Over the last few years a number of free and cheap ‘sitebuilders’ have popped-up around the web claiming to offer a great solution for small and medium sized businesses. We’re talking about the likes of Moonfruit, Wix.com, Weebly and Squarespace but by the time you read this article there will no doubt be many more. Unfortunately some small and medium-sized businesses are finding the hard way that you get what you pay for at the end of the day!
A lot of these sitebuilders are promoted as being free and offering an intuitive web-based website building application allowing you to build a seemingly great website for your business. The good thing about these sitebuilders is that you don’t need to have any coding or web design experience to get started; the intuitive site-building user-interface takes care of everything for you. All you have to do is drag things around and design your site – if only things were that simple?
As these sitebuilders are seemingly so easy to use they can appear to be the perfect solution for many small businesses. After all, who wants to shell out a few thousand pounds on a bespoke web design if a free solution can do everything for free? Doesn’t quite stack up does it?
The problem is there are a lot of hidden flaws with these sitebuilders that most people aren’t aware of. Some of these flaws can have a hugely negative impact on your business in the long-term. Therefore we strongly recommend steering clear of these sitebuilders especially if you want your business to be seen by the millions surfing the web. So what are these issues?
You NEVER Own the Site
Perhaps the biggest and most problematic issue facing those who use sitebuilders is that you never actually own your website outright. Yes, you do own the domain name (with some of the sitebuilders such as Moonfruit at least) but you never own the website itself. Would you build a shop and hand ownership over to somebody else?
This doesn’t necessarily present a problem if you’re happy to keep paying monthly website fees for the entire length of time you are in business (which could be decades). However, if you ever want to buy your website outright, it’s impossible. You have no choice but to keep paying the monthly fees.
In effect you’re renting the website from the sitebuilder company for a monthly fee. This means that if you ever want to ‘go it alone’ for growth or flexibility, or want to move your website to your own hosting or to a different provider, you’ll have to start all over again. So, choosing the cheapest option to start your online business could prove to be extremely expensive in the long term.
If you look at most of the sitebuilders out there you’ll notice that they market their websites as ‘SEO friendly’. Search engine friendliness is an extremely important issue to consider when building a website for your business and the sitebuilders know this. This is the reason why the ‘SEO friendliness’ of their sites is so prominent in their marketing efforts. But are they REALLY SEO friendly?
While a lot of sitebuilders are a lot more ‘SEO friendly’ than they used to be, and in theory they are SEO friendly, we suggest you take a closer look. Moonfruit (pictured above) only used to allow you to create entirely Flash-based websites (as did a lot of other sitebuilders) which are terrible for SEO purposes – search engines are unable to effectively crawl Flash content. Luckily, Moonfruit now offers a HTML5 website builder which is at least crawl-able by the search engines but this still has major critical flaws which should be considered as basic practice.
Despite substantial improvements however, most sitebuilders are still a long way from being SEO friendly. For example, if you take a look at the above screenshot taken from a Moonfruit template, you’ll notice that everything looks quite nice. However, if you delve under the hood (i.e. into the HTML code) you’ll find that there are actually two H1 tags on the site. H1 tags are extremely important in terms of SEO as it tells Google (and other search engines) what your website is about. It essentially acts as the main title of the page.
It is standard practice in the SEO world to use only one H1 tag per page, as more than one can often confuse search engines. Moonfruit offers no way to edit or decide which aspects of your page should use which HTML attributes; it appears to all be handled behind-the-scenes which gives you very little control over your site.
This is also the same with Wix.com and many of the other website builders. Some templates don’t feature H1 – H6 tags at all on the page; this can be a big issue. It’s also the same with title tags and descriptions on some templates. This is basic SEO and these are issues we found without delving too deeply – just imagine if we took a closer look, what else might we find?
Domain and Hosting Restrictions
Most sitebuilders have quite a few restrictions in terms of the domain and the hosting. For example, most of them aren’t too generous with the amount of web space and hosting they provide considering the monthly fee they charge.
Moonfruit will only give you unlimited bandwidth when you opt for a package that is £13.50 a month or more. Anything below this will get you just 20GB of bandwidth or less and only 1GB of web space. While this is probably perfectly acceptable for most small businesses, it can cause some issues in terms of growth as you may need to upgrade to a more costly plan if your website starts getting a lot of visitors. Many self-hosting options will offer unlimited bandwidth for a much lower cost but still without the correct advice and look out for oversell as you could equally be misled on normal self-hosted websites too.
In terms of the domain restrictions, almost all sitebuilders do allow you to transfer your domain away from them if you wish. Moonfruit allows this and so does Wix.com, you just have to request the transfer via the admin panel. This is the one part of your website that you own in most cases, and the most important part, so you’ll be able to keep your domain no matter what happens in the future. However, it can take these sitebuilders months to complete the transfer process!
A lot of people have reported the domain transfer process from many of the sitebuilders to be quite a hassle, especially with Wix.com as you can see on Trustpilot.com. It really comes down to doing your research before committing, obtaining quotes from real web company’s and checking the latest sitebuilder reviews – alarm bells should start to ring if you see a number of bad reviews. If these sitebuilder really are that simple, regardless of someone’s ability, the bad reviews should be a red flag to you.
If you’re starting a business it might be tempting to use one of these sitebuilders as the upfront costs are often extremely low. This allows you to get your business online with a decent looking website in very little time. Ultimately if your business was to really take off and you needed more flexibility it is likely to cost you more money and a great deal of time to move away from these sitebuilders – especially if you need a 3rd party to help. In most cases it would have been more cost effective, not to mention less time and stress, to do it properly the first time.
In the long-run, using a sitebuilder like Moonfruit, Wix.com or BT can be a poor solution. You’ll never own your site outright, you’ll likely face search engine friendliness issues and if you hire an SEO company there may be server access issues – some companies some may not even touch your website without recreating their own copy which adds further expense. Unfortunately the future is only going to get more challenging for these sitebuilders with Authorship, Microdata and Social Media being more prominent and these platforms could actually be holding your business back. If you decide to build your own online business surely you need to ensure it is seen by the largest audience possible?
The bottom line is that while these sitebuilders are perfectly acceptable for use if you’re creating a personal site, if you have budget issues or little knowledge of the industry, but they’re certainly not for businesses. They may have improved a lot over the last few years but there’s still a long way to go. What’s more, as a business don’t you feel you need the customer service and attention you deserve? A huge number of reviews regularly report poor customer support (especially with Wix.com) which can make resolving any issues a nightmare. Time is money! Do it right the first time…