There are literally dozens of different website platforms out there. Some offer more simplicity, others offer better optimization, and others offer extreme customization. Deciding which is best for your business can honestly be a bit dizzying.
If you find yourself in this type of position, don’t worry. Deep breath. Help is on the way.
First off, you have to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all option that is perfect for everyone. Every platform comes with benefits and drawbacks. The first step in figuring out which you need is trying to figure out what you need it for.
Are you looking to sell products online directly to customers? Do you want a super simple, clean info page that explains who you are? Do you want to have services listed online and a high-end aesthetic representation of your business?
Let’s dig into the different website platforms to decipher which fits best.
1. The Web Hosting Company Group
If you’re doing a DIY website on your own, you’ve probably gone through the first steps of registering your domain online and creating your URL. Chances are pretty good that your hosting company is going to give you the opportunity to build a free website through their do-it-yourself site builder.
Do. Not. Do. It.
Whether it’s GoDaddy.com, Homestead.com, or any of the litany of other Hosting Site builders, stay far away.
While these sites are technically free with your hosting, they come with some severe limitations. Take Homestead, for example. The builder is clunky and complicated, doesn’t allow you access to any of the tags or coding for search engine optimization, and most of the options they offer for colors, textures, and fonts reek of 1995. Homestead’s also a blank-canvas creator, which sounds great in theory, but in practice means that you’ll spend hours trying to re-arrange your buttons, lines, and features, and because there’s no grid or snap-to-grid function, you’ll spend even more time trying to make sure it’s all lined up correctly.
GoDaddy’s Website Builder is somewhat better, but not by much. It does offer themes that can be customized, but the level of intricacy that you need in order to make it look like a quality website is ridiculous. You’ll spend way more time trying to make your site look good than you’ll spend actually getting business from the site.
Also, unless you’re a digital marketing genius, you’re going to have a really difficult time ever getting these types of platforms to rank online with SEO. They just simply don’t offer enough power under the hood to make it happen.
2. The Low-Cost DIYers: Wix and Weebly
I can’t begin to tell you how many small businesses use Weebly or Wix for their websites. It’s kind of crazy how common these two platforms have become. I know that pretty much anyone who works in digital marketing (like I do) will rip either of these platforms up and down, but I want to take a more objective approach.
If you’re looking for a starter presence online and you have limited funds, these can be a good fit for you. They’re affordable, can be modified relatively easily, and can be popped up quickly.
That being said, they do have some serious limitations. Because the sites are extremely template and plug-in based, customizing them can be very difficult. Also, if you don’t have a good eye for visual aesthetics, the overall presentation can turn out pretty sloppy.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that both of these platforms struggle mightily with optimization. Go ahead. Google any keyword you want and see if you find a Wix or Weebly site in the top two pages. I’ll wait.
See what I mean? While both platforms pitch that they offer digital marketing through baseline search engine optimization (SEO), neither gives customers enough power to adjust the coding that Google, Bing, and Yahoo need to see in order to rank the site well. This means that while your site will have a visual presence for your business, the website itself is not going to help you connect with customers who don’t know you already.
Overall, you can definitely do worse than Wix or Weebly. They’re quick, affordable and can be made to look solid if the person building it has a good eye for design. However, if you’re trying to get a solid ROI from your digital marketing, I would steer clear.
3. Getting Warmer: Duda, VistaPrint, Moonfruit
There’s a stark difference between the previous groups and this one. These platforms allow for a much greater amount of digital marketing to go into the back-end of the site (as well as much more high-end aesthetic customization), but also can require a bit more technical knowledge to maximize the platform’s capability.
For example, each of these platforms allows the customer to add sliding headers, customize meta descriptions and image tags, build in e-commerce functions, input customer contact forms, and even factors in features that are only available on the mobile responsive versions of the site.
However, managing all of those can be a bit cumbersome. I once took on the task of adding a page to the navigation bar in a Duda website, and it took me two weeks to figure out why the nav bar wouldn’t align to the correct side of the page and allow me to squeeze in an extra button. Same type of issues can be experienced on Moonfruit, as well. In contrast, VistaPrint is somewhat simpler than the other two but also doesn’t produce as highly-polished results.
If you’ve got some time to tweak things periodically and you have a little bit of a more computer-savvy background, these would be good options. They allow for some online marketing, relatively detailed customization, and mobile responsiveness.
4. The Best of the DIY’ers: SquareSpace
If you absolutely insist on doing your website by yourself, I highly recommend SquareSpace. The user experience is smooth, simple and can be customized up or down for your level of design expertise. They offer a wide variety of beautiful themes to start from, and everything can be customized. You also get the opportunity to work on the digital marketing side, with access to XML files, meta descriptions, site maps and everything you could possibly need for solid DIY SEO.
Steve Jobs used to tell a story about how his father was a carpenter, and that his father always spent just as much time building the backs of cabinets as he did the front. That instilled the value of high-level craftsmanship in Steve and led him to famously always focus on delivering the best products he could.
Simply put: Squarespace delivers this level of quality for DIY websites.
5. The Designer Group: WordPress, Drupal, Joomla
The crème de la crème. If you want a website that you can customize every single aspect of, while still maintaining the best digital marketing and search optimization platform, you want one of these three options.
That being said, you can easily get overwhelmed by these platforms; they offer a lot of intricate functions that are not for the non-tech savvy of us out there. If you’re hiring a professional to build your site, they had better be building it on one of these platforms (otherwise, why are you paying them for work you could do yourself for much less?).
These offer the best customization, best access to coding, most detail and best optimization options on the market. Most of your top performing websites in any given keyword online are probably on one of these platforms (or using a combination of these and an alternative CMS).
So in summary, these are the most efficient, highest powered, most polished options on the market. They are not, however, for the novice or faint of heart DIY small business owner.
So in Summary:
So there you have it. Each of these platforms offers its own benefits and drawbacks, but can fit a need depending on the amount of customization you need, functions you want the site to perform and how much digital marketing you need to accomplish with your site. Choose wisely, and don’t be afraid to contact a professional for help if you need additional support.