02 Jul Why free website builders are harming the web design industry
Whilst watching some television this evening, an advertisement appeared that made me growl. The cat looked at me in surprise.
Companies offering “great value, free websites” are causing the web design industry a huge deal of harm. It’s a stack-em-high, give-em-away policy that depends on advertisement revenue and a growing user base to survive. But the knock on effects for the customer, professionals in the design industry, and the reputation of the sector as a whole are taking a huge hit as a result.
You get what you pay for
There is no doubt that the old adage – you get what you pay for – is true. That’s not to say there aren’t those out there who’ll rip you off as soon as look away for a moment, but you get that in every walk of life. When I talk to people about my job and my industry, one thing strikes me as it pervades their thoughts: why would anyone pay for that when you can get it done for free these days?
But what exactly is it that you get “for free”. No one is going to build your website for you for no cost, not unless they owe you a pretty whopping favour. They may provide you with a free, low quality platform to construct a rudimentary website on, but that’s about it. This website is based on a poor WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) framework that often leaves the code it generates a scrambled mess. You’ll get a poor domain name, like http://myawesomecompany.freewebsitebuilder.com. “Who cares!?” I hear you cry. Well, Google, for one. A poorly designed website is at an instant disadvantage today, and if your competitors have invested in a real and properly constructed digital presence, then you don’t stand a chance.
Also, you have the added disadvantage of having to build the site yourself. You’ll need to design it with one of their pre-packaged templates, meaning that you’ll only get a website that looks like thousands of others. If it does allow you to design your own, then you have to go through the arduous task of designing this in a clunky interface. “But it’s free!” Yes, it is free. If you’ve got enough time to spare to waste it away constructing a sub-par website, then go right ahead.
Professional web design and development offers bespoke coding written to a high standard. It’s not generated by a computer trying to piece together the items you drag around. If the piece of software compiling your website was written to a high standard, everyone would be using it, and it certainly wouldn’t be free. That’s just capitalism in action.
Web design is easy, they don’t need paid to do something that simple
The idea that web design is easy has spawned from this kind of free product. If everyone can do it, then the people who charge must be out to rip you off, right?
Learning the interactions between platforms, compatibility between programming languages, the software skills to create brilliant designs or secure databases doesn’t just happen. It requires college or degree level education, or, if you teach yourself, years of self-education. In other words, the person who has learned these skills has invested time and/or money to reach the level of proficiency that allows them to offer you a quality service. No one questions having to pay a lawyer for legal advice, because the law is complicated. Sit someone down with the English legal system, and the entire manuals for PHP, HTML5, CSS3, mySQL and just basic server/network education, and ask them to choose which one they’d like to study for the next five years? I think most people would stand up and walk away.
Websites are a con
Ultimately, when the user of a free website system has spent the time to build their website and launch it, and then subsequently advertise it to the world, they want to see a return on that investment (of time). In the vast, vast majority of cases, that return never arrives. The website they produce cheapens your brand, frustrates the user with an unfriendly user interface, or it doesn’t provide the confidence a customer wants before handing money over to you.
This leads to a feeling of alienation. “Well,” the user muses, “I built a website and nothing happened, therefore the entire thing is a waste of time.”
That’s only half true. There was a waste of time, but it wasn’t the decision to move into the digital world. It was the time spent slaving away on a useless free website builder.
Web design agencies worth their salt understand that building a website (and building it well) is only part of the job. What follows is SEO and marketing, to propel that website forward and deliver results.
If you opened a shop, but the windows were dirty and full of cobwebs and dust, then few people would enter, even if you were selling the highest quality product around. Your website is your shop window, so treat it with the care and consideration it deserves.
Web agencies are only after my money
It seems that, often, web designers are thrown in to the same stereotype as builders: lazy, idle and only interested in getting home with your cash. But just like time catches up with bad builders as their reputation is slowly tarnished and their referrals dry up, the same is true with web design agencies. It is in our best interests for you to leave completely satisfied with the end product, and the process that got us there. We want you to tell your friends how happy you are with the design, the site and us. Therefore, it is in our interest as an industry to provide value for money, and compete with other agencies to give you the best possible deal.
That said, the knowledge, experience and equipment it takes to deliver outstanding results that leave customers delighted does not come cheaply. There will always be someone out there who can promise you the same for less, but will they actually deliver?
Advertisements or companies who offer to build your website for free have to make money somehow. It costs a lot to take out that advert on television, and if they’re not charging you anything, where is the money coming from? Will it be ads on your website you cannot control? Hidden costs further down the line? Who knows, but either way, not all that glitters is gold. Firms that offer such promises are tarnishing the industry. They demean the value of the work, the quality of individuals in the industry, and they leave the customer with a sour taste in their mouth.
At Geonet, we believe that if you pay are paying a premium, you deserve a high quality of work, support and communication along the way. At the end of the day, we all want to go home happy and successful.
And with that, the cat has fallen back to sleep.