When the web first came out of nowhere, building websites was a rare skill. No one even heard of website builders and everyone just tried to figure it out. In this environment, coding a website was a skill in high demand.
As the web developed, different softwares tried to make it easy for everyone to build simple websites. Web developers had to shift to offer more complex implementations like boards, shopping cards etc.
Today, however, website builders cover the whole technical spectrum. Everyone can go out there and build their own website. All it takes are a few clicks and we're done. On top of that, website builders cost next to nothing.
A decent monthly plan (read: without ads ) will cost you $11 with WIX, $12 with Squarespace, and $12 with Weebly. All plans come without domain so you'll have to add another $2 per month for that. In the end, you're looking at about $150 – $200 per year in website costs.
A closer look
I'm sure the questions has crossed your mind why a website that was made with one of the many website builders could look very similar to a custom website that cost upwards of $10.000. Why would someone pay so much if they could have it (almost) for free? We just chuck it away as foolishness or laziness. Or maybe too much money.
But the real answer is that it's for same reason we pay our doctor over $100/hour. There are tons of resources out there to diagnose yourself. Just google your symptoms and you'll get a detailed diagnosis and remedies from Mayo, WebMd and even your local guru (if you dig long enough). So even though we have all theses resources we still go to the doctor. In fact, the health industry is still one of the highest paid professions in most countries even though the information is out there for everyone to diagnose themselves.
In medicine, we understand that solving our issue is often more complex than it might seem. There might be 15 different reasons why our leg hurt. A diagnosis consists of so much more than just symptoms and there are a lot of moving parts and things to consider. They look at our age, environment, medical history and a whole range of other things. They also have to take into consideration the recent advancement made in fields like mental health and even alternative medicine.
The quick fix
In all of life, we tend to go for the easy solution. But as people, we recognize more and more the failures of a simple fix. Consumers are tired of the mass markets and businesses across industries are trying to recognize the individual. In order to be heard, we have to know our customers intimately and care for them deeply.
Like a doctor, we have to think about how our people (customers, audience etc.) get to us. We have to test if our assumptions are right. We have to get to know them and show them that we care about them. We need to build a relationship and make sure that our remedy is right for them.
Our doctors are faced with the same decision. They can look at your symptoms and prescribe you a little pill that will take away the problem for about 80 percent of the population. They make the pain go away and you're back to your old self in no time.
Site builders are like a quick fix. They get you online fast and they are quick and simple. Your business will look professional and you will be under the illusion that you have your online presence covered. Website: check. Let's move on to the next thing.
Unfortunately, there is a lot we leave on the table.
We all have seen websites that look awful. Oftentimes, we can't even put our finger on the exact problem but we know that things just don't look right. That's often the result of owners building their websites themselves or hire it out for pennies.
A professional designer will design you a website that feels right. Some of that is intuition as some people have a better eye for designs than others but most of it is based on knowledge and experience.
Just like becoming a doctor, graphic design has to be learned in order to be great. In fact, a designers greatest trials in schools is being judged by their peers. Many design are shred to pieces but this process helps them to grow and allows them eventually to become a professional.
A page builder's remedy for this is a template. It usually looks great out-of-the-box as it was designed by professionals who understand how to balance a website. If you don't mess with it too much, you should have the aesthetics covered. But in the real world, a website is just like your business. It's evolving and changing. Things need to be updated and other things need to be added or deleted. And the more you change the design, the further away you move from what the designer signed off on.
Doing the right things
Doctors do what they do because they follow a check list to solve a problem. Anyone can listen to your heart beat, check your pulse and even pull out your teeth. The actions might look the same but we both know they are not. Doctors have wide range of knowledge and experience through which they interpret the result of their check list.
The magic happens when they combine their skills with the result of their checklist. What they produce from there is the reason we trust them and it's the reason we still pay them a lot of money to do what they do.
Designing a website works the same way. What good is a website, even a pretty one, if your visitors don't take action? A professional will take their skills and combine them with whatever tools necessary (even if it's made with one of the website builders) to make the magic happen.
Just as we go to the doctor to fix us, our website exists to fix a problem that we have. Whether our fix is generating more leads, building trust or selling our widget, we have to plan and build our website with the right prescriptions and remedies in mind. We have to build our website in a way that takes your visitors by the hand and guides them towards your final goal (sale, donation, relationship, support etc.).
Everything is possible if you have your own website. If you host your own website, you have access to everything. You can modify anything and build anything you will need in the future. Your business is alive and growing. You will have ideas and opportunities that you will want to execute through your website. With a self-hosted website, this is now a problem. It might cost you something but you can etch your dreams into the fibers of your web presence.
It's a complete different story with our web builders. Their simplicity comes with a price of limited access. Abstraction will always yield in. some kind of compromise. By removing the complexity they also remove your chance to break out of the mold. It's a product build for the masses which means you have to bend yourself in order to fit, not the other way around.
Customizations are only possible to a point. After that, they will tell you it's just not possible. The more a person gets involved with the possibilities of the web, the more ideas they want to implement. And with more energy and ideas being channeled to the web, the more WIX and the other website builders will simply tell you that it's not possible.
But than you already have your website build and you're invested in the platform. The only other chance you have is to completely abandon your website and start all over again. There is unfortunately no way for you to export your website, especially not into a system like WordPress.
TLDR: So should I use website builders?
In most cases, I wouldn't recommend it. Site builders are covering up the superficial urge of needing a website without ever considering what the real job of a website actually is. In most scenarios, this strategy will cost you a lot of money, especially over time.
But just like taking an Advil to get through the day, a quick fix is not always a bad idea. There are a few scenarios that I can think of where website builders might actually be a lot better than hiring a professional.
It's better to have a generic website than no website at all. It allows you to build domain authority and allows you to point the online community in the right direction. But remember: It's a short term fix and you should treat it that way. Relying on a bandage for too long will cost you not only money but also the opportunity to connect with your customer.
If you treat your website only to showcase your work, a site builder might be a good choice. People want to see what you created so as long as the website design is clean, simple and doesn't get in the way, you should be good. However, art is deeply personal so unless you're very specific in your art, you might lose even more business than the average.
You compete on price alone
If you don't care about branding or positioning, all you have left online is to be the cheapest. You won't need to worry about connecting with your audience because as long as you can push out your product for less than your competition, you have a market share.