Not All Website Builder Platforms Are Equal

📸 Photo by Hubert Mousseigne on Unsplash

If you’re building a website in 2018 and you’re looking for a website builder, you have a lot of choices. I’ve used them all: Squarespace, WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Mailchimp Landing Pages. Website builder platforms may all seem equal, but I’m here to tell you about one that you can strike from your list: Strikingly. (Yes, I just did that.)

With almost every website I’ve ever had a hand in launching, there’s been one thing in common: A desire for rank. People want their website to turn up in search results. “How do I get to the top of the search results?” Whatever you’re building, doing, hosting, selling, or creating, you want people to find you.

(If you specifically don’t want people to find you, stipulate that with a `no index` in your `robots.txt` file, which basically tells Google, Bing and other search engine to not return your website in search results pages. Easy.)

So, in our review of Strikingly, we’ll start there — from the all-important consideration of SEO ranking.

The TL;DR version: my Strikingly review rating is a 0/10. You’ll likely never rank well using it and it appears to be built by a team that doesn’t have an advanced understanding of the web.

Robots.txt

With Strikingly, out of the box, you do not have access to your robots.txt file. But this is important when search engine bots are crawling your site. I first discovered this when I was trying to scan a new website for errors that could hurt our search rank. I experienced timeouts on the robots.txt file when trying to crawl the site, which started an entire unraveling of us getting their team to change a custom setting of some kind of magic in order to have a proper robots.txt file (after a long wait from customer service).

And we were the lucky ones. Website builders who don’t know about a robots.txt file or the function it serves may never even realize this is hurting their site.

Meta Titles

Ok, this one is just as basic as basic gets. Meta titles are the titles of individual pages that show up in search results. You want to have a unique page title for each page so people know what page they are clicking on when it surfaces in the search results. When it comes to page titles, the clearer the better. Search engines look to confirm that the on-page words are related to the page title words, and reward those that match with a higher ranking.

With Strikingly, you get one meta title. Just one. As in, every single page has the same description. If you have just a single page website, fine. But serious, multi-page websites, be warned. Google will penalize you for having the same page title for every page; it’s considered duplicate content. Imagine having a bookshelf of various different books, but they all have the same cover and title. Talk about a design flaw!

URL issues, part 1

If you are using a custom domain (www.mywebsite.com) and not the Strikingly subdomain URL (www.mywebsite.strikingly.com), your site has to be forwarded to the www. version of their site (www.midwestwebsites.com), then the DNS zone file has to take on a second redirect in the form of a CNAME record to connect with Strikingly.

Multiple forwards result in a slower load time for your website, which (you guessed it!) is penalized by search engines. Users like websites that load fast, and so do search engines.

URL issues, part 2

What’s worse than mandatory redirects? The inability to set up voluntary ones. Strikingly doesn’t allow you to set them up. Let’s say you have a page www.mywebsite.com/dogs and you want to take the page down. Normally, you’d simply set up a 301 redirect to your home page or another appropriate page to create a graceful transition. But with Strikingly, you can not redirect a URL. Unreal.

URL issues, part 3

You can not set up URLs to follow a specific path. Why does this matter? Let’s say you have a restaurant. Your website has a page showing all of your locations (www.restaurant.com/locations), and you want the website visitor to be able to go deeper into your website and explore the locations.

Normally, you’d design your location URLs to look like this: www.restaurant.com/locations/minneapolis or /locations/new-york, but with Strikingly you may not have a path to your page location. When you have a path like this /location/city-name, the idea is that you — or a search engine — can drop the city name to see a list of all locations with the URL path /locations. Strikingly decided to design the URL like this: /locations-new-york. This erases the logical path of information and can lead to website visitors getting lost.

404 Error Page Issues, part 1

A 404 page is an error page with an HTTP 404 status code. But it’s also an opportunity to help a website visitor find what they are looking for. My advice is always to design a page that is a little humorous and very helpful. If you had a customer in your physical location who was confused or frustrated with your store layout, how would you help them find what they’re looking for? Use your 404 page the same way: as a guide to help them find what they need. Maybe it’s a search box and a friendly message, or a list of suggestions to other pages on your site.

It’s not just a courtesy to your visitors — if you don’t have a 404 (Page Not Found) page, Google will penalize you. By now you know where I’m going. Strikingly doesn’t have a 404 page, which means when a user ends up on a broken link of your site, it will redirect to homepage. At first glance this may not sound like a bad solution, but it’s a terrible user experience and will hurt your SEO. The website visitor will not get to where they expected to go and also not realize the content is no longer available.

Positive UX encourages people to spend more time on your site. And, if that’s not enough reason to have a 404 page, add this to your list: 404 pages are a signal to search engines that the page no longer exists so it can remove the page from search results. It cannot do its job if the page is redirected.

404 Error Page Issues, part 2 (www.mywebsite.com/404)

The way a 404 error page should work is like this:

User comes to a page that doesn’t exist (www.mywebsite.com/page-does-not-exist) → web browser gets a 404 server error and serves the mywebsite.com/404 page. Then the search engines know not to index the page that does not exist.

With Strikingly, if you add `/404/` to the end of your URL, you would normally get the designed 404 or at least a blank page with a 404 HTTP response code. However, Strikingly will serve a splash page advertising their product. I’m not even kidding about this.

The gall. 😳

This is serious flaw of the Strikingly platform for several reasons. First it’s slimy and confusing to your users. I mean, what percentage of traffic that hits a dead end on a Strikingly-platform-hosted website actually converts to a Strikingly customer? 😔 And this is technically detrimental to your website ranking because the content of their advertisement doesn’t match the content or branding of your website. Google’s bots will be confused and penalize you.

Also, https://www.mywebsite.com/404 returns a 200OK HTTP status. WHAT? No. The HTTP status code “404” means “file not found”, whereas the HTTP status code “200” means “file found.” A 404 error page should return the correct HTTP status code. Strikingly handling this as a 301 redirect show how immature their platform is.

In Summary

Strikingly should never be used for any website — personal or business — where SEO and being discovered through search is important. If your Strikingly-created website somehow manages to rank in search results, it will be a miracle (or a lot of extra work on your part).

Here’s what they can offer you in terms of SEO: a responsive website design, alt tags, headers, header tags, and meta descriptions. That’s it. So basic.

Sure, they offer you a blog post with some semi-decent tips on improving your SEO, so you might think they know what they are talking about. But I’m here to tell you: They don’t. If you don’t know a lot about SEO, I don’t want you to unknowingly step into this terrible platform when building your website.

So, be warned: Strikingly is missing some critical features that will severely hurt your search engine page result rankings. You’d be better off with WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, or almost anything else.