DIY Versus Managed Websites: What’s the Difference & Why Should You Care?

- By Shawn Cohen, Director of Digital Strategy

The siren song of an out-of-the-box website solution can be tantalizing. Sign up, pop in your credit card information, and presto! A few hours of easy-to-use, drag-and-drop fun and you have a one-size-fits-all website perfect to advertise your HVAC, home performance, solar, or better building website on the world wide web….

Alas, if only it were that simple. In fact, Energy Circle’s Lead Developer, Ranganayaki Somaskandan, recently sat down with Jake & Josh on the Energy Circle Podcast, EnCircled, to talk about this very subject. Since your website is such a critical tool in your digital marketing tool box though, we’re not done talking about the pros and cons of various website solutions just yet! 

While these kinds of websites (referred to as DIY websites here) are enticingly simple, there are some drawbacks to such uniform site solutions. Managed websites, on the other hand, appear to be more work and effort—and perhaps even a daunting project—at first glance, but can be more nuanced, sophisticated business tools to use in alignment with your digital marketing strategy. Below we break down the primary differences between the two, and the considerations to make as you begin your journey of website design or implementation. 

DIY Websites

DIY websites are commonly marketed as an inexpensive, or even free, all-in-one website solution that enables “anyone” to design, build, and host a website on their own, without any technical, coding, or web development experience or support. These solutions often offer a variety of pre-built theme or page template options to choose from that will serve as the design and structure for your website. Many DIY platforms also offer a range of features and functionality you can add on to enhance your website, such as web forms, image or video galleries, drag-and-drop page builders, and e-commerce functionality. To top it off, DIY websites like this usually come packaged with a custom URL and built-in website hosting.

Many platforms offer DIY website products or solutions—from the very straightforward like GoDaddy, Weebly, and Wix to the more robust and specialized like Squarespace and Shopify, most of us have heard of these “quick and easy, no technical skills needed” solutions. And for many individuals and small businesses, these are solid, affordable, and reliable options to produce a fine looking website, without the time or financial investment of hiring a design or development resource.

But of course, it’s not quite that simple. “DIY” stands for “do it yourself” after all. Even if it can be done with no prior web development knowledge, it still takes time and, if you’re a business owner in the better buildings or clean energy industries, it probably takes even more time for you than other business owners. If you’re focused on capturing new customers and booking more local service jobs, your website is a critical piece of your marketing mix and must perform on many levels including: lead generation, organic search engine optimization (SEO), and as a destination for paid search and social advertising. 

While a DIY solution may offer a cheap, speedy path to getting a basic website up and running, there are some downsides to going at it alone that can harm your ability to promote your services and compete in the marketplace. 

Managed Websites 

Before we go into those potential pitfalls, let’s address an alternative to the DIY approach. “Managed Websites” is a term we use to describe a more comprehensive approach to designing, building, and maintaining websites. While we at Energy Circle have our preferences for platforms and technology, a managed website doesn’t necessarily refer to one specific CMS or technical stack. Instead, it refers to an all-inclusive approach to building new websites or supporting existing ones that is tailored to the specific needs and goals of the business behind the site.

A “managed website” is just what it sounds like: a site that is fully supported from end-to-end by a dedicated expert or team. This approach ensures that your website is not just a bare minimum solution that checks the box, but that it is the comprehensive and sustainable foundation of your digital presence that fully supports your ongoing marketing and lead generation efforts. This requires strategy, content, ongoing SEO, integrations, and conversion optimization, among other things. 

The key difference between DIY and managed—in the context of website solutions—is who is doing the managing and how. With DIY solutions, many important tasks and components are automated, pre-built, and off-the-shelf. A managed site benefits from the support of a human (or team of humans) who is engineering each component of your site based on best practices and your specific business objectives, from the hosting environment to performance monitoring, ongoing improvements, updates, and maintenance.

Common Myths and Misconceptions about DIY Websites

So what about those potential pitfalls to the DIY approach we mentioned earlier? It’s important to note that we are not suggesting that all DIY solutions are the same, or necessarily “bad.” As a digital marketing agency that also designs, builds, hosts, and manages websites for our HVAC, home performance, solar, and better building clients, we absolutely recognize that sometimes simpler, less expensive approaches can result in an acceptable website which “gets the job done”—when and if executed correctly. 

But in our experience there are some common myths and misconceptions around these types of sites that can lead to disappointing marketing performance, weak organic visibility, and unexpected costs down the road. These are the experiences which—more often than not—lead us to recommend a managed approach to website development and maintenance for our digital marketing clients.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions we’ve encountered, and the reasons behind why you might not be getting as great of a deal as you think with a DIY website approach.

  • They’re cheap or free. Initially, this is often true. A basic website with no customization and no additional functionality, using an off-the-shelf, pre-built theme and standard set of templates can be very inexpensive (and sometimes even free). This also means that you have precious little choice when it comes to customizing design or structure and you have few options for support should something go wrong or you have a question about how to work with your new website.
    Moreover, you’re often tied to a specific hosting solution with little control over or insight into how your hosting server impacts your site’s performance, security, or scalability. Once these requirements come to light, it often requires additional investment (sometimes significant) to address them in the form of hiring an outside resource, upgrading your service plan, or purchasing plugins or other technical solutions to achieve new functionality or capabilities you didn’t initially know you needed. 
  • They don’t require any technical knowledge. Once again, this can be the case for many DIY solutions, provided you stay within the box of options and parameters they provide. The draw of the DIY website is often the fact that most decisions are made for you, from the layout of certain pages and the look and functionality of menus to where you can place your logo and your phone number. Some of the more robust pre-built themes come with more options, where others are purposefully more limited to make the process of spinning up your website quick and painless.
    However, if you want to make changes to styles, layouts, or functionality that are not readily offered as options within the selected theme, this is where a higher level of technical knowledge can be necessary. Furthermore, if your business has legacy systems or technologies which need to work with your website, getting those integrations in place can be a very complicated and technical process.
  • They’re just as good for marketing purposes. Are they though? For most HVAC, home performance, and solar businesses investing in digital marketing, their website has to function in a few critical capacities:  
  1. Gaining visibility in organic and local search listings, 
  2. Serving as a destination for users who click on paid advertisements (like paid search, display, or Facebook ads), 
  3. Converting site visitors into leads

This means that, at the very least, your website must meet extremely high standards of quality when it comes to SEO, content, and a user experience that’s optimized for lead generation conversion.

SEO best practices call for—among other things—fast page load speeds, accessibility, properly structured metadata, strategic internal and outbound linking, security and domain credibility, and intuitively organized navigation. Content must be robust, unique, and comprehensive as well as relevantly aligned and integrated with your paid ad content. A conversion-optimized user experience calls for thoughtfully crafted and contextually relevant calls to action, mobile friendly conversion elements, and multiple opportunities for real time interaction with customers, such as live chat and automated appointment scheduling.

So we pose the question again: is a DIY, off-the-shelf, “no technical knowledge needed” solution just as good for marketing purposes? In our experience: not usually. 

  • They come with designs and content. We don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on this one. The TL;DR of it is: no, they don’t. They usually come with a theme and page templates which do drive the overall layout and “look” for your website, and even offer options for some different styles like color schemes and fonts. They may also come with “demo content,” or libraries of high-res stock photos that have absolutely nothing to do with you or your business and are very possibly in use by dozens or more other websites also using that theme. You’re still going to have to make some “design” decisions about what content to place where, how to configure the style options that are available, and turn it all into a cohesive and professional looking website. To put it bluntly: Just because you have the tools to affect design does not make you a good designer. A pre-built theme and demo content is not search engine optimized for your services, or your geography. It’s not tailored to your brand identity, and it’s not going to set you apart in all the ways you need to be distinguished from your competition. 

Key Takeaway: Which Website Approach Is Right for You?

There are obviously a lot of choices and approaches one can take to improve your existing website or build a new website. Depending on your personal or business priorities, budget, and available resources, the approach that’s best for your website may not be the approach that’s right for someone else. Understanding the options available to you, and the pros and cons of each, is the first step toward figuring out the best approach to building a new or managing an existing website for your HVAC, home performance, or solar business.

If you take only one thing away from this article, it should be this: Consider priorities and long term goals when thinking about what your website means to your business. The cheapest, fastest route is often not the most scalable, and if your goals include growth … you’ll need a website that grows with you. Best to start with that in mind and plan to invest in a long term solution, not a quick fix.

Interested in upping your digital marketing strategy or exploring a new website option? Contact us at Energy Circle and let our team help elevate your online presence. 

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