There are tools out there called website builders which, for the layman, can be make the process of building a simple website something they can do for themselves, and that’s great if you want to try your hand at some DIY web design without knowing how to code.
They each have their strengths, weaknesses and limitations, although you’ll see exaggerated claims from time to time with advertisements saying Build a website that can do everything!
A website that can do everything?
I worked in eCommerce for many years where the core website was dynamically displayed in 28 languages. It allowed customers to make international reservations in real time at over 8000 locations based on fleet availability for the location, dates and times selected.
Additional items and insurances could be added, and these varied by country and selections made. Pricing was dynamic and with currency conversion, and we had a very comprehensive loyalty scheme and CRM programme.
Even a multi-million dollar web platform like that couldn’t do everything, so I would recommend adverts saying Build a website that can do everything be taken with a pinch of salt!
How do web designers use website builders such as WordPress?
Most website builders work on a drag and drop basis, whereby a pre-defined template can be selected, and then with the help of a pallet of tools the web designer can insert a text area onto the page, insert images, change sizes, colours, etc., and move things around within the boundaries of the template.
Additional plug ins can be used to facilitate the build process and some plug ins will be used during the day to day working of the website.
I recently heard a web design podcast describing website builders to be a bit like Lego. You choose the bits you want and place them where you want them, and as long as you're comfortable with the trade off where ease of build comes with boundaries and limitations, you can build a nice looking website without having to learn anything about code.
That is what many web designers do today...
Many web designers do not understand web code!
Are there disadvantages when using website builders?
Many website builders generate a LOT of additional code, which along with the usual plug ins, very large images, and dozens of links to large external code files, styling and font libraries, can result in a website which might look good, but loads slowly.
There are exceptions, of course. Webflow, for example, allows the designer greater control over the code it generates, and in the right hands is capable of producing some incredibly slick, stylish, fast responsive websites.
The platform is in control
One thing that should not be overlooked is that the platform is in control.
What I mean by that is that if you have your website built with a website builder such as WordPress or Wix, your website will remain within the environment of that platform.
For example if it was built in 2021 using WordPress version 5.7, when version 5.8 was introduced in mid 2021 you would expect everything on your website to still function. And likewise when version 5.9 was introduced in early 2022.
So what could go wrong?
Sometimes things happen. They (WordPress, Wix, SquareSpace, and even some of the plug-ins they use) may have introduced something new in one of their version releases, and some of the earlier functionality might have been changed, removed or bugs fixed.
So besides WordPress releasing updates, the 3rd party companies who build the tools and plug-ins you choose for your website will also submit updates:
The theme you use for templates.
Tools such as Elementor to make page payouts and styling easy.
SEO tools such as Yoast, RankMath or SEO Press.
Widgets for buttons, forms, SEO, social media, open graph tag widgets, etc...
... all use 3rd party apps and plug-ins.
Updates ought to be considered improvements, and usually they are, but I'm sure we can all remember a time when an update to a computer operating system, a piece of software or app we use a lot causes us problems. Or maybe we liked it better before the update, and now we have to live with the changes.
Bear in mind too that not all plug-ins are compatible with each other. Fortunately there are some which will detect incompatibility and alert you, but that doesn't mean that they all will, and therefore you need to be aware of potential issues.
So if an update to your website builder platform negatively impacts your website, you're likely to need someone to fix a problem which happened outside of your control.
Web browsers don't need lots of additional code
The most efficient websites use no more code than is necessary.
Your web browsers (Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Edge, etc) only need to be told how and where to display the contents of a web page. An efficient well designed website will provide everything your browser needs (including the browser on your phone) to enable most pages to load in less than a second, and will only use the code needed for that purpose.
Less efficient websites may be pulling their main content from one server, font styles from another server, icons from another, styling definitions from somewhere else, and also requiring excessively large codebases to be downloaded, but only using 5-10% of the code. The remainder is excess but still needed to be downloaded before the web page would display.
The usual reason for this happening is the way many website builders work, and their tendency to generate websites using excessively heavy bloated code files which are 10-20 times larger than most sites require.
Also bear in mind that the more links on your page to external sources for fonts, styles and other things, the more connections any anti-virus software (Kasperski, Norton, McAfee, etc) may need to monitor each time someone visits your website. That can be another reason a page takes longer to load, and it may be completely unnecessary.
A real life example using Wix
Here is a real life example produced by a local web design agency using Wix. It shows the difference in how just two small pieces of content are handled.
Reignite Your Brand, Boost Your Business
These two very small pieces of content could be achieved with very little code, such as:
<p style="font-weight: 600">Reignite Your Brand, Boost Your Business</p>
However, the following extract this was taken from a web design agency's own website which they had built using Wix. As you can see from the code below, Wix handles this a little excessively because of the code it generates in the background when the web pages are being designed.
What does that mean in reality? Is it really a problem?
Based on the above example, it is easy to understand why, when an entire website is built using website builder tools which apply excessive code, the pages on that website can be slow to load.
This can also impact success with search engine results, and when there is such a lot of clutter just to display two small pieces of content, the chance of errors further down the line can be quite high and may be difficult to diagnose and fix.
Large images can be an even bigger problem. All of this can result in frustrated users or customers, who are more likely to leave your website than they would if it was quick and easy to use.
Besides streamlined code, images need to load quickly, and therefore they need to be of a size, format and resolution which will not keep your visitors or customers waiting, nor consume excessive data when viewed on a mobile phone.
Using different versions of an image and serve the most suitable version for desktop, mobile and tablet in landscape and portrait orientations is the best approach. I always consider this additional effort and attention to detail worthwhile.
Many website builders are free with limitation on their use, and some have costs attached (see below). Understandably many people are attracted by a free website tool, but then realise that the learning curve to get acquainted with the tool and everything else involved in building and publishing a website is outside of their comfort zone.
Do some research to figure out what their limitations are too. Whilst it's possible to make use of free tools and free plug-ins, they're limited. But you can make use of a great range of features by paying for annual subcriptions for different plan levels.
The scope of this article cannot hope to cover an extensive list of subscription plans for website builders and plug-ins, but to give you an idea, here are just a few:
But why not give it a try? If you get stuck, overwhelmed by the process, or decide that your time could be put to better use elsewhere, feel free to get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the page.
Likewise, if you reach the point where you have got your domain name registered and your website has been uploaded onto your hosting server, if you need some help with what needs to happen next, contact me.
Beyond the website
Remember that building the website is just part of the story. Targa can provide a website health check, and have a range of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) services which might suit your needs.
About the author: Having begun building websites back in 1996, Daron Harvey has been professionally involved in website design, UX and eCommerce best practices for over 26 years, including management of large multi-lingual global websites. Following the global pandemic Daron founded Targa Web Services, specialising in Website Design, Search Engine Optimisation, User Experience (UX/UI), etc.