Bot Development, Frameworks and Tools

Building Your Bot: Coding from Scratch vs. Using a Bot Builder

There are two main ways to create a bot—hand coding from scratch or using a bot builder. Explore the pros and cons of these two options.

November 13, 2018

Chatbots are becoming more and more prominent on platforms like Slack and Facebook, and users want to interact with them. But how do you program the best chatbot for your business and your users?

There are two main ways to build a chatbot—hand coding or using a chatbot builder. Which one you choose depends on how much time, money, and expertise you want to dedicate to your bot.

What you need to know about hand coding

Hand coding is when developers write their own code to build software from the ground up. If you want to use hand coding to make your chatbot, that means you or a developer must personally design all the features that go into it, including everything from platform integrations, like Facebook and Slack, to e-commerce features, like financial transactions.

Benefits of hand coding

More than anything, hand coding lets you customize your bot. When you build a chatbot from scratch, you can make it do just about anything you need it to—which, if you’re a developer, might sound great. However, if you’re an amateur who’s never coded before, hand coding might seem overwhelming.

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Keep in mind that, even if you can’t hand code a bot yourself, this option is not necessarily out of the question. You can hire an independent developer to build the bot for you. You can also pay for a bot-building service from a company, such as LivePerson or Pandorabots.

Whether you hire a developer yourself or hire a bot-building company, you get the same amount of customization with far less hands-on work.

Drawbacks of hand coding

Benefits aside, hand coding is expensive and time-consuming. Even if you’re a developer, hand coding takes time and effort that you may not want to put into building a bot. Moreover, if you’re paying an independent developer or a service to create your bot for you, be prepared to spend some cash.

Plus, if you pay someone to build the bot, making changes or implementing updates can take longer than you might imagine. Anything that you want to add or fix will have to go from you to the developer or service and then back to you before it’s ready to test and deploy.

Deciding whether hand coding is right for you

The best thing about hand coding is that it gives you total control over your chatbot. If you want a custom bot for a particular service, like health care or insurance, hand coding might be the best option, especially if you can’t find a bot builder that specializes in your industry.

What you need to know about bot builders

Bot builders are interactive platforms that let developers and newbies alike build chatbots in a preset bot framework and then deploy them in the real world.

There’s a slew of bot platforms out there, and new ones come out all the time. With a little research, you can find a builder that fits exactly the type of chatbot you want to build, the demands of your industry, and the integrations with the apps that your users like best.

Benefits of using a bot builder

Unlike with hand coding, you don’t have to build everything from scratch. Even if you have no coding experience, there are bot builders that give you templates and tools to help you create a bot without writing a single line of code.

Bot builders designed for beginners include:

On the other hand, if you’re a developer, you might choose a bot builder platform that helps you build in custom features and integrate conversational design.

Bot builders designed for developers include:

You can also find bot platforms, like Gupshup, that market to developers and non-developers alike.

Another benefit of bot builders is that they almost always cost less than a developer would charge to build a bot for you. Some bot builders let you create the bot for free and only charge you after the chatbot is deployed and interacting with customers.

If your conversation bot won’t have a considerable number of users and you don’t want to spend a ton of money maintaining it, look for a bot builder that charges per interaction. That way, you only pay when people use your bot.

Drawbacks of using a bot builder

The builder you choose may not have as many customization options as hand coding could give you. If you have a very specific bot in mind, with features that you can’t find in a bot builder, hand coding might be a better choice.

Deciding whether using a bot builder is right for you

The simpler the bot, the more easily you can make it with a bot builder. If all you want is a chatbot that can offer customer surveys and then record the results, a bot builder may work best for you.

Many bot builders promise that you can build and deploy bots in just a few minutes or hours. They also make it easy to deploy the bot on your platform of choice, such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, or Telegram.

How to choose a bot builder

If a bot builder sounds like it will work for you, ask yourself a few questions before choosing one:

  • Does it work with the app you want to deploy on, such as Messenger, Twitter, Slack, or Telegram?
  • Does it use natural language processing (NLP), so your bot doesn’t get tripped up by typos or unconventional language?
  • Does it support the features you want, like accepting financial transactions or fielding questions?
  • Does it have good support, such as customer service, help documents, or FAQs?
  • Can you validate it and give it a place to live?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Does it have a membership fee or a charge per interaction?

Major takeaways

You don’t have to be a professional developer to build a chatbot (although it wouldn’t hurt). Even if you’ve never coded before, you still have the option to choose either hand coding or a bot builder to create and deploy your chatbot. But, for hand coding, you’ll have to hire a developer or a professional service.

  • Benefits of hand coding. These include complete customization through either coding the bot yourself or hiring a developer or company to do it for you.
  • Drawbacks of hand coding. It can often be time-consuming and expensive if you have to pay an independent developer or company.
  • When to choose hand coding. Opt for hand coding when you need a bot with several custom features, and you can’t find a bot builder that can do the job.
  • Benefits of bot builders. They are, for the most part, easy to use, whether you’re a developer or a beginner. They’re also cheaper and take less time than hand coding.
  • Drawbacks of bot builders. These don’t allow for the depth of customization that hand coding does. Make sure you find the right builder for the type of bot you want, along with the apps you want it to work with.
  • When to use a bot builder. When you want a quick and simple bot that you can easily build, test, and deploy, without working through development teams or delving into the code yourself, a bot builder is a good choice.