Table of contents.
There are countless ways to build a website.
I am not at all tech-savvy. Yet no matter how much I stumble around like the buffoon I am, I can still rely on website building tools to get the job done.
Sometimes without the need to touch a single line of code.
The most popular tools I have looked at include:
Renowned as they may be, however, these website builders all share the same, unfortunate commonality.
They suck. Each and every single one of them.
Let’s take a look at some of their complaints.
“Squarespace makes it easy for anyone to create beautiful websites.”
The above statement ceased to be true at some point back in time. Buggy, broken, and/or half-baked updates are now the norm in Squarespace.
The majority of Squarespace updates are pushed out to users without warning or consent, forcing you to test drive their new changes blind. On a live website, no less!
Even if you get to opt out, you have now denied yourself access to everything new on Squarespace’s latest and (supposedly) greatest platform. But hey, at least Squarespace has all your bases covered: you are screwed either way!
This is what a former Squarespace developer has to say about the updates:
Squarespace updates their code and changes how their user interface works all the time. The upside is that we get access to new features and updates that generally make things better without having to spend time installing these new updates on a regular basis. The downside is that you (or your clients) may be confused and have to relearn how to do things all over again.
For example, a while back, Squarespace changed the cookie banner code not once, but twice in a row with very little notice. Developers and designers were sent scrambling to fix their cookie banner code across the websites they maintained.
Many designers find that they have to update their Squarespace training videos more regularly than they would like to keep up with the changes. And often these designers don’t find out there was a change until a client comes to them looking for answers.
I do appreciate the effort Squarespace puts into making the platform the best it can be, but I wish they’d communicate a little more frequently about upcoming changes so we can all be prepared.Heather Tovey, former Squarespace developer, Aug 2021
Now look at what people have to say about the latest Squarespace platform (7.1):
Squarespace is so incredibly frustrating in every way
I hate Squarespace so much it makes my blood boil. I’ve been a loyal user for years now, and the fact they punish long term users by not letting us upgrade to 7.1 is just mind blowing to me. They tell me I’d have to delete and re create my entire site from scratch to upgrade…
That being said the 7.0 templates are downright infuriating. I’ve had to switch templates multiple times just to get certain featured [sic] I desired, while giving up other features of the old template that I also wanted. … I have tried to learn custom code to fix certain issues but often it doesn’t work. … Why can’t we just drag and drop things?ihatecartoons, Jul 2022
It’s absolutely absurd they made us rebuild our site for 7.1
… I want to leave but where do we go??RedditBurner_5225, Jul 2022
Transition from 7.0 to 7.1 Squarespace
Squarespace is supposed to be working on an update that will allow for 7.0 websites to be transferred to 7.1. It should be coming out any day now.voncreativeco, Oct 2020
2 years later..... >.<lonelygurl15, May 2022
I just came across this looking for an answer to how to do this. I cannot believe “redo it from scratch” is considered acceptable.scalena, May 2022
Oh, not only that they told me I have to cancel my account and create a new one.townfox, May 2022
And let’s not forget how Squarespace concealed their classic website editor, and then foisted the all new (bug-laden and unfinished) Fluid Engine editor onto their users in Jul 2022:
Confused about the reaction to Fluid Engine.
So… I hate it — like, hate hate it, like can’t use it without screaming curses… and I’m honestly confused as to why this isn’t the dominant conversation topic in the SS [Squarespace] community.
… When I started my newest site, I found out that I’m required to use FluidEngine. I wasn’t excited about this — it promised a learning curve that I wasn’t excited to take on, in a busy month — but, whatever. Gotta roll with the punches.
… My experience of FluidEngine so far has been nothing but woe.
… I get the drift that the old philosophy of Squarespace was to limit the number of decisions we could make, to nudge our sites into elegance.
… Now it feels like they’ve flipped the philosophy — we’re forced to make tons of decisions.
… I loved — loved — how effortlessly my sites used to appear in mobile. There were times I had to wrestle with it, but they were rare, and only when I was trying to do something weird.
But now — please, please tell me if you have a different experience — the spacing for mobile is really hard to work out! Like, IMPOSSIBLE to work out.
I didn’t trust my judgment of this until I saw this video by Will Myers. His solution (a code injection, some custom CSS, and some juggling) is ingenious — and should not be necessary to ensure a site looks good on a phone.
… Is anyone else being driven flipping insane by this?
Update — armand_paz (responding to a different post) pointed out there’s a way to AVOID USING FLUID ENGINE.
… I never would have seen this.
This is why Reddit is amazing.
Thanks everyone for helping me through a dark time!Glaucomys_sabrinus, Aug 2022
It has been the dominant conversation for months now, but everyone’s gotten tired of asking for change and getting radio silence (as usual), so I think they’ve given up and just gone back to Classic Editor.
I was part of the beta testing group, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that they took NONE of the feedback given (verified by other testers), and proceeded to launch a broken, incomplete, wildly frustrating product and marketed it like an upgrade.Java-Lord, Aug 2022
You can still use all the old sections without fluid engine but I don’t get why they are not the default. This fluid engine is shit compared to the original approach. I wish they had not wasted time on it but rather completed the mover from 7.0 to 7.1 by adding features like inline galleries for everyone. And fluid engine is buggy, and the snail’s pace they usually fix things at means it will be years of pain ahead now.steveDOTdigital, Aug 2022
I’m also quite displeased with Fluid Engine — this thing is not ready for primetime. … I frankly cannot be bothered with troubleshooting Squarespace’s Fluid Engine pre-alpha.-Geistzeit, Aug 2022
How’s everyone doing with fluid engine?
I strongly dislike it. Started converting my pages bit by bit, without testing extensively first (oops). I can’t get the mobile view to behave properly; alignment of sections gets really screwy with large amounts of whitespace. I concur, it’s not worth the hassle. … A big step back in my opinion. Had to re-make several pages in the old format and spent several frustrating hours.awaken-to-lucidity, Jul 2022
It’s driving us nuts actually. The benefits don’t outweigh the extra handling. The effort to get a site up and running is double what it was before and that’s hurting my business. Can’t drag blocks between sections anymore is a big setback too.accidental-nz, Jul 2022
Suffice to say, Squarespace is no longer the safe choice it once was for building websites.
Which of the following would you prefer to happen with your website building tool?
- A price hike.
- A change in pricing structure.
- A change in pricing structure that results in a general price hike.
- Removal of useful features.
- Charging money for features that ought to be, or used to be, free.
- Making improvements and new releases to critical or problematic features.
If you prefer f and only f, stay away from Webflow. They are too focused on a, b, c, d, and e to put much effort into f.
Have a gander at all the horrifying discussions I came across during my research:
My client has been accidentally unsubscribed from his own contact form email notifications.
There is an “Unsubscribe” link at the bottom of every form submission notification email that gets sent out from Webflow.
… Anyone who clicks that link has the power to stop the owner/manager of the website from getting their own form submission notification emails.
… Here’s the scenario: One of my clients gets an inquiry through their website form, Webflow then sends a form submission notification email to my client.
… My client does something totally reasonable, he replies to the inquiry by forwarding the form submission notification email to the person who sent the inquiry. This makes sense because it gives context to the reply, it’s good for record keeping, etc.
This is where the problem begins.
Now let’s say the person who initially sent the inquiry is no longer interested in the services of my client and they happen to notice the “Unsubscribe from notifications for this site” link at the bottom of the email thread.
For some people it might make sense to click that link, so they click the link. Now with that one click, my client is unsubscribed from notifications from his own website’s form submissions.
… It has cost my clients money in more than one situation when they did know that they were not receiving notifications for inquiries through their contact form.
… This issue has been plaguing me and my clients for as long as I’ve used Webflow, which is 5+ years at this point.traversedesign, May 2021
Note: a request to fix the above issue has been added to the Webflow wishlist since Oct 2017. It remains unresolved when this article is first written and published.
Unfortunately Webflow does not give one single shit about the Wishlist.collab_eyeballs, Apr 2022
Webflow is phasing out Client Billing
Just received an email about Webflow phasing out Client Billing. I wonder if that means pricing changes in the future since that’s an advertised feature.typeonapath, Apr 2022
What a strange move. Webflow has delivered almost nothing the community actually wants for years yet chooses to remove a feature that is almost unanimously considered to be good.collab_eyeballs, Apr 2022
This comes off as a worse/more expensive deal for your userbase, and doesn’t add any value which most of us care about. Pretty tacky and signals another step towards the decline of the platform. Is Webflow in a position where you have to make these small nips and tucks to stay afloat at the expense of your clients [sic] satisfaction?ColtFortyFour, Apr 2022
Can someone please explain the new pricing structure to me?
In most cases, clients are fine with basic editor access to the site, so they don’t get added as another “seat” to count against your billing.
However, if the client wants access to the admin, this is where things get silly.
You can’t let them access your team Workspace as that would mean they would have access to all of your other projects. So, instead, you have to setup another Workspace, with brand new “seats” that require separate billing. In your case, it would be $45/Mo (3 users) plus hosting ($16-$36/Mo). If you add another team member, that per seat cost skyrockets up to $49/seat.
So, essentially, Webflow is punishing anybody that wants to scale. We have several developers so we’d have at least 4 per Workspace. If we were to follow this method with all of our clients, we would be spending $50k+ per year, purely for a feature that is free on every other platform. It’s insanity.
We are currently restructuring to offering projects on other platforms as a direct result of these changes.wherethewifisweak, Apr 2022
Webflow subscription price keeps changing. Do any of you know why?
Looks like they’re testing new pricing. Tried to search on Google and WF [Webflow] forum – silence. Usually there’s some announcements, as last time, when they changed the Site Plan prices (and the community went crazy).pitdk, Jul 2022
They may be A/B testing new pricing.stevenmeyerjr, Jul 2022
A/B testing pricing gone super wrongtheafricanboss_com, Jul 2022
Hey there! I’m Emily, the Director of Community @ Webflow
I wanted to take a moment and provide some clarity on the pricing test that your friend experienced when signing up for a new Webflow CMS plan.
We recognize that A/B tests can sometimes create alternate experiences for different users on our platform, and thank you for raising this concern. It’s through tests like these that we learn how to best serve you and the community.smol-guitar, r/webflow moderator, Jul 2022
Can you believe it? First Webflow jacked up their prices indirectly by introducing a new pricing structure. Three months later they were caught A/B testing their prices (i.e. showing different visitors a different price and gauging their response) and admitted they may increase their pricing again soon.
No wonder developers and agencies alike are looking elsewhere for options.
Is Webflow’s ecommerce good? Short answer: no.
Webflow’s ecom launched in February, 2019. Coming up on 3.5 years as a production feature.
In that time, they still haven’t figured out: how to add more than just Stripe and PayPal as payment gateways, in-store pickup options, customer accounts and order history (rumor is that the new Memberships feature will not be tied to ecom orders), manually adjusting taxes, volume discounts, the list goes on.
I genuinely can’t remember the last feature release that was ecom specific (I just looked it up – in March, 2021 – more than a year ago – they brought the ability to manage orders into the Designer. Whoopdy doo).
As of this writing, they’re currently butchering the rollout of Workspaces to legacy Team accounts, have gone dead silent on addressing “Logic” since their 2021 quarterly update, jacked up rates 40% for accounts, and are a solid 1 to 2 quarters behind on releasing Memberships.
… Quite frankly, it’s gotten to the point where if you are looking at Webflow as a potential solution for your ecom company’s needs because “it’s almost perfect”, and you’re thinking that the basic features you need will be there eventually, be wary. Webflow’s ecom is that abandoned child that’s sitting in the corner, begging for scraps from the dev team to make it barely palatable, let alone a market leader.wherethewifisweak, Apr 2022
Next we have a painstakingly detailed guide on how to optimize a Webflow website. This is the saddest yet most hilarious post I have ever seen about Webflow:
9 steps to optimize your Webflow site
Webflow is an amazing tool for creating websites. But it struggles with page speeds and download sizes. Let’s fix that.
… Webflow sites generally struggle with mobile performance. That’s kind of a problem when more than 50% of web traffic is on mobile devices and it’s also a major factor in SEO [Search Engine Optimization] rankings.
… Now, let’s take a look at how to turn this Webflow site into a rocket ship.
- Host on Netlify
There are major benefits to exporting your webflow site and hosting it on Netlify.
- Netlify hosting is free. – You can customize your source code for some major speed improvements.
- Exporting your webflow site is very easy. Export your project in the webflow editor and then upload it to a Netlify site you’ve setup.
nearfal08, Jun 2022
- Lazy Load Images
- Compress Images and Convert to webp Format
- Save CSS Files Locally
- Save Fonts Locally
- Add font-display:swap to Font Faces
- Add Height and Width to <img> Tags
- Asset Optimization in Netlify
The punchline here is a succinct three-word summary of the steps above:
How to optimise your Webflow site: don’t use Webflow
Figured I’d give a TLDR [Too Long Didn’t Read]wherethewifisweak, Jun 2022
Freaking classic. This is one for the books, folks!
Now let’s take a look at one of the advertisements created by Webflow:
If life were like web design
… and things just stopped working…
… and if everything just broke down when it got too popular…
You’d never put up with it.
… That’s why we build Webflow. So you can make things work exactly like they’re supposed to.
… Webflow, the modern way to build for the web.Webflow marketing video, Jan 2021
Webflow has the promise to become the last holistic, do-it-all-in-one website builder you will ever need. With the removal of their client billing feature, this is no longer the case. The company became obsessed with maximizing their pricing structure to squeeze every little bit of money out of you, going so far as to charge for features that are free on competing platforms.
This is funny because webflow has turned into a buggy piece of junk with terrible support. Just ask any agency partner or pro who builds on it.. What once was revolutionary is now slow, bloated, has downtime weekly (just sign up for their statuspage alerts…), errors throughout the designer that block you from publishing, creating CMS [content management system] items etc, that go unresolved. Support takes multiple days for initial email reply even when sites are down, and usually they gaslight you telling you to try clearing cache or check your internet connection…bayside123, Aug 2022
As the saying goes:
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Sadly for Webflow, they became the monster they set out to replace.
It didn’t take much to learn that I should never trust my website with Wix.
Most website builders allow you to export and retrieve your website content. Good luck exporting your content in Wix, because there is no official support for it.
Wix does have a support article on the topic of exporting your website, but they refuse to give a straight answer. They only insist (repeatedly!) that your website must run on Wix’s server infrastructure due to a number of sorry excuses.
When you browse around their articles, you may eventually find an alternate topic that is a lot more blunt on their lack of support for downloads and exports.
Both Squarespace and Webflow allow you to export your website content in some way or another. Yes, it comes with certain conditions and limitations, but at least they made the effort. The export feature is always there if you need it. So there is no good reason why Wix would not provide something as crucial.
In the above screenshot, they even reassure that the content you build on Wix belongs to you. But they refuse to give you a way to retrieve your own belongings.
Suspicious, isn’t it?
Wix is doing this to discourage users from leaving their platform.
There is no easy way to get your website content out of Wix without paying for third-party solutions. You either have to copy and paste everything by hand, or give up altogether and start a new website from scratch.
Would you hesitate to leave when faced with such a daunting task? Do you really want to abandon weeks, if not months, of work invested into your Wix website?
Look me in the eyes and tell me this is not shady business practice.
Their entire business model is built around the philosophy of trapping users in Wix, from the discounted annual subscription pricing to the offer of a free 1-year domain name.
Yes, even the free domain name offer is a trap. Because the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) imposes a 60-day transfer lock on newly registered domains.
In other words, you are stuck with Wix for at least 60 days from the moment you sign up for a free domain.
And guess what? Wix’s refund window is only 14 days.
Did you think a profit-focused company would really give away something for free? From the good in their heart? Of course not!
To be fair, Wix is not the only company employing this strategy. Most website builders (and a number of website hosting companies) like to offer a free 1-year domain name with an annual subscription. But that doesn’t excuse Wix from preying on people’s lack of awareness in these matters.
Once Wix gets a hold on you, it is impossible to escape without leaving something behind, least of all your sanity.
The truth is, your Wix website does not belong to you. It was never yours to begin with. Wix will claim that the content you build belongs to you. And yes, maybe that is true. But your content is still trapped inside Wix with no easy way out.
Wix keeps you hostage through the website you create on their platform. You pay a recurring ransom to keep the website functional, and to prevent them from displaying ads on your hard work. I would never allow myself to get mired with Wix.
WordPress.org vs WordPress.com.
Before we continue, it is tradition to note the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
WordPress is a content management system (CMS) commonly used to build websites. When you build a website with WordPress, the software you use comes from WordPress.org. The core WordPress software is open source and available to anyone for the low, low price of free.
However, you have to find a web hosting company and pay them to keep your website online on their servers.
Why? Because it is never a good idea to host a website on your own, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Hackers can turn a misconfigured server into a malware distribution center within weeks.
You are still responsible for keeping your own WordPress website updated and backed up. This includes any additional themes and plugins you install. And if anything breaks, you have to figure out how to fix it yourself.
Your web hosting company can not and will not offer you much help here, because it is simply not their responsibility. The best they can do is help restore your website using an automatic server backup and hope that it is no longer broken.
Thus, WordPress.org is also known as self-hosted or self-managed WordPress.
WordPress.com is owned by Automattic, and it works similarly to all-in-one website builders like Squarespace, Webflow, and Wix. It is a commercialized, all-in-one paid hosting service that helps you build and host a website. They will take care of website security as well as software updates and backups for you.
WordPress.com just happens to use the open source WordPress.org software as its main offering instead of a more proprietary solution.
WordPress.org is commonly referred to as just “WordPress”. It is the core software used to build self-hosted or self-managed WordPress websites.
Freedom is key when it comes to self-hosting WordPress. You get maximum flexibility and the right to do anything you want!
- Not happy with your web hosting company? Download a full backup of your WordPress website and leave! Most web hosts will help you migrate a WordPress website to them for free (or for a very low price).
- Not happy with WordPress itself? Not a problem! Most website builders will help you import WordPress content onto their platform.
- Need new functionality? Simple! All it takes is a quick Google search to find and add a new WordPress plugin.
- Want to change the look and feel of your website? Easy! It only takes a few clicks to install and switch to a different WordPress theme.
There is an endless stream of free and paid WordPress themes and plugins for you to try out. As of Sep 2022, the official WordPress.org repository has 60,000+ free plugins, 10,000 free themes, and more are being created every day.
But there is always a sense of dread that comes with running a WordPress website. Pushing the update button feels like playing Russian roulette.
Why is that so?
Because vanilla WordPress is awful, if not downright impossible to work with for non-technical users. Unless you are comfortable writing code, you will need to install third-party themes and plugins to help customize your website.
But having too many plugins will turn WordPress into a maintenance nightmare. The more you tack on, the more unstable and insecure it becomes. And God help you if you chose a bad theme. Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is good!
Things will get to a point where your website will break after every major update. What’s more, you never quite know where or how WordPress would break. At least not without extensive testing through trial-and-error.
Sometimes you will wake up to find a broken website because of an automatic plugin update (which in the following example is caused by Yoast SEO):
Fatal error: Uncaught YoastSEO_Vendor
I woke up today and tried to access the dashboard of my website and I was met with a Fatal Error, I’m not able to access it through backend nor Login.
How can I solve this issue.@eventtvs, Aug 2022
Same here. Can’t login in backend and both site and backend throw a fatal error.
Saw that Yoast has autoupdated today.
Moved both the free and the premium version from plugins directory to a temporary directory and now the site is back online.@kingbolo, Aug 2022
Fatal error on latest update
I have installed free version, premium version and Yoast SEO Local and latest update of the free version took down my website with the below fatal error: …@metuza, Aug 2022
We’re sorry that you’re experiencing a fatal error. Thanks for reporting. We’re investigating and it seems to be a problem with the latest update of Yoast SEO while the newest Premium wasn’t released yet. This shouldn’t have happened.
We’re looking at getting this resolved as soon as we can by releasing a patch for free and also by releasing Yoast SEO Premium asap. Either should fix the fatal error.@benvaassen, Yoast SEO Plugin Support, Aug 2022
It was later confirmed that the Yoast SEO 19.5 plugin causes a fatal error when it is used with an older version of Yoast SEO Premium. The issue was quickly fixed in version 19.5.1, but the damage had already been done.
This is not an isolated incident. The release of Yoast SEO 18.4 back in Mar 2022 also led to broken WordPress websites.
Edit 21 Sep 2022: Guess what? It happened again for the third time this year.
The Yoast SEO 19.7 update causes a fatal conflict with other plugins or codes that changes the default WordPress login URL. The 19.7.1 update was quickly released 2 hours later which fixed the issue. But as always, the damage had already been done.
This is the sort of #WordPress plugin conflict situation that I literally don’t know how to prevent from happening.
60,000+ plugins: how do you test your plugin against all of those.
If someone has good ideas, I’m all ears 😅Joost de Valk, Yoast SEO Plugin founder, Sep 2022
The rub here is that Yoast SEO is not some shitty plugin created by an incompetent developer. It is actually one of the most popular WordPress plugins with over 5 million active installs.
How Many WordPress Plugins Should You Install? What’s too many?
Its [sic] quite common for a business website to have at least 20 – 30 plugins.
If you’re using WordPress to it’s [sic] full potential and have many advanced features, then this count can easily go into 50+.WPBeginner, last updated Jan 2022
Imagine the sheer terror of having to maintain 50+ plugins, when each of them can break your website
twice thrice per year. No wonder people are reluctant to keep their WordPress websites up-to-date.
There are best practices to avoid breaking a WordPress website, but it is always a hassle. Updates occur frequently on WordPress. Nobody has the time, energy, and resources to perform a full backup before every single update. Especially not if you manage heavy websites that take up gigabytes of storage space.
Not updating is worse. Outdated WordPress websites become vulnerable, and vulnerable websites get hacked on a daily basis. If your software qualifies as an antique, you can switch out the word “daily” for “hourly” or even “by the minute”.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Once you set foot into the plugin hell that is WordPress, there is no easy way out.
Most people build WordPress websites with their own hosting using software from WordPress.org, not with WordPress.com. I included WordPress.com in this write-up for the sake of completeness, since it is tradition to explain the difference between .com and .org when talking about WordPress.
As mentioned previously, WordPress.com is an all-in-one paid service that helps you build and host a WordPress website. They will take care of website security as well as software updates and backups for you.
The main downside to WordPress.com is that they place strict limitations on the themes and plugins you can access.
You must pay a hefty extra just to install a third-party theme or plugin. Most people consider this to be extortionate and out of the question. Why pay 6 to 7 times the normal pricing for something you can do for free with self-hosted WordPress?
That said, WordPress.com is admittedly a fairly good (albeit expensive) starting point for beginners, because they actually offer some initial troubleshooting and support for third-party tools.
Yes, their support is limited to initial troubleshooting only. And yes, they tell you to contact the plugin or theme developer for advanced support. But you can’t expect them to be experts on every single third-party software.
The important thing here is that they are willing to offer help wherever they can. It is certainly a much better service than the likes of Squarespace:
But (and it’s a big but), Squarespace won’t help you troubleshoot a website until you remove those customizations. They don’t provide support for your customizations and it’s not always easy to make things look just so.
If you aren’t completely happy with the customization options in the Style Editor, you may end up needing a developer to overwrite the Squarespace template to create a new style.Heather Tovey, former Squarespace developer, Aug 2021
At the end of the day, you really do get what you paid for.
So everything sucks. Should we give up and despair?
Of course not!
You just need to use the right tool for the right job.
- Squarespace and Wix are still amazing for anyone who needs a simple website (so long as you can live with their unsavory practices).
- Webflow still allows you to create visually striking websites without stacking a bunch of third-party add-ons.
- And fragile as it may be, WordPress is still king, powering over 40% of all websites on the internet (as of Sep 2022 according to W3Techs).
As for me? My next project is to create a blog for myself on scatteringclouds.com, and WordPress is made for blogging.
So WordPress it is.
In fact, you are reading this article on my self-hosted WordPress blog right now!
If done well, static hand-coded websites are the fastest sites you will ever get.
IF done well.
And it is possible to host static websites for free!
Thing is, I am not at all familiar with coding, despite having tinkered with it at various points in my life. I have zero knowledge about best practices. And I fucking despise debugging my own code. Going back to fix my careless and amateurish mistakes only serves to bring me more frustration.
I am confident I can figure it all out if I bang my head on the problem for long enough. But, I do want to have a website up and running in the foreseeable future, before I lose interest or die of head trauma. Whichever comes first.
Self-hosted WordPress makes for a good halfway point in terms of cost and customizability. Let’s see how well this new website / blog / idea thing of mine will hold up in time.