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Blog > Are Do-it-yourself Website Builder Tools (even free ones) Cost-Effective for Website Design?

Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Are Do-it-yourself Website Builder Tools (even free ones) Cost-Effective for Website Design?

December 8th, 2007

I recently had an experience working on a website that was created using an online website builder tool. This article describes the experience of using an online website builder tool and your other options. My client had created the website herself using one of the many available do-it-yourself online template tools and wanted to integrate a shopping cart. After a few tests, it became clear that my work on the website would interfere with this website builder, and we had to abandon the builder altogether if we were to have a successful shopping cart integration. After working with the files that were generated with this website builder tool, I wanted to share the experience, because many of you might be contemplating doing websites yourself using an online website builder tool (free or otherwise).

There were several issues I discovered in trying to work with the website pages that were generated by this particular website builder tool. From the client’s perspective, these issues were completely hidden, but from a web designer’s perspective, these issues were pretty serious.

Web pages are not related to one another via a template

The website builder is a tool that often acts as a website template, meaning that you can change something in one page, and it is automatically changed on all pages. When we were forced to leave the website builder environment, we were forced to give up that feature, and all website pages became completely independent. To make a change to the web site’s footer, I had to change it on every single page of the website, one page at a time. If the website had been created using the standard website tool Dreamweaver, we could have easily added the shopping cart and not lost this ability.

Pages are not W3C Compliant

Ok, so what the heck is “W3C Compliant”? It’s a consortium that determines the standards for website code, and when I do a website from scratch, I make sure that I use the W3C Validator to validate all the code. This not only makes for “best in class” design, but helps eliminate pesky cross-browser issues (meaning the website will be more likely to appear the same whether you use Firefox or Internet Explorer or Safari). The pages that were generated by the online website builder tool had, on average, 50 or 60 separate errors. If you’re trying to get good organic search engine rankings, you need valid page code.

Extra Junk In the Code

Website builder tools often add extra bits and pieces of code to help them manage the website code. These extra characters were added to the ends of page names, to the end of image files…all over the place! It makes the code much more difficult to understand and therefore maintain.

No indentation or comments in the code

Good website designers often use indentation so that their website code is more readable. If indentation is not used, all the code runs together in one huge continuous line. What’s this like for a website designer trying to make a change?


Good website designers also often use commenting to remind themselves what certain regions of code are used for. Again, both these techinques are taught in all basic computer coding courses as good design practices. Neither of these techniques are used by online website builder tools, since they’re expecting you to use this tool forever. Therefore deciphering the website builder code in order to make changes is extremely difficult and time consuming (and therefore costly!)

Thinking of using a do-it-yourself online website builder tool? Think twice. You may be trying to save money, but in the long run, working with a website that was created by an online builder is extremely time-consuming. And believe me, your needs will change as your business grows and you will want changes done to your website! A website builder, even a free one, might not be the most cost-effective long-term solution or your website, especially if you want to add on useful features later such as a blog or a shopping cart. What you think you’re saving upfront, might be an illusion, since the web pages generated by these website builders are often extremely poorly constructed and hard to maintain by “real” website designers who use “real” website design software packages.

Addendum: 12-8-07

If you’re considering using “” to build your own website, be sure you read this article first: – Your Domain Name With Strings Attached. It offers another warning for small business owners who are trying to save money by using online website builder tools – and what happens when the tools don’t live up to their promises and they have to contact a professional website designer to fix it.

Before you pay for an website builder, contact me to get an free estimate on designing your website from scratch using professional website design tools. It will be easier to perform website maintenance upon and much more versatile in terms of future web application integration.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

3 Responses to “Are Do-it-yourself Website Builder Tools (even free ones) Cost-Effective for Website Design?”

  1. Ryan Says:

    But ANYONE can build a website using Homestead right? And it’s so much cheaper than paying a REAL designer! I’ve heard it all before too, Jill. And you’re absolutely correct about the limitations of these services that make it seem so easy to build a site. I suppose they have their place, if you don’t want any real functionality to your site, but the minute you decide your “budget” website needs to be designed to actually address the needs of your users, you’re going to have to pay a pro anyway. So people are better off paying a professional designer from the get go and not trying to save a buck. It will cost them more in the end.

  2. Mark Brandsma Says:

    Thank you for your insightful comments. I’m in the process of starting up another business (clothing line for Tall People) and am shopping around for webdesign options. Using the DIY was definitely on my target list, but your comments have made me more cautious.

    I’m in the Seattle area as well (Snohomish). I’d love to get estimates on webdesign for a small start up.

  3. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I’ll send you a separate email regarding estimate.

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