There are a few different interpretations of what one would consider custom web design, and the same can be said for the self-builder approach. For the purpose of this article I’m going to group services like SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly into the “self-builder” bucket, and “custom” as hiring a web developer to build you a website from scratch.
This is quite a common dilemma for companies and organizations about to undergo a redesign (or in some cases, a first design) of their website. The technology of these self-builders has got to the point where you can put some pretty decent designs together yourself, without much help at all. So why hire a web design agency? Well, there are definitely a good number of things to consider, which I have outlined below when making that decision.
Things to consider
If you’ve decided your marketing dollars are better spent elsewhere, then you may have little left to invest in your website. Let’s get one thing straight – custom designs will always be more expensive than something off the shelf. There are a number of reasons for that – bespoke designs require planning, coding from scratch, designing unique elements and content to match your brand, work on messaging, custom functionality and much more. To get all that means you need budget to invest.
Building a website requires a huge investment of your time. Templates can only help so much. If you have someone in your organization to dedicate to it, then great, but nine times out of ten, it will be a low priority for whoever’s desk it lands on. Bringing in experts to help plan, design, develop and execute your vision can be a huge time saver. And this is true if you’re building anything – be it a house, a website or whatever.
The call to going custom or self-build can be hugely dependent on your needs as an organization. Sometimes all you need is simply a presence that perhaps has your contact info and social networking channels. And whipping something up on SquareSpace one evening could do that. However, if you need your website to really sell your services or products, then planning is needed to ensure your website’s content and navigation are doing just that. And it’s not easy – it takes a lot of experience and knowledge about how your users will interact with your website to figure out the best approach.
Business goals are extremely important when planning your website, as I explained in a previous article. They should ultimately dictate what content and functionality you decide to deploy, and this in turn could sway your decision on whether to go custom. For example, if your business goal was to gain higher quality leads, one way of doing that would be to be to create some gated content – perhaps even go as far as to create a resource library, where resources can be dynamically inserted across the website. This type of functionality requires custom development, and no amount of hack-jobbing a self-builder site would match that.
We discussed custom analytics in another article. It allows you to really track user behaviour to make better decisions about your website or future website changes. While site-builders usually come with some sort of basic analytical tool built-in, they don’t come close to what can be done with custom analytics. So if tracking user behaviour to make informed decisions about your website is important to you, perhaps custom would be a preferable route.
Besides building the website itself, custom web designers and developers bring a lot to the table that the organization might not necessarily have. In the planning and requirements stage, a lot of work is done on figuring out the target audiences and what messages to say to them, and what they might want to accomplish on the website. Often agencies will facilitate brainstorming sessions to help generate ideas and give their insight and opinions. Beyond the planning stage, web designers will research current trends and what sort of design would speak to those targeted audiences, while keeping it true to the organization’s brand. Then it goes without question that custom web developers can add value by bringing unique functionality solutions to the table, building something exactly the way the organization needs to help run their business.
What is a website without content? Pretty empty. One of the most difficult parts of creating a website is generating content, and having a helping hand for that is always a bonus. If you have time or even have a marketing department dedicated to it, perfect, but if not, web development agencies often have inhouse content creators, or at least partners that they can bring into the picture. This goes for text, imagery, video, animation, illustration and beyond.
I am in no way trying to discourage anyone from going the templated or self-builder approach – they serve a purpose, and have in some ways helped the web grow to what it is today. Long gone are the days when you would need to hire a developer to simply get a presence on the web. Having said that, a custom approach truly allows your organization to create something purpose-built for your brand – in vision, design and functionality.