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What’s the difference between a £5 website and a professional one?

Mark Tomkins - Creative Director at Aubergine
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Here are 7 key points that explain what you get for your money when it comes to websites.

There’s one question we are asked almost every week. Usually it starts with “I can get a website from GoDaddy or Wix for £5 or even for free, so why should I pay you thousands?”

It’s a good question that I hope I can answer in the following article. However, before going on, we get as many people arriving at our door who begin the conversation with “I tried to build a website on GoDaddy and I just can’t make it look how I see it in my head and it’s taking too long and I just want it up and running”.

You’ll have high expectations from this website and rightly so – it’s the place where all your new enquiries will come from. In the back of your mind your vision is similar to apple.com. So, let’s shake this question down. I shall be as unbiased as I possibly can and provide the pros and cons for each route.

  • Planning, advice & experience
    Chances are, you will have never built a website before, so how can you know what you need and what to do? The tools provided in the online website builders are there for you to do it yourself. However, did you scope out what you wanted on your new website before you started building? Did you draw up a site map or plan what content would go where and what you wanted to say? There is absolutely a place in the market for someone who wants to get a website live with a couple of simple pages, without too much trouble. But you will have had to do all the planning yourself and you probably don’t really know where to start. The online website builders will only be able to guide you in terms of how to use the tool, rather than plan what your website should have, what the calls to action are, what the messaging is – or what’s best for user experience.Making a website work for your users and presenting the right message come only from experience and planning. So, if you spend the time before logging in by drafting out all the content, what pages you want and what words are to go where and what the overall message is, then you may be able to get a workable site up yourself. However, if you’re looking for the website to be your main sales tool to sell your services or products, it needs planning, advice and experience from someone who has tons of experience in building websites.
  • Design
    The online site builders work on the basis that you choose from a selection of pre-designed templates. These templates allow you to add in pictures and words in set places. They have little flexibility in terms of moving stuff around the design. They also aren’t designed to match your styling or brand image. However, if you’re not that fussed about the design and are happy with a template that has been used by thousands of other businesses before, it will work for you as an entry route to getting online.However, if you want a website that represents your brand image and looks that way you want it to, you’re going to need to have a custom design created and developed by an experienced website designer and developer. You’re almost certainly going to want it to look a specific way and have particular functionality – after all, you’ve gone to the effort of getting a logo and brand designed. We recommend that you write a ‘wish list’ of what you want the website to have, in terms of pages and features. It helps to think about the main purpose of the site. Ask yourself the question: “what do I really want the visitor to do when they arrive at my website?” If you write this all down, this will help form a brief for your web designer. We have a handy questionnaire that we provide all our clients before starting a website design project. Feel free to use our website design briefing questionnaire here.
  • Functionality
    Online website builders are there to provide a simple, quick online solution. They’re great for community projects and organisations that don’t require too much in the way of custom functionality. However, most websites need to have the cleverness to make stuff happen (like forms, shopping carts, order managers, admin areas). We all live our lives online and expect services to be provided at our fingertips.If you’re looking for a website that gives you tools, such as a secure admin area to manage your user’s accounts, orders, shopping facilities and suchlike, you will need to have it professionally designed and built so that your idea of how your customers interact with your website becomes a reality. Drawing up a wish list of all the things you want the website to be able to do before speaking to your web designer will ensure a clear brief is scoped and planned.
  • Speed
    Speed of a website is really important. Slow websites are hated by users – and if users hate the website, Google will too. One of Google’s measurements of a good website is its speed and how long people stay. Website building platforms have hundreds or thousands of websites all on the same server. This will slow it down and you have no control over how all the other users will be affecting your website and its visibility on Google. With a professionally-built website, speed and how the site is coded and optimised are all part of the service. Your website will be hosted on a server with a handful of other websites and will be developed and maintained by somebody local to you. A faster, more optimised website is much preferred by users and Google.
  • Content (words and pictures)
    One of the trickiest aspects of creating a website for your organisation or business is the content. There isn’t a week that goes by that doesn’t include a website launch getting delayed because the owner hasn’t created the content (words and pictures). It’s really hard to write about what you do in a succinct and clear way. You know what you do, but telling others seems hard. And so it’s mightily tempting to use ‘pre-written’ or ‘industry-specific’ text offered up by online website builders where all you have to do is change your business name where it tells you. Simple, right? If you’re tempted by that approach, remember that you will be customer number 97,247 who will have used that text and those pictures also for their website. The offer of free ‘industry specific text’ for you to copy and paste appeals to those who care more about their time than investing in their most important marketing tool and how accurate it is. How can you possibly differentiate yourself from your competitors if you have the same text as them? Fundamentally, why would you copy other people’s content anyway? It has nothing to do with you and what you do. A professional web design company will, with their experience, be able to guide and help with the content creation and if you really struggle, provide a full copywriting service.
  • Google
    Aside from the fact that using pre-written content won’t truly represent what you do because YOU didn’t write it about YOUR organisation, Google will absolutely hate it. Google’s search algorithms flat out penalise websites that have duplicate content. It will score the word count in terms of similarity to other pages that are in its index and if it reaches a certain percentage of similarity it’ll take the view you’ve copied it from somewhere else and downgrade the ranking of that page and probably your website. The same goes for pictures, but to a lesser degree. It’s one more reason to use original content.
  • Ownership
    Online website builders are quick, easy to use and will get you something up and running quickly.It is also cheap (albeit you will curse and burn two entire weekends sweating to get it to a not-too-bad state). The thing is, if you ever wanted to move that website to another host – let’s say the pricing of the hosting went up and you wanted it hosted elsewhere – perhaps by a local web designer or another online web builder – you wouldn’t be able to. The websites are built in proprietary frameworks that can only be hosted by that company. If you want to move to a new host or have some extra work done on the site that their platform can’t support. You won’t own the content (the text that you edited slightly from their ‘industry specific text’) and you won’t own the images as they are provided for use only on their platform. All that you can take away are any of your own words, perhaps the logo and any pictures of your own you uploaded to it. You will have to start again.

The alternative approach
If budget is limited, the best approach is to meet with your web designer, discuss what you want to eventually achieve and then break the build in to manageable stages. Build perhaps just a few pages first – get the look and the messaging right, but in the knowledge that it’s being built in a way that you can add to it over time. And if you want to then move to another developer or host, you can.

Tip: Ask your website designer to show you a custom design WordPress system. It’ll give you total control over the pages, content, pictures – all the things you need – and you can add pages to it yourself. It’s base language is in PHP, which means that any decent web developer can code and upgrade it in the future. It also supports many online shopping systems, so you can be online and selling your products without breaking the bank.

The takeaway
If you leave this article remember one thing, it’s to know that the best way to achieve a good website is through planning. Plan the content, plan what you want the users to be able to do and plan which pages you want on the site. Do that, and you’re most of the way there.