If you want your startup to stand a chance of achieving brand visibility and attracting new customers, you need to have a website. The majority of modern consumers will consult the web before making a purchase or working with a corporate partner; if your website isn’t there, they’re simply going to turn to one of your competitors. 

However, just having a website isn’t enough to make your startup successful. There are dozens of free website builders that make it easy for any entrepreneur to create a new website from a template, even with no website building experience – but it may be better to custom develop a site from scratch. 

What are the advantages of custom development, and is it the right move for every startup? 

The Downsides of Free Website Builders

Here’s the great thing about free website builders – they’re free. With no money, limited time, and no experience, you can create an account, log in, and use a WYSIWYG editor to create a basic website based on an existing template. If you’re creating a secondary blog or if you’re creating a small, local business, this may be the right move. 

However, there are many disadvantages to using a free website builder for your startup. 

These include: 

  • Misleading “free” nature. Free website builders are free, right? Well, yes and no. You may get to build a website for free, but you may have to pay for certain upgrades – even very important ones, like the ability to sell products on your website. By the time you add all the components you need to make the website work, you could be paying hundreds of dollars (or more). 
  • Limited page development. Many free website builders also limit the number of pages you can create for the site, or limit the content you offer in other ways. 
  • Limited design options. You may also struggle with limited design options. There may be a finite number of free templates to work with, forcing you to compromise on your vision for the website. 
  • Limited functionality and restricted features. Additionally, you may have limited options in terms of functionality and features. For example, you may have difficulty selling products, optimizing for conversions with CTAs, and hosting advertising. 
  • Limited storage. How big is your website going to be? If you plan on writing lots of content, uploading lots of images, or hosting several videos, you may run into the upper limits of your “free” storage capacity. 
  • Minimal customer support. What will you do if your website doesn’t turn out the way you want, or if you’re confused about a certain feature? Unfortunately, free websites don’t offer much in the way of customer support, forcing you to struggle with your issues indefinitely. 
  • Advertisement options. If you want to use the website for free, you may be forced to host advertising on behalf of the website builder. This can make your site look cheap and unprofessional – and prevent you from hosting advertising of your own. 
  • Template issues. If you use a free website builder, you’ll likely be relying on preexisting templates for your work. As you might suspect, these templates are quite popular. Relying on them could make your site look like a recolored copy of another site, making your brand seem cheap, unoriginal, or uninspired – especially if you have direct competitors whose sites look the same. 

Is Designing a Site From Scratch Better? 

So is custom developing a website strictly better? 

The short answer is: it depends. There are several advantages to building a website from scratch with a custom developer. You’ll get to decide exactly how your website is structured, how it works, and how it looks. You’ll get full control over every detail and you’ll have an agency (or an individual) who stands by their work. Your website will likely look and work better than if you built it from a preexisting template. 

That said, there are also a few downsides to custom website development, including: 

  • Time. With an easy WYSIWYG editor and no special preferences, you can build out a basic website in a matter of minutes – and certainly less than an hour (though of course, adding more content will take more time). When custom building a website, it can often take weeks to get your finished product up and running. Accordingly, this isn’t the right move for every business. 
  • Money. Custom developing a website can also be expensive – though not as expensive as you might think. You’ll pay more than zero dollars, but if you’re working with a reputable web development agency, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. For just a few thousand dollars, you can get a website that offers everything you need – and ongoing support that can help you ensure you meet all your long-term goals. 
  • Transparency and trust. In some cases, you may have to deal with transparency or trust issues. With an inexperienced developer or a shady agency, you might have to deal with bugs or flaws in your website, or it may not function as reliably as you’ve hoped. 

Fortunately, most of these issues can be controlled and mitigated by choosing the right website development partner. If you choose someone experienced whom you trust, you can rest assured you’ll get a beautiful, functional website for a relatively low cost – and ample support throughout your company’s development. 

Is a Custom Site the Right Move for Your Startup? 

So is creating a custom website the right move for your startup? 

That depends on a number of variables, including: 

  • Website goals. What are you hoping to accomplish with your website? Is this meant to be a simple billboard, where people can find some basic information about your company? Or are you interested in starting a simple blog for fun, more than profitability? If so, a free website builder may be plenty. But if you have big plans for how your website looks and functions, or if you want to add more custom functionality, custom development is superior. 
  • Industry and competitors. You’ll also have to think about your place in this industry and your core competitors. How do they operate? What kinds of website do they have? If you’re in a relatively new industry and you don’t have much competition online, you can take your time and start with a free website builder. But if you have lots of competitors or a tough industry, you’ll need something better. 
  • Timeline. Custom website development can take several weeks, or even months for very complex builds. If you’re trying to get started as soon as possible, custom development may not be a realistic option – or you may be practically forced to start with a free website and develop a custom website at a later date. 
  • Features and complexity. Of course, you’ll also need to consider the features and complexity of your site, including the support options you may require. If you want more than the basics, a free website builder may not be a realistic option for you. 

Steps to Take Next

What steps should you take next? After taking inventory of your website goals, the nature of your business, and your current options, make a decision about whether you want to build a free website or have a custom one built. After making this decision, you’ll be in a much better position to make your next move. 

If you want to build a free website, investigate the top free website builders available – some offer more flexible options than others. And if you want to build a custom website, it’s time to start interviewing custom developers. Be sure to look at reviews and testimonials, and get a feel for the communication style of each development agency; your relationship with this company may dictate the quality of your finished site as well as the experience you have along the way. 

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting company that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.