In the coming days I will review my experience building sites with several popular website builders.
The way in which small businesses get online has changed. It used to be that everyone searched for a domain name as a starting point. Once they registered a domain, they’d build a website.
A handful of web presence companies have turned that model on its head. Wix, Squarespace and Weebly take a site-first approach. They help customers design a website and then link them to a domain name later.
The model is working.
Wix is publicly traded on the Nasdaq (WIX) and has a market cap of nearly $5 billion. In May it reported Q1 revenue of $137.8 million, up 49% year-over-year. It had 3.4 million paying customers at the end of Q1.
There’s not much public data available about Weebly and Squarespace. There will soon be more data about Weebly because it was acquired by publicly-traded Square (NASDAQ: SQ) earlier this year for $365 million.
It’s clear that people are gravitating toward these company’s site-first onramps.
In many ways, it’s not a battle of domain name registrars like GoDaddy (which mostly focus on the domain as the starting point) vs. the site builders. Instead, it’s a battle of WordPress vs. the site builders.
Over the past month or so I’ve tested each of these company’s site builders by building a site on them. I’ve reflected on the experience compared to creating sites on WordPress–something I’ve done since 2005. Here are the advantages of the site builders:
1. Easy to start – it’s incredibly easy to start creating a site on one of the site builders. In some cases, you can proceed with multiple steps before even registering.
2. Easy to design – designing a site on WordPress usually requires installing a third-party theme or framework. This is too technical for most people creating a website. The site builders give themes to choose from as a start point. More importantly, everything is drag-and-drop and WYSIWYG. It’s dead simple. (The WordPress onramp at many registrars is improving, and I’ll write about that as well.)
3. Security and peace of mind – The site builders take care of upkeep and maintenance. WordPress users are used to getting hacked. There are tools they can use to limit these chances. But with the site builders, the security is built in and invisible. Business owners don’t even need to think about it. (The hosted WordPress.com takes care of much of this too, and could be considered a site builder like the Wix, Squarespace and Weebly.)
These benefits come with drawbacks.
1. Very limited customization – True, you can drag and drop your content just about anywhere. But the site builders are walled gardens. Want to install a third-party widget on a Wix site? You better hope it has been built into a Wix app. You can customize WordPress however you want; the same can’t be said for the site builders.
2. Lock-in – The site builders are designed to lock you in. If you’re on WordPress you can easily switch webhosts. Switching from a site builder that provides both the CMS and the hosting is much harder. Squarespace offers limited exporting if you want to move to WordPress. So does Weebly. Wix does not, although there are third-party tools for doing this.
In my following posts, I’ll explain how I built sites with the three big site builders.