One of the first questions people often ask me is what Web site tool I would recommend for the best SEO. I have seen sites built with free/low-cost Web site builders like Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace, among others (there are at least a dozen high-profile tools, with more appearing and disappearing all the time). A number of these are very easy to use, “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” (WYSIWYG) layout tools that don’t require you to have a designer, or even have much knowledge of Web coding yourself, you just drag and drop elements into place.
If you don’t have any experience with Web standards like HTML or CSS, and you want to quickly put together a simple Web site, these tools do have their advantages:
- some come free with your Web hosting
- they can eliminate the cost of a Web designer
- you can get a site up very quickly, if you can use an existing template
…but despite these advantages, they may not be the best for every need. Some of these tools have specific drawbacks (especially if you have serious blogging or e-commerce needs) that would make me think twice about developing a site in a freebie tool that you might later regret. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace briefly:
- Wix – Wix has been through many iterations since its 2006 debut. In the past, they offered polished-looking sites due to their use of Flash, and these Flash-based sites looked great but were abysmal for SEO. Nowadays, Wix has dropped Flash-based sites, but still offers nice-looking templates which you can use via a true drag-and-drop editor to quickly construct your site. However, once your site is constructed, you can’t change the template, you’ll have to re-build the site, since they don’t use properly structured code that would allow you to easily switch templates. That lack of structure also scuttles their ability to create Web sites that look good on both desktop and mobile devices, since they don’t support any responsive designs (Web designs that have liquid layouts, so they can resize automatically to fit the device upon which they’re being viewed). Also, they don’t allow any direct access to the HTML or CSS code, so no design tweaks can be made to a template. And you don’t want the free version of Wix – the large advertisements and search-engine-unfriendly URLs are big negatives for any Web site.
- Weebly – Weebly has expanded its features so it includes plenty of clean-looking templates, some control over customization of HTML and CSS using the Weebly code editor, a great drag and drop visual editor, blogging abilities and e-commerce integration (including the ability to use PayPal, Stripe or Authorize.net as payment providers). They do advertise SEO features like automatic XML sitemap generation, the ability to insert Google Analytics tracking script links if you don’t want to just use their built-in (supposedly quite unreliable) Web analytics, custom 404 pages, 301 redirects, and page title and meta description tag generation. However, it has some quirks – no proper HTML H1/H2/H3 heading tags (though you can use a custom HTML element as a workaround), no proper directory structure, no file manager so files have to be uploaded multiple times if used across several pages, no spam control or CAPTCHA support for blog comments, and search-engine-unfriendly image names and blog post URLs. Weebly also had quite poor e-commerce integration unless you had a very small number of products, though late in 2013 they greatly expanded their e-commerce abilities, including the ability to import from other e-commerce platforms like Etsy and Shopify (though I think you might be more likely to go TO those platforms once your store becomes successful!), mobile device product listing display optimization , order and inventory tracking, and shipping and tax calculators, among other new features.
- SquareSpace – SquareSpace templates look very refined and polished (the SquareSpace Web site of Portuguese-born graphic designer Joana Galvao headlines this post, a SquareSpace Web site I randomly came across), with beautiful integration of imagery, use of white space, and sophisticated typography, and they market themselves to visual artists like photographers, artists, designers and others whose work is primarily visual. SquareSpace 6 now has some pretty good on-page SEO capabilities with an upgrade to HTML5/CSS3 standards, more granular control over URLs, page titles, headings, etc. SquareSpace now also includes page-level meta header script injection abilities, a must if you’re using split-testing tools like Optimizely or other tools which require scripts in the head section of a Web page. However, it offers only Stripe as a payment provider, perhaps acceptable if you’re a US-based shop with domestic customers, not so great if you’re not US-based or have a lot of foreign customers because of the fine print and service fees involved, and from what I’ve heard the generally lower level of customer service with Stripe compared to PayPal. In early 2013, SquareSpace introduced SquareSpace Commerce, an e-commerce integration offering for online stores with less than 2000 SKUs, including both domestic and international units of measurement, shipping options, currencies, many types of product variants, sale prices, and many other new features.
At least with these three tools, they are currently still attracting users by the millions, and rapidly improving their feature sets, so it’s possible that they may continue to be low-cost Web site building options for a long time. Of these three low-cost tools, I might recommend SquareSpace for its good SEO capabilities and visual design features.
However, good Web site SEO doesn’t necessarily depend on the tool used, in the same way that a great camera does not a great photographer make. The best SEO results come about from you educating yourself about proper on- and off-page optimization, building and promoting great content, and keeping up with Google’s anti-spam tactics to make sure your Web site isn’t one of the casualties. You can also get a competent SEO consultant or agency to do the work for you, and ask for enough details to ensure they don’t use black-hat tactics that may be only briefly successful.
Should you use a low-cost tool to build your Web site? If it’s a quick-and-dirty site that you may not maintain for very long, perhaps it’s just fine to use a tool like the ones I’ve described here. However, if you’re in it for the long haul, I always recommend WordPress because of its rich feature set, flexibility, blogging features, and the immense community of developers and users that ensures you can always get your questions answered and needs met.
ASKING YOUR FEEDBACK: Have you used any of these tools? What are their biggest advantages and drawbacks in your opinion? Leave me a comment and let me know.