Web site tonight, misery tomorrow

You see them everywhere – advertisements for do-it-yourself, overnight web sites. Just sign up for the low, low monthly hosting fee, and you can use the patented, foolproof online system to build a beautiful web site in just minutes!
 
GoDaddy has WebSite Tonight. Vistaprint has SiteBuilder. So does Intuit. And there are dozens more.
 
But if you're a small business owner, you should think twice before investing money and time into these platforms. What seems like a good deal today is likely to bring heartache tomorrow.
 
Here's why:
 
- The platforms are often very limiting. The features, design options and functionality often are just not available. Also, they don't have the backing of an enthusiastic open-source community. The WordPress community, for instance, provides hundreds of themes and thousands of plug-ins to enhance the system.
 
- You don't own the code. If you use an overnight site system, it's very likely that you won't be able to export the code in a way that's usable on another platform or with another service provider.
 
- The site can run very slowly. Your site may share server space and bandwidth with several hundred other sites, slowing everything down. This will frustrate your visitors and hurt your search engine ranking. The problem is compounded if you load the site up with high-bandwidth content like audio or video streaming.
 
- Upgrading will be very expensive. Eventually, you'll reach the limit of what a one-stop web site service can provide. Then you'll have to rebuild the site on a more robust platform and move all of the content. This will not be easy – or cheap.
 
If all you want is essentially an online business card, then one of the pre-packaged solutions mentioned earlier may be appropriate. But if you see yourself expanding the site's content and functionality in any way, stick with the more industrial-strength solutions such as Drupal, Joomla and – of course – WordPress.
 
WordPress designer Robert Pitts of Lakeland, Florida, is the owner of Web Designs by Robert G. Pitts, which specializes in the WordPress content-management platform. View the company's "No-Surprises Pricing" policy.
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