The Rise of Drag-and-Drop DIY Web Design Tools and How They Could Be Impacting Small Businesses

By Jacqueline Sinex, Tuesday, February 15, 2022
WEBii web design consultant J Sinex
WEBii web design consultant Jacqueline Sinex in Austin, Texas, where she has worked with business websites since 1998.

My, my, has the web changed. You don’t need the HTML for Dummies book to code a website anymore. It feels like everywhere you turn, there is somebody touting another do-it-yourself web design tool. Technology evolution has brought us to a time when any business owner can build their own website. So, how is this rise in DIY websites impacting small businesses?

There is a rise in drag-and-drop and do-it-yourself web design tools.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a limited number of options for building a website. On one side of the divide were professional web developers who could custom design and code web pages. On the other side, there was desktop software you could purchase, like Microsoft FrontPage or Dreamweaver.

It was possible for someone with novice web design skills to use a desktop program, and maybe pull together a simple website using the templates and instructions available. But you were still required to learn some tech skills to manage the various files, understand the code extensions for things like navigation menus, and upload your site to a server.

As blog platforms, social media, and e-commerce becomes commonplace, online software tools expanded. Eventually, there were more user-friendly options available for building websites. WordPress, for example, has grown tremendously from its origin as a simple personal blogging tool.

Today, we find ourselves with a larger series of options that are online-based and have visual tools and widgets. There are even templates you can use to model a look or feature you want.

Some of the web design building tools are drag-and-drop style, meaning you can grab something – a widget, a piece of content, a block, an image perhaps – and drop it in a certain spot on the web page.

Some of the software tools offer this approach as a way to organize content and control the structure of a web page. Then, you preview and publish the final result. Some go as far as offering a design-centric approach, giving you a preview of what the front-end is actually going to look like as you build it. Many marketing managers enjoy this because it gives them more control over design elements without needing to rely on a pro designer.

There are hosted service providers (for example, Wix and Square Space), that give you access to login to their platform and choose from their catalog of templates and apps. And there are software providers (like WordPress and Craft) that offer portable options to utilize the software on your own server.

Add-on frameworks and plugins like Divi, Beaver Builder, WP Bakery Builder, and Elementor can also be added to WordPress for more editing templates, landing page tools, and modules.

Most recently, the authors of WordPress have embraced their native block editor approach and expanded it to support “full site editing”. It’s an interesting milestone in their evolution that’s sparking conversations.

Restaurant and cafe managers working on website

Restaurant and small retail businesses commonly seek out low-cost options for building a first website.

What kind of benefits might a small business enjoy from DIY website tools?

For small businesses without a big marketing budget, DIY website platforms are enticing. A web design template that doesn’t require any web development or coding experience offers an opportunity. When a web designer seemed out of reach, some small businesses relied heavily on social media and a free Facebook page to kick start their marketing. This seemed common for a while in small retail and restaurant businesses.

When website publishing tools are designed for novice users, suddenly having a website presence seems more in reach. Some of the popular platforms make sure their signup process is as easy as possible, and some offer a free or low-cost solution. For those small businesses who were so reluctant to start a website, this could feel like a game-changer. To many small businesses, it’s like climbing the next rung on the ladder toward having a real marketing reputation.

For a business owner without any eye for design, choosing from a catalog of design templates could be their saving grace. There are some web design tools that are designed with a colorful theme out-of-the-box, without almost nothing to do but fill out company contact info and text. The business marketing manager likes this because they can create something without having to deal with any code.

With the sharp rise of so many drag-and-drop, what-you-see-is-what-you-get website designing tools, a wave of new websites are launched every day.

As tempting as these DIY web design tools are, there are drawbacks.

I admit there are benefits to this exciting digital evolution. But we also need to face the facts and realize the risks.

First, there is the topic of design. Especially as design aligns with your brand and your business marketing. If you use design templates from a limited catalog, your result could likely be generic and off-brand. Plus, not all templates are equal. Some of the simple free-level website platforms offer very basic and even old-school options, but if you don’t personally have an eye for design, how would you know? What if you thought the website theme you chose was grand, when in fact all your customers feel otherwise?

Next, it’s important to know that a lot of DIY website tools and front-end design tools are equipped with heavy programming that can make them cumbersome to use. And even worse, their loading performance during and after publishing a web page could be very slow. I’ve witnessed instances of business owners attempting to edit one small piece of content on one simple landing page with a DIY design tool, and it took hours to complete the edit. That’s a lot of time wasted, and a business owner’s time is valuable. Website searchers and customers have short patience, so if the website is not loading at quick speeds, they are likely to bounce.

Another risk of self-made website template programs is the lack of SEO (search engine optimization). When these tools have limited features that do not offer strong optimizing, and when they are slow loading, it affects the site’s ability to rank high in Google searches. It’s also not unheard of that some of these software tools generate a lot of extraneous code around all the important content on the web pages. When that happens, the web pages are not easy for search engines to read, and will not perform as well as other well-coded, well-optimized sites from competitors.

Lack of features, flexibility, and reliability are other factors of some website editor programs. My motivation for writing this article was the very intriguing growth in how many cool features are now being offered in website builders. However, it is still the case that many of the options small businesses elect to use have limitations that prevent them from using certain features.

In fact, some providers have a business model of providing very basic tools at the entry-level and upselling for other features you need. It’s important to realize the true investment you may have to make, even if the starter website tools look so inviting upon signup.

If you dig into the details about some of these options, you will find some concerning feedback from the community that indicates they are not as easy and ideal as advertised. The Gutenberg Block Editor, for example, has poor ratings, with users complaining about things like bugs and lack of efficiency. And on the customer review site Trustpilot, users rate Wix less than 2 stars. Some users also complain about the lack of technical support for these types of platforms.

Mobile responsive web design example

Showcasing a custom mobile responsive web design for a 2021 business promotion.

Let’s consider mobile for a moment. In today’s website standards, mobile friendliness is a key factor. Mobile experience is already a well-established requirement for high-performing websites. Some template themes do support mobile-responsive design, but some do not. There are still a lot of simple design templates, especially in the free and low-cost offerings, that are poorly coded for mobile. If you don’t realize this and choose a website template with poor mobile experience, your SEO and customer lead capture will suffer.

And don’t forget the possible lack of portability. If you are using a hosted service that you pay a monthly subscription fee to use, you are probably stuck with that provider to continue using that particular web design and the tools. Typically, those SaaS model companies do not offer their software to you if you decide to move to a new hosting company. And if you decide to change your web design, you may be required to start over completely or experience data loss.

Small businesses are probably missing out on key marketing benefits.

A seasoned digital marketing expert will tell you the value of having a quality website that aligns with your marketing goals.

If you asked me if having something is better than nothing, then I might say, “yes, it could be”. But what if the simple website template you throw together with free tools completely misses the mark of your brand? What if your customers are turned off by the design and content, and you had no idea? What if there are some simple adjustments that could be made to a website to generate more traffic and leads, but your DIY tools had no way to provide that insight to you? What risk are you really taking?

From a point of accessibility for small businesses and their ability to reach customers, I think these programs are helpful. A low-cost web design tool could help a new business find a starting point, and take steps toward their ultimate business plan. However, a marketing professional brings other things to the table that lead to success.

Someone knowledgeable in web design and marketing will ensure that a website is well planned from the beginning, is on-brand, speaks to the right type of customer, and has the right kind of features to convert visitors. Professionals will work efficiently to define the right look and the right features, and even the maintenance of a website. Compared to a business owner without technical or marketing skills, the investment a website professional makes may actually have a much better ROI.

Don’t forget about competitors. The truth is, if just one of your competitors has a better website – with better strategy, better design, better content – they are more likely to push you aside and succeed. If your business is using the lowest barrier to entry to get a website off the ground, but the competitor is already at the next level, your hustle is that much harder.

Real estate industry web designs

In a recent case study, a real estate business experienced roadblocks with its limited website features.

There are also cases where a website with limited capabilities actually causes a roadblock in your marketing goals. Recently, a real estate business had an attractive portfolio website built with an online template service. It was a nice-looking site that showcased their work and they were happy with it. But when they were ready to launch an SEO campaign to grow traffic to the website, their marketing team started experiencing challenges. The technical analysis showed coding issues that were hindering the fast loading of the website. Some of the tags they wanted to implement on the site were unable to be supported by the template program. They discovered it wasn’t possible to achieve everything on the marketing task list without redesigning the entire website on a better platform.

There are possibilities with a hybrid web design approach.

I think we can agree there are some nice things about having easy-to-use web design tools that a novice level owner or content producer can use. But we can also see how custom design and professional expertise are valuable, and how those DIY tools might be lacking in some ways.

Perhaps there is an approach that takes advantage of both worlds and helps small businesses now and in the future.

An example of one successful web design approach is using a flexible, reliable platform as a base for a professional web designer to build a new website on. A good example of this is WordPress. We know that at minimum, the program will equip the business with basic content management tools. The professional web designer will help the company with the right strategy and design, create a solid custom look and a higher-performing site. In addition to that, they can also install a secondary tool (such as an editor plugin) that allows the business owner to design their own sections and landing pages.

This approach works well, because the business received a lot of support and time savings getting the website setup (in the right way), but they are also equipped to take over future site editing tasks with some flexibility.

I expect front-end website builder tools to continue growing. We will see these things more, and the ads from software companies who want you to subscribe to these tools will probably also keep popping up. Because of this, it’s important for professional web designers to stay aware of these tools, and determine when they are able to lend a hand with supporting them or when they can provide some assistance integrating custom web design with them. And it’s important for business owners to recognize the potential gaps and realize that just because something is easy to onboard doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. After all, we are all building this new era of the World Wide Web together.

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Posted in: Digital Marketing, Marketing, Small Business, Web Design, Web Design Resource, WWW Learning Center

One response to “The Rise of Drag-and-Drop DIY Web Design Tools and How They Could Be Impacting Small Businesses”

  1. Don grillo says:

    One concern I have is the lack of consistency in labeling “go to” locations from one page to another.