Anyone can create a website, but the end result depends on the tools you use.
Since the earliest days of web design, website builder software has offered an affordable way for less tech-savvy users to launch their own website without the need to master Photoshop, content management systems or coding.
The other option is a more complex, custom-built solution that requires technical skills, either from the website owner or an external designer.
But which one is the right choice for your business or organisation? More controversially, do you even need a website at all? A third option is to maintain an online presence just using social media.
Option 1: website builder
A website builder is a software tool that allows the user to design and edit websites using a simple ‘what you see is what you get’ or WYSIWYG interface. This is usually achieved with drag-and-drop functionality that lets the user easily place chunks of content including blocks of text, images and other design elements.
Anything that requires technical knowledge, like the HTML and CSS code, is kept hidden away from the user, with designs largely based on pre-defined templates.
With the technology powering these tools constantly evolving, website builders have come a long way. While customisation is ultimately limited by the underlying templates, website builder feature sets are expansive enough to allow a much higher degree of customisation than was previously possible.
The sheer number of available design themes and add-ons have made website builders more viable than ever, and the future could even see AI-based tools used to automatically generate layouts for the user.
To state the obvious, website builders are cheap. At least, in comparison to what a custom-designed website costs to create and maintain. For just a few pounds a month, you can build a fully functional website on a unique domain name, update it yourself whenever you need to, and keep it online with the web hosting included.
The time taken to get up and running is another major plus for website builders. Compared to a customised project, you can be online in a matter of minutes, not days – although making sure your site doesn’t look totally generic can take a little longer.
All this makes website builders ideal for hobbyists, bloggers and startups looking to maximise savings, as well as small businesses and individuals who need a simple but professional web presence.
Option 2: web design
Unlike a site made with a website builder, a custom-designed project can be basically anything you can imagine. Designers aren’t limited by set templates or tools, with the ability to use any content management system or programming language to get the desired results.
A custom site can also be designed with very specific functionality, tailored to the needs of your business or industry – something that isn’t easily accomplished with a website builder.
When it comes to larger, more complex websites, even the most advanced website builder doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Put simply, these sites are too valuable for them not to be ‘just right’.
When you rely on your website to generate significant income, not investing in the best possible design could lose you money in the long run. A unique design gives you more control over things like custom order paths and upselling – vital in larger-scale ecommerce applications.
Another area where a custom site has real benefits is search engine optimisation. To appear high up in the Google rankings, you really need your own website. While website builders can offer some SEO features, fine-grain control of your website lets you fully implement a cohesive SEO strategy using tools like Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager and sitemaps.
If you’re considering either buying a website builder or hiring a designer, you’re probably not familiar with web development yourself. But what if you are? For users wanting to get their hands dirty and create a site personally, it’s a simple case of choosing a content management system like Drupal or Joomla, and finding the right web hosting solution.
In some ways, the WordPress CMS offers an intermediate step between a website builder and more advanced development. With a relatively gentle learning curve and a wide range of great-looking free design themes, WordPress is the ideal CMS for beginners looking to create a more customised site. That said, the complexity of WordPress is a major step up from a standard website builder, with some technical knowledge required to get the best results.
Option 3: no website – just social media
With the modern internet often feeling like little more than a collection of social media platforms, the idea of dispensing with websites altogether has gained some traction. After all, if customers can find and contact you so easily via Facebook, why bother with the expense of a website?
With more than two billion active users on Facebook alone, you have a potential audience far larger than a single website could hope for. And by maximising your presence to take advantage of each platform’s major strengths, you can reach even more people.
You could use Facebook and Twitter for everyday updates and interactions, and Instagram for images highlighting your products or services. Upload video content to your YouTube channel, and network with business contacts on LinkedIn. And of course, link them all together.
This concept even goes beyond social media. Need to ensure people can find you? Make sure your Google Maps entry is accurate, and get yourself listed in as many free directories as possible.
On the ecommerce side, online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay provide platforms to sell to a ready-made audience of millions. You can even sell products on Facebook.
Now for some of the downsides. While some social media sites provide basic analytics built-in, these pale in comparison to the reporting tools available for standalone websites. You’re also left with next to no influence over your SEO on a social platform.
While you have direct control over your own website, the same can’t be said of social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are run by independent companies who can make changes to their services at will. When it comes to corporate policies and guidelines, theirs will always take precedence over your own. On top of that, can you even rely on them being around long-term? Just look at what happened to Myspace. Bebo, anyone?
Ready-made or custom-built, you need a website
Ultimately, it’s hard to get away from the expectation that any professional organisation will have its own website. Going social-only might seem attractive at first glance, but the credibility that only a website can provide is really far too valuable to throw away – not to mention the added SEO visibility of a dedicated web presence.
Unless you have literally no money to spend on it, your own website is a must. Even if your company is very social-focused, a simple portal linking to your various accounts is much better than nothing.
So whether you’re just starting out with a simple-but-effective website created with a site builder, or you’ve graduated up to a custom-designed web presence, having some kind of website is strongly recommended.
That’s not to say social media isn’t important, it just needs to work in tandem with a centralised, default point of contact on the web. Think of your website as the hub for all your online marketing, and the various social media platforms as spokes in the wheel.
For anyone looking for a quick and easy way to get a website up and running, Fasthosts Website Builder offers up to 100 customisable design templates, plus free stock images, email and a personalised domain name included.
Need more flexibility? Fasthosts web hosting offers the perfect way to host your custom projects, while our dedicated servers and CloudNX cloud hosting platform provide performance for even the most demanding applications. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more.