The phrase website builder doesn’t exactly strike confidence in people. I personally think Comic Sans, primary colors and blinking marquees. In any case, they certainly don’t command respect. Website builders have a seedy history, but connotation aside we’ve seen a big rise in their popularity over the past five years.
The Web and Automation
In the early days of the internet websites were made with HTML Tags and grainy images. It’s funny to look back on, but at the time understanding this new technology was no easy task. It wasn’t long before developers began to automate the process by creating website builders, applications that enable people to build websites without learning how to design or program.
Website builders meant that anyone interested in the Web could build and manage their own website. Geocities was one of the first in existence. Shortly after came offline website builders like Macromedia Dreamweaver as well as more infamous online builders like Angelfire.
At the same time Macromedia Flash was making its debut. Flash changed everything and the Web developer now had two entirely different ways to create a website. In fact, it wasn’t long before Flash website builders starting making their way into the fold as well.
Regardless of how we feel, website builders have played a huge role in the history of the internet and the website’s role in everyday business.
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Don’t Call it a Comeback
For the last ten to fifteen years the need for people and businesses to have a website has grown exponentially and therefore the need for automation has carried on. However, in that time website builders lacked substantial traction and rightly so, most of them were proprietary junk.
But today with companies like SquareSpace, Tumblr and software like WordPress we’re beginning to see a strong rise in quality website builders even though they drag a decade or so of heavy baggage behind them.
Tumblr, the trendy micro-blogging platform, is currently running over 138 million blogs. WordPress.com is fast-approaching 71 million websites. Just the most recent version of the open source WordPress software alone has been downloaded over 11 million times. And popular website builder, Wix, recently exceeded 37 million websites.
Along with these numbers comes the undeniable fact that website builders are being taken more seriously than they have in the past.
Tumblr has been used on micro-blogs for The Expendables and The Hunger Games franchises and to support legendary companies like Nike and Universal Music. WordPress has been used by The New York Times, fortune 500 companies like GM and even The Rolling Stones. And BigCommerce is the ecommerce website builder behind popular online stores such as Pandora, Home Instincts and Roy Oswalt.
A Unique Advantage
Web technologies and services are more standardized, connected and shareable due to a movement known as the open Web. New website builders that embrace this line of thought can provide infinitely more features and value than they were able to a decade ago when they churned out websites in a vacuum.
Business on the Web has advanced with practices like digital strategy, search engine optimization and social networking. Custom websites and online applications have become expensive to outsource.
And while building a custom website with no previous knowledge of the Web is more attainable than it used to be, it’s not as easy as Web professionals with books to sell tend to make it out to be. Consider Facebook, Amazon and Apple, all websites that have taken teams of professionals years to perfect.
Website builders offer immense value through otherwise expensive development features and professional design, immediately, at an extremely low cost.
The Future of Website Builders
Popular ecommerce website builder, Shopify, recently announced a feature that allows shop owners to accept credit card payments without having to go through a third-party merchant. This means anyone with a product can create an account and start selling within minutes. I believe it’s this type of streamlining that we can expect from quality website builders moving forward.
Right now most website builders offer ambiguous features and design to be applied across multiple categories of website. But I believe we’ll begin to see a push to offer more targeted, robust websites at a premium cost with features, design, imagery and copy geared specifically for certain website niches.
Even though the stigma of using a website builder is fading there’s still much to overcome.
Web professionals have always leveraged their ability to offer custom solutions over pre-packaged ones. But since website builders are more versatile than ever before I believe digital agencies will finally adopt them as professional tools. This will then shift the focus onto more valuable matters like leveraging the agency’s ability to provide digital strategy and custom design.
One thing is clear, website builders are on the rise. And if SquareSpace, Shopify and Tumblr are any indication of where they’re headed I’d say they’ve finally shed their baggage and the future looks promising.