Website Design – An Opportunity and a Debate
Website Builders vs. Design Companies
Website Design – An Opportunity and a Debate
Your website is your online identity. Whether you’re selling organic oatmeal, a mobile application, or wholesale teddy bears, your website is the first thing customers are going to see when they search for more information on your product.
As more and more consumers get “connected”, the likelihood that they will search online for a brand increases. Nielsen estimates that 82% of customers seek online information through search engines. In spite of this, a shocking 44% of small businesses choose not to have a website. There is a clear opportunity lost here. (1)
Designing a website takes some thought, especially if you want yours to stand apart from the rest. With more than 1 billion websites registered in 2014 (2), that’s no mean feat you’re talking about. It thus follows that you have to make a major decision – who should design your website?
For a small business, specifically, the options are limited. Should you opt for a professional web designer, who will work on the basis of a brief you provide to give you a final product? Or should you take it into your own hands design something that is exactly what you want?
The answer a few years ago would have been simple – hire a web designer. Coding a website, especially one for an online business with a certain degree of complexity requires IT knowledge, a skill possessed by a select few. However, as the web developed, so did the tools necessary to build it, and now one sees a proliferation of online tools that help even the most basic internet users build their own website.
This trend has also had an impact on the industry for professional web service design. Whereas earlier on web designers could get away with charging obscene amounts of money to design a website, the skills required to build a website are now more evenly spread, and it’s not out of the question to hire a budget-friendly web designer who can serve you up an equally satisfactory product.
Cost is just one of the aspects of this debate that matters to small businesses. In fact, there are many considerations that one must take into account when making this decision, and we shall now explore which they are, and why they matter to your overall plan for an online presence.
What do web designers do?
Perhaps the first thing you’d ask yourself before hiring any professional is – what exactly are you paying for? Understanding the range of services that a web designer provides you with versus a more do-it-yourself approach might be helpful in deciding whether you really do need someone to help you out.
Web designers are both, the creative and technical masterminds behind websites. Not only do they understand the building blocks behind a website – its code and functionality, but they also have an eye for aesthetics, and can make your website visually appealing.
Both of these are incredibly important from the perspective of a small business. Since you’re getting online, you want to be sure that your customers have a seamless, easy process in navigating your website, and the personality of your brand has to shine through.
Web designers offer diverse services that can help you create your website end-to-end. Typically, these services may include:
- Programming and coding of the website
- Design and aesthetics of the website
- Web hosting and maintenance
- Online marketing and search optimization
So which of these are truly indispensable? In other words, what can a web designer give you that a website builder cannot?
Pros of Hiring a Professional Web Designer
The first thing is customization. Whereas website builders are great for simple, non-fussy websites that don’t need any ground-breaking, sophisticated features, website designers can help you with designs of a greater complexity.
A website that is unconventional in design, has a complex payment process, requires many additional features and multimedia might be best when designed by a professional. Though website builders offer these functionalities, they are still too basic to compete with a custom website design that would be created for you by a professional.
Another important aspect is that web design is a one-time process, but website maintenance isn’t. This is a time consuming and complex task. Hiring a web designers is ideal when you don’t want to singlehandedly be responsible for the upkeep of your website, whether it is improving its usability from time to time, optimizing it for search engines, and keeping content up to date and relevant.
With respect to this arises the question of technical expertise, which website designers are paid for. It is impossible to expect a small business owner to have the time to learn about the nuances of web design, online marketing, and smooth website functionality while running a businesses. In the short run, while the cost savings gained from using a website builder may be worth it, it could potentially cause you losses in maintenance or lost sales if your website doesn’t work as it should. And this can matter more than you think. An estimated 40% of internet users will abandon a website if it doesn’t load in three seconds. Whether you want to be condemned to internet anonymity because of this is up to you. (3)
Hiring a web designer often means that your website can be more flexible. Most website builders offer a range of templates along with add-ins and widgets that you can adjust to suit your website needs. However, this makes it difficult for your website to stand out from the other thousands that will likely use the same or similar templates through the website builder. In addition to this, many website builders maintain agreements with hosting partners, which means that in case you want to change your web-hosting service, it may not be as easy to do so if you have used the website builder to create your site.
All these clear benefits still leave some room for doubt in the minds of small business owners. In fact, the majority of brands still opt for professional web design and programming services, whereas a meagre 3% of online businesses choose to do-it-themselves. (4)
While the statistics may be discouraging, this is changing fast due to the increasing functionalities of website building tools such as Weebly, Wix, and others. In fact, building your own website is no longer the complex task it once was, and the reasons for choosing this option are aplenty.
What can a website building tool offer me?
Website builders offer comprehensive web hosting and design services in an integrated package at a comparatively lower price than web designers. What makes them ideal for small business owners is the simple interface that they offer for creating your own website.
Weebly, for example, uses a simple drag-and-drop interface that allows the user to add and remove website elements, such as pictures, text, multimedia and more, in order to visualize the page much in the same way as a Powerpoint presentation would.
The improving functionality of these sites now mean that they support mobile versions, e-commerce options, online forms, and other features that once were too complex for them to support. Apart from the design and functionality aspect, website building services have also ramped up their offerings to include traditional services offered by web designers as well, including hosting, development, customer support, and website optimization.
Pros of Building Your Own Website
Being a complex and time consuming process, it’s easy to see why many small business owners shy away from taking matters into their own hands when it comes to creating their own websites. In addition to this, web designers are known to quote outrageous amounts of money for the simplest websites, which makes them a non-option for those working with a limited budget.
As website building tools begin to flourish, and the knowledge required for coding becomes more widespread, the benefits of building your own site become more tangible.
The first aspect most business owners consider is that of the cost. While this is discussed in more detail later, it is clear that hiring a professional service to build your website with a certain degree of customization is going to cost you. Whether you think the investment is worth it to stand apart is up to you. However, many small businesses eschew the importance of creating a unique, one-of-a-kind website in favour of a cheaper web design option, since in their case customization is not as important. In addition to this, web hosting services nowadays offer bargains and deals when it comes to building your own site, which makes the potential cost saving hard to resist.
The other thing that’s changing is the complexity of website builders. Whereas earlier, they offered limited functionality and were hard to understand, these tools have become much more sophisticated, and for a small business owner who doesn’t need any complicated functionality, offer the perfect package. Sites like Weebly and Wix now offer the option of inserting multimedia, search engine optimization tools, and many other features on a simple, easy to understand user interface that lets even amateurs build reasonably good looking websites.
What’s more, taking control of your own website saves you a lot of time, which a professional would need in order to deliver a website that meets your needs. Building a quick and easy site using a website builder for someone with even a marginal knowledge of web design is a matter of a couple of hours, whereas with a professional web designer, understanding and meeting the needs of a creative brief, vetting and changes usually take much more time than anticipated.
The final point to consider is website maintenance. Many website builders offer in-built functionalities that allow you to easily maintain and control your website even after it’s been built. Technical support and 24-hour customer services are available for clients who pay for website building and hosting services. This is not always foolproof, as you are dependent on the website building site’s capabilities, but it spares you the hassle of having to ensure everything is smoothly running at all times by yourself.
So when it comes down to it, many state two main arguments to justify a choice between a professional web designer and a website builder – cost and customization. While customization determines the complexity of your website, how unique you want it to be, or what kind of functionality is required, cost is a more pragmatic issue, and is a major concern for small business owners who need to see the return on an investment on either of the two options to be assured of their choice.
How does one measure the return on investment of good web design?
Statistics prove time and again that good web design is critical in converting customers. 48% of customers have been said to cite web design as the number one factor in deciding the credibility of a business. (5) Considering this figure, it is clear to see that investing in a good website is much more than looking good online. However, at what cost are you willing to invest in it?
The cost of hiring a good web designer is considerable. Full service design firms can charge up to a few thousand dollars simply for designing a website, with additional costs for hosting, maintenance and support. Hiring a freelance web designer online seems a more feasible option, with many online marketplaces for programming and coding talent available. While hiring a professional online may save your wallet some pain, the quality of hiring such talent can only be assured up to a certain extent, and possibility of continuing to work with the same designer throughout the life of your website is extremely low.
Website builders, by contrast, offer subscription style packages for web design and hosting, which vary in features and cost depending on what they include. However, even the most complex of these packages does not even come close to the cost of hiring a professional web designer, and is likely to cost you a fraction of the price.
As has been discussed, however, cost is only one crucial aspect for you to consider while making a decision. An ideal way to approach the question is by first creating a plan for your website; charting out exactly what functions you require, the desired quality of the design, how the user interface will look and flow, and comparing this with your knowledge of web design.
Depending on whether your site requires special attention, or you feel that a simplicity will suffice as well, it then becomes easier to make your decision. Crafting this plan is crucial, however, since either way, it gives you something to work with, whether you decide to hire a professional, or do it yourself.
Once you have got the plan, it becomes easier to look at more concrete factors, such as your budget, timeline, and the amount of time you can devote to your own website.
Whichever option you choose, make sure you are satisfied with the end product, and that you test it equally well, so that customers are treated to the same experience as you are when they finally visit your website. Web design may seem like a small drop in the ocean of the internet, but you’ll find out that if done well, it can lead you a long way down the road towards online success.
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