A while back, my sistren Karel McIntosh (of Outlish fame) started a FB thread on a discussion she had with someone she knew. Said person, bless them, wanted to launch a project and was leaning heavily towards WIX as their publishing platform.
I recoiled in horror as I read, and of course, employing my ‘Professional Big Mouth’ status, commented hot and fast about the waste of effort this was. I was not alone. Before I could finish writing my comment, others had chimed in to validate my horror and echo what I was essentially saying: A WIX website is like shooting yourself in the foot and your business in the wallet.
I wasn’t speaking from an intellectual place at all, but from a deep place of frustration, which I have been forced to live in when doing battle with platforms like WIX.
I have over the two decades of my hardcore digital native’s life, been down this road and learnt the hardest possible way why opting for these kinds of hosting platforms is a mistake if you’re serious about your project.
I am not writing now for the world. The world has so many people saying this, and not speaking to us. I am writing directly to my people. My beautiful, talented Caribbean people who are doing kickass shit in life, but then kick themselves in the ass when it comes to their websites.
Here is some truism about the web: The better your web site is, the more likely you will gain an audience for your story and message. The better your content is, the better your web site is. The better your story is, the more money you will make online.
Lawd, here comes another story about something I learnt from roaming the pixel streets of Second Life.
Shopping in Second Life used to be a wonderful experience. Back in 2006-2010, a mainstore was literally a designer’s flagship. Teleporting into a store that was covered with gorgeous textures, artfully decorated, well laid out and easy to navigate, that paid attention to lag and conciously minimised its impact on shoppers… well this was the holy grail.
Let me translate for folks with no clue what I just said: In a virtual 3 dimensional world with its own currency, economy, rules of commerce and free one-to-one transactions, success was built on a good product, beautifully presented in every way. The experience you gave visitors, literally translated into more money.
I knew this as a web developer, but the way in which Second Life‘s commercial engine is organised, this hit home for me in a major way. Working on Kiko Life, made me a much better designer and web developer in the real world, because my attention to certain ‘throwaway details’ increased.
The placement of subscribo boards in my store, and the effect it had on my sales, became one of the major changes in how I approached email list building and direct email marketing via the web.
The way you needed to build visual cues into everything? Much of my commercial experience in Second Life was based on this. And it was all visual… it had to be visually beautiful in order to entice them L$.
It wasn’t just great photos of my products, it was everything together that made Kiko Life work. You have to think of it like a web site you can walk through and visually interact with in a 3 dimensional space. The psychology of shopping in Second Life changed much about how I built web sites.
For me, there is nothing worse than seeing a great ad or flyer for a sale or product in Second Life, then TP-ing (yes damnit, we teleport from place to place! You’ll just have to come see what we mean!) into that brand’s store and finding the ugliest, most disorganised or haphazard store. I would leave and just not spend my money.
In Second Life, everything about how we shop has to do with our delight in the experience, as well as a good product.
This is how I feel when I see someone doing something interesting on FB, and I click through to their web site and realise that the folks in charge don’t give a shit about they are doing. I would have to want what they got so bad, I would be willing to ignore twenty years of living and working online to buy. I can count on one hand how many times that has happened.
While this is true no matter the geographical location of the website’s owner, it is especially heartbreaking for me when I see Caribbean people doing this shite. We can afford to do it less than anyone else. We’re too small and vulnerable to keep playing the ass this way.
Understand, the letdown is always enormous for me because what it means is the website owner simply doesn’t care enough about their brand or me as their customer to delight me. In our modern world, this is counter productive.
This is one example from hundreds I could give you, but let me get back to the point.
WIX, SquareSpace, and many of these software as service platforms, are merely the latest in a long line.
Very few folks will remember many of the similar services that went before: Tripod, Netfirms (which is now just a regular web host, but still alive), geoCities and far more than it is necessary to list here, including the very first Blogger.com incarnation, which has remained consistently distressing over the years.
I’ve been through so many different kinds of these services, either in my own search to find solutions to publish Sunhead or Sunhead related projects or because I was asked to by a client, that believe me when I say, they rarely get better when it comes to some very critical things web sites need to be successful.
All of these platforms are rigged in ways that keep you and your data, commodified. Backup is not easy. Portability is next to impossible and damn near every one can prove fatal to your SEO.
You cannot imagine the pain of losing thousands of comments, years of traffic stats and the final, almost unbearable indignity of manually importing 1500 posts to another content management system.
I have performed enough content migrations from the free hosted platforms to tell you: Don’t do it! It’s a trap! RUN! Grab the baby and your birth certificate and just run dammit!
Aside from this, in my experience, if you use these tools and find any kind of initial success with them, the actual toolkit provided hampers you when you begin to grow. The templates are usually uniformly ugly and badly coded regardless of how wonderfully you think you’ve customised it. This all hurts you in ways you cannot see, and simply lack the experience to suss out and will be an expensive lesson to learn, because you will have to pay for it one day, mark my words.
The whole ‘powered by WIX’ and free advertising on these free sites, do not convey a sense of ‘seriousness’, either. Even if you pay to remove this, as many of these sites–and this is so plainly obvious, I’m not getting how it escapes so many–offer to do for a small fee, you’re paying your small fee for a walled garden experience that cannot scale when you grow, and limits you while you’re in it.
If I am an investor, a customer or just plain interested in whatever you’re doing, if I get to a web site and I see, “Free site” or “Powered by WIX”, I am going to think you’re too cheap to invest in your own story. You will have to work enormously hard to impress me in other ways. it will really be down to your product and service. If you are on WIX, you’re bricks and mortar service, never web in which case, your opportunities to delight me have already shrunk considerably.
I have a Wonderful World loyalty card in my purse. I have been known–if only I know, and now you–to spend $500 on nail polish in there. Tell no one. This is now a sworn secret to be kept between us. Their bricks and mortar stores, wherever they are found in Trinidad & Tobago, are the one indulgence it doesn’t take much to convince me to do. Even with no money to spend, I like to go and look… cause it’s pwetty.
The stores are beautiful and someone takes the time to organise it in a fashion that satisfies my need for colour. I love Wonderful World and happily stalk them on Facebook and other social media sites.
So when they announced they launched a web site, I clicked, eager to see! Could I get every colour of Orly nailpolish in stock? Could I check my points balance? Could I check and see when my points expired?
: sideeye :
I get to the web site, and there is a ha;f-assed product listing I cannot order from, ensconced in toggled tabs. My favourite store on Earth outside of the Apple Store (anywhere on Earth an Apple Store happens to be located is my favourite store… so like, all of them) decided that at the end of 2015, they were going to launch a web site with no log in functionality, no customisation, no shopping function, with non-SEO URLs and no ability to search for individual products.
Basically it is a brochure, one I did not need.
It was clearly approved by someone in marketing because they ‘liked it’ and not because at any point in this process did they think about what their customers wanted.
My disgust was palpable. I honestly want to know who approved the budget to do this, and who suggested it was a good idea to limit their brand in this way, and then publicly announce these limitations to social media where people like myself would click.
I wanted to cuss, but two hours later, when a sister who is doing a TV show, shared a link via Facebook to her WIX powered website, I wrote this article instead.
I will not spend money on you or with you, if you cannot spend even a bit of money to effectively present yourself, products and services to me in modern fashion. In the Caribbean, we make a lot of excuses about this, and it’s why the two steps forward, five steps back I see going on frustrates me.
I have had folks say, “But you’re not a typical user.”
I have to assert, that ‘Yes, yes I absolutely am.” I am a consumer, I may have refined my palette when it comes to websites and digital experiences, but the only difference between myself and a non-developer is that I understand what triggers I am responding to, whereas for the average user they just move through the user experience, or lack thereof, without registering exactly why they’re more likely to spend money with one business online over another.
Unless you are so niched that your market is built in to what it is you’re doing, you cannot afford to build a website that sucks.
WIX and most services like it, just suck and sites built on them almost uniformly suck salt. And, I know it’s not going to be popular, but you kinda suck too if you think you can coast on that in this day and age.
Wonderful World will keep my business because they delight me when I shop in their bricks and mortar store. They’d probably get more of my money if they were truly online, but I will still go and squee in their stores once in a while and indulge my girly-girl shamelessly. This is because as sucky as their choice was to launch a useless web site in this day and age, someone there cares about the store, hence me as a customer.
If you are starting up in the Caribbean, you cannot afford to take those kinds risks, or make those kinds of stupid moves. Act smart. Plan like your business will be around in ten years, and make your site and content portable from the jump off. For God’s sake back up to the cloud in two or three places.
The short termed ease of use you experience building a site with WYSIWYG tools, and the thrill of ‘hobby class‘ will inevitably cost you later on, and in ways you cannot afford. Take it from my chronic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Take my foolish advice and plan your web site like you want to stick around.
It’s not a brochure, it’s your primary business tool for letting people know about your business and your story.
I am not saying you have to go out and find thousands of dollars to pay a developer to get online. If you can do that, you should do that. However, like you, I once knew nothing about building web sites or how to make one work when I was trying to get Sunhead off the ground. It took me twenty years to find the right marriage of skill and technology, as well as hundreds and hundreds of platforms.
There are many low cost options out there, and some are worth it, even if you’re starting up on a shoestring.
When you choose your publishing platform, here are a few tips:
- Choose a platform that easily allows you to move around. Host to host. Installation to installation. Your database, files, everything should be easily backed up into some standard formats, that other systems can easily import, or another developer can easily work with.
- Choose a platform that has a team of committed developers, like an open source content management system. The code is free, but there will be many excellent paid tools you can use to extend your platform’s capabilities.
- Choose a platform that allows you to stay small, or allow you to scale up relatively easily.
- Choose a platform where you control your data. This means your code, your content, your customers, your email lists, your domain name, and any other business related data.
- Free is not really free. Steer clear of free web building services. Give them a wide, wide berth. Even if you use an open source CMS, pay for your hosting and your domain and own your files.
You will notice I have not evangelised here about WordPress, of which I am an ardent, ardent lover. Not because I don’t think its worthy. It is the only open source CMS out there that is worthy of its accolades.
However, it’s not the only one, and not the only solution. There are plenty of paid and free CMS toolkits out there that can be effective. You may opt for something else that suits your needs. However educate yourself and do not shortchange your brilliant ideas, and hard work by copping out on your online presence.
The point of this article is to encourage Caribbean people to stop being so damn cheap and ‘playing in dey ass’ when it comes to the Internet.
Stop saying how important it is, and treat it like it is. You want to make money online, but the fundamental ‘spend money to make money’ rule often escapes in the rush to have something, anything online.
Choosing a real CMS over a hosted platform like WIX, isn’t the whole solution either, as there are plenty of crap WordPress sites out there as well. Not to mention a slew of incompetent developers using WordPress to build you a useless web site.
My only exception to the ‘no hosted solutions’ would be wordpress.com. There is something very journalspace-y about wordpress.com in its current incarnation, and I would recommend it as the only stable solution, even if I think its severely limited. If that works for you, go for it. I’ll even give tumblr a pass.
However, anything that limits your access to what you’re building with it, and has almost no facility for extensibility, is not likely to get you where you’re going.
This is going to require us in the Caribbean all to think seriously about how we are using the Internet. This is not a bad thing. I’ve been critical of the Caribbean’s online presence for twenty years, not just small sites, but the big conglomerates with the money to spend tend to spend it on rubbish. This is not because I am a hater, I am not. It’s because I care so much. I want us to survive and be more than a sandbox for rich Europeans and US Americans. I want the Caribbean to use the technology to empower real entrepreneurship, and for us to use it to make money.
I believe people like you, the amazing people with ideas and spirit and who are pulsing with energy to make a go of it, deserve a chance to excel and shine.
I always have.
You’re not doing that fucking with WIX.