long-term, any additions, website changes or a re-focus of the website use will be easier and much more straightforward to carry out. If for example a chosen platform didn’t support a new feature you wanted to implement, then the site migration of this website to another platform is likely to cause a few headaches.
You have to weigh out the pros and the cons. In the long term, is a platform associated website going to be much more cost effective? What will it cost you in a three year period? How much will a custom website be? Once you ask yourself these questions, you should have a better idea on what is more likely to benefit you.
Website is under construction from BigStock.