Have an idea, product or service and want to start a website? Great!
But, where do you start? For many entrepreneurs and business owners operating on limited budget (both time and money) it's a difficult question.
But what if you're not quite ready yet to invest even $500 in your idea? Should you wait until you have more funding, or...is there something you can do in the interim to get your website up and running (and you have some basic level of confidence in using a variety of website tools)?
If you're in the later group, then this article is meant for you. For our purposes today, we're looking at website solutions that are:
Easy to implement
Easy to change
Easy to set up for SEO and marketing
Provide a catalog of useful and practical widgets
Don't require any knowledge of HTML or CSS - but some basic capabilities to manage settings and make changes in web interface environment.
Are cost efficient
WEBSITE BUILDERS VERSUS CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
There are two ways to classify the majority of website platforms or solutions: Website Builders and Content Management Systems.
Website Builders (Squarespace, Wix, Shopify) are relatively new solutions that try and make the entire process of setting up, building and maintaining a website a relatively simple, integrated experience (requiring no real knowledge of how all the technology works).
Content Management Systems on the other hand (primarily Wordpress, Drupal or Joomla) have a much steeper learning curve and will require tech skills to configure your PHP, FTP, MySQL and point to your DNS ...okay. You get it? This article is not meant for that audience, but we'll talk a little about Wordpress given its ubiquity.
Wordpress is an extremely well-established, highly adaptable, and well-supported platform. 30% of all websites are reportedly on the Wordpress platform.
However, if you're not a website developer, Wordpress will require more time for you to understand how it works, what each setting means, how to add necessary widgets or themes.... In other words, the learning curve is probably more than you will want to take on if you want an easy to set up and manage website in an hour or less.
WPCity has an article that covers 94 different statistics on Wordpress that verify its reliability and robustness as a platform for your website.
Wordpress website plans start off with some of the lowest costs, at about $4 per month, but this option is fairly limited, and the plans with more features (SEO tools, etc...) comparable with some of the lower cost Wix or Squarespace plans costs about $25 per month. So not as inexpensive as it might appear.
Squarespace is an extremely compelling option if you want the most aesthetically pleasing and beautifully design website in less than an hour. Their templates are slick, provide a lot of smart and useful layouts and widgets for a wide variety of businesses or organizations, and you won't have to worry about creating a beautiful website that looks great on your computer, but is a mess on mobile (see Wix below).
The downside of Squarespace is that what makes their websites aesthetically pleasing is the relatively rigid format of what you can do.
Want to add a photo or text caption in a specific place on your page? Squarespace won't let you. It'll be beautiful, but for some, it may come with too many limits for what they want to achieve.
Are you of the believe that you are actually an amazing web designer, but have never designed anything before?
Well, first check out the Dunning-Kuger Effect to see if that might ally to you. Squarespace is great for adherents of the D-K Effect!
A basic 'personal' website plan from Squarespace currently goes for $12 per month.
Of all the web platforms available for a person with no knowledge or html, css, or basic website creation, Wix is going to give you the most control and ability to create and do whatever you want.
That's good and bad. You can flex your creative muscles and build an amazing website that does the unimaginable! Whoohoo!
But be careful: The training wheels are off! That amazing website that you create might be a digital train wreck because Wix will allow you to create any kind of abomination possible.
While you've been happily plugging away on your computer adding galleries, forms, wallpapers, and content blocks to your new website, do not neglect what that design is going to look like on mobile devices. The most important button or link you can select on Wix is the 'mobile' icon while in the Wix editor.
And its not necessarily always going to be your fault: Even if you've carefully ensured all the headlines on your website use the same font size, when you flip to the mobile view, you'll find that some headlines are mysteriously larger or smaller. What's going on? Who knows.
Wix has a LOT of power, and is a great creative platform. But it takes more discipline and attention to detail than a more rigid platform like Squarespace will require.
Wix also has some very user-friendly tools to help you set up and maintain the SEO components of your site.
One of the most confusing aspects of Wix is understanding their pricing plans or packages. Difficult to find, and using a confusing word jumble of 'premium' or 'business' or whatever that requires far more interpretation than should be necessary. In fact, you need to review some well done breakdowns of Wix plans to really understand what you get for some of the more premium plans. Basically, for a business, you don't want a 'free' plan (at least not in the long run, but good for 'practice' if your not quite sure Wix is the way to go or you're not ready to invest), but plans with a lot of useful and necessary 'starter' features start at about $10 per month, and go up from there if you need more bandwidth or robust features.
Yes, Google's Blogger (or Blogspot) is still around. It was a big deal when everyone was doing a blog. So why mention it here? Well for some, a fairly simple blog template might be a good alternative.
To be clear, even though it's a blogger platform, it is still a website and can still serve the same purpose as other website platforms depending on your needs.
Plus: It's free.
You have some limited control over the layout and a decent selection of widgets to customize your website (or blog).
For the ambitious entrepreneur focused on building an ecommerce platform (again, for a person with no knowledge of html and all that magical code), Shopify is likely going to be the best option for you.
To be clear, Wix, Squarespace and Wordpress platforms all have ecommerce capabilities, but Shopify is laser focused on the 'entry level' ecommerce world and is a robust solution for those whose main priority is to sell stuff online.
Shopify has been around for years, and they have made it a priority to ensure their platform is user friendly and relatively simple to manage. It lacks the flexibility (and potential pitfalls) of Wix, but will instead give you the confidence that your website will work and visitors will be able to shop and browse your site without issue.
On the downside, it's more expensive than Wix or Squarespace - at least at first glance. Depending on your current (and future needs) some of the lower cost plans from Wix or Squarespace may be not be sufficient if your ecommerce capabilities and scale can't be supported at this level, which potentially makes the $25 month 'starter' ecommerce plan from Shopify a good choice to secure long terms capabilities.
First, don't just select a platform because you saw their ad on YouTube or were paid by an 'influencer' you follow....consider what you are trying to achieve, your capabilities, and long-term goals. The below table was designed to be a simple breakdown of some of the basics you may want to consider, but should only be considered a starting point.
And if all of this seems a bit too over-whelming, reach out to a web designed and get some estimates and examples of their work. You may find that hiring a contractor or web design firm is your best strategy. If you do go this route, ensure that you maintain or have ultimate control of your domain and website!