Website Builders vs Custom Code

7 min read

There's a lot to consider when deciding between a website builder or a custom-coded website. Keep reading for a breakdown of the pros and cons of each approach.

Website Builder vs Custom Website

What are Website Builders?

Website builders are software tools that handle the heavy lifting and expertise needed to create a website. All the frontend coding and backend infrastructure are handled by the website builder, so companies don't have to worry about developing any of that.

Brands can construct a website using drag-and-drop tools in just a few hours or choose from a library of templates. Popular website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and Webflow, provide brands with easy-to-use frameworks for creating blogs, shopping pages, checkout pages, and much more.

Advantages of Website Builders

The website builder market is growing rapidly, thanks in large part to the expanding e-commerce industry. By 2026, revenue is estimated to reach 2.7 billion thanks to a CAGR of 8.8%. Any brand or individual, no matter how small or inexperienced with web development or coding, can form a web presence of their own without hiring developers. Website builders are so successful because they are advantageous for smaller enterprises:

1. Quick Setup

A website created using a website builder can be set up and launched within a few hours and fully perfected within a few days. Quick setup time helps brands move forward with other aspects of their business, like marketing, social media, inventory management, and shipping.

2. Budget Friendly

Website builders are relatively cheap. This is one of the primary advantages for companies that may not have a large budget to develop a custom website.

Wix starts at only $27 a month (when paid annually) with their Business Basic plan, which includes secure online payments, unlimited products, and abandoned cart recovery. Although their Business VIP plan, at $59 a month, is a better value for including unlimited dropshipping with Modalyst, support for multiple currencies, and subscriptions. Squarespace has slightly more competitive pricing than Wix when paid annually but offers most of the same services and features.

Overall a brand can expect to pay between $300 and $800 a year for:

  • access to website builder's tools
  • a free domain
  • hosting
  • SSL certificate
  • online payments
  • many other features

At such a budget-friendly price, it's no surprise website builders are exploding in popularity.

Payment for website builder

3. Library of Attractive Templates

Using website builders doesn't mean having an ugly outdated website. Website builders hire web designers to create sophisticated and on-trend templates for customers. Wix and Squarespace have pages and pages of beautiful modern templates for every industry and type of website. Templates provide a foundation and design for companies to build upon.

Wix templates

4. Ecommerce Integrations

The best website builders include an array of useful features for brands wanting to sell products or services online, like coupons and discounts, secure customer checkout, accepting numerous payment methods, and abandoned cart recovery. For anything not natively offered, customers can integrate their websites with ecommerce tools and plugins:

  • Wix AppMarket showcases hundreds of 'professional solutions to power your Wix website' like Mailchimp Email Marketing, QuickBooks, Spocket, and Printify.
  • Squarespace offers a range of official integrations from commerce solutions like ApplePay and Stripe and various 'Blocks' like Foursquare and Instagram. They also have a collection of third-party tools known as Squarespace Extensions, including inventory extensions like Candid Wholesale and Art of Where and shipping extensions like Aftership and Order Desk.

Disadvantages of Website Builders

Website builders are powerful tools but aren't perfect for every situation. They are primarily plug-and-play frameworks, so they have their limitations. After picking a template that suits the brand's image, product images, descriptions, and branding are added. There's a certain degree of freedom over font, color size, layout, and navigation, but complex features aren't supported.

1. Ease of Use

While website builders are intended to streamline the development process, a learning curve is still associated with getting a website just right. Changing fonts, colors, links, layout, and navigation can be quite a painstaking process. Some website builders aren't as beginner-friendly, Webflow being the main example. At a minimum, users must understand HTML and CSS to start laying out a site with Webflow.

2. Complex Logic

Website builders aren't designed to support complex logic, user authentication, or specific database setups. For businesses that want to use their own databases or authenticate users, there are a lot of challenges and coding needed to make it work with a website builder.

3. Limited Search Engine Optimization

With a website builder, a company can quickly get a website up and running, but bringing visitors to their website is another ordeal. A website's success is not about using a beautiful template or throwing a website together in two days. It's about search engine optimization. Website builders often have messy codebases on the backend that limit page front SEO.

When using a website builder, brands can't make changes to the clunky backend code. They can't optimize important areas of their site and might be stuck with a slow site.

Search engine optimization metrics

4. Limited Third-Party Integrations & Overreliance on Plugins

A brand is limited to the supported third-party integrations when using a website builder. If a business has already established systems for inventory management, user authentication, or shipping, it can be a pain to try to make the switch if that system is unavailable in the chosen website builder.

For many functions vital to a modern business, premium plugins are needed. The cost of all sorts of premium plugins can quickly eat into the monthly savings associated with choosing a website builder in the first place. A business must keep paying for those plugins during the entire website lifespan.

5. Scalability

As businesses grow, they need better hosting, customization, and optimization to support their business. Website builders aren't built to meet the unique needs of a rapidly growing company. Wix may struggle to support the volume of visitors for a successful business. And forget about implementing new and interesting features. Without scalability, the use of website builders is limited in the short term.

6. Performance

The sites created using a website builder are not optimized. This means visitors will have to wait, and with each second they wait, more and more visitors move on. This is strongly related to the bounce rate, which is likely to be higher for websites created with a website builder. Besides a poor user experience, long load times and a high bounce rate can ruin a site's SEO. Notice the red and orange metrics measuring the poor performance of various website builders:

Performance metrics of various website builders

Custom Websites

Developing a custom website means a business can build exactly what they need. They are not constrained by the backend programming of a website builder. Most smaller enterprises will opt to use a small development agency because it's within their budget and offers a more collaborative experience. The developer will take care to learn about the brand's unique needs, what custom integrations they require, what designs and animations are best suited for their customers, and how to optimize the site for SEO purposes.

Advantages of Custom Websites

There are an array of advantages in choosing to develop a custom website, as long as a company can handle the initial costs and maintenance requirements:

1. Custom Design, Animations, and Logic

Almost anything that can be imagined can be built with custom coding and logic. Brands aren't limited to drag-and-drop components or templates with a custom site. Because everything is coded from scratch (or using frameworks and libraries), the design will be unique to that brand and won't look like another cookie-cutter website.

2. Custom Integration of All Types

Custom sites aren't limited to a specific set of official integrations because they can be built to support whatever third-party systems are needed. Whether it's social media feed embedding, chat features, legacy systems, or business software integrations, it's all possible with a custom site.

3. Open-Source Technology

Custom sites can leverage open-source technology in a way website builders can't. This includes npm packages like:

  • next.js - a framework for making super fast and modern websites
  • framer-motion - an animation framework for creating complex user animations
  • formik - a powerful form-building tool
  • graphql - fetches data efficiently

With open-source technology, websites can be built with finer control over the important details. Wix and Squarespace offer their own version of these tools but this limit a brand's degree of control over functionality and appearance.

4. Better SEO

Custom SEO implementations are another clear benefit when choosing to build a custom website. Website builders include the most generic forms of SEO, like meta descriptions and title tags, but there is also a lot of unused and unneeded code hidden on the backend. This code is meant to support all types of templates, but is part of why websites created using website builders are slower to load.

With a custom website, brands have greater control other the backend infrastructure, so they can engineer pages to load faster or manually optimize certain parts of the site to load first. Every business is unique and benefits most from a tailed SEO plan built right into the website's infrastructure.

5. Detailed Analytics

Website builders provide only a simplified view of a website's analytics. Squarespace, for example, provides the following categories of analytics:

  • Sales
  • Traffic
  • Geography
  • Sales by product
  • Purchase funnel

A custom site is a better choice for brands that want or need a more detailed analytics system. Custom sites can use a myriad of analytics tools, like Google Analytics or Hotjar, for tracking website usage. TikTok offers great tools for collecting social media analytics that can reveal what parts of a brand's content strategy have the best results. With more detailed analytics brand's can extract more useful information from which enterprises can yield real actionable business insights.

Analytics Report snapshot

6. Better Support Through an Agency

Most partnerships with a development agency include ongoing support after the website has been created. Agencies have a smaller collection of clients and can provide better service than big-box website builders. Agencies are also far more familiar with the inner workings and infrastructure of a custom site than Wix, Squarespace, or Weebly will be, so they can provide high-level solutions with better turnaround times. Professional web developers have knowledge and expertise that is an invaluable asset.

Cons

Custom websites offer some clear advantages to an enterprise looking to strike big on their internet presence, but there are negatives that are a major turnoff for brands looking for a quick, affordable web development solution:

1. Initially More Expensive

Brands should be prepared to dish out at least a couple thousand dollars for an agency to start on their site. The initial investment required to work with an agency may be outside the budgets of some smaller organizations that need to start making sales before they can spend that kind of money. Plus, the overall expense rises as the website's complexity increases. Even a single page can cost thousands of dollars to develop from scratch. By comparison, a brand can establish its storefront with less than $1000 by choosing a website builder.

2. Custom Development Takes Longer

Anything custom takes longer to build. It can take several months for an agency to finish a more extensive website. This might be acceptable for brands that already have an established web presence and are just looking to upgrade to a custom site that better suits their needs.

3. More Complex

Custom coding is more complex than simple drag-and-drop components. Employees will need to familiarize themselves with the backend system enough to add content and products, manage inventory, handle orders, and communicate with customers. Website builders hide all of the complexity behind templates.

4. Requires Manual Maintenance

When a brand pays for a website builder's service, this usually includes essential maintenance costs and tasks. Wix, Squarespace, and other website builders will handle that behind the scenes, but if a business is managing a custom site, they have to make their own decisions about handling outdated features that may negatively impact the user experience.

For custom sites, maintenance has to be scheduled and handled manually. Brands must update outdated infrastructure and third-party dependencies and also need to address any bugs, critical security vulnerabilities, changes in privacy laws, and changing search engine optimization algorithms. It can be a lot to get a handle on, but it's just part of managing a custom website.

How to decide between a Custom Site or Website Builder?

Like every business decision, choosing between developing a custom website or using a website builder will depend on the business and the specific project requirements.

For brands looking for a small representative website where they have complete control and can make changes themselves without consulting a developer every time, a website builder is usually the better choice. The same goes for brands on a strict budget that need a website created quickly but lack the skills to handle code or backend logic.

Any business requiring custom designs, logic, complex systems and integrations should choose a custom-coded website. This offers a solid foundation that can easily scale as the business grows. The development timelines are longer, and the budgetary requirements are more significant, but a finished custom product is better suited to meet any unique business needs.

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