Depending on what you want to be included in your site, comparing the cost of a subscription package from your site builder service with the estimate to build a custom site may show that you don’t save that much money by going with a site builder rather than going custom. However, by going custom you may save yourself lots of trouble later on – the trouble with customizations and hidden charges that cookie cutter solutions might entail.
Site builders are just another name for cookie cutters. They seem to be an easy, fast, and cheap way to build a website. And it may be true, depending on what kind of a website you are looking for. A blog or a personal website may be just fine to build using a site builder. However, it’s not a good solution for a professional website.
Let’s assume that you’re building a professional website. If you are considering a site builder you would at least want to sign up for a premium plan instead of going for a completely free option. Why? Because all the free options I’ve seen are extremely limited. Some don’t allow you to have your custom domain, some have advertising, some have the “Powered by…” watermark in the footer. All of these things make a website look unprofessional. You have to pay extra to at least try to make it look like the website is owned by you, which means you will have to go with one of the premium plans. In that case, do some math and compare the cost of your monthly payments (added up over time) with the cost of paying for your own hosting (say, a very cheap shared hosting), plus buying a domain, plus a one-time base fee for the developer to set up, design, and program your site. Also weigh in customization options that you want now or in the near future, and see how much your premium plan would cost if these options are included vs. the estimate from your developer to set these up. Besides, a package solution, even a premium one, may have some inherent limitations which a custom site will not have. For example, some packages have page count limits which, with the right planning, can be avoided with custom design.
Also keep in mind that if there are any problems with the site created with a site builder, you may need to hire a developer later on to fix these problems. This adds to your equation. Sure, there may be problems with any site, but for a developer it’s often more time consuming (and therefore costlier for you) to fix code generated by a third party rather than their own code.
Site builders tend to be very limiting when it comes to layout, design abilities, or features. Custom design gives you the ultimate flexibility in this regard, because it’s tailored specifically to your needs. With site builders you have to choose only from those options that are available. That brings us to the next point:
You have very limited options when it comes to site builders. For example, you may not be allowed to integrate third-party tools like your company’s Google Calendar or YouTube channel. Sometimes you have to pay extra for proprietary plugins offered by the site builder or hire a developer to customize an option for you. Sometimes a developer may not even be able to customize anything because it’s a closed-source system.
I often see it when I’m asked to customize a pre-built WordPress theme purchased by a client. Cookie-cutter solutions are generic. They are not tailored to a specific customer, so they may lack some options or, alternatively, pack lots of options that may be irrelevant and confusing to you. Some options may not even be easily disabled, so they stay lingering on your site and never being used. These options may keep getting you confused and may also slow down your page loading speed because of all this unnecessary code.
Admin interfaces in templated mass-produced websites can get very bloated with confusing options and features, many of which you may not even need. You often have to read documentation or search for answers on how to make updates to your site. One of the perks of high-quality custom websites is that the admin interface is simple and clean because it only has the features you need and is designed with your requirements and preferences in mind. That saves you lots of time you’d otherwise spend teaching yourself and training your staff.
This is especially true if you are buying a generic theme, but the same applies to site builders. Unless your site builder allows custom designs (which may not be easy to implement) you have to go with the designs they offer. That means that the design is not unique to your brand and somebody else may be using exactly the same design. There may be many other people using the same site builder service as yours and ending up with the same-looking website. If your competitors are using the same design template as you, it may hurt your branding efforts. Sure, some site builders allow for custom CSS so you can incorporate your design customizations, but it may come to the point where it defeats the purpose of a site builder and it’s easier for you to just code the entire design from scratch.
Site builders and pre-built themes usually have no support for their free plans, and even for their premium plans the support may be very limited, if any. You better be willing to dig into KnowledgeBase or other support forums or Google for help, but the fact is, you are basically on your own to figure out a solution or you may have to hire a developer to help you.
Not easy to edit
If you are using a site builder, you may not necessarily get intuitive editing options to easily update your content. You may be familiar with the site builder and be able to do it yourself, but in case you have employees and want them to make updates on your site, they may not be as savvy and can mess something up. If you buy a subscription plan, the service may offer to make updates for you, which means you have to depend on them all the time. One solution to this problem is to set up your site with one of the popular content management systems such as WordPress, which allow nontechnical people make updates to the content. With some planning and some upfront investment, you can set up a custom WordPress site and save yourself money and trouble later on by gaining control, independence, and flexibility.