Should I Use An Online Site Builder Or A Standalone Web Editor?

Online Site Builders Vs Standalone Web Editors

Is It Better to Use an Online Site Builder or a Standalone Web Editor?

by Christopher Heng,

I just received a query from a visitor to whether she should use her web host's free online site builder or a standalone web editor like Expression Web or Dreamweaver. This article discusses the issues that come with using a web host's site builder to create your site and talks about why you should seriously consider using your own standalone web editor.

Why It's Tempting to Use Your Web Host's Site Builder

When you sign up with some web hosts, you are given the option to create your website either using their online website building tool or using your own offline standalone web editor. Newcomers to website building are often highly tempted to use the site builder that is provided by the web host, for a few reasons:

  1. Pre-built Templates

    The site builders come with a selection of pre-built templates for your website. As such, you don't really have to think about the site design. Creating your website with the site builder is simply a matter of choosing the appearance you want to have.

  2. Step by Step Wizard

    The site builders typically provide a step by step wizard, that takes you through the steps of selecting a design and entering your site information. It gives the user the impression that the whole process is very easy, and doable.

  3. No Need to Upload Files

    Since you design your website online, with the site builder, there's no need for you to upload (publish) your web page and images. The site builder creates the files directly in your web hosting account. To newcomers, the prospect of uploading a website can seem daunting at first, and so this painless procedure has tremendous allure.

Why You Should Not Use the Online Site Builder If You Can

In spite of the above, when visitors ask me this question, I normally recommend that they forgo the online web builder and learn to use an offline, standalone web editor. In the short term, this may seem like it increases the hurdle of getting your site onto the Internet, but there are far-reaching long term benefits.

  1. Flexibility, Control and Transferability of Skills

    Building your website using a site builder only seems easy on the surface, since it provides the illusion you don't need to dream up the visual appearance of your website. You can simply use their provided templates.

    But despite what newcomers think, designing a website is more than creating an pleasing visual look. There are far more important aspects to web design, including usability and search engine friendliness.

    As you learn more about these things, you will want to modify your website so that it is more usable and search engine friendly. When you limit yourself to a site builder, you are surrendering flexibility and total control in exchange for initial ease-of-use.

    Now, of course it's possible that some site builders provide you with facilities to modify every aspect of your web pages. To do that, you will probably have to spend time learning the interface and working with it (or even around it) to accomplish your task. Why bother? All the skills you acquire in working with the site builder are not transferable. The moment you leave that web host, you have to re-learn everything again. You might as well have spent the time learning a standalone web editor. Your skills will then be usable no matter which web host you use, even if they don't provide a site builder.

  2. Content

    When I said that using a site builder provides you the illusion of ease of use, I really meant it. The most important part of the time creating any website is drafting your content, whether it is your product description, sales pitch or some other thing. When you use a site builder, you still have to invest time and energy writing that content. There is no shortcut. If the pretty face of the online site maker led you to think that creating a website will take you no time at all, think again. The only one that can generate good content is you. The site builder will not write it for you. All it can create are the pseudo-Latin "lorem ipsum" gobbledygook meant as placeholders for your real text.

  3. Transferability of Web Design: Are You Locked into Your Web Host?

    I have had visitors to writing to me to tell me about how their website was locked to a particular web host, because they used their host's website builder. The template and graphics used by the builder were copyrighted, and licensed to them for use on their website only if the site remained on that host. If they were to move to another web host, they could no longer use that template.

    This, I think, is the most serious problem of all. Does your site builder tie you to your web host? Will you be able to move to another web host simply by transferring all the files to the other host? If you find that the terms of use of those templates do not allow this, you should not even consider using the site builder. Never allow your site to be locked into any web host. If the hosting company deteriorates, or unreasonably increases their rates, or even goes out of business, your website and your business will be held hostage.

Should I Use The Free Online Site Builder That Comes With My Web Hosting Account Or A Standalone Web Editor?

I agree that learning to use a web editor like Expression Web requires you to invest a bit of time at the outset before your site can go "live" on the Internet. But I think the long term benefits are more than worth the effort. You have greater control over your website's design, you learn skills that are transferable, and you can move your website to any web host you choose whenever you want.

And it's not really as hard as you think. For example, if you were to follow one of my tutorials, you can have a fully functional website in under 10 steps (ie, chapters). The following is a list of different web editors and their tutorials. Just choose one web editor, and follow the tutorial series for that particular editor.

Try one of them before you think about using an online site builder.

Copyright © 2008-2018 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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