THE SPECTRUM OF WEB DESIGN — CONVENIENCE OR CUSTOM?
Discover the advantages and disadvantages of both website builder platforms and bespoke web design. Using these insights, as well as the particular needs of your organisation, you can decide which approach is best for your brand. Is it a simple matter of convenience vs custom, or is there more to the story?
WEB DESIGN EXPLAINED
Web design has come a long way since the early days of the internet. Once clunky, slow and unattractive, it has evolved to make user experience enjoyable and increase conversions through clever and interactive design. These principles form the basis of web best practices, which you can learn more about here. Techopedia defines web design as;
“the web development process for creating a website that focuses on aesthetic factors like layout, user interface and other visual imagery in order to make the website more visually appealing and easy to use.”
Once involving complex web development and expert coding knowledge, website creation has become more accessible than ever. Content Management Systems, templated designs and, more recently, web builder platforms allow for just about anyone (without much technical knowledge) to implement and manage a site in a quick, easy and cost-effective manner.
*User Experience = all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound, and interaction
*Web Development / Coding = tasks associated with developing websites for hosting via intranet or internet. It involves coding languages, such as html, to create visual elements and on-site functionality
*Content Management Systems = computer software used to manage the creation and modification of digital content
Web builder platforms are relatively new applications that allow you to design and develop websites in a “drag and drop” style fashion. They’re usually composed of modular elements, widgets and plugins that can be placed, moved around and edited. They require little to no coding knowledge, making web development accessible to almost anyone. Examples of web builders are Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Elementor and certain WordPress templates and plugins.
The main advantage is that you can get a website up relatively easily, quickly and cheaply. Content and functionality can be added (and managed) without the need for a developer. Many of its features incorporate web design best practices, allowing for tried and tested user experience. The disadvantages of web builder applications are that they often lack responsiveness, SEO capabilities, flexibility and functionality, leading to uncreative and sometimes even sub-par websites. Ironically, some are difficult to use. Furthermore, by using third-party web builders, brands can become too reliant on them, subject to unwanted changes, ongoing fees and even termination — should the provider no longer exist.
*Widgets = an application that is embedded as an element of a host web page, but which is independent of the host page, e.g. ‘popular products preview’
*Plugins = a software component that adds a specific feature to an existing computer program, e.g. WooCommerce
*SEO = practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results
WEB BUILDER ADVANTAGES
- Get a Website Up Quickly & Cheaply — Complex coding associated with bespoke websites is time consuming and costly. Most web builder platforms are relatively cheap, easy to use and often offer helpful tutorials. Using its “drag and drop” functionality, just about anyone can design an attractive and functioning website in a timely fashion.
- Maintain a Website Easily (no coding needed) — Besides the initial design, web builders allow users to easily add and maintain content on websites. They provide intuitive and easy-to-use Content Management Systems that require little to no training and/or coding knowledge. This also democratises task delegation, allowing content managers the freedom to edit content at will, while developers can focus on other tasks (or are not needed at all).
- Add in Functionality Easily (no coding needed) — Along these lines, additional features and functionality can be added easily with little to no coding knowledge. Most web builders offer a host of predesigned plugins and widgets for just about anything. Examples are newsletter signups; social media displays and even entire e-commerce extensions. It is however important to keep in mind that too many of these could potentially bloat the website, slowly it down considerably.
- Collections & Libraries of Applications — Web builders offer a large collection of applications and features. These are tried and tested add-ons that have been designed by other developers. Thus, if brands want to add extra functionality to their websites, they can choose from an extensive library of existing options. These can also be swapped out easily and quickly.
- Templates Include Many Best Practices — Unlike completely unique and original design, web builders almost exclusively make use of best design practices, such as top line navigation, clear calls-to-action, headers and footers. These allow customers to easily discover sites, know what to expect, provide optimal user experience and increase the likelihood of conversions.
*E-commerce = commercial transactions conducted electronically on the internet Calls-to-action = an instruction to the audience designed to provoke an immediate response
*Conversions = when a visitor to your website completes a desired goal, such as filling out a form or making a purchase
WEB BUILDER DISADVANTAGES
- Limited Responsiveness & Functionality — While almost any plugin or widget can be found, something completely original cannot be added to a web builder website. If you want your site to be truly unique, you will need to develop a fully customised creation. Furthermore, mobile friendliness and responsiveness could be a potential issue as these elements cannot be fine-tuned.
- Limited Customisation & Creativity — Limited flexibility can lead to websites that are uncreative and boring to the user. Worse still, the limitations of the web builder can result in a site that does not meet the needs of the client/customer and, essentially, is not fit for purpose.
- Ease-of-Use Can Be an Issue — Ironically, ease-of-use can be an issue with web builders. While developers know and speak a language, platforms like Elementor may require a steep initial learning curve, especially for people who are not technologically inclined. At times, these programs can be frustrating, and may even necessitate a small amount of coding knowledge.
- Missing SEO Elements — One of the biggest issues with web builders is their lack of flexibility when it comes to SEO best practices. While they incorporate some of these, there is a lack of customisation in favour of simplicity. Many elements are automated and limit the opportunities for keyword optimisation.
- Subject to Third-party Providers & Hosting — By operating, accessing and hosting your website through a third-party provider, you are essentially subject to their terms and conditions. In most cases this involves a recurring fee. There may also be certain updates that you’re not in favour of or, worst case, your website may be terminated should the company fail or close.
*Keywords = a word or a group of words an internet user uses to perform a search in a search engine or search bar
CUSTOM WEB DESIGN
A custom designed website is one where every element of the site is uniquely created to fit the specific needs of the client/customer. This is often required when the brief goes beyond standard best practice, the website offers unique functionality and/or it is trying to make an impact through exceptional design and user experience. Everything is created “from scratch” with no modular or “drag and drop” components. This means that web developers are required to bring the client’s vision to fruition.
The main advantage of bespoke design is that the website is truly unique, with advanced and flexible functionality. It is usually faster, more mobile friendly, offers better cyber security and customisable SEO. Some of the disadvantages are that its creation can be expensive, laborious and time consuming. Due to it needing coding knowledge, managing its content and functionality can be difficult. With no automatic updates the website can also quickly become outdated in terms of look and feel, features, functionality and even speed.
CUSTOM DESIGN ADVANTAGES
- Creative, Unique Design (stand out from the crowd) — By being fully bespoke, websites are not limited by the capacity of a web builder application. This means that every site is truly unique and meets the client’s brief in the most creative way possible. This allows brands to stand out from the crowd and be remembered among the “clutter” of conventional design practices.
- More Functionality — Again, by not being limited by the capacity of a web builder, bespoke websites have the opportunity for a much broader spectrum of features and functionality. Within reason, developers can create just about anything that a client may request. While this is advantageous, necessity, cost, labour and speed must be considered.
- Cyber Safety — Enhanced safety and security can be “hard coded” into a custom website. Furthermore, because of how web builders are hosted and accessed, they may be more vulnerable to infiltration, online attacks and compromised data. Thus, on the whole, bespoke creations tend to have better cyber security.
- SEO Benefits — While web builder platforms incorporate many best practices (including those related to SEO), they tend to not be very flexible. For example, many will auto-generate title tags, which may not be specifically optimised for a brand’s requirements. Its sometimes simplified (or overly bloated) coding, may too limit a website’s SEO capabilities.
*Cyber Security = the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks
*Title Tags = html element that specifies the title of a web page
CUSTOM DESIGN DISADVANTAGES
- Can Be Expensive & Time Consuming — As the website is “designed from scratch”, it can be extremely laborious and time consuming. Again, this depends on the complexity of the client/customer’s brief. If they want to do something truly unique, it may be untested, unsuccessful (from a user experience or conversion perspective) or may not even be technically possible. The efforts of a good developer also usually come with a hefty price tag.
- Website Management Issues (coding knowledge may be needed) — As per the creation of the website itself, managing the content of a bespoke site generally involves (at least some) coding knowledge. This can range from basic html and styling elements, through to advanced development. In some cases, the developer may even be required every time the brand wants to add new content — this can be frustrating, time consuming and expensive.
- Functionality Issues (coding knowledge needed) — Along these lines, every time a client wants to add additional functionality to the website, this will require the services of a developer. While “drag and drop” applications allow one to add, move and edits ready-made widgets and plugins easily, custom design may require these to be coded from scratch — also a laborious, time consuming and expensive process.
- Outdated Code, Features & SEO — Web builder platforms tend to be automatically updated on a regular basis. This means that its widgets, plugins, SEO and coding reflect best practices at the time. It may also offer new features and functionality that have proven to be successful from a user experience/conversion perspective. Conversely, bespoke websites may stand still unless regularly optimised by developers. If not well maintained, they can quickly become outdated, underperforming and slow.
- Best Practices May Not Be Included — Due to the fact that custom design has the potential to be truly unique, it may not always follow conventional best practices. While this is sometimes good (allowing your brand to stand out from the crowd), this can also lead to user confusion. Best practices are there for a reason — they are a tried and tested way for customers to discover, engage and convert online.
*Html = Hypertext Markup Language, a standardized system for tagging text files to achieve font, colour, graphic, and hyperlink effects on world wide web pages
WEBSITE BUILDER PLATFORMS VS CUSTOM WEB DESIGN
So, after weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of web builders and bespoke design, what is better? Well, it really depends on a number of factors, including the goal of the website (what it’s for), the functionality required (what the website needs to do) and the resources of the brand from a financial, timescale and people perspective.
Both the organisational and website goals need to be considered when choosing how to create a website. Does it serve as a means to increase brand awareness, create a community, portfolio or promote the brand? Perhaps it has more complex goals, such as customising things online, completing conversions or e-commerce applications. Generally, the more intricate/specific the goal, the more customised the site needs to be.
Furthermore, brands need to decide whether they want to create a simple site or a unique design that stands out from the crowd. Impressive experiences require more effort. Also, sites with larger user volumes may necessitate a more customised approach.
In line with its goals, websites require different levels of features. Even similar goals (e.g. sales) may need different types of functionality. For example, some could use a simple e-commerce plugin, while others may call for a unique piece of code that allows for the online customisation of products. Some may be so unique that no plugin, widget or template actually exists that performs that particular function.
BRAND RESOURCES (FINANCIAL)
Money may also be an issue. Generally speaking, web builders are much cheaper as they do not require the expensive services of a web developer. If budgets are tight, it may be worth considering starting off with a templated design and upgrading to a fully bespoke website once the brand/financial situation is more established. Conversely, the latter could be a once off payment, while many web builders require a monthly subscription or recurring fee.
BRAND RESOURCES (PEOPLE)
If the company has an in-house developer, it could make sense for them to create a customised website. Their services could also be used to update functionality and content if necessary. If the brand has a resource issue (i.e. no developer or too few employees), it may be beneficial to use a web builder to aid in task delegation.
Another consideration is that of time. If a company wants to get a website up quickly, web builder platforms may be the best solution to go about this. Web development is an extremely time-consuming endeavour, especially if it requires complex functionality and unique user experience. Most web builders allow for basic sites to be implemented by virtually anyone in a relatively easy and timely fashion
Taking all these factors into account, it should be clear whether your brand demands a web builder/templated website, or a completely customised creation.
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