The following is an article I wrote that was originally published on in June of 2012

Trying to save a little money on your new website isn’t something to be ashamed of. Almost everyone has some sort of budget and for some that budget is just smaller than for others. Lately I’ve been asked by more and more frugal business owners why they should have a website professionally designed when there are so many online “Build your own Website” services available.  It’s true, there are many such services cropping up all over the web, but whether you should settle for such a service depends entirely on what you want in a website. Here are five questions to ask yourself before deciding between a build-it-yourself service and a professional web designer.

  1. Do you want to own your domain? Your answer should be a resounding YES! You should always be able to purchase a domain via a different domain registrar and use it along with the service. If the company requires that your website’s URL be something like www.TheirDomain/, run away! If you want a website that will be found by search engines, do not go with a service that lists their own company name in your domain. You may come away with a decent looking site, but your decent looking site will scarcely by seen by a soul, because the search engines won’t find it.

    Another big thing to watch for here is services that buy your domain for you. You may think that it sounds like a good deal to get your domain purchase included in what you’re already paying, but be very careful, this could be a slippery slope. Read the fine print and be sure that YOU, and not the service provider, will be the owner of your domain. If you fail to do this, you could find yourself in the unenviable position of losing your URL. Imagine owning a company called ABC Florist and having a website on the domain, then when you decide you want to change your service provider, you realize you don’t own your domain. Your choices are to a) buy it off the company that owns it (the service provider for your do-it-yourself website) for a ridiculous amount, b) get a new URL and lose most of the repeat business from customers who have previously visited your website, not to mention you’ll have to change the URL on your business cards and all of your marketing material, or c) stay with the same service provider indefinitely. This could be a nightmare, but it does happen and it’s a critical consideration when contemplating these services.
  2. Do you want a specific look, feel or style to your website? If you don’t need anything specific, then maybe a build-it-yourself service would be a good option, but if you are very specific about the way you want your site to look and feel, then one of the cookie cutter templates probably is not going to be a good fit. For most of these services, you are quite limited in the styling changes for each template. You may be able to change the colors and have some layout and font options, but for the majority of cases those options are incredibly limited and will likely provide a website that will be disappointing to the discerning customer. If you need flexibility, you might be better off with a professional designer, despite the cost differences.
  3. Do you want your logo to appear on the site? Again your answer is likely yes, and most of the do-it-yourself services can accommodate this requirement. But, if your logo is irregularly shaped, or must encompass a precisely sized space in order to display correctly, then again, you may have issues with the flexibility of the do-it-yourself sites.
  4. Do you want analytics for your site? In other words, do you want to see how many visitors your site is getting and how they are finding you? If you answered yes (and you really should have answered yes), then you may want to go with a web designer. Some online services may offer you the option of analytics, but if they don’t you will have no way of determining how successful your website is at doing its job – bringing you more business.
  5. Do you want to include payment options, e-zine or newsletter opt-ins, portfolios, or any additional features? If you answered yes and you still choose to go with an online build-it-yourself service, then I would advise you to look carefully at what options are available for each service that you choose. Some will integrate with other services nicely, some will charge you an extra monthly fee for such additions and some won’t integrate at all. You likely don’t want to be stuck with a website that does not provide some or all of these services.

These are just five things to consider when making a decision about how to create your online presence. In reality, there are tons of other points to consider, such as the sometimes hefty monthly price tags, paying for each additional service, being stuck in a yearly contract, what happens if you want to move your website, and the list goes on.  Your goal is to have your business grow, your website should be able to grow with it. If you  can’t afford to have your site professionally designed or if you feel that the cost cannot be justified, then maybe a build-it-yourself service is the right option, but before jumping into anything, be sure to ask yourself the above questions and as with any agreement READ THE FINE PRINT!

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