When it comes to building a website for your company, the choices can be overwhelming. With thousands of people offering development services, turnkey services claiming to deliver a solid website, and a variety of prices ranging from free to a few thousand for fully customized systems it’s a process that can leave a small business owner spinning with decision. Despite the internet being around for a little over a decade, for the average small business owner, it seems like building a solid online presence through a reliable website platform is as difficult as when the internet was first built.
Fortunately today there are three solid website platform solutions, which can help simplify getting your digital presence up and running. The leading option for many web developers is WordPress, which is free and has a community of hundreds of thousands of developers backing the platform. Although the platform has its roots in being a blogging platform, today many businesses have begun to use the system for a variety of tasks ranging from blogging to standard websites and even small scale ecommerce systems. While other systems require users to hack code and rack up massive development retainers for routine tasks, WordPress excels in that it allows users to have the option of managing their websites themselves though a simple to use control panel, or by retaining a team to handle the management for them. Although WordPress is a very versatile solution, one of the biggest weaknesses WordPress faces is lack of fine grained customization ability at the technical level. While this is typically not an issue to most small businesses, the limitation often poses an issue when it comes to trying to use WordPress as a mid to large sized ecommerce platform, or when a company tries making very complex websites.
Dave Handmaker of Next Day Flyers takes a hybrid approach to WordPress since his company relies on a fairly large online store for much of his business. Rather than struggling to encompass everything under one platform, Handmaker simply has his blog and help center running as WordPress sites since those sections are well suited for the system. According to Handmaker, although he does have two IT people on hand, much of the WordPress site management is handled by one of the marketing persons. When asked about the biggest downsides to using WordPress, Handmaker mentioned the difficulty he faced integrating the suite with his ecommerce system, and a lack of enterprise level support.
For companies looking for a solid alternative to self-hosted WordPress setups or the limited hosting provided by WordPress.com (the official hosting by the makers of WordPress), SquareSpace is worth a look. Similar to WordPress, SquareSpace is a website platform which allows users to construct a website through a simple to use control panel. Aside from being provided with templates and a toolbox to manage the site, SquareSpace also includes: analytics, social media sharing, commenting, tablet/smartphone layouts, search engine optimization capabilities (SEO), and more right out of the box. Pricing starts at $8/month for 2GB storage; 500GB bandwidth; and 20 pages, galleries, and blogs. For $16/month users are given unlimited resources across the board.
Casey Armstrong of Coport chose to go with SquareSpace over WordPress because SquareSpace provides more of a full-service set of services as opposed to WordPress which requires outside plugins to add functionality. While plugins are what make WordPress versatile, improper use of plugins can backfire, ultimately breaking or making your website less efficient. Additionally Armstrong mentioned that as SquareSpace’s pricing is fairly close to most web hosts, the service is an excellent value because of the full-service approach at a self-service price. A key feature of SquareSpace is that it not only includes a wide array of website templates, but also has a insightful developers section which allows businesses to have full control over their website design.
For companies seeking a simple yet effective ecommerce system for their businesses, Shopify is an effective solution to get you a quality ecommerce site up and running at an affordable price. Similar to the solutions mentioned earlier, Shopify is a website platform which is geared towards beginners and developers alike to create a website tailored around your specific needs. Key features include: SEO support, mobile functionality out of the box, built in analytics to help you optimize your shop, a simple to use interface to manage your inventory and much more. Pricing for Shopify starts at $29/month for up to 100 items and a 2% transaction fee, and goes up to $179/month for unlimited resources and a 0% transaction fee.
Nicole Heckman of Urban-Spoke chose Shopify over a variety of other platforms primarily because she was able to use it to produce a minimally viable product over a weekend and use that product to test the validity of her online store with minimal investment. After the initial stage Heckman found that Shopify included all the required functionality out of the box and she did not need to retain a developer to handle customization. When asked whether she plans to switch to another platform down the road, Heckman said no but mentioned that she is considering utilizing a developer eventually to possibly build her site outside of Shopify and limit Shopify to handling ecommerce. Although Shopify overall appears to be a solid solution for Urban-Spoke, one of the biggest issues cited by Heckman is lackluster documentation when it comes to integrating new features or even managing the site. While support has been responsive to questions, having to contact support for basic tasks is never ideal with any platform.
When it comes to picking a service for your company, keep in mind that the experience of one company can be totally different than what your company will experience. Although websites have to be built around your objectives, this list is intended to help narrow the choices to the leading options for small businesses.