Website builders are fairly popular these days. For anyone who’s not well versed in the latest website development technologies, the fuss about website builders may have gone unnoticed.
What Is A Website Builder?
A website builder is an online platform that allows the customer to create a fresh, interesting website in record time without needing to know a single line of computer code.
The customer also doesn’t need to be able to perform graphic design duties to create a logo, a header, a footer, or other graphical elements that help make up a complete website design.
How Did Website Builders Get Their Start?
The first notable website builder was actually Geocities which allowed anyone to sign up for a site and launch it. The website would host the site on their own web server infrastructure which made it essentially free for its customers who wanted a hobby site or a personal website on the internet. The success of Geocities created many imitators and Yahoo! acquired the business for $3.6 billion a few years’ later.
Whilst Geocities failed to keep up with the fast-moving times and lagged behind new entrants, other companies saw an opportunity to offer affordable website solutions either as a free option or with premium services added on.
Standalone Website Builder or Web Host Added Feature
There is a distinguishing factor with website builders.
Some are standalone businesses singularly focused on offering the ultimate experience for customers who wish to launch a website quickly. Other solutions are provided by web hosting companies who are asked by their customers to provide a simplified way to help new customers launch a website sooner rather than later using their hosting service.
Pros & Cons of Standalone vs. Web Hosting Building Platforms
With standalone website builders, once the customer has learned their system, it is a simple matter to create a second website, add a page, or fine tune what has already been created. It is possible to find a developer or a freelance writer who will help do more with the platform too.
Looking at web hosting companies with website platforms, these are often proprietary systems unique to them. They’re not always the most user-friendly or intuitive either. It is unlikely that updates come frequently and when they do, they’ll typically lack documentation or a clear explanation how to adapt to the changes.
The website builder system will also be directly linked to the web host themselves making it tricky, or impossible, to switch to a different web host without losing the structure and design of the website in the process. This may not be much of a concern for someone only wanting a hobby site or a teenager interested in showing off her first jewellery designs to her friends, but for anyone looking to tip-toe into the world of online business, perhaps for the first time, not having the flexibility to make changes to the web host can have troubling real world implications down the line.
Are Free Website Builder Sites Worth It?
There are free website builders and free/premium website builders that straddle between the free and paid business model.
Choosing the right website builder is all about determining what the main requirements are. It is an excellent idea to compare the best website builders to select the most appropriate one.
With completely free website builders, the issue here is sustainability. How can they stay in business if they do not charge for their service? In some cases, they do not charge individuals, but will charge small businesses for websites and hosting. In other cases, they could have unsightly banner ads that get automatically added to every web page on the hosted site. Should a site visitor click on one of their advertising banners, the free website builder company generates a small amount of revenue.
Outside of the paid corporate option, free website builders tend to launch their service and disappear pretty quickly because the business model isn’t sustainable. Web servers, technical staff and customer service teams are not free after all. When the company fails, it takes the hosted websites down with it which for customers without a backup of their site can be a real problem.
How Premium Website Builders Are Structured
Premium website builders usually combine elements of a free offer and a paid offer.
In the first instance, it is usually possible to choose from a few of their website templates, a sub-domain and use their web hosting to get online quickly with a new site. With website builders that offer a basic free service, this is a fairly standard offering.
Beyond the completely free option, there are add ons or premium account options that provide a greater degree of choice of templates, features and technologies available to paying customers.
Depending on the website builder, an account may come with one or more email accounts ready for use, an allocated amount of disk space, and an allowable level of bandwidth from site visitors. These features will vary from provider to provider.
Theme / Template Selection
Just like with WordPress that supports a smaller selection of themes and an extremely limited range of WordPress plug-ins for use on their free platform, mainstream website builders will often offer a limited number of design templates; they’ll restrict full access to their portfolio of hundreds of different website designs for paid accounts. The more picky the customer is about how their website will look, the more that they’re likely to benefit from opening their pocket book and going premium.
Sub-domain vs. Own Domain
One of the main differentiators between free and premium site builder accounts is that whilst most accounts will be hosted on a sub-domain like a few will actually use their own domain name.
The benefit of owning the domain is that the customer then has greater control over their online destiny. They are still able to use the design and structure that using the website builder affords, but they can do so more on their own terms.
In many cases, a website builder will offer a free .com domain name with each premium account upgrade when signed up for a period like 6 months or one year.
Hosted vs. Self-Hosted
This brings us to the difference between hosted accounts and self-hosted accounts. With a sub-domain, this is hosted with the website builder. It is treated as a separate area on the server with its own directory structure, but it is still intrinsically linked to the hosting provided by the website builder.
When going down the registered domain route instead of using a sub-domain with a website builder, it is often necessary to also arrange for separate web hosting too (some builders will offer hosting for registered domains too). This means that whilst the domain is owned by the customer, the hosting provider can be changed should this become necessary for whatever reason. Such a move provides a greater level of control which will appeal to home-based businesses and other new enterprises that can imagine the need to expand beyond humble online beginnings further down the line.
With more advanced hosting on virtual private servers, dedicated servers and cloud servers, it is possible to use an existing site design from a website builder whilst enjoying more robust hosting solutions. This creates the best of both worlds with the customer owning the domain and paying for the high-performance hosting account separately, whilst still retaining the design infrastructure that they found so easy to use in the first place.