Which website platform is right for your business? (updated)
I get this question all the time. And for good reason — the choices of website builders and platforms is overwhelming. Like most things in life, there’s usually no perfect solution. Each platform has their own pros and cons and types of businesses that they’re best suited for.
I’m only going to go over the 3 major players: WordPress, Shopify and Squarespace. I’ve tested, experimented, and built sites in all three platforms over the last 10 years in my web design business. I’m occasionally asked about Weebly, Wix and other lesser known web builders. My advice is always this: stick with WordPress, Shopify or Squarespace. They’re the industry leaders for a reason. Now let’s dive into comparing them!
Best for: Blogs; websites with lots of content and websites that need to be very custom/have a lot of special functions
Ah WordPress, my first love. I built my first website on WordPress 10 years ago and I’ve stayed loyal ever since (for my own site).
- Nearly impossible to outgrow. Whatever you need your website to do, WordPress can do it. WordPress functionality can be expanded through plugins (free or paid) or built into your theme itself.
- Deeply customizable.
- Excels at handling lots of content: pages, blog posts, custom content, etc.
- WordPress content management system itself is free, open source and always improving.
- You can sell digital products easily.
- Integrates with just about any other 3rd party service out there. (any email platform you’re on, any scheduler, any payment system, any specialized tool for your business)
- You can run and manage display ads.
- Domain and hosting need to be purchased separately. This isn’t a con for everyone, but for some it’s an extra tech step/decision that can be annoying. Need a good (and inexpensive) WordPress host? I recommend Siteground.
- WordPress websites need to be maintained with plugin updates, regular backups, and security scans. You can take this on yourself or pay to have your site maintained.
- You need to purchase a separate SSL certificate so your site shows as secure on people’s browsers.
- Depending on how your site is built, there can be a higher learning curve compared to other solutions. Though that’s why I use Beaver Builder (affiliate link). It’s a page builder that gives WordPress a drag-and-drop interface.
- WooCommerce, WordPress’s main Ecommerce solution/competitor for Shopify, just isn’t as easy to use or manage if you have a larger amount of products.
- No built-in support.
Cost: Varies a lot. At a minimum, you’ll need to spend about $65/year for the least expensive hosting you can get + your domain. Depending on your needs, you may also want to factor in maintenance costs (around $60/month) and any extra paid plugins you want (cost varies wildly).
Best for: Ecommerce
Shopify (affiliate link) was built exclusively for Ecommerce users. It’s an easy choice if the majority of your business is product based or if you have an inventory of 50+ products.
You may be contemplating Shopify if you’re currently selling on Etsy. If you feel like your business is ready to grow to the next level, Shopify is the natural next step. On Shopify, you can build your own brand recognition and create a memorable experience for customers. And you can keep your own customer email list, which increases repeat purchases.
Keep these pros and cons in mind too:
- All-in-one hosting solution for your store. You can buy your domain, host and Shopify plan all through Shopify. That makes the tech a bit simpler for a lot of users.
- All plans provide 24/7 support.
- Minimal to no downtime.
- No plugin or software updates or maintenance needed.
- Built for Ecommerce.
- Easy to use and add products.
- Can handle a huge amount of inventory.
- Comes with a POS system so that you can use one inventory for physical stores and your online store. (i.e. if someone buys something in person, it’ll show as sold online instantly.).
- Functionality can be expanded with the App store.
- Blogging platform
- Apps in the app store usually aren’t free.
- Interface isn’t drag-and-drop. Usually need a designer to set up your shop. — Update: Since Shopify released Online Store 2.0, it’s so much easier to design your store!
- No built-in searchable engine (if comparing to Etsy). You need to drive your own traffic to your shop.
Cost: Starts at $29/month.
Best for: Simple service-based or informational sites without a big blog or shop component.
There’s a lot to like about Squarespace.
- All-in-one hosting solution. Your domain and hosting are included in your Squarespace plan.
- Website security is included.
- Drag-and-drop editor, which is easy to use for most users.
- Email and live chat support is included (no phone support).
- Easy to find nice themes at a low cost.
- While the drag-and-drop editor is really easy to use, it does limit design choices.
- No phone support.
- Only works well with certain supported services (for instance, for scheduling, they only have an Acuity block. So you’d need to custom code things if you used a different service.)
- The Squarespace look: basic Squarespace websites can all look the same with their default fonts, layout and button styles.
- No app store or plugins (like Shopify and WordPress).
- No point of purchase option if you are selling products both online and in-person.
- Not easy to manage large inventories.
Cost: Starts at $12/month.
Choosing a website platform can be pretty tough for the uninitiated. The most important thing to keep in mind is: what is the ultimate purpose of your website? Keep that at the forefront and it’s easy to see which platform will best serve your business.
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