The death of DIY website editors has been greatly exaggerated

As has the death of Wordpress

Editing a Weebly website from an iPad. Is this the future?

Is the DIY website builder market flourishing or struggling? While market leaders Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly have spent years building out beautiful drag-and-drop editing tools, a great web product is not enough. As it turns out, for businesses trying to put together a professional website, doing it yourself is too much work and requires an unfamiliar skill set. And, for these small businesses, the company website is just too important to take on themselves.

The self-serve model has struggled. Business owners prefer to depend on the expertise of a person: A freelancer or web development agency. Their potentially complex website needs to be professional and impress visitors. Businesses still want a “web guy” that they can call if things break. It sounds old fashioned, but service is still the best approach for the rapidly evolving website market.

Evolution of website publishing tools: What’s next?

A few up-and-comer startups have recognized that DIY website builders are struggling to acquire and retain customers. A new generation of website building platforms are determined to solve this problem by adding a much needed level of support and expertise. Instead of asking the business owner to do all the work, these startups are extending a helping hand. That helping hand could come in the form of design automation, asking a few key questions, or a scaled support team that handles the heavy lifting personally.

Here are four startups throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Will the post-DIY pitch resonates with customers?

The Grid

On October 4th, 2014, The Grid launched a fantastic introduction video that promised the future of websites. Websites that build themselves? The future had arrived! Sadly, almost 2 years later, The Grid is still in closed beta, making it just a cool video and vaporware. So far.

The Grid: Websites the design themselves

The core Grid pitch is to offer creative automation for things like switching themes, updating layouts as you add content, choosing color palettes that match your photos, and auto-cropping photos.

Is that innovation? Is The Grid solving the right problem? Maybe the problem is that web design is difficult, so a degree of automation during the self-serve building process is the solution, putting the business owner at ease.

But I’m skeptical. The Grid build experience remains a self-serve design process — plus heavy-handed creative guidance. In the case of art direction for digital assets, heavy-handed automation could discourage customers, not help them. In this case, automation removes creative control, which is restriction by another name.

Do businesses want more automation built into DIY tools or do they want full-service?

MoPro

MoPro champions the “Death of DIY” mantra. The pitch is this: Fill out a form telling us about your business and we’ll turn around your website within 24 hours. How? Based on AI (yawn) and a team of website designers, eagerly awaiting your instructions from their spacious business park in Irvine, California.

The rest of the pitch is a lot of smoke and mirrors, including bundled analytics, social media monitoring and social publishing solutions — none of which are as complicated or strategic as they make them out to be.

And their marketing message includes “let us run your business online” which sounds overreaching and pretentious.

All this for $199/mo which is literally 10–20x more expensive than a self-serve website building platform like Squarespace. At that pricing, it’s more of an expensive full-service agency pitch, with an unknown degree of product platform built-in. Their aggressive pricing will limit the amount of customers that will be interested, and will attract projects that require more complicated features.

Will it scale as they so enthusiastically promise?

Weps

Weps has the customer run through a questionnaire and then spits out a template based on the responses. I’m not sure how the questionnaire flow is any more assuring than a standard self-serve website building model — the result is the same. In any case their site is full of typos and not public yet, so more vaporware.

Weps

Opla

Opla is riding the chatbot revolution. A chatbot is your “web guy.” The chatbox asks you key questions and builds your website for you. Presumably the chat interface is a mix of automated questions and human support, if needed. Again, vaporware only at this point.

Design by chatbot

In all these cases, it’s great to see aggressive experimentation in the website builder market.

But, the death of DIY has been greatly exaggerated.

Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace continue to inch along, and continue to spend millions on advertising. They all have raised millions and continue to invest in adding new features, despite a potentially unimpressive growth rate and a concerning churn rate.

And of course the well-funded DIY players are researching their own AI and chatbot experiences, like Wix’s “Artificial Design Intelligence.”

What are these anti-DIY startups disrupting?

But the real insight here is that these DIY killers maybe going after the Wordpress killers, while Wordpress didn’t need killing in the first place. Most of these website builders launched 10–12 years ago as Wordpress killers, which at the time, was just clunky, open-source CMS for blogs. The pitch was that Wordpress was too complicated, while DIY editors were easy of use with no coding skills required.

Google Trends show Wordpress still dominates

Wordpress has since launched it’s own self-serve website builder — Wordpress.com, and continues to flourish, powering 25% of the web. So the lesson might have been that Wordpress was not broken as badly as the website builder market had thought.

The website builder market may not be as ripe for disruption as the DIY killers hope.

Of course the real test is with small businesses. How will businesses respond to more service-oriented engagement models like filling out forms, chatting with bots, and watching magical AI color-correct their page while they edit? Is the promise of a professional design team just a phone call away exactly what these businesses have been yearning to hear?

Will the service model, ironically, disrupt the product model that was originally intended to disrupt the service model?

Or will businesses just give up and call a Wordpress developer?