Is the increase in ‘DIY’ templated sites a downward spiral for user experience?

I had a call from a client last night who had encountered an issue with their website. Like many small business, or clubs & organisations, they set up and look after their own WordPress site; the sites don’t need a lot of technical knowledge to run and come with good user instructions for setting them up. In many cases this approach can be a great way for start ups to get themselves online simply and effectively, the CMS style interface is normally fit for purpose and to begin with they do not need anything more sophisticated, but periodically they encounter an issue which requires a little bit more technical support and this is often when I get a call.

For small businesses who don’t have in house IT or digital support, using a dedicated agency or support company to run their website can be expensive and isn’t always practical or cost effective. A fully supported digital solution may be something that they may aspire to in the future but often I speak to people who are just looking for help setting something up that they can run themselves. Supporting businesses who are looking for advice on how to set up their website, and providing support packages for small websites who are looking for sporadic pieces of technical advice to resolve issues such as those my client experienced yesterday is something I get a lot of satisfaction in providing. In these instances I know that I am making life easier for those that I’m working with, saving time and money for them, and often I can add value to the user experience of their digital presence at the same time or can work with the organisation towards their more long term strategic goals for digital users.

However a recent flux of adverts on the TV for the ‘build your own website’ solutions that come with hosting providers, has left me wondering whether or not a surge in small business websites being set up by non digital experts may have a detrimental effect on the over all user experiences online. I have been lucky enough to work with many digital experts in my career to date, some are experts at writing for the web, some at user experience and/or design, some at coding, some at digital marketing, but rarely do you find someone who is an expert at them all. I have always maintained that my skill is in a general understanding of these fields but also, most importantly, the ability and knowledge of the need to bring together the experts as required and help to co-ordinate their work. So, if lots of websites are being created using generic tools by people who are not considering the overall digital experience of their user, then will the experience be degraded in the future? Or is it possible that this area will become self policing and there will be a greater understanding everywhere of the importance of communicating effectively online?

As someone who still periodically encounters garish sites set up in old style HTML with unfriendly colours, bad spelling & grammar, and poor image choices, I can only support tools that help novice website builders create sites that are easier to use and more pleasing to the eye. This has to be good for small business and organisations who cannot always afford to pay for a site to be developed from scratch. However in my experience getting guidance from an expert with areas such as labelling, site structure and cross linking will more than pay for itself in terms of customer retention and value in the long term.

What do you think: are you encountering poor web design on a more frequent basis or do you think the increase in the number of templated sites is improving the overall user experience online?

 

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