How to Choose a Website Platform

Computer with hands of a web developer

The world of Content Management Systems (CMS) and website builders is overwhelming and confusing. There is no clear answer as to what platform you should build your site on and there are so many factors it’s hard to decide!

While we are WordPress developers, we recognize that it is not always the best fit for a client.

So let’s look at the pros, cons, and use cases for 3 of the top CMS options out there.

WordPress (self-hosted)

PROS

  • 100% customizable. WordPress is a free, open source software that can be used to create anything you want. You can download and install an existing theme or you can code an entire website from scratch or settle somewhere between. If you find down the line that you need more customization, it is easily possible to change, modify, or upgrade your site however you like. 
  • Complete ownership over content. Because WordPress is a fully built website (either by you or a developer) that is then deployed to a host, you own all of the blog content, photos, videos, and more. It is very easy to get regular backups of your entire site (either from your host or a plugin or both) and should something go wrong, you would still have everything you created in your possession. 
  • Lots of plugins. Plugins are bits of code you can put into you site to add some specific functionality, a little like apps for your cell phone. If you want your site to do it, there is probably a plugin for it. This means that if you need to extend your site without an entire re-design and develop, it is possible. 
  • It can be used for any purpose. The CMS was built for blogging and is designed with all the tools that you need for that, but it can easily accommodate any other function you might need – an online shop, membership site, forum, portfolio, and anything else you dream up. This means that your WordPress site can grow infinitely with your business and you won’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you need a new feature!
  • Variety of hosting options. This is also a huge plus, because it means that you can find the right host that is tailored for your needs, and if your host is not performing well (slow load times, site crashes, etc) you can switch your site to a different one. Competition breeds innovation and each WordPress host is trying to be the best they can to make sure you choose them, which is definitely to your website’s advantage. 
  • Great for SEO. The last huge positive for WordPress is that it consistently ranks very highly in CMS competitions for SEO. This is because the base code is clean, if you don’t use a visual editor plugin and your theme is well made you won’t have a lot of code bloat, and WordPress comes with lots of places to optimize out of the box. Additionally, plugins like Yoast SEO, image optimizers, internal link builders, and redirectors all help to increase your site’s SEO potential and make WordPress far and away the easiest CMS to really get focused on SEO with.

CONS

  • Takes longer to set up. Unless you have a one page blog, a WordPress site is probably going to take a little longer to set up than one of the other CMS options on this list. All of that customization takes a little time!
  • May need to pay for themes and plugins. While there are lots of free themes and plugins, we highly recommend that you either hire a developer to help choose your theme and the plugins you use on your site. Premium plugins and themes are often coded more cleanly, are more secure, and may also be tailored more to your industry or have the features you need. All in all, there may be a little more up front cost for your WordPress website, because you get a more custom product from the start than with a drag and drop CMS. 
  • More technical aspects to handle. If you are looking to DIY your website and aren’t up for doing a little bit of learning, WordPress might not be right for you. Choosing a host, ensuring site security, and finding the best plugins for your needs are all things that are not difficult but do require a little bit of research and time to do correctly. Of course, you could always hire a developer to help you set up your site, and avoid doing these technical aspects yourself. 

BEST FOR

  • Anyone. No really, we mean anyone! Because WordPress is infinitely customizable, anyone can make it exactly what they need.
  • Those who want to hire a developer or learn about website setup. There are a massive amount of resources available for those who want to learn how to DIY their WordPress website. If you prefer to trust a professional, there are people who can help. 
  • Businesses that may grow into new services over time. If you aren’t sure what services you ultimately want to offer, have a ton of ideas to roll out over time, or just want the flexibility to change your mind, WordPress makes it easy. 

COST

The cost to set up a WordPress site really varies. Themes, plugins, hosting, and developers all range drastically in price and everyone has different needs for these things.

SETUP TIME

The setup time for a WordPress site really varies. If you find a pre-made theme that exactly fits your needs, it can be quick but if you want a complicated custom coded site, it will take months to get it just right for you.

 

Squarespace

PROS

  • Somewhat customizable. Squarespace lets you customize certain styling aspects of your site without coding. Once you choose a theme you can add and arrange elements however you like. You can add code blocks with HTML, CSS, or Javascript for more customization. And, it is worth mentioning that you can go into Squarespace developer mode to customize further, though that would require knowledge of code or hiring a developer.
  • Free themes to choose from. All Squarespace themes are free, however, you are limited to the theme selection Squarespace provides. 
  • Drag and drop editor. The interface for editing is great for people who don’t know how to code but want to DIY to see exactly what their site will look like as they are building it. 
  • User Friendly. Everything about Squarespace from uploading content to changing colors to blogging is intuitive, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Support team. The support team is readily available at Squarespace, something you don’t have with a site that is self hosted.  
  • Built in eCommerce support. Every Squarespace site is capable of eCommerce, though it does not have as robust of a backend for an online shop as some other tools.

CONS

  • You don’t own your own content. One huge downside with Squarespace is that you do not own your content. It is hosted on Squarespace’s server and if Squarespace goes down for any reason, you cannot access your posts, photos, PDFs, contact forms, etc. 
  • If you go into developer mode, you lose Squarespace support. This is important because you may need developer mode to make customizations, but when you turn on that mode, Squarespace will no longer provide technical support. Even if you have a developer working on your site, it is never a good idea for your host not to be able/willing to provide support for you! 
  • Not easily extensible. If you wanted to extend Squarespace for something like a membership site or hosting online courses, you would need to go into developer mode and do some serious back-end code, or use another software (which probably won’t integrate with your site).

BEST FOR

  • Start ups. Squarespace is quick and easy to set up and allows you to produce a Minimum Viable Product inexpensively. You can then transition to a more detailed site once you have proven the viability of your business idea.
  • Simple sites. For one page landing sites or simple informational sites that don’t need many bells and whistles, Squarespace is an option.
  • Non-techies. If you want to DIY your website fast without learning anything about hosting, security, or code, Squarespace is an option.

COST

$12-$46/month

SETUP TIME

Fast. If you already have branding, photos, and content, you can set up your Squarespace site in a weekend. 

 

Shopify

PROS

  • Designed for eCommerce. Shopify is first and foremost an eCommerce tool. This means that if you plan to sell things online it has the most tools right out of the box for your business. There are tons of options for your storefront, but also a whole host of backend tools that help with running a store, like shipping label support and inventory management.
  • Easy to setup. If you have a simple online shop with little customization and few products, you can be up and running in minutes.
  • Integrates with an in person store. This is a huge plus for business owners who do sales both online and in person. Shopify has several tools to support brick-and-morter stores and it all integrates together.
  • Lots of integrations. From the start, Shopify easily integrates with several other apps, but it also has a marketplace of extensions to help make all of your technology work together.
  • Easy secure checkout. Shopify is dedicated to security, which means you don’t have to worry about your customers’ private information. Also, with Shopify Payments, your customers can save their credit card info for purchases on any Shopify site. 
  • Support. Shopify provides 24/7 support to its users.

CONS

  • You don’t own your own content. Similarly to Squarespace, you do not own your own content and cannot access it if there is an issue with Shopify. 
  • Not infinitely extensible to different types of business. Shopify is designed specifically for eCommerce, and therefore may require a lot of additional code for different website needs if your business grows or evolves beyond just eCommerce. 
  • Less CMS tools. Though Shopify does come with blogging capabilities, it does not have the extensive content management and SEO tools of more content focused platforms.
  • Lots of added expenses. Features that could be added on at no cost or low cost with a platform like WordPress may require a monthly fee on Shopify.

BEST FOR

  • Exclusively product based businesses. If you are just looking to have an online shop or an in-person and online shop, Shopify might be the right choice for you. 
  • DIYers. If you want to quickly create an online store without having to hire a developer or learn about hosting, security, and code, Shopify might be the right choice for you.

COST

$29-$299/month

SETUP TIME

Setup time for a Shopify site varies based on the number of products you have and the number of extensions you need.

 

Bottom Line

We love WordPress because it so flexible, but at the same time can be easy for the average business owner to update and maintain on their own once their site is created. There is just nothing WordPress can’t do!

Think you might want a WordPress site but aren’t sure where to start? We love to help entrepreneurs strategize, determine their website needs, and make magic happen.

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credits

Created with Sketch.

Michelle Viljoen

(website design) is a graphic designer and brand consultant who specializes in creating and developing brands. Her core focuses are logo development, website design and brand direction.

Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.