Three construction professionals, two men and one woman, in safety gear discussing blueprints at a building site with concrete structures.

Custom Websites vs. Builder Websites

Table Of Contents

What Is A Website Builder?
SEO Limitations
Technical Issues
Security Vulnerabilities
Aesthetic Disadvantages
Which Builders Are Worthwhile?
Custom Web Development

Until it disappeared in the late 2010s, one of my favorite diversions was to direct people to the web page about global warming that I created for my high school chemistry class in the 1990s.

I didn’t know anything about development, or design, or search engine optimization. In fact, I’d barely spent any time at all on actual, honest-to-God websites, most of my (noisy dial-up) online time having been spent in chatrooms and message boards. The page had unreadable red text on a black background, terrible-quality images and – I’ll never forgive my teenage self for this – auto-playing music.

screenshot of a homemade website from the 1990s

I built this Lovecraftian nightmare without writing a single line of code. Believe it or not, I created most of it in Microsoft Word, which, yes, you could do back in those days.

Just as Word did the heavy lifting for me in the 1990s, a website builder can do the heavy lifting for you today. But that lifting is a whole lot heavier now than it was in the 20th century. And if you go that route, you may find that builder software isn’t up to the task. Your finished product will assuredly be much prettier than my scrolling-text-littered abomination, but technical problems, unreliable previews, security vulnerabilities and woefully inadequate SEO measures have the potential to cause you major headaches down the line.

If you want your spiffy new website to continue bringing in and converting visitors for years – instead of getting you a C-plus from a checked-out teacher, after which you can abandon it forever – you may want to steer clear of builders, or at least approach them with the appropriate skepticism.

What Is A Website Builder?

You already know that everything you see on a website was put there by lines of code, right? Well, someone has to write that code. If you’re looking to build a new website, you can write the code yourself, or you can hire a developer – or a web development firm – to write it for you.

Then there are the builders. Think Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, Webflow, GoDaddy Website Builder. When you use a builder, the code is written automatically by the software. You use a drag-and-drop and/or WYSIWYG interface to make the site look the way you want it to look, and the builder does the rest.

Why Do People Use Builders?

As you can imagine, letting the software do the coding makes things much quicker and easier on the front end. Advantages include user-friendly interfaces for people without much technical skill, pre-built templates, support guides and tutorials, and built-in content management tools. And because of all the labor it saves, using a builder is considerably cheaper than hiring a developer – no doubt a key factor in every major website decision.

So what pitfalls can you encounter when you use a site builder? Buckle up.

SEO Limitations

To be sure, you can do a lot of the same SEO work with a builder site that you can do with a custom developed site: keywords, header hierarchy, image alt text, that sort of thing. Some builder templates even have built-in features to point you in the right direction on SEO, such as sticky elements for contact information and social media accounts. But that still leaves a lot of potential problems that scare off search engines, causing your site to drop like a rock in the rankings.

Search Engines Feel the Need – the Need for Speed

It’s impossible to understate the importance of site speed in search engines’ calculations. If pages on your site load slowly, Google is going to prioritize other, faster sites over yours. I’ll spare you some of the technical details, but in brief, the more code you have on the back end of each page, the slower that page loads. When you go with a builder, you’re going to end up with a hell of a lot more code than you would if you had a developer or team of developers writing it.

And pages weighed down by builder HTML don’t just affect SEO. They also affect visitor behavior: bounce rate, conversions, even the cost of pay-per-click ads. When you bring in a developer, you don’t have to worry about any of that; they can get you the look and feel you want with far fewer elements and far less HTML.

Other SEO Problems with Website Builders

Example of a terrible AI website builder.Here’s a by-no-means-comprehensive list of the SEO risks posed by site builders. Not every builder is guilty of every one of these offenses, but each one is something you could conceivably encounter.

  • Mobile optimization may be difficult or impossible due to lack of responsive design – and because the vast majority of website visitors are mobile visitors, search engines hate sites that offer poor mobile experiences.
  • Builders may offer limited guidance of their own, making it easier to overlook SEO-friendly priorities such as calls to action.
  • You have less control over direct SEO elements such as page metadata and URL structures.
  • Some builders do not integrate with Google Analytics, or cannot be verified by Google’s Webmaster Tools, severely limiting SEO capabilities.
example of a terrible AI website builder
Example of a terrible AI website builder.

Builders to Avoid

Though all builders carry their own disadvantages, some create bigger headaches than others. Our development team here at ForeFront Web pointed out some of the most problematic, including:

  • GoDaddy Website Builder, which has a bit of a reputation for poor customer service
  • Any AI site builders, which may seem fine at first glance but turn up more and more problems the closer you look at them
  • WPBakery and Elementor, which “build with non-semantic, very messy and bloated code that is nearly impossible to crawl and index,” says Phillip Clapham, our lead support developer

Technical Issues

SEO isn’t the only component affected by invisible problems associated with builder sites. Some of the other stumbling blocks are:

  • Content management systems are often more robust on custom sites, which makes them easier to update than builder sites.
  • Otherwise simple tasks such as resizing images may be made more challenging by limited functionality.
  • Builder sites utilize common servers, meaning they can’t afford as many resources.
  • Search engines have a harder time understanding your site in general – especially if your code is full of errors, as builder code sometimes is – and if they don’t understand it, they’re not going to rank it high.
  • Though some builders are designed to easily integrate with ecommerce functions, those that aren’t may impose major limitations, if they allow you to incorporate ecommerce at all.
  • You’re wholly reliant on the platform for hosting and maintenance. In addition, you’re at the mercy of the platform’s infrastructure, which means less control over performance, functionality and more – and total chaos in the event that it shuts down.
  • Scalability eventually hits a roadblock, given the limitations of whatever platform you may use.

How Much Help Can You Expect?

Responsiveness can vary pretty widely from one platform to the next, so even if you encounter a solvable problem, it may take forever to get the builder to fix it – if they fit it at all. Oh, and many builders maintain ownership of everything on the site, so if you get a new site or server and want to migrate everything on the old site, well, good luck.

Security Vulnerabilities

Though some builders may cut corners by using outdated code, builder sites are not inherently more vulnerable to malicious actors than are custom sites. But, because builders use similar code for all sites on their platforms, they are popular targets for hackers and other cybercriminals. As anyone who drives a Kia or Hyundai can tell you, when bad actors spot a security flaw, they all rush to exploit it – so a security problem on one site created by your builder becomes a security problem on every site created by your builder.

Aesthetic Disadvantages

You might think that visual appearance is the area in which website builders shine. After all, you’re designing the visuals yourself; you know exactly how it’s going to look, right?

Well, it’s certainly going to look better than that blindness-inducing horrorshow at the top of this post. But it’s also going to look really familiar. Website builders give you templates to work with, and though some of them have a lot of options, ultimately, there’s only so much you can do to customize the look of a website you don’t fully control. Navigation, layout, styles, fonts, colors, design elements – all of them are limited, and that means fewer ways for your site to stand out.

And all of this assumes you can even get the site looking the way you want it, because sometimes the preview you get doesn’t reflect reality, requiring you to go in and keep awkwardly adjusting things until it looks like it’s supposed to.

Which Builders Are Worthwhile?

As much as we’d like to tell you that hiring a developer is your best course of action 100% of the time, we recognize that there are some companies and organizations whose budgets are such that it just doesn’t make sense to go with a full custom site. If you’re in a position where a builder is the only viable option, you can make the most of the situation with:

  • The Divi builder by Elegant Themes, which Nathanael Gray, one of our web developers, refers to as “the most robust and properly supported of all the builders I have any experience with”
  • Oxygen Builder, “the No. 1 choice for clean, SEO-optimized code,” per Phillip
  • Beaver Builder, which also produces semantically correct code that can be fairly easily crawled and indexed
  • WordPress builders, or even, which is different from
  • The WordPress Full Site Editor with a new block theme that effectively turns WordPress itself into a page builder

Custom Web Development

All of that said, we cannot emphasize enough that, for a high-functioning website, custom development is the way to go. Custom sites are better-looking, more secure, easier to update and best equipped for SEO. Interested in getting a new site that sets you up for success in every possible way? We’re here to help! Reach out to us today. We’ll be happy to show you all the benefits of a custom web design.

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