Recently I was asked to review the existing web site of a potential client. It was built using a free site template from a major business software provider, and it had all the tell-tale signs…generic graphics and an unsophisticated layout, a restrictive and bland content area…in other words, it could have been any site for any company and was completely unmemorable.
Worst of all, the site had no search engine visibility! Because of the numerous search engine optimization faux pas I discovered in the coding, I was not at all surprised by the business owner’s complaint that no one could find them on the web. Web site templates can be based on outdated code and standards and not built for web accessibility, W3C compliance or cross-browser compatibility.
Further investigation into the “free” website service revealed that users are locked into hosting on the software company’s servers only, e-mail is extra, and should a site grow to more than 5 pages, then additional costs begin to add up dramatically. The bottom line is, the benefits of the free website were skewed toward the software company and not the small business.
In contrast, a custom-designed web site is designed and built around a business’ particular brand and it’s personality, taking into account the purpose and audience of the site. It provides a company with the unique visual appeal that their customers want to see and will respond to. A custom site offers flexibility to incorporate the functionality that the business will need to keep their site growing, useful and productive for years to come. When site issues arise, a client can call their web designer for support. How responsive do you think support for a free site will be, and what are the chances you will speak to the same person every time you call?
Recently, this software company has been running TV ads touting the benefits of using their free site design tools over hiring a professional, alluding that web site designers are unreliable, over-priced and slow. I imagine there are such designers out there, the same as in every industry, but I know there are many more who will do a wonderful job for you at a fair price and in a timely manner. My blog entry on “How To Hire the Right Designer for You” will give you tips on how to hire wisely.
Even for small sites, custom web site design is really the best option. A cookie-cutter site will never make a business stand out from its competitors. If a site looks generic and cheap, then so does the business it represents.