Should I Build My Own Website? The Dangers of DIY

We all love free stuff, and many times free is good. A common question small business owners are asking is, “Should I Build my Own Website?” The great thing about technology is that it’s getting easier and easier to use and that includes tools to “build a website for free.”

This morning I read a fascinating article, “The Changing Role of Web Design in the Semantic Web.” The article is focused on how a web designer now needs to understand the needs of a business from a variety of aspects, including social, business fundamentals, and the psychology of your visitors just to name a few.  It got me thinking about the question “Should I Build My Own Website.”

If you Google “how to build a website for free?” you get almost 800,000,000 results in about a 1/2 a second. The results range from free platforms to “how to” videos on YouTube. The descriptions promise things like “no coding skills needed,” “free and unlimited
hosting,” “it’s easy to create and share web pages,” and “you’ll be online today.”

Why I Built My Own Website

I’ve been around the eCommerce and internet world for a while now, since 1996 to be exact and more than half of that time included managing a web development team. I was also responsible for things like email marketing, website merchandising, and SEO. So when it came time to build a website for my business, I had more knowledge than the average bear and I decided to build it myself. I even toyed with the idea of including basic WordPress sites as a service. (boy would that have been a mistake)

I’ve had great success with the online classes offered through ed2go.com and I remembered that they offered technology oriented classes as well. Sure enough they had an entry level and an intermediate session on building a website in WordPress. The instructor was excellent and after the 6 week course I felt ready to tackle building my site.

It went fairly smoothly and in a reasonable amount of time I had an on-line presence that would do for now and I figured some day down the road I’d pay a professional for a more customized and “prettier” presence. Because of my background, I understood things like building navigation menus, implementing site maps, naming conventions, and how to write content.

What I Learned from Building My Own Website

What I didn’t know was how challenging it was going to be to find and manage multiple plugins to add functionality to my site or how horrible it would be to troubleshoot security issues and keep the hackers at bay. There has also turned out to be a need to do some technical troubleshooting when things go wrong with a theme or a plugin.

The DIY (do it yourself) free and cheap website builders scared me before I built my own site and they scare me even more now. It seems like I should have known what I was getting myself into, but I naively thought “my site is simple, there won’t possibly be much that can go wrong.”

As it turns out, I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit troubleshooting issues and solving problems. On the one hand I’m glad that I made the decision to build my own website because it’s given me a much better understanding of how things work “under the hood.” It’s taught me about things to look out for on other people’s websites that otherwise I wouldn’t have known about.

On the other hand, those hours spent troubleshooting technical issues would have been much better spent networking, marketing, and promoting my brand and my business.

Why DIY Website Builders Scare Me

What scares me about people building websites themselves using DIY tools, WordPress included is that they are missing information that is critical to their on-line success, particularly when it comes to being found on Google. There’s little awareness of how important the actual structure of a  website is, most people don’t really understand the importance of content and what “good content” means.

But most of all there are so many mis-understandings about how search engines work and the reality is that it’s getting more and more sophisticated and complicated to understand. Most of the business owners I talk with either have no understanding of how search engines work or they have just enough information to be dangerous.

There are plenty of people writing and reading about keyword research, publishing content, and getting links; however there still isn’t enough information written about the personalization of search results, the importance of social networking and relevance, and how the internet is shifting from”websites to people.”

It’s not enough to know about keywords and inbound links and it’s not enough to just have a website. Google understands the content that is shared, the context in which it’s shared, the relevancy of the content, and relationships between people as well as websites.

In order to succeed online, it’s imperative that business owners and website managers understand that getting found in Google is about more than keywords and link building. It’s essential that they partner with professionals who can and will help you build an online strategy and explain the “reasons why” in ways that make sense.

DIY website builders scare me because they make it “easy” for people to build a website without understanding the whole picture and in the end lose out on opportunities and worst case scenario have a website presence or online strategy that is doing them more harm than good.

In addition to the potential pitfalls because there’s a lack of understanding about how search works, there’s also the very practical issue and reality that no matter how simple a site might be, “stuff breaks” and what you don’t know may be hurting you.

If your business depends on a successful online presence (and I’m not sure any business can succeed without one), I urge you to spend the time and the money to have your website designed and built by a professional (who understands what’s happening on the web). It’ll be worth it in the long run.