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Reshape Digital #4: Are Websites a Commodity?
Are websites a commodity? This is a popular topic of discussion in the web design and development industry. Agencies that once developed simple websites as their main line of business are being threatened by SaaS website builders like Wix and Squarespace. In today’s episode of Reshape Digital, we discuss whether websites have truly become a commodity.

Website Development: A History

The web development industry grew significantly in the past 20 years as businesses migrated to the internet. Once upon a time, a simple page would suffice for your business website. Still, development expertise was hard to find, and businesses shelled out for this type of work. Naturally, many agencies and technologies began cropping up around this type of work. The platforms that we know today haven’t been at the forefront for very long. Drupal, for example, was created in the early 2000s but came to notoriety around 2013 as a premier open source CMS.

In the many years since web development became its own industry, the demands of consumers have grown, and so have the needs of businesses. Many aspects of website design were once value-adds, but have now become the standard. Think of mobile responsiveness, e-commerce or massive multisite projects as examples. Naturally, agencies have adapted to include all of these considerations. With additional demands, though, come additional costs. The work that once cost 5 figures to build now costs 6 figures or more, because of all the work that has to go into building a website the right way. This brings us to today’s digital climate.

Website Builders vs. Content Management Systems

Anything that can be used to build a website can be considered a content management system. The most popular ones include Drupal, Wordpress, and Joomla. With that being said, there are new players entering the CMS market, calling themselves “website builders.” The key difference here is that a traditional CMS expects you to build a site on your own. A website builder functions as a SaaS product that builds the website for you.

There is no question that platforms like Wix and Squarespace are democratizing access to websites. You can build your own website with mobile responsiveness, elegant design, and SEO in 5 minutes...for free. This is an excellent tool for individuals and small businesses that have simple needs when it comes to their website. But has it truly turned websites into a commodity?

Websites are a Commodity...Sort Of

The simple answer is yes. Websites are a commodity, simply because anyone can have one for free. Website builders have eliminated the barriers to creating your own site that once existed. You no longer have to be a developer or pay someone to have a website. However, within the statement that websites are a commodity, there lies a more complex reality. As website builders have moved to the mainstream, so too have enterprise websites become more complex. The demands of consumers are higher than ever, so enterprises have to shell out on a flawless website in order to compete.

This has created a shift in the spectrum of website development. Once upon a time, the industry looked a bit like this:

Cost vs. Complexity of Websites In the Past

Many websites fell somewhere in the middle as far as complexity and cost were concerned. The shift we are seeing is moving many projects away from the middle. Today’s websites are more likely to be simple enough to build in Wix or Squarespace, while complex websites are more suited to custom development by a team that specializes in a CMS like Drupal. Today's digital landscape for websites looks more like this:

Cost vs. Complexity of Websites Today

Rather than websites outright becoming a commodity, we are seeing that simple websites are easy to come by, while the work that an agency does for an enterprise or government is increasing in complexity and cost. Fewer websites fall in the middle because these types of websites are no longer hotly demanded. Agencies are adapting to this shift by providing a more diverse set of services to meet these growing needs. Growing needs = growing costs, but if you want to compete, you have to build your website the right way.

Check out today’s episode for the full story:

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