Which Website Platform is Right for Your Business?
A website platform is a program with all the tools you need to build and maintain a website. Some platforms are super simple and a great hands-on project for beginners. Other platforms can do just about anything, but without an experienced web partner, beginners will find them frustrating or even impossible to program.
Most website platforms include a variety of pre-built, customizable website templates, drag-and-drop editing tools, blogging, e-commerce features, plenty of photo and video storage, email programs, social media tools, and more.
When you work with more advanced platforms, you'll be able to build bigger, more complex sites, get fast download speeds, customize mobile to a greater degree, use more innovative designs, include custom tracking, feature social media feeds, videos, integrate with CRMs, include forms, use click to call, incorporate sophisticated e-commerce, add suggestive selling, and more.
Not sure which platform is right for you? Here's a quick overview of some of the most popular website-building tools. None of these overviews are comprehensive, and some features noted here may change over time. Nor have we listed every option. So, use this listing as a guide to get started, but not as your final evaluation.
Websites for Beginners
Not everyone needs to hire a web designer. If you're comfortable on the computer and have used some simple graphic programs in the past, you may be able to create your site using one of these platforms. Each offers a website-building program and options for hosting and URLs.
Wix says it has over 200 million users worldwide, and it's easy to see why. This platform leans on click-and-drag functionality, which means the programming is pretty intuitive. It also offers over 800 templates, so you'll get a jump start on a professional-looking design. It provides social media integration and even an app tool that makes it sort of simple to create an app. One drawback: the SEO functions on WIX are pretty basic. If you know a lot about SEO, you can work around it, but the SEOs cues and tips are weak.
Squarespace has a reputation for offering beautiful layouts, so it's often the choice for people who want a very visual site, such as photographers, artists, and interior designers. It's relatively easy to use, but it's hard to customize. For people less interested in visuals, the layouts can feel overbuilt or too focused on images. It has some nice scheduling tools and lovely options for e-commerce. Squarespace's main drawback is also its most appealing feature: visual simplicity. Templates don't always work with a lot of text, and if you don't have access to beautiful images or designs, your site may feel flat.
Most people know that GoDaddy is the place to go for URLs, but fewer people have tried its website-building platform. We think it's one of the most accessible interfaces for beginners. It's super affordable, provides options for e-commerce, and integrates with various other platforms, such as WordPress and WooCommerce, (in case you decide to get more sophisticated later on.) The biggest drawback? It's a simple platform that works best with simple sites. You can add on a lot of stuff, but that's not always a glitch-free experience.
Intermediate Platforms Offer More Flexibility
While a skilled amateur could create a site using intermediate platforms, things can quickly get complicated. It's smart to hire a pro when working with WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. And because they all use apps and plugins, you have to know how to make those elements play nicely with each other, or you could run into programming glitches or even crash the sites.
Among these three intermediate-level platforms, WordPress is the leader. It's the most commonly used, and there are tons of WordPress plugins, themes, widgets, and other features. In fact, it's so widely used that many hosting providers offer WordPress hosting plans tailored to this platform. The downside to WordPress is that it's really a content platform, so it doesn't work well for e-commerce. Its best feature - endless plugins and apps - also means it requires constant manual updates, and some updates will fight with other apps, causing problems. A professional web designer should be able to update and troubleshoot, but the site must be managed.
Joomla is similar to WordPress but is a better choice for larger websites. You won’t run into performance issues when scaling up. Joomla is an excellent choice for complex websites not built around blogs or a few product pages. It also has some cool editor and reviewing features that make sense for teams, multiple contributors, or authors. Like most intermediate sites, Joomla needs regular updates to ensure all components work together as intended. However, because fewer designers work with Joomla, it's not always easy to find an experienced web developer.
Drupal is based on a content management system, but it's also easy to fully customize the entire structure and content of the site instead of working within the confines of a single theme. That equals more design flexibility. It's suitable for teams of content developers or sites that depend on ad revenue. But that flexibility comes with a higher price tag. And because the interface is more complex, it requires ongoing professional maintenance and supervision to troubleshoot issues.
E-Commerce Platforms Make It Easier to Sell Online
The sites mentioned above are all good solutions for people who want to publish content. But if you want a site that is primarily a sales tool, especially one with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of products, you should look at building your site on a platform designed specifically for online sales. Each platform includes a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate that protects online payments. While these three options look very similar, each integrates with some, but not all, payment systems and shipping systems. So, if you have a strong preference or need to keep an existing system, examine your choices carefully.
This is a user-friendly e-commerce option. While it might stretch the truth to call it "easy," it's a relatively straightforward interface. It offers one order management system, nice SEO and analytic tools, easy-to-access customer groups and tag systems, abandoned cart features, and a range of shipping and payment systems. It can also become your inventory management system. You can even integrate it with your point-of-sale programs and create emails that integrate with your product offers and promo codes. Shopify has one of the biggest app stores with more plugins to customize your site. But as always, complexity comes with a price. Use an experienced designer or programmer to ensure your codes, offers, promotions, and plugins are compatible.
BigCommerce offers theme customization, checkout customization, mobile optimization, email programs integrating products and offers, and inventory management options. Most programmers consider it a more affordable option because it offers more features for free. But because BigCommerce offers more platform-specific features, there is a steeper learning curve. However, when all your features live on one platform, there are fewer compatibility issues.
Unlike Shopify and BigCommerce, WooCommerce is a plugin that works seamlessly with existing WordPress sites. In fact, it only works if you have a WordPress site. There is a simple, free version, but if you want a robust store, you must opt for one of the paid versions. The layouts and product formats are flexible. It works with dozens of extensions and offers various payment options. It also provides stand-alone shipping or integrates with most (but not all) programs. It also has a range of themes, an email option that makes it simple to offer products or codes in your emails, and the possibility of making it your inventory management system.
Which Platform is Right for Your Business?
Many of these options offer similar features and pricing, so your choice may come down to a few small benefits. Start by evaluating options that best fit your resources (in-house development or hiring a marketing firm), your assets (do you have lots of photos, content, or products to sell), and your business needs (integrates with Apple Pay, offers stand-alone shipping options, good SEO tools.) The first goal is to ensure your choice doesn't prevent you from doing something or using a tool that is important to your business.
You may also find that your preferred marketers, programmers, or designers are more comfortable and familiar with one option over another, so going with their recommendations can save you time and money in the long run.
If you want help evaluating a platform, building or rebuilding a website, or developing an e-commerce business, Cup O Content can help. Contact us today to find out if we can help you create a more effective web presence.