Can Your Business Benefit From a Low-Code or No-Code Website? 7 points to consider when selecting your website platform
I’m sure you’ve seen your share of advertisements for fast, easy websites that can be launched in minutes with no programming experience required. This is reflective of the growing popularity of Low-Code and No-Code web platforms. For the sake of this blog post’s word count, let’s refer to them as “LNC” platforms. Thanks to years of standard software programming and through trial and error of the development community, the internet and the devices we view it on are maturing into a more homogenous experience. This uniformity is accelerated by the heavyweights of the web like Facebook and Google asserting their ideals of data structure and UI. This simplification of site structure and design trends gives fuel to the commoditization of web presence. New LNC solutions pop up every month promising effortless, low-cost websites. For many small businesses and freelancers this is a wonderful opportunity to participate in the world wide web without the overhead that comes with traditional web software development. However, there are a few important things to consider when developing a strategy for building your online presence.
How many developers does it take to screw in this bulb?
First, let’s loosely define the two primary modes of development at hand. Traditional web development involves a team of developers, strategists and designers working with you to plan, build and maintain your site. This can be in-house, or through a hired agency. LNC development typically involves a smaller team or individual using a predefined set of tools and templates to rapidly build a website. Additionally, while an LNC framework may have monthly subscription and per-sale costs, a custom-hosted website may have higher monthly costs, with lower or negligible transaction fees. From those definitions a few key points should jump out at you immediately. Traditional web development will result in a more expensive custom-tailored solution, while low code options are quicker to market with far lower overhead cost. If we leave it at that, the choice might be crystal clear (especially to your accountants!) but there are deeper considerations to make in this situation.
Blending into the background
Because they rely so heavily on templates, LNC solutions are usually limited in customizing layout and design. It’s difficult to find one that doesn’t look like every other site on the web. Often you end up with a cookie-cutter website that falls flat. Although LNCs may save you money on programming, it pays to invest in custom photography, video and copy that reflects your unique brand and provides a user experience and interface that sets you apart from any old 5-minute default site.
Furthermore, the templates created for LNC sites are often built with a UX and design philosophy that suits specific industries (think ‘Artist Portfolio Site’ or ‘Restaurant Site’). If your business doesn’t fall neatly into these categories, your site can feel disjointed or illogical. We’ve seen several websites that succeed in filling out a default template, but have buttons and CTAs that don’t apply or simply don’t work. When we decide to use an LNC platform for a client, we find it’s best to choose a clean, minimal template that allows their content to shine, setting the site apart from the rest. We also make sure to focus on adjusting the architecture of the website to suit the specific use cases unique to the client’s customers. We’ll fine-tune modules to suit their intended use, eliminating junk elements.
One of the main reasons a larger or older company may find LNC solutions out of the question is the limitations on integrations into operational systems. For example, one of ZG’s clients has a robust facilities management system that controls everything from event and class scheduling to the physical locks on the doors. This system is written with older technology which uses communication methods that have been almost completely deprecated from the web and uses languages that are no longer in use by most developers. Updating this system is one solution, but because it is so tightly integrated into their business, it would be cost prohibitive to replace. It would also be a huge undertaking for LNC site providers to build connections to countless, decades-old technologies, so there are many systems still in use that never will be compatible with the LNC format. For this client we provided a ground-up solution using servers and custom code compatible with their system. We were also able to communicate directly with the third-party system developers to allow their website to access schedules and login information. Had we used an LNC workflow, it would have required coordination between several entities, costing additional time and money.
But perhaps your business does not need to integrate anything more sophisticated than your Instagram page and credit card payment gateway. These are readily available modern APIs and can be set up with a few clicks and a login with most LNC platforms. Perhaps your five-year plan does not require major system integration until year five. Most LNCs allow your business to export custom code and site data, which could be repurposed later when building a more robust site. With careful planning, an LNC can be an important stepping stone to online success. This is where partnering with an agency to build an LNC can help. Planning your sitemap with future growth in mind can prevent breaking connections to the world wide web and ensure that your site keeps consistent search engine scores as you grow. Understanding how your data will need to be formatted in the future will guarantee your data is structured properly up front and survives your company’s growth intact.
A built-from-scratch website is going to be flexible enough to make almost any of your ideas come to life. On the other hand, maintaining a highly customized, built-from-scratch site often relies heavily on the decisions and methods of a specific team of developers. Core frameworks may have been customized to suit specific needs, or sometimes a website is a conglomerate of completely different programming methods stitched together by multiple isolated teams of developers. This means that thorough documentation is another necessary cost associated with site builds. We have seen our share of websites constructed by developers who’ve abandoned the project without leaving documentation of how it was created let alone why it was created that way. In every case this added a significant amount of time up front to decipher the existing code and determine how to expand in one area without breaking another. The modular templated nature of an LNC site can actually enforce uniform construction with its limited options, and future developers only need to decipher logic from a single source.
Putting all your eggs in someone else’s basket
Due to the nature of web standards and the open-source community, all websites and apps in production are dependent on tools and services provided by third parties. One example are the basic frameworks that eliminate the need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ for popular functionality, like jQuery or REACT. There are also countless plugins used to enhance data management and user experience. This also applies to various programming languages used by the end-user’s computer, the web hosts’ servers, and the developer’s workstation. Even the various web browsers and devices that interpret all of this code are all created by independent third parties. The more you rely on the code of these third parties, the more you are at risk of your system failing or becoming obsolete when those third parties fail or update their codebase.
An LNC setup relies mostly on a single third party, which may be too much of a risk for businesses who rely on their site as a primary business function. A recent example of this was the great Facebook Outage of ‘21. Several independent businesses use Facebook as their sole platform for web presence, which meant complete alienation of their customer base for a full business day. Traditional development often uses third party components, but typically provides an ongoing maintenance process, which means a team of developers familiar with your specific needs monitor all levels of your virtual house-of-cards, updating and replacing components as necessary.
Lack of experts
As LNC providers are fairly new and plentiful, each with their own protocols and quirks, there are not many expert users available. It’s highly unlikely to find a pool of hirable candidates with a degree in Wix or Squarespace. The level of skill required lies in a grey area that could be too complicated for the average Joe, while advanced programmers may feel their skills are wasted on these types of projects. Although it’s true that these sites can almost be built and live in a matter of moments, they still require a fair amount of setup and experience if you want an LNC site to look different or offer any features beyond the default setup. Most LNCs offer training courses, but this learning curve can extend your time-to-market, and can lead to significant downtime when maintenance is required. This is a scenario where you may want to select an outside agency over an in-house individual to build your LNC. An agency can dynamically pull in people with the right skill set for the right amount of time.
So, which one is it, man?!
I know, all of this information probably leads you to more questions than it does answers. That’s a good problem to have, and ZG can help you answer those questions. Just like the templates of an LNC platform are not necessarily one-size-fits all, neither should recommendations that are critical to your business. It’s important that you seek the advice of a professional team to make the right decision early so that it remains the right decision later. ZG is a full-service agency with an experienced UX and software development team with the knowledge and skills to help you translate your business goals to the web and equip you with the tools you need to launch the perfect website.