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The State Of Advanced Website Builders

Advanced website builders — the tools provided by Squarespace1, Wix2, Weebly3, The Grid214 and more — produce websites that look and feel like they were designed and coded by humans. They’re also software as a service, which is a different business model than traditional, custom-developed websites. So, should companies use them? At some point, will they replace custom development?

In short, yes.

Self-serve website-builder platforms are quietly becoming very powerful. A lot of us write them off without much thought, but it’s time for agencies and custom development shops to pay attention. It won’t be hard to stay ahead of the builders… once we acknowledge they’re coming for us.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

What Is An Advanced Website Builder? Link

In 2004, the year my web design agency incorporated, a professional website experience cost six figures and took half a year or more to launch. Today, a business can buy a website on Squarespace for $12 per month and be live the same day.

Squarespace is an advanced website builder. It’s a subscription service where, without code, you can build and serve a website for your business. It offers only templated design, little or no help with copy, and nothing in the way of advanced user experience design. However, the templates are very slick, businesses often pull content from other places, and the basic user experience is excellent. Basically, Squarespace works for a lot of businesses.

As standards solidify, websites are in danger of becoming commoditized. Instead of a custom website, money will be spent on social media, bots, email automation and all kinds of other things. For a growing number of businesses, the website is already becoming a box to check off, and money is going into other areas.

Squarespace doesn’t work for most businesses today, but that will not always be true. Functionality, quality and customizations will keep getting better.

The Current Website Market Link

Established best practices and improved browser technologies allow website builders to deliver a lot of value out of the box. Essentially, they cover all of the baseline requirements for a solid website — from SEO to responsive design to professional visual representation. Just a few years ago, only custom development could deliver that baseline value. Now website platform companies are doing it at scale. Scale gives the builders unprecedented flexibility in pricing, and it’s changing the website industry.

Most businesses today need more than a baseline website, but there are a lot that don’t. If website builders can automate coding and deliver the same value as custom websites, the market will notice. Why would a consumer pay more and wait longer to get the same value?

To be clear, I didn’t say the same product. I said the same value. Websites created with templates and builders aren’t going to win awards — but they can win business.

Custom Development Is Not Doomed Link

There are plenty of reasons to go with custom development today, but there are four main needs that advanced website-building tools can’t meet. I’d consider these the selling points of custom web development. These are the things we can tell potential clients so that they hire us, instead of using a website builder. One reason I felt compelled to write this article, though, is that it’s getting harder to sell custom development on these points alone.

Trailblazing Experiences Link

Remember Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown9 video, which integrated with Google Maps and zoomed in on your exact house as part of the video’s storyline? Squarespace can’t make that.

Or how about the Andersson-Wise website10 in the early days of responsive design? Or how about responsive web design itself?

The builders couldn’t have invented responsive web design. Humans (well, a human) had to custom develop it first. The web was forged by pioneers who took the tools available to them and pushed the limits. Experimentation and the wow factor will be around forever.

Security Link

Security is hard at scale, and for governments and other super-sensitive organizations, being on a third-party platform and paying monthly is not secure enough.

Even in cases where custom development is potentially less secure than a platform, just the thought of putting security in the hands of a third-party is enough to deter some organizations.

Custom Integrations Link

Similar to security, some organizations require integrations and workflows that wouldn’t be available within website builders made for the masses.

Custom integrations are particularly important for legacy businesses and systems. If you’re using all the latest software as a service to run your business, then website builders are magic. If you’re the airline industry11, they’re not even an option.

This one is getting tricky, because basic integrations are already part of the builders. If you use Google Analytics, MailChimp and Wistia, then you’re good with builders. If you have a custom Salesforce or NetSuite set up that needs to work with your website, you’ll definitely want to go custom.

This is a huge opportunity for custom web developers. As technology permeates every part of every business, there’s a real need for advanced integrations and workflows — the kind that website builders might never be able to touch.

Platforms Link

As “basic” web development moves towards commoditization, businesses will look to advanced web development to stand out. Creating platforms for businesses and/or their customers is another opportunity.

I’m using the term platform to include website builder platforms, content management systems, account and project management portals, and similar web-based products. They could be customer-facing or internal, but they all help people accomplish tasks.

Projects like these are as custom as one business to the next, so they seem safe against builders for the foreseeable future. However, I still recommend managing advanced web development projects more like the builders (i.e. more like SaaS) to stay competitive.

Ultimately, I believe that most custom development shops will actually turn into website platform companies. It’s a logical evolution.

Development Isn’t Everything Link

Code is just one part of a website. Custom development typically comes with expertise in other areas, including business consulting. Website builders can help with things like the basic user experience, email automation and analytics reporting, but they still expect the business owners to do things themselves. They’re a tool, not a consultant.

This is a critical distinction, because even if website builders take a majority of custom development work off the table, businesses will still need visual and user experience designers. Then, if the templates get so good that designers aren’t needed, businesses will need copywriters. Et cetera. Ultimately, as more things are done automatically, businesses will look to specialized (read “custom”) execution to stand out. Another opportunity.

This parallels the TV and film industry. It used to take expensive equipment, airtime deals and a large crew to get on TV. Now with a mobile phone and Internet access, anyone can broadcast to millions on YouTube. The broadcasting process was commoditized.

Now broadcasting itself no longer means much. It takes stage presence, great content, organized presentation and more to get attention amongst all the other broadcasters.

Website builders are the YouTube of our industry, but like YouTube, that doesn’t actually say much about their quality or effectiveness. That’s to be determined. It does say that they’re going to put a lot more websites on the Internet and create competition in our industry.

Fortunately, agencies and custom development shops are not doomed. The landscape is changing for sure, but as it gets more accessible and more competitive, there’s a growing need for experts.

Stay Competitive Link

There’s a classic rule in service businesses: good, fast, cheap… choose two.

Advanced website builders are the exception. They build something good, slowly and expensively at first, but they license it to the world quickly and cheaply. The result is an advantage that’s hard to match with custom development.

This is the main reason that custom developers and the website industry should pay attention to the builders. For clients, getting something fast and cheap means they’ll let a little bit of good slide. Great is always better than good, but if great costs more and takes longer, good may be enough.

That’s why the builders are dangerous. They won’t make better websites than we do, but they only need to make websites that are good enough.

To stay competitive, we need to keep an open mind. Below are the areas that custom development needs to pay attention to. Without updating current business models, most agencies and custom development shops won’t be able to compete.

Integrations Link

The web today is all about integrations. Every service has an API, and importing, exporting and combining data is essential to modern business. If a website isn’t reporting metrics, capturing emails and funneling leads in 2017, it’s not doing its job.

Custom developers can integrate services, but website builders come with integrations built into their platforms, and website owners pick and choose the services they want to use — at any time, and usually at no extra cost.

Look at the list of Squarespace integrations12 that are completely out of the box. This is stuff that you click to enable, and it works on your website instantly. It also fully supports third-party integrations, 24/7. Can your clients call you at 3:00 am about their Wistia video integration?

The Wix App Market13 is an example of both integrations and the sheer functionality that is made drag-and-droppable by builders. (Like it or not, it’s impressive.) As each website builder’s list of integrations grows, it gets harder and harder to compete with on price and speed.

Another example is Shopify’s14 Google Analytics advanced e-commerce integration. E-commerce businesses can report extensively on e-commerce activity in Google Analytics by setting up their property and website correctly. Store owners can track a full sales funnel, from referral source through to purchase, within Analytics for free.

This only works if you have everything set up correctly, though, and the setup can get in depth. With Shopify, all of that works out of the box, no setup required. Same for the e-commerce conversions in your Facebook account.

If custom development shops evolve into platform companies, then integrations would get built once. Without a platform, it gets really expensive to build them project by project.

Pricing Link

It seems impossible to compete on price and offer the same features as the builders, because their business models are fundamentally different than agencies and custom development shops.

As long as consumers find value in their products, the website builders’ pricing model will remain very attractive. Over time, website buyers will learn to expect a better product for less money — custom or not.

Below is a breakdown of pricing for the popular website builders. You can see there’s still some room for custom developers to get creative and compete, but these prices are depressingly low compared to custom development. Beyond the pricing tiers in this chart, website builders offer more expensive monthly plans, one-time paid upgrades, and often a third-party marketplace for paid plugins. This chart is the lowest “business-level” pricing tier for each service.

Brochure website E-commerce website
Squarespace $18/month $18/month
Wix $14/month $17/month
Weebly $25/month $25/month
Shopify n/a $29/month
The Grid $8/month Coming 2017
GoDaddy $9.99/month $29.99/month

The interesting thing about the monthly pricing model is that the buyer pays forever (as long as the website is up). The payments are low, though, so it would take 20 years to equal the high up-front cost of most custom development. Not to mention, all of the builders include hosting in their price.

Getting paid monthly forever has its upside for an agency, though. Agencies and development shops should think about what features or services they can add on and upsell over time, so that they can charge less up front or only a low monthly fee. Shifting the focus to customer lifetime value from a single project’s value provides a lot of opportunity to get creative with pricing and service models. It also encourages better work.

Design Link

Website design has shifted in the last few years. There was once a focus on creativity and brand experience, but now there is a general emphasis on usability, familiarity and compatibility. Of course, there are brands that push their design, but in the grand scheme of all businesses, they’re not the majority. For example, does a law firm’s website require cutting-edge design? It needs to look professional and be on brand, but it mostly needs to load fast and be understood quickly on any device.

With most website builder services, you choose a design as the first step. And it’s not vague or conceptual — you look at finished designs and choose one. You see exactly what the website will look like, and you can assume it will generally be bug-free and polished.

Squarespace templates15
Squarespace templates16 (View large version17)
Wix templates18
Wix templates19 (View large version20)

This seems counter-intuitive to designers, but it’s actually super-intuitive for non-design minds.

In addition, it’s more or less a given that the design will be responsive (except for Wix, but they use a separately designed mobile version). Similar to the integrations, the platforms are doing responsive at scale, so they typically cover a much broader range of devices and circumstances than a custom-developed website.

The Grid214 takes the streamlined design process a step further and designs itself. So does Wix ADI22. Based on some questions and the content you provide, the layout and structure of the website adapt and evolve. The website owner doesn’t need to think about design at all, and their visitors get a professional experience.

Wondering about quality? Judge for yourself: Fast Company Innovation Festival23 (Squarespace), Sago Hotel24 (Wix) and Wafia25 (The Grid).

Design is amazingly important, and most businesses today realize this, but it’s not unique design that’s valued — it’s effective design. That small distinction could help reframe things for designers who might not see it from a purely business perspective (not that anything should be viewed from a purely business perspective).

Custom design and development shops just need to rethink their process. Typically, no two agency-client design processes are that much alike, and results vary wildly from client to client (even within the same agency). This is a sticky point for clients. The appeal of seeing a final design — knowing what they’re getting, knowing how much they’ll pay — is great, and it’s hard to compete with. The way that custom design can win is by focusing the process on education and expertise. The agency learns everything about the company, brand and mission, and they use their experience and expertise to present the one correct solution.

That pitch would certainly make me rethink my ability to choose from 10 prebuilt templates.

Dashboards (The New Content Management Systems) Link

Another underserviced area where advanced builders are pulling ahead is dashboards. Signing into Squarespace or Wix is unlike seeing traditional content management system back ends.

The dashboards are more like SaaS dashboards — beautifully designed and usually offering overview metrics, business insight and intelligent content suggestions (in addition to upselling). The value for the business goes beyond the ability to update their content.

Part of the Wix dashboard26
Part of the Wix dashboard27 (View large version28)

Furthermore, most or all of the major providers offer app versions of their dashboards. This might seem trivial, but to the market, it’s a big plus. You never have to sign in or even remember a web address, and you can get push notifications when things happen with your website.

It’s challenging under the current model to add back-end-only dashboard features, but when done correctly, it’s a place to upsell and create tangible business value. Another opportunity.

Customer Support and Website Maintenance Link

The last areas that advanced website builders have an advantage in is ongoing customer service and self-serve front-end maintenance. Agencies and development shops typically deliver a content management system for content updates, but often it stops there.

As businesses grow and change, they might want to update more than content and imagery. For example, a business might need a one-off landing page, a campaign-specific lead-capture form or a new third-party integration. This level of self-serve customization is at the core of website-building platforms and doesn’t cost more money. Potential clients understand this.

In addition, if a website owner can’t figure out something on their own, 24/7 customer support is a call or email away. Knowing that free support and upgrades are available goes a long way towards making a purchasing decision.

It’s hard to imagine agencies building and supporting a website in that way for just $20 or $30 each month, but if agencies don’t find a way to make that happen (or provide additional value proportional to the higher cost), customers will use the builders.

Actionable Steps In Today’s Market Link

Ultimately, I’m a big believer in the market. Too many companies force their products or services on a market that has moved on or never existed. In the past, an eye-catching website was a way for businesses to get some attention or gain an advantage over their competitors, and websites were challenging to produce.

Today, however, a large percentage of websites use established layouts and patterns, and they’re easier to make than ever.

Everyone needs a website, but it’s not really about the website. For businesses, it’s about their content, brand and offering. The vehicle to deliver those things evolves — whether it’s made in Flash, handcoded HTML, WordPress, Tumblr, AngularJS, React, Squarespace or something else entirely. Facebook business pages even fall into this category.

If the content, brand and offering are what is important, how can we use our knowledge and experience as web people to promote those things? Can we optimize content and streamline content creation? What can we do to showcase brand values? Can we automate a marketing funnel? Or increase sales through an excellent user experience? We could potentially use the builders to create the website itself and sell those services on top! Our jobs as web developers and web experts aren’t eliminated if we don’t make actual websites — we move up.

Looking Forward Link

I’m not trying to upend anyone’s business or career path. I’m trying to ensure we all grow as an industry. In a few years, the industry might look nothing like it does now. Those of us who ignore advanced website builders (and ignore the larger market) will fall behind, and those who pay attention will be just fine. In fact, those of us who pay attention have the opportunity to seriously improve our products, our businesses and our clients’ businesses.

That’s the message. This is a truly exciting time for the web industry, and it’s a great time to honestly evaluate what our clients want and need. More importantly, it’s time to acknowledge the competition from advanced website builders and to understand the things they’re doing right. We don’t have to use templates, charge pennies and answer clients at 3:00 am, but we do need always to provide more value than we cost and to put our clients’ needs before our own.

(da, vf, yk, al, il)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://www.squarespace.com/
  2. 2 http://www.wix.com/
  3. 3 https://www.weebly.com/
  4. 4 https://thegrid.io/
  5. 5 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/11/designing-for-content-management-systems/
  6. 6 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/04/guide-http2-server-push/
  7. 7 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/be-afraid-of-public-key-pinning/
  8. 8 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/06/the-current-state-of-authentication-we-have-a-password-problem/
  9. 9 http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/
  10. 10 http://www.anderssonwise.com/
  11. 11 http://www.zdnet.com/article/delta-highlights-how-airline-industry-cloud-computing-modern-it-approaches/
  12. 12 https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/206800527-Squarespace-integrations
  13. 13 https://www.wix.com/app-market/main
  14. 14 https://www.shopify.com/
  15. 15 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/01-Advanced-Website-Builders-and-the-State-of-the-Website-Industry-preview-opt.png
  16. 16 https://www.squarespace.com/templates
  17. 17 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/01-Advanced-Website-Builders-and-the-State-of-the-Website-Industry-preview-opt.png
  18. 18 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/03-Advanced-Website-Builders-and-the-State-of-the-Website-Industry-preview-opt.png
  19. 19 http://www.wix.com/website/templates
  20. 20 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/03-Advanced-Website-Builders-and-the-State-of-the-Website-Industry-preview-opt.png
  21. 21 https://thegrid.io/
  22. 22 http://www.wix.com/blog/2016/06/wix-artificial-design-intelligence/
  23. 23 http://events.fastcompany.com/fcny/
  24. 24 http://www.sagohotel.com/
  25. 25 https://thegrid.ai/wafia/
  26. 26 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/02-Advanced-Website-Builders-and-the-State-of-the-Website-Industry-preview-opt.png
  27. 27 https://support.wix.com/en/article/site-dashboard-overview
  28. 28 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/02-Advanced-Website-Builders-and-the-State-of-the-Website-Industry-preview-opt.png

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Drew Thomas is an entrepreneur, a consultant, and an ecommerce expert. He's currently working on an ecommerce platform called Really Simple Store. He previously cofounded and ran Brolik, a digital agency, as CCO and then CTO. He lives in Austin, TX.

  1. 1

    https://webstarts.com is an extremely powerful website builder. It comes with all the things you need to create a basic website but it also includes some unique features like the ability to submit data directly from your website to your contact lists and then send emails to them. In addition there’s integrated messaging that really helps your site come alive. You can also see who’s on your website and where they came from with Analytics.

    -101
    • 2

      Max Firouzmand

      June 6, 2017 4:30 pm

      Hopefully the age of promoting a service like this is also coming to an end soon.

      48
  2. 3

    Ricky Onsman

    June 5, 2017 1:59 pm

    Good article. Personally, I find the advanced website builders to have replaced the neighbour’s nerdy nephew as the budget solution of choice. In both cases, they supply me with work as the customer starts to understand what a website is and can do – and wants one that does more. Which is where several of your points come in. Excellent observations.

    26
    • 4

      Thank you, Ricky. The nerdy nephew is a great comparison!

      6
    • 5

      Michael Borum

      June 5, 2017 7:08 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. I have worked with businesses in the past, but today most of my clients are individuals (usually artists and writers) and non-profits. Artists and writers know the value of their time, and most will never pretend to be aspiring web designers. They prefer to stay in their own lane, as it were, and understand the inherent value of paying a professional to do it for them. Non-profits must be wise about how to spend money, but many know better than to be a penny wise and a pound foolish. They’re almost always under-resourced as it is, and genuinely need the extra help, even if it costs more. I have, on numerous occasions, recommended site-builders (namely Squarespace or Wix), and encouraged prospective clients to give it a try. Some have, most haven’t, because once they realize they’re setting themselves up to learn something they may not want to learn, or are taking on a whole new set of responsibilities (it is hard enough for many of them to keep up with their social media profiles), they are more than happy to pay me to do it. I agree that site-builders have their place, but there will always be room for added-value, high-touch, high-quality bespoke service.

      22
  3. 6

    wow talk about timely and just an outstanding presentation…bigtime kudos for this!

    4
  4. 8

    David Haskins

    June 5, 2017 5:36 pm

    there is also https://www.pagecloud.com/ from Ottawa, Canada

    -51
  5. 9

    There is a new and free Publii – true Static Website CMS https://getpublii.com

    -42
  6. 10

    I share the author’s opinion. Custom website development will still be relevant for the big guys. Where there are multiple people that have to give a “go” for content change requests. Where CI is very important, so that only certain website-elements can be changed according to rules. For everyone else, advanced website builders will likely deliver enough value. Small website agencies will have to “pivot” to stay relevant. Most small agencies won’t realize this until it’s too late. “The winter is coming” ;)

    6
    • 11

      Small agencies might pivot to recasting themselves as experts with an advanced web builder, as many others have with ecommerce platforms.

      9
  7. 12

    Advanced website builders are for web developers who can made some changes in the code, example of website builder is Slides – https://designmodo.com/slides/.

    Why you don’t mention this type of website builders?

    -28
    • 13

      Maybe because it’s exactly the other way around. Slides is for people who can deal with code. Builders like Squarespace are (in a nutshell) for non-techies.

      1
  8. 14

    Peter Steele

    June 5, 2017 10:37 pm

    The one issue the author completely neglects is the increasingly complex methods of creating a site. By the very nature of “everything is javascript” philosophy that pervades website development these days, it’s essentially pushed people to look at a more simplified means to create their website.

    People don’t want to have to be JS developers to build a static website – quite the opposite. The path of least resistance has then become these companies that offer a simple, effective way to build websites that are based on proven technologies. The additional services just make it more appealing and an easier decision to sign up for their monthly services.

    Front-end developers have made their roles so complex, they have self selected themselves out of the market.

    4
  9. 15

    Andy Mather

    June 6, 2017 12:17 am

    Great to hear as my business is based on creating websites for small to medium businesses using http://www.webydo.com which is aimed at designers who don’t code, it has great features and I charge less up front but charge a monthly fee for maintenance, hosting and changes. I must add the cost is a little pricey at £150 per month for up to 30 sites, hence the monthly fees.

    -22
  10. 16

    Nigel Wilson

    June 6, 2017 4:42 am

    Great thought provoking article and overall agree with the message delivered. One aspect that website builders do have a lot of “catch up” to do is code optimisation – providing the breadth of functionality does come at a cost and with high focus on optimisation for search engine rankings this is one aspect that automated services will (IMHO) struggle with over custom development. Having said website builder software can definitely be the “go to” depending on the circumstances / budget.

    6
    • 17

      Eduardo Weidman Barijan

      June 7, 2017 6:30 pm

      Point taken on the optimizations for SEO. We are an advertising agency and we do a lot of work using WordPress and Joomla for instance as well as custom solutions using PHP and Laravel. We get a lot of clients that were using those advanced site builders and everytime we could see that the site was not ranked at all in Google, for instance! Now that is big! Also we are based on Brazil so the country may be relevant as well but as we could see checking the sources of those builders is that in the case of Wix as an example, everything is Javascript! Everything, the page is a big script tag with a lot of coded data that do make the page. We all know how that plays in the SEO field. As a counter example, even our simple sites without optimizations at all do rank at Google during their lifespan. That is huge! Just by having a proper HTML and the content that is parseable by the search engines. And yes, using WordPress and Joomla as I mentioned. So I think custom made development will stay for a long while if they keep their “all is JS” mentality.

      4
  11. 18

    Sarabjeet Singh

    June 6, 2017 5:51 am

    talking about advanced builders? I think you missed TemplateToaster from this list!

    -30
  12. 19

    In general, I agree with the author, and as a custom web designer/developer, I already have to refocus my business to creative, ads and branding. Website builders are taking my niche and this is the doom.
    But I tried all 3 links of a working examples, and only Squarespace-driven site performed well on my iPad. Other’s loading time were extremely slow, and customer will probably close the tab that stays just blank over 10 seconds.
    Thus, performance and optimization is a significant milestone that site builders are still to pass.

    9
  13. 20

    Very Informative Post..Website Design plays pivotal role in business because attractive website help to increase audiences.

    -1
  14. 21

    David Kosmayer

    June 6, 2017 11:51 am

    Have you seen AIDA – Bookmark’s artificial intelligence design assistant. Very cool new unique and futuristic website builder – https://www.bookmark.com

    -11
  15. 22

    Charles Desaulniers

    June 6, 2017 2:48 pm

    I’m a little bit surprised Webflow didn’t find it’s way into this list.

    The tool is beastly and honestly makes me scared for my job in the long while.

    20
    • 23

      Babek Azimzade

      June 6, 2017 3:46 pm

      Charles, couldn’t agree more. It seems this article is sponsored post.

      8
      • 24

        Max Firouzmand

        June 6, 2017 4:37 pm

        I think it does not have enough market share comparing to others in the list. Maybe that’s why. Also I think Webflow is -unlike others in the list- exactly a custom website building tool not a website building platform for end users such as what this article is discussing.

        9
  16. 26

    Carlos A Rosario

    June 6, 2017 3:08 pm

    Good article. Personally,
    I don’t understand any coding nor site development, but,
    I find the advanced website builders like Squarespace that I am using already one year has great features and outstanding presentation and performed well on my divices.

    1
  17. 27

    Babek Azimzade

    June 6, 2017 3:45 pm

    Why no mention of Webflow? I think unlike Wix and Squarespace, Webflow fills a huge gap in website builder tools!

    26
  18. 28

    I think in general, services like Squarespace, Wix, etc. are best suited for brochure ware sites, and trying to compete on brochure ware is a race to the bottom.

    Besides price, there isn’t much a professional developer can compete on. Sure we can optimize, write more efficient mark-up and JS, but for the most part, the customer doesn’t care or doesn’t see the value.

    Yes, we’ll adapt and change our business model to stay ahead of the game, but Squarespace will also adapt and become more proficient and competent.

    This is the new norm, and the pace we’re forced to change at is only going to get quicker.

    5
    • 29

      Your first sentence is right on Stuart.

      However, there is plenty we can compete on. We are all unique with our own life experiences and skillset. Our job is to take a brief, interpret what the client actually needs (not necessarily the same as what they tell you they want) and then create a solution for them.

      The technology you use is irrelevant.

      You could use Squarespace or Weebly or Shopify to build a website for a client. Most of us don’t because those platforms have restrictions. That’s why a lot of us choose open source extensible software like WordPress because it gives us the flexibility to create awesomeness fast without the restrictions of a hosted platform.

      But WordPress is a PITA for newbies and SMB as the learning curve is quite steep. That’s why they pay us to do it for them.

      The type of customer who uses a DIY solution like the ones mentioned in this article is NOT the same customer that hires a developer or an agency to build a website. If your client is comparing you to these platforms, you are talking to the wrong person.

      As long as we continue to innovate and offer value to clients who want a solution to a problem or are highly motivated to achieve their objectives, we are in NO danger of being replaced by these tools. In fact, some of these tools may even become part of our toolkit.

      And it’s 2017 crew – stop spamming these comments with your own tools. It’s not cool.

      0
  19. 30

    Really awesome article and totally on-point. I come from a design and development background but now run a small design shop specialising in working exclusively in one of these platforms.
    I think these platforms can exist pretty harmoniously alongside those of us who develop. I’m still adding custom code to each of my sites so they don’t look or feel in any way ‘cookie cutter’. Sure, they’re not built on a totally blank canvas but they are unique and the design is well thought out. It just saves me having to re-invent the wheel each time to get started, and for that I am very grateful!

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  20. 31

    John Flickinger

    June 6, 2017 6:28 pm

    I completely agree that website builders are improving in a variety of ways. However with that being said, I believe that most of this article applies to brochure sites almost exclusively. It would be difficult for a website builder to replace something like a complex Hybris commerce website with a lot of business rules baked in, and custom pricing for dozens of customer groups for example.

    I’ve also worked on a lot of websites that started out as sites built with website builders. These sites had content populated by people with no usability experience and had convoluted structures that only made sense to the person who wrote it. They didn’t account for SEO, and the copy could have used a professional copywriter’s touch.

    My point is that while yes, these tools have a place and when used properly they are capable of making a good website, but I have trouble believing that they are much of a threat to professional web developers.

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  21. 33

    Josiah Schaefer

    June 6, 2017 6:34 pm

    I would argue that custom development is still relevant for smaller companies/organizations if they need to resolve problems like branding and organization, ect.. There is still something to be said for people who know how to shape a website design around a company’s unique business and branding, even with smaller companies.

    On the flip side, I imagine tools like Webflow could still be used to accomplish this, but Wix and Squarespace not so much. Still possible but much less flexible.

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    Joel Davies

    June 6, 2017 6:51 pm

    One thing I’ve noticed about the website builders: their templates largely seem to tilt toward fashion-marketing or creative portfolios. I suspect the reason is these outfits live and die on the attractiveness of their templates, so you get lots of gorgeous, enormous images eating up the page and 12 words of copy. Even their blog templates are top-heavy with visuals and light on content. Most of our clients need the exact opposite and don’t have huge budgets for photography.

    That said, it is hard to argue with the commodification economics laid out by the author. Perhaps mastering robust free-form layouts via CSS Grid when it deploys widely will be a way for creative developers to differentiate themselves during the Rise of the Machines.

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    Simon grant

    June 7, 2017 10:03 am

    Automation breeds automation. So, ultimately the Computer is completing the evolution it was meant to: a machine capable achieving tasks independently of human agency ( also known as artificial intelligence ). You can’t argue with that!

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    Jonathan Clark

    June 7, 2017 1:01 pm

    You make some really solid points. However, content will always drive effective design and that has never been truer than today. I’ve been developing website since 2002 and it’s rare that I meet a business owner who is able to tell their brand’s story in a compelling way. Website building tools are just that – tools. Content development with a focus on SEO is the value proposition today.

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  25. 37

    Great article! We reach a point where there are too much websites nowadays. I think we are facing a shift into a need of websites with better content. These tools are great enough to build a professional website. Focus your time on building great content.

    Should try http://en.orson.io/ as well.

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  26. 38

    Or programmers can develop their custom website builder like they do in a small but fast tilda.cc for example.

    But truly I agree, that it’s not about website itself, it’s all about businesses, especially small businesses – to present their products or themselves – I mean portfolio websites.

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