So you’re thinking of redoing your existing website, or perhaps you don’t have a site yet and want to set one up. One of the first questions that you’ll face is whether to build and maintain your website in-house, or to hire an external agency to do it for you. What approach works best depends on many factors.
Do It Yourself
If you have the time and appropriate skills, building a website by hand is the cheapest and most flexible option. All you need is a good web host and off you go. Most of us however won’t have the necessary skills to build a functional and decent-looking website.
Do It Yourself, Advantages:
- Total control over your site
- The sky’s the limit
Do It Yourself, Disadvantages:
- Solid HTML and CSS skills are absolutely necessary
- It’ll consume a lot of your time
Web Publishing / Content Management Systems
With the abundance of user-friendly web publishing software available online these days it’s a tempting choice to use one of these and build a website yourself. Systems like WordPress, Squarespace and Wix make it look easy to design and build your own website in a matter of minutes. (Many webhosting companies also offer easy-to-use web content management systems, but these often turn out to be very basic systems that won’t get you very far.)
The uncomfortable truth however is that everyone can build a website with these tools, but building a good website takes a lot of time and effort.
Web publishing systems can help make it easier for you by providing design templates, easy layout options, and intuitive admin functions, but in the end you’ll still have to invest a lot of your time, and potentially money, to get the most out of it.
Every easy-to-use web publishing systems has its limits and constraints, usually necessary to ensure it remains accessible to non-techie users. You’ll also be forced to work with the design elements the tool provides you with, which can mean your site looks similar to other websites out there. A way around this is to have a unique design made for you. This doesn’t have to be an expensive option – unique WordPress designs for example can be had for a few hundred dollars or less.
Web Publishing, Advantages:
- Easy to set up
- Easy to use (mostly)
- Professional design templates are widely available
- With plugins you can add all kinds of functionality to many web publishing systems
Web Publishing, Disadvantages:
- Not all systems are free to use
- A truly unique design will probably cost you money
- Each system has its limitations in terms of flexibility and functionality
- Getting to know your tool and building a good site will take time
Hire an External Web Agency
If your pockets are deep enough and/or your time limited, hiring an external agency to build your website for you is a viable option. But don’t just hire any agency – shop around and compare. Many agencies are barely more than a programmer and a salesman working out of someone’s basement, and they won’t be able to deliver proper long-term service and support.
When looking for a web agency to outsource your website to, keep the following things in mind:
Does the agency have an excellent website? For web agencies their own website should be a prime demonstration of their skills. It needs to be as good as they can make it. If you’re not blown away by their own site, they may not have the necessary capabilities to build a truly great website for you.
Do they use a lot of technical jargon? Abundant use of web-speak may be a means of hiding their lack of expertise. You want an agency that speaks your language and can communicate their ideas to you in a straight-forward manner.
Does their offer match their price? As in all industries with web agencies you often get what you pay for, but sometimes an agency might take advantage of a new client’s lack of online experience. Don’t commit to a website costing tens of thousands of dollars until you’re totally sure they’re the right people for the job.
Do they offer good (and affordable) support? Building a website isn’t the end of the process, you’ll need proper support from the agency to keep the site up-to-date and error-free. Ensure that the support they deliver after the new website is live is part of the contract, and don’t let them charge huge maintenance fees either. If you’re paying more each year in maintenance cost than your website originally cost, you’re being ripped off.
External Agency, Advantages:
- All the hard work is done for you
- A good agency can supplement your own ideas and come up with even better concepts
- Your website will be unique and (hopefully) effective
External Agency, Disadvantages:
- It’s the most expensive option – by far
- You run the risk of being stuck with a mediocre agency and an under-performing website