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The Problem with Quick Build Websites

Tom Howlett

by Tom Howlett on 1st February 2013

The problem with quick build websitesThere has been a recent rise in the number of businesses offering quick website solutions for companies who want a relatively cheap and easy way to develop a personalised web presence.

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:

  • The ability to get online quickly with a low initial cost
  • Access to a variety of templates to tailor it to your brand
  • The ability to create custom pages
  • Easy management

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:

  • Limitations – It is worth reading the exact limitations for each package on offer to see what can or cannot be added/customised on the site
  • Industry specific text – Some templates already include text that is relevant to a chosen industry. This can cause duplication issues across the web and affect your site rankings. It is important to make sure that you are able to completely customise the text content
  • Stock images – It is good to have images on your website, it is best however to have custom images to help convey your brand image to avoid a generic look. Also, make sure you have rights to any new images added – you don’t want any nasty surprises
  • Branding issues – The use of a template will often leave your site looking un-inspirational, lacking in uniqueness and it may be more difficult to convey your brand image and beliefs. Although some platforms offer good quality and modern looking templates
  • Reliance on the company – Some of these services will rely on you having to contact the company should you want to make specific changes unavailable on the standard design interface. This creates delays and can halt progress, on occasions they may charge for any customisations of this kind

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:

  • Domains – Are you able to have a custom domain or are you presented with a free sub-domain which isn’t great for branding or ranking purposes? If you decide to leave the platform, do you get to take your domain with you?
  • Can you customise the text content, images and logo
  • Are you able to add elements such as videos or embedded features such as social widgets or maps?
  • Is the page text content customisable (colours, styles etc.)?
  • Can you add or customise site headings (H1’s, H2’s etc.)?
  • Can you add links to your social profiles?
  • Can you add a blog or news section to the site (something you may want to do in the future)?
  • Can you add unique Titles and Meta elements to each of the pages?
  • Can added content be changed or edited at a later date (for some additions such as company addresses or contact numbers and emails)?

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:

  • The addition of a Robots.txt file or XML Sitemap (will these exist automatically? Are they customisable?)
  • URLs – Are these setup so that each additional page URL is static rather than dynamic?
  • The management of broken links and redirects – if there are any significant website changes, care should be taken to redirect old pages to new ones
  • 404-error pages – Are these in use? If so, are they generic and associated with the company behind the platform or are they custom to the selected theme
  • Rich Snippets – These additions are increasing in importance especially with the additional information Google are adding to their result pages. Can these be added to your site?
  • Image Alt Tags – Can these be added to the images on the site?

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.

Alternatives

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

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.

Image Credit:

Website is under construction from BigStock.

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett

If you’re looking for information on Link Building then read Tom Howlett’s posts. Tom has a specialist insight into link building strategies designed to improve website’s visibility and ranking. He will help you become a master in finding new link sources.

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8 Comments

  • Sii Cockerill 1st February 2013

    Hi Tom,

    I think we would all agree with someone who said “We need somewhere to live”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right when they arrive at an estate agents and announce “We need a castle!”.

    Saying “I’ve just started my company and I need a website” is a little bit like that – and it’s often the first thing a prospective client will say. At this point, any experienced website designer will sit down and have a chat with the client and find out what they really need (much like an estate agent).

    The big problem about the “I need a website” camp is that it can get very expensive, very quickly. You’ll need to register domain names, rent server space, setup email accounts and configure mobiles, tablets and PCs to send and receive all your messages – and that’s all before you’ve even asked “What is the website for?”.

    The services you’ve talked about can offer a cheap alternative to contracting an experienced designer, but if you don’t know exactly what your website is going to be used for right now, I would shy away from setting one up entirely. For the time-being at least ;-)

    While you’re in the first throws of setting up your business, I recommend investing time and effort into Google and Facebook Pages. You’ll be able to leverage your existing audience (your connected friends) to spread the word about your new business and, instead of getting tied up with the intricacies of setting up a fully customisable website, you can get straight on with collating your content and focusing on your key messages.

    Going back to the housing analogy, starting out with a page on a social network is a bit like renting before you buy. One good thing about renting a house is you can work out what you really need – is your rented place too small or too big? Are there enough rooms? Do you really need that second bathroom? OK, you like gardening, but will you ever make the time to cut the grass? You wouldn’t go to an estate agent and let them sell you any old house with the understanding that you’ll ‘figure out what you need later’. That would be both crazy and expensive.

    If you know what your website is for and how you need it to work, you might decide that a “Quick Build Website” is exactly what you need – and that’s great. But don’t jump into it prematurely, as cheap is only cheap if it’s not a waste of money.

    Reply to this comment

    • Tom Howlett

      Tom Howlett 1st February 2013

      Hi Sii,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I definitely agree, a website is often something businesses think they should create or would benefit from without thinking about how it will grow as part of the overall business strategy.

      There is nothing wrong with initially creating a presence on the social networking websites as you mentioned. A good way to get a glimpse at the potential audience and to find a bit about what the audience are interested in or looking for.

      Not to mention, building that audience you can share a site with when heading down that route.

      Reply to this comment

  • Ade Lewis 1st February 2013

    Hi Tom,

    Great post and I agree with all of Sii’s comments.

    I think that anyone who is considering a website needs to define the reasons why they want one and identify goals that they want their website to achieve. Any website the gets built needs to achieve those goals.

    The problem with ‘Ready Made Websites’ is that they generally only tick the box of ‘I need a Website’. They aren’t structured to address any of your individual business goals and if they do match some of your business goals they do it in a very generic and uninspiring way.

    All of that said, if someone is just starting out and they have zero budget for a web designer then at least it is a web presence. People should still be able to find your business via your brand and get hold of your contact details but that is pretty much the limit of what can be expected.

    Reply to this comment

    • Tom Howlett

      Tom Howlett 1st February 2013

      Hi Ade,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      Exactly, creating a website is not a route to success in itself without a well-thought out strategy.

      There does seem to be a rise in platforms that enable non-coders to build websites – what do you think of these and where they are going in the future?

      Reply to this comment

      • Ade Lewis 1st February 2013

        Hi Tom,

        I don’t think that the issue is so much the need to be able to code, the real need is the ability to plan the structure of a website correctly and to create areas within a website that will enable you to capture relevant trafic and convert it. The type of person that would opt for a ready made website solution is unlikely to have the knowledge or experience to be able to plan their site correctly.

        The other consideration is that although the vast majority of these DIY website solutions claim to be SEO friendly, they most definitely aren’t. If a user is setting up one of these type of sites with the expectation that they are going to rank well then they are going to be disappointed.

        I would expect that the use of these platforms will grow but due to the lack of the ability to be individual, the inability to be creative and the inability to rank well that it will only impact on web designers that are knocking-out cheap templated websites that are not much different from the DIY ones.

  • Sii Cockerill 1st February 2013

    “where they are going in the future?”

    Hi Tom,

    I think this is a really interesting question. It’s a safe bet that the number of kids growing up with, and therefore taking an interest in publishing for, the internet will be far more in the future than right now.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation are sufficiently comfortable with HTML markup that they simply won’t *need* these kind of platforms.

    Of course, there’s always a flip-side and that is that if these platforms get enough traction and uptake from younger users, they may pave the way to what (in my opinion) would be a less bright future…

    Reply to this comment

    • Tom Howlett

      Tom Howlett 1st February 2013

      Will definitely be interesting if coding becomes a much more widespread knowledge within future generations.

      I have seen a growth in online educational platforms that help people learn code.

      I have however also seen an uptake in the number of younger people jumping on platforms like Tumblr, this may result in them being used to this type of platform or alternatively opens their eyes to the development side of things (a bit like the customisation of Myspace themes a while back).

      Reply to this comment

  • Tom Howlett

    Tom Howlett 1st February 2013

    @Ade

    I agree, in my experience those ‘quick build’ platforms are not built for SEO even though they claim to be and before users find this out, they are locked into these monthly payments.

    The larger companies listed at the top of this post really seem to be pushing these services lately, on TV and on their websites. Would not be surprised if the number of these sites grow, with little value added to the web as a whole.

    Reply to this comment

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