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The dangers of cookie-cutter website providers

Most business owners understand the need for a website. It’s just something you have to have when you set up your business, like business cards, a phone and an email address. Whether you intend for your website to be the sole source of your business leads, or whether you’re just getting one because it’s the ‘done’ thing, a website is usually one of the first things a person gets when they start their new business.

It’s this naivety, or lack of vision, that causes so many awful websites to be set up. It’s also because of this naivety that so many cookie-cutter website providers have flourished.

What do I mean by ‘cookie-cutter’? They’re the companies that offer websites for pennies, or even for free. Companies like GoDaddy, 123-REG, 1&1 Internet and Wix.com. These companies charge a nominal fee to people who don’t know what they want from a website, but know they need to get one. They target the people who don’t know the difference between a professional website and a free one, and their low costs make them too good to refuse.

They’re also polluting the internet with some truly awful sites, all looking very similar and failing to deliver what the businesses were expecting. They’re the reason many business owners can often be heard saying things like “I never get any business from my website” or “SEO is dead”.

These cookie-cutter website providers aren’t new to the internet either. I’ve been building websites since the ‘90s and these things have existed for almost as long as I can remember. The first one of these things I came across was a company called Mr Site, which started in 2004. I remember seeing it advertised as a ‘takeaway website in a bag’ for sale on the tech and gadget website boysstuff.co.uk. I’ll confess, at the time I thought that it was a fantastic idea – from their point of view at least.

As someone who had already amassed several years’ experience in dealing with clients, discussing their needs and delivering websites, I thought the concept of selling a ‘one size fits all’ website in a bag was a much simpler way of doing things. Making it look like a takeaway was a brilliant masterstroke of marketing as it made the concept of buying a website very simple and very easy to understand. You pay your fee (I think it was about £100), and you receive a bag that ‘contains’ your website. Of course, the bag didn’t actually contain a website – you had to log on to their website and enter your details to build your own site using their tools. That didn’t matter though as, by then, you’d already paid for your website in a bag.

From a website designer’s perspective, taking the client liaison out of the equation and simply selling a templated website means lower overheads, which means a cheaper cost. This, of course, is sold to the customer as though it’s much easier and cheaper for them. As Mr Site says on its own website:

“MrSite was born in 2004 after someone just like you discovered how difficult it was to create a website with no web-design knowledge. Knowing that hiring a professional could be costly and stressful, she vowed to create a product that would help anyone get online easily, quickly and affordably.”

Hiring a professional is costly? Wait until you've hired an amateur. Click To Tweet

As any successful business owner will understand, if you’re selling something in bulk to be mass produced, there isn’t going to be a lot of variation in the product. There can’t be. Therefore, a lot of websites produced by these cookie-cutter designers look very similar. 1&1 Internet, through its product ‘1&1 MyWebsite’, actually used the phrase ‘industry specific text and images’ on its TV advert to promote its websites for a few pounds per month. That was a selling point. You get industry specific text and images. The same text and images as everyone else in your industry. What a truly horrible idea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooOJkKeB2qI

What do you think Google will make of that? Do you think it’ll like the fact your website has the same text and images as your competitors’ websites? No, that’s duplicate content.

Also, do you care so little about your business that you’re happy to have the exact same content as everyone else? Is there nothing to distinguish your business from others in your industry?

Yet still people bought these websites. Because they were cheap.

1&1 went a stage further however, when their next TV advert stated ‘with search engine optimisation tools, everyone will find you’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrcyiWOGWbc

I believe this advert is misleading and dangerous. It’s suggesting that, by buying one of their websites, you’ll get a website that ranks well within Google and it will generate lots of business for you. I asked 1&1 on social media what the ‘search engine optimisation tools’ were, and they didn’t have an answer. They didn’t have an answer because SEO doesn’t work like that. The biggest part of SEO is content – fresh unique content. This needs to be added regularly, and 1&1 doesn’t do that for you. Quite the opposite, they give you ‘industry specific text’ – which is the same content as everyone else’s websites. They give you a stock design, the same as everyone else.

Can you see why this is a bad idea yet?

GoDaddy is even cheaper. They advertise websites, email and a domain name for £1 per month. GoDaddy was originally just a domain registrar and hosting company, but they realised that each of their customers who bought domain names also needed websites. Offering websites was the next logical step and, with millions of people using them for domains, it was a brilliant money-spinner.

Of course, by using their online website builder, you’re tied to them. You’re tied to their design. Your website will look like everyone else’s. If that’s what you want for your business then great, but most people set up a business because they think they can do something differently, something better.

Having the same text, images and design on your website as everyone else won’t convey that message.

As you can probably tell, this is something that makes me really angry. I was so angry about this that I had a bit of a rant about it this month.

Click my face to play it!

That all being said, there are still reasons to use one of these cookie-cutter website builders. Here are a few of them:

  • You don’t care what your website looks like
  • You don’t intend to ever get business through your website
  • You don’t think a website should cost more than £20
  • There’s absolutely no difference between your business and everyone else’s business
  • Your business isn’t real, you just need a website for the pretence

If one of these applies to you, then great. If, however, you do need a website that works, one that will generate business for you, then please, as stated in the video, use a real web design company. There are plenty of them around, with web designers like myself who have been doing this for many years.

Don’t make the mistake of using an IT company that also offers websites, or a graphic designer who also offers websites, as neither of those specialises in web design. I can spot a website built by an IT company a mile off. I can also spot one made by a graphic designer. The two have very different flaws, but very obvious flaws nonetheless.

However, I digress. This isn’t a rant about IT companies and graphic designers building websites. That rant is for another time, and it will come. This rant is about cheap websites from templated website providers, and the TV adverts from 1&1 should be enough to convince you why you shouldn’t use them.

If you agree with me on this, leave a comment. Let me know. If you don’t agree, go away.

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