Ok, so you want to build a website. Either you probably feel its time to get your business online, have an awesome idea that you need to share with the world or maybe you need to revamp an existing site. Either way, at some point you will be asking yourself the same questions and through this series of posts we will try to answer them, as straightforward and honest as we can be.
In this article we shall be discussing the first major decision you will have to make regarding owning your own website. A decision which could seriously effect your online experience for years to come – that being which platform to build it on?
Only when you start looking at what or where to build your website, that you begin to appreciate just how many options there are.
To make it easier to understand we shall break this down to three major categories.
1, Custom build from a web developer
2, An online website builder
3, A CMS
1, Custom build from a web developer
Unless you need something really out of the ordinary, having a custom website built, or written, may not necessarily be the best way forward.
A custom website is just that. A site that is written, or coded, line by line. The benefit of this is that you end up with a website that can just about perform any function that you require it to do.
If your needs are more along the lines of what is called a SaaS website, that is Software as a Service, or ‘On-Demand’ websites then this option would be your go-to choice in many respects. This type of website is where you are offering a service and your users pay a subscription to use it. Think of websites such as Dropbox or Mailchimp, these are good examples of SaaS websites.
For the usual run-of-the-mill websites this will be the most expensive option, it will also take some time, like serious time to create. It will also be the most restrictive. Unless your developer writes in a way for you to update your content yourself, you will forever be asking him to make even the smallest changes on your behalf.
The plus side is that you could literally have your website do anything that you require it to do and have it look exactly how you would like it to look.
Who is if for: Those who really require functionality you can’t find anywhere else.
The Drawbacks: Mega expensive and often locked in with the developer who wrote it.
2, An online website builder
The second option is the online website builders. Although there are many, we shall discuss the main two companies, that being Squarespace and Wix.
With these, you sign up, choose a template and with a drag and drop page builder, you can add your content.
As well as adding your own text and images, there are also different elements you can add to your page as well, such as contact forms, email optins, social share buttons etc.
You can create really nice looking websites and if all you require is a simple website with not much functionality then these may be the best option.
However, there are some things to be aware of also.
Apart from some pretty basic changes, with the correct code which you can add yourself (once you’ve figured out what that is) there is not a lot you can do with these websites past their original templates.
In other words, with these website builders, as great as they are, you can only add the functionality to your website which their platforms allow, so they won’t necessarily grow with you if your business calls for different functions to be added.
A good example is that they offer a basic online shop to integrate with your website. Awesome if you only require a ‘basic’ shop but as soon as you need to add different payment options, coupons, sales, pop-ups, customer forms or the like you will quickly find that these things may not be supported and you may then have to start looking at building your beautifully created website somewhere else. As a side note, its usually not possible to migrate your site away from online website builders, in which case you will literally be re-building from scratch.
Another point to consider is, if you are thinking of using a company such as this, make sure you check out their pricing structures.
Wix advertises that you can build and host a website with them, for free, for life! As much as this is true on one level, if you require even the most basic change you will be paying through their ‘options’ and these options can soon add up. When we say basic changes, we literally mean basic. If you want point your own domain name to your own website and for Wix to remove the ads that will be spattered all over your live website will start costing you.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this, as its a free service to begin with after all, but just watch out how much all these little extras add up.
Squarespace is much more open with their pricing, but make sure that your price category allows for everything that your require from your website and if you can have the correct number of pages that you require else you will be upgrading to a higher price bracket
Who is if for: Someone who requires a simple website, easily done
The Drawbacks: Very restrictive. Your websites functionally is dependent on what these platforms allow. If you require anything more, you will more than likely be re-building the website elsewhere.
3, A CMS
The last option is called a CMS (Content Management System)
Don’t let the nerdy name fool you. A Content Management System is just a long-winded name for being in charge of your own content.
This option will usually be a website that you host yourself when you have signed up to a hosting provider.
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all self-hosted CMS platforms. With WordPress now driving 30% of the entire internet we shall only be discussing this. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with Joomla, Drupal and the many others, but we find that the sheer support available and the numbers of add-ons, plugins, themes, developers and anything else related to building and running a CMS is overwhelmingly in WordPress’s favour.
Running a WordPress website is the best of the two worlds above. It is so customisable that you would be hard pushed to find a situation that a WordPress based website cannot handle – apart from SaaS ideally.
The beauty of this system is that once you are up and running, you can make your website do anything you like. Need a membership area? No problem. Would you like to host your own online courses? Again, no problem. In fact, the list is pretty endless as to what you can make a WordPress site do. Full e.commerce, appointment calendars, events, directories, booking systems are just a few examples.
There are literally gazzilions of different themes or templates, many for free, to base your designs off. Some themes even have drag and drop page builders like Squarespace and Wix has, allowing you to build pretty much whatever you want.
Where the online website builder end, WordPress starts excelling. As web development professionals, we have had our fair share of clients who are re-building their websites away from online website builders and onto WordPress, for the simple point that they require the flexibility and functionality that WordPress allows and Squarespace or Wix does not…. And did we mention that WordPress is also free!
Who is if for: Someone who prefers more control over their website.
The Drawbacks: Can be a steeper learning curve at first but the payoff in the long run is fantastic.