Everyday I talk with nonprofits and individuals who needed to build their own website and decided to use a website builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace. And although I totally understand their reasons for doing so, every time I have this conversation I have to stifle my frustration because many people don’t understand the disservice they are doing to their nonprofit when they use one of these website builders.
As mentioned, I understand why they’re popular.
They are user-friendly and tout that anyone can quickly and easily design a website. Sounds great, right? But there are lots of hidden pitfalls that you should know about before committing to one of these (and if you’re already committed, you may want to reconsider).
Here are the 3 biggest reasons I don’t recommend these website builders…
1. Lack of control
Ironically, people use these website builders because they want control over their website. And although it’s true that you will have the control to design and update the site, you are also giving up control over almost everything else.
For example, you have a limited number of templates you can use and their ability to be customized is limited as well. This is bad news for your marketing strategy as branding and having your own “look” are crucial to building trust and recognition for your nonprofit.
You will also have limits on what you can integrate into the site. For instance, a good nonprofit website should be integrating donation forms, their email newsletter, social media, google analytics and search console, ticketing, and a host of other elements. But website builders are limited. If they don’t offer a built-in integration for whatever function or software you need, you’re just out of luck.
If you go with a free version of Wix or Weebly, then you can expect annoying ads on your website (thankfully, SquareSpace doesn’t do this, but they also don’t offer free sites, so…). This will annoy website visitors and it definitely makes your website look more unprofessional.
Probably my biggest gripe when it comes to lack of control over these website builders, is that you are totally at their mercy to fix issues. I’m not talking about correcting a typo or changing out a photo. I mean big-deal issues where the website is not functioning as it should. You don’t have access to the code or the inner workings so you can’t fix it yourself and you can’t hire someone to fix it either. You can call customer support about the issue (which for many of these companies is notoriously bad), but they already have your money so they have no incentive to fix the problem quickly.
Imagine having your website go down on the evening of a huge event or as you’re premiering next season. See why this point makes me twitch?
Lastly, if you do decide to switch to a different platform, many website builders make it really difficult to do that. Many don’t have a way for you to export the site and even when they do offer export ability, the finished export often leaves much to be desired. I’ve seen lots of broken links, terrible formatting, complete loss of layout, and other problems when a site from Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace has been exported.
Which leads me to my next reason I really dislike these companies.
2. You don’t really own your content
You don’t own that site. You paid them (or not if you’re on a free plan) to handle all the hosting, domain, and design issues you didn’t want to deal with. Meaning that it belongs to them and it stays with them, even if you leave.
Yes, you could copy and paste all of your written text and if you have photos or graphics you uploaded, you can input them again into a different site (a huge time-suck). BUT you can’t take any of the templates, design elements, layout, coding, etc. with you because it was never yours.
And in fact, most of these website builders include language in their terms of service that specifies they can use your site for any purpose they want and can even change and modify the site without your permission. Because legally it’s theirs. You should be really, really uncomfortable with that.
They can shut off or restrict access to your site for any reason at any time and it's up to them, not you, when it’s back up or when/if you’re allowed back in. Because it’s not really yours.
If anything happens to that company or its servers, your website is toast. And you won’t be able to do anything about it because you never had access to the codes, templates, or background data in the first place. You would have to re-create that website from scratch somewhere else. This is not the case with other website platforms where you have access to all of your source files and data.
3. Behind the curtain, it’s a mess
Many of these website builders (Wix and Weebly especially, and Squarespace to a lesser extent) use bloated code, their websites often load slowly, are not as accessible to anyone with vision or hearing impairments, and often are not as search engine friendly as they need to be.
You may be tempted to care very little about these issues, but they absolutely affect your website in important ways so I would urge you to think about them a little more.
When a website’s code is bloated, it tends to load slowly and/or is very buggy. Websites that are buggy or load slowly rank lower in search engine results and frustrate website visitors, all but ensuring that they never return to your site. In turn, that means less online donations, ticket sales, and awareness of your mission and events.
If your website hasn’t been optimized for accessibility, plan on a portion of your website visitors getting the message that you don’t care about them.
And of course, unoptimized websites are harder to find. And that translates to less visibility, less awareness, and a website that isn’t doing any of the things that a marketing tool should do.
If you’re hell-bent on using a website builder, SquareSpace is easily the best of the three mentioned here. And there are definitely more free website builders out there than just the ones mentioned in this post.
But if you’re serious about having a great website, go with WordPress.
Hire a pro if you can and if you can’t then take the initiative to learn the platform yourself. There are tons of resources out there to help you do it and WordPress is actually very user-friendly once you poke around in it a little bit (and you absolutely do NOT need to know how to code). Plus, you can integrate literally anything with it and the sky's the limit on what a WordPress site can do.
After all, there is a good reason that over a third of all websites on the internet are built on the WordPress platform.
What platform is your website built on? Do you love it or hate it? Let me know in the comments!
I’m also including my free website evaluation scorecard here. If you aren’t sure if your website is any good, think it may need some updates, or aren’t sure why no one uses it then this scorecard can help you find areas of weakness and strength, helping you to improve it.