Finding website customer - the basics

16 March 2019

Webflow Review 2019

What's Webflow like? A personal review.

A long time ago I started building websites for friends and small businesses. It wasn’t a major thing; I was paid for other work at the time, so I just used online builders like Moonfruit to help me on my way. Within a year, though, the business was doing well and I found myself with dozens of small websites.

My background was in 2D design – ads for magazines and I knew nothing about coding – when a website needed a little specific code I simply copied and pasted it from whichever service was required – Google Maps etc.

In those days creating a basic website was a fairly simple exercise – just one view: desktops. But things were changing. Mobile phones and tablets were the rage.

I was struggling with Moonfruit, the software creaked, the support was virtually non-existent, based on Flash it was starting to look dated and the control over domains (which were purchased through Gandi) was tricky, but the thought of migrating my websites to another platform seemed daunting. I tried a bunch of other systems and they were all…uum…alright. I needed something that would give me more control and support.

I finally settled on Webydo.

Everything went fine for a while, I migrated my sites, updated my domains and settled in to a new way of doing things. The support was brilliant; unlike Moonfruit I had my own Support Manager who chatted online with me and covered every support issue I had.

And I had a lot.

The software constantly crashed, new features didn’t work properly and the constant response: “Could you delete your cookies” was getting on my nerves. I had to move.

I trialled a bunch more online web builders (an expression abhorrent to ‘real’ web designers) and narrowed it down to three – Squarespace, Weebly and Wix.

I thought they were great; so much better and more stable than Webydo – each had their own advantages and shortcomings. I finally settled on Wix.

Everything started well, I spent weeks migrating all my sites over to Wix and within six months I was running over 70 sites with the company.

For a goodly amount of time, I loved Wix. It just worked, the support was good and it was easy to create sites and even transfer them to the customer if they fancied taking it over.

But…

Things in the 2010s had moved on, Google became obsessed with mobile, page speed became a major issue as did poor coding and SEO.

I was changing too. I was appalled at how my customers didn’t seem to care about marketing their sites – I just built them, and nothing happened. They didn’t update them, they didn’t change them, they just bought them and waited for the calls… I had so many quietly disappointed customers.

Once again, I had to decide which platform to go for because Wix just didn’t do it for me anymore. The sites were slow, the mobile version was poor and I couldn’t host the system locally. I searched and searched, trying lots of different systems and they were all, as before, OK – but they weren’t really doing it for me.

The essence of my problem was that I wanted more control over the process. I wanted decent code, cracking support, site exporting so I could use UK hosting and excellent control over screen sizes or breakpoints.

Webflow was one of the systems I started trialling.

In between my work; at weekends, in the evening, I would try to get to grips with Webflow. My non-developer background was an issue – it helps to understand HTML5 if you want to use a system like Webflow – but I felt in my bones that it was worthwhile pursuing:

First, they weren’t obsessed with templates like Wordpress and other builders – you could start from scratch – a blank, white page. I liked that.

Second, the system seemed like a graphical coder, which meant you can drag an element onto the page – like a div, container, paragraph – and control the settings of that element to the nth degree. Drag a div onto the page, drop in a container then some text and you have:

<div></div>
   <div class="w-container"></div>
     <h1>Heading</h1>
     <p>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. </p>    
 

I didn’t need to know all that stuff, I just designed the page and the output was created; easy, nice clean code.

The third reason I liked the company was the support – the difference from Wix was palpable; response usually with half an hour and a fantastic forum full of people in love with the company – it was so fulsome, it seemed like a religious cult! I loved it.

I played with the system for 4 months – learning how it worked and learning a little bit about code at the same time. Finally, I built my own website using Webflow and it looked and behaved great. It was time again for another switch! Over the coming months I migrated nearly every site to Webflow and used a UK company for hosting.

That was three years ago and my love affair with Webflow has continued.

  • They introduced ‘collections’, effectively a linked database which allows the development of applications based on data, not just static pages.
  • Interactions means that you can display, transition and animate elements in pretty much any way you like – and have complete control over them.
  • The Grid feature allows you to set a grid for your site and position elements perfectly. (You could before, but the new system is even cooler.)
  • Ecommerce was introduced in late 2018 and it gives designers complete control over the site, pages, images, products and checkout.
  • Their tutorials are the best in the business – informative and often very funny. They don’t take themselves too seriously but cover the ground well, like this one.

Summary

Webflow is not for everyone.

Other web builders are faster to learn and don’t require quite so much work. With Wix you create an element – box, text, embed code – and drag it to any part of the page, that doesn’t work with Webflow.

Here you place the element then change its settings to move it about. Whilst the difference is seconds, the outcome, using Webflow is more considered. I find myself thinking more about layout and positioning – especially in relation to the site grid; an area Wix is weak.

Like me, you don’t have to know how to code, but, like me, you don’t have to. (Other Webflowers may disagree, but I don’t think it has affected me much.) Once you get the hang of the elements, it becomes second nature to drop a div onto the page, press ‘flex’ then centre and set the minimum height to 100VH and you can now centre text on any screen.

Webflow is a great way of developing a ‘proper’ website i.e. one that is fast to produce, easy to design in (no need for prototyping in Photoshop or Figma) and fast. In fact, despite the criticism you may have spotted online from developers about the system being a ‘cheat’, it is used by hundreds of thousands of developers worldwide. For them, even if they conventionally code in HTML, Webflow is a brilliant way to speed up the process.

If technology scares you, then I’d suggest you use a standard builder like Wix, Squarespace or Weebly. They are easy and fast to use.

If you want a decent website then it's Webflow all the way.

NB. I have been a little rude about some web builders above, but don't forget they may have improved over the years - I can't vouch for them today.

Hywel Thomas web designer

Author: Hywel Thomas
Web Design and Google Ads person
Email: hi@zigger.co.uk
Tel: 07875 096483