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DIY Websites what are they worth?

Over the past couple of years especially there has been significant increases in improvements to technology within the website sphere. These changes have been a positive for both developers and end users. For end users it is now becoming easier and easier for them to build their own websites, at the same token it is becoming easier for developers to build plugins and designs with some cool effects thanks to the implementation of HTML 5 and CSS.

One thing that comes to mind though is "Why would you get a website developer or designer to build a website for you when you can do it yourself?" While I can give you a lot of pro's and con's on this thought. The simple answer is experience and ability. For a lot of people building a website for the first time they can get the illusion that it is as simple as ordering a domain name and order website hosting. This is not the case and will essentially never be the case. There has to be software installed in to the hosting account that allows for a website to be visible to those visiting the website. Whether it has been installed by you or by the vendor, it still has to be setup for you in some way, shape or form.

For the people who have built a website before whether it be by themselves or through a website developer it is a mixed bag of emotions. Some say "We would never ever do it ourselves, our web designer does a brilliant job", meanwhile others will say "oh god no, I would never use a website developer. I can build it myself for a fraction of the cost."

Most people who have a comment similar to the later response they usually are the ones who have had nothing but issues with their website developer or didn't have success because their site was not marketed effectively online. There are of course, those who just want to give it ago.

Initially my thoughts are "Great! You are serious enough to give it ago yourself and are determined to get it working. At the same time you understand if it fails you are willing to ask or obtain help." I honestly believe it is great that you want to give it ago. Just remember though it is not your full time job and there are naturally going to be things that you cannot do yourself... so don't.

There are so many options now when it comes to DIY websites. Not only are there a lot of companies that provide this service but there are also an equal amount that have hidden issues which can impact you greatly down the track. Here is a few things that you should really consider when evaluating your options of a DIY Website:

  1. What software is going to be supplied?
  2. What are the ongoing costs associated with this DIY Website?
  3. Can I change it as easily as they make out in the demo video reals?
  4. What restrictions are there?
  5. Can I get a website developer to help me out if I get stuck?

What software is going to be supplied?

This is a very good question and one that you should be asking before you even consider ordering! Most of the free options out there are not using software that you are going to be able to get a lot of support for. When I say this I mean that while you can probably get a few plugins from the vendor of the software it is likely that community support is limited. This is often the case with the "FREE WEBSITE BUILDER" options in the marketplace.

Ideally you should be looking at an Open Source Content Management System like Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress (primarily a blogging package) etc. These are all systems that do not require you to host your website through any given provider. More importantly there is a lot of leg room in each package depending on your requirements. Some of these systems are used by some massive companies that are multinational themselves or are known well around the world. Do not be fooled by the fact that these systems are FREE to download and use. They are very good systems when used in the right application.

The software provided by some vendors will not allow you to move your site across to another provider if you decide that you do not like them. This in turn means you leave with just your content and nothing else! No software, no design... just content!

What are the ongoing costs associated with this DIY Website?

This is a difficult question because it is going to really depend on what is on offer by the provider. If you are not using a "provider" of "FREE WEBSITE BUILDER" software then you should naturally expect there is going to be a cost. The base costs are typically going to be Domain Registration (typically annual or bi annual options), Website Hosting (typically monthly or annual costs, avoid FREE where you can). From time to time there will be a license cost associated with some software packages.

Another set of hidden costs that people do not think of or are not aware of is their time, design, content creation, training and implementation. While DIY would indicate you are donating your own time it can end up costing you more from a financial standpoint than the result you are going to yield if you were going to get a site built professionally.

Can I change it as easily as they make out in the demo video reals?

In some cases you will be able to as it is really that simple. For those cases where it isn't as easy as they make out, it is generally because the people creating the videos are those who have worked on the development of the package or use it almost daily for an extended period of time. There are a few instance where it is very easy to install plugins, make simple modifications without technical ability.

Alot of the open source solutions in the marketplace are very good and do enable people to make changes to their websites with a little bit of training. There are however a lot more that do not enable you to make changes as easily as they make out. So be careful when looking at these sorts of packages. See if you can even find a demo area on the site to see if it is true or not. It could save you a stack of cash both initially and in the long run.

What restrictions are there?

Well the list can be bottomless for those who do not plan a head. The open source options out there are usually great as their only restriction is based on the plugins and community that support them. Yes there are scenarios where your visitors needs or even your business needs will exceed the capabilities of the system but when you are starting out more times than not most open source solutions will be sufficient.

The biggest one to check out with the FREE options is the ability to move the site to another provider should the need arise down the track. It could be due to the lack of support you get from the vendor or their recommended partners. If you do find a provider that wants to charge you to use their software you should also ask them as they may also have a solution where you cannot move the site down the track. While most developers or designers will not have such a solution some do and they will not advertise that fact.

Can I get a website developer to help me out if I get stuck?

Sure you could probably find one that will help you. They of course will be restricted by their ability to access certain parts of the sites software. The other issue is that they may only be able to make small changes due to their skillset and experience with various packages. If you have an open source package you will certainly find it easy to get a developer somewhere that can help you.

When it comes to choosing the right package there are two simple things I tend to suggest. These are:

  1. The more it is downloaded and used around the world the more support you can get.
  2. If it is good enough for "company x", chances are it is good enough for you.

DIY websites can be very very successful and are in the right circumstances a cost effective way of building a website for a new business with little / no capital. The key to making it successful is build, test, ask for assistance from developers when you get stuck and market the site as much as possible in the right places both offline and online.

Are they ultimately worth every dime? Well for the right scenario they are perfect. If it is for a personal hobby/interest you are wanting to talk about or promote then it is probably the best option around. If it is to present a new business venture then I would have to say that you should stick to getting the website developer with the best references/portfolio to do the job. Do not be worried if you get quotes for over $1,000 or even $2,000 as the developers charging more than that are the ones who tend to be around a lot longer than the guy building them for $500.

After building websites for 13 years now I have seen so many website developers "disappear" leaving customers with either no website or incomplete websites it is not funny. The most common factor between each of the developers who have done this has been they charged either $599 or less for the website or they promise the world where anything can be done for next to nothing.