One of the amazing things about the time we’ve living in now is that there are so many options to choose from in terms of how to build your website.
On the flip side, one of the challenging things about the time we’re living in is that there are so many options to choose from!
You have a tremendous number of choices so there is bound to be a “right fit” for you out there, but it can be difficult to know which one will best serve your needs now and what will be the best fit to grow into.
I want to help you answer one of the most common questions that I receive as a website educator:
“How do I choose which platform I should build my website on?”
So what do I mean by the term “platform”?
Essentially I just mean which software are you going to use to create and maintain your website.
There are different ways that you can build your website, but the most popular are using a website builder or WordPress.
There are also other approaches you could take, for example building with HTML and CSS, or a custom built content management system.
Building a website in pure HTML is usually going to give you the most lean website with the fastest page load speeds. However, it does not include a way for you to update your own website, making you fully reliant on a website developer to create updates on your website.
If that is a fit for you, then that’s a great option to consider.
However, if you want the ability to directly make updates on your site, as so many small business owners do, or if you intend to have a blog, then HTML is not going to be the right fit for you.
In that case, you are most likely going to be choosing between either a website builder or WordPress.
Website Builders vs WordPress
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, website builders include services such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and others, and they offer pre-made themes that you can drop your content into in order to build your website.
You are locked into the design and the capabilities of your chosen theme.
Now, as you know by now, I run a website development company that specializes in WordPress development, so I’m always going to be a cheerleader for WordPress because of the flexibility it provides to make your website look exactly how you want and do exactly what you want.
You own your website if it’s on WordPress, and what I mean by that is that you can move it to another provider if you wish.
An important note worth highlighting at this point is that when I am referring to WordPress, I’m talking about WordPress.org.
The major difference is who hosts your website. WordPress.com actually hosts your website. WordPress.org is hosted on your own hosting provider, using WordPress’ software.
Think of WordPress as the construction company you use to build a house.
They provide the tools and the materials. If you use WordPress, you’re building your website on a hosting company that gives you the ability to pick up your property and move it to another piece of land, if you wanted.
Plus, you set the rules about what the house looks like and what you can do to it.
If you’re using a site builder, you’re just renting.
You are limited by what is allowed in terms of customization and you cannot move your website or take it with you if you decide to move to another provider.
You’re just a visitor. You own nothing but the content.
WordPress gives you flexibility.
You can absolutely use a site builder, but you just need to understand the limitations.
Consider it similar to residing in a rental unit. You can live there. But you’ll have to leave the entirety of that investment behind if you want to move somewhere else.
To be clear, I am not saying that you must build your website on WordPress, because it may not be the right platform for you at this time.
That may come as a bit of a surprise since I run a WordPress development agency, but the reality is that WordPress is not right for everyone and there is no one size fits all solution here.
I understand that not all small business owners are able to invest either the budget to work with a professional developer, or the hands-on time to learn how to build an effective WordPress site themselves.
Is WordPress the right solution for you?
What are your website expectations?
The first place to start is to understand your expectations for your website in terms of how it looks and works. This is crucial to consider when deciding between WordPress or a website builder.
If you understand the design, functionality, and search engine optimization limitations of using a site builder solution and you don’t want or need more than those tools provide, and you’re happy with how the site looks and works, then a site builder may be all you need.
What are your website goals?
You also need to understand your website’s goals, and if you haven’t yet watched my videos on How to Assess Your Website and How to Determine Your Website Needs, I would recommend you watch those before going any further.
Those videos cover foundational steps that will help you to end up with a website that serves your business effectively, so you’ll want to work through the exercises in those videos.
In order to really know what is right, what will satisfy your needs, your expectations and your own technical capabilities, you really need to look at your short-term and long-term goals and needs.
It’s very important that the extent of your research and planning go beyond, “Well a site builder is easier to use, so, decision made.”
Choosing the easiest or cheapest route is rarely the foundation of a good business decision.
Let’s look at some of the key questions I think you need to ask yourself in order to determine which website platform will be right for you. Your answers to these will ultimately dictate what is best for you now and in the future.
The Questions to Ask
#1: What is your technical comfort level?
Who will be building and maintaining your website? If it’s you, are you comfortable working with tech? Or, does the idea of working on a WordPress website freak you out? Are you willing to learn?
I have seen business owners go from extremely nervous about breaking their website, to quite comfortable with making basic changes on their site.
#2: How much budget are you willing to invest in your website?
Do you have an extremely tight budget or are you willing to put a larger investment into it?
There is a tremendous range in the cost of hiring a website professional.
You definitely don’t have to go with the most expensive marketing agency in order to get an effective website. However, the reality is that if someone is offering to build a website for you on the cheap, that’s probably not a good sign about their competence or experience.
Building a website with someone cheaply is likely going to bite you in the behind. Why? Because the chances are good you’ll end up with a site that doesn’t stand the test of time, is more prone to breaking, and is harder to update.
In that situation, ultimately you may find yourself having to start over again sooner than you expected, which means you just threw a bunch of your marketing budget away needlessly.
However, it’s also important to understand that a high price doesn’t always mean high quality either. A big price tag is no guarantee that you’re going to get a top notch site.
All that said, a solid website developer will likely charge a premium.
Ultimately, your answer to the budget question could prove to be a deciding factor for you on which platform to go with, but the next question is the other side of that coin.
#3: How much time do you have to work on your website?
Perhaps you have very little budget but you’re willing to invest the time to bootstrap and learn WordPress yourself. In that case, you should absolutely consider putting in the time to learn WordPress for a solution that will give you more flexibility in the long term.
Though you might want to consider investing in some consulting hours with an experienced developer to make sure you’re dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s.
For example, we periodically work with business owners who have set up their own websites on WordPress, but then hire us to do a WordPress Health Checkup for them, along with a summary of action items that need to be addressed for improved health, security and performance.
Or, if you have no time but you are prepared to put a healthy budget towards your website development, then I’d still say go WordPress, but invest in a developer.
However, if you have no budget *and* no time or inclination to learn how to build on WordPress, then a website builder is probably going to be your only option at this time.
#4: What are your design expectations?
Are you seeking a highly custom design that looks a very specific way, or are you happy as long as it’s a clean and attractive layout?
If you envision a unique design and you have very specific customization requirements, then a site builder with its templates is not going to be a good fit for your needs and wants.
To have complete flexibility in terms of how your menu looks, and how your homepage layout is designed, and really custom layouts for each of your other key website pages, that will impact how you proceed.
Be honest with yourself in terms of how you answer that question.
You don’t want to build a website that you’re not proud of, or that doesn’t appeal to your ideal client.
#5: Are there any unique features that will be necessary as part of your site?
If you’ve watched my video about How to Determine Your Website Needs, you’ll recall that in that video I had you spend some time thinking about the features and functionality you want and need for your website, both in the short term and longer term.
Your findings from that exercise are an important consideration, because your responses may limit your platform options.
For example, if a website builder you’re considering doesn’t offer the functionality and features you need, you should know that up front.
I recall an event professional I once spoke to who realized that having wish list functionality for her product catalogue was something that was going to be important.
Unfortunately, she her website was built on a platform that didn’t offer that as a feature, which meant she was stuck.
Do the exercises in the How to Determine Your Website Needs video, because if you know that in a year you’ll need something unique that you can’t get on a site builder, then you really should factor that into your decision now.
#6: How important is page speed optimization to you?
This one is a biggie. I’ll be talking a lot more about page speed in more detail in future blog posts, so keep an eye out for those.
Page speed optimization is extremely important because a slow page speed results in a poor user experience for your visitors. That has a negative impact on your conversions, but Google will also penalize you for it.
So you need to understand that you will have less ability to control and improve your page speed if you go with a site builder instead of WordPress.
For some of you, that may not be a deal breaker, as long as you can get your website loading as whatever you deem is “fast enough”.
But it’s something to understand at the outset as a factor to consider.
#7: Do you want to implement more advanced SEO techniques on your website?
If you do, you should be considering building on WordPress, which will provide you more access to the files that allow you to perform technical serach engine optimization strategies like adding schema.
One size does not fit all.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to website platforms.
But I hope the questions in this video post will help you move ahead with selecting the platform that is right for you.