You’ve decided to start your business and need a website.
Or maybe you’ve had a business for a while and have been using Etsy, Facebook, or Instagram to sell your products or services but have decided it is time to create your own website.
First, relax. You aren’t alone. This is a common issue and stumbling block for many.
Second, yes, the options can seem overwhelming.
So let’s look at the question “Which platform should I use to build my website?” and realize it may not be the best question to ask first.
Instead, ask yourself:
What is your website’s job?
Do you want it to bring you customers or be there as more of an online brochure where you can send people?
Do you need it to easily integrate with other marketing and online business tools? If so, which tools?
How much customization to you want your website to have? Are you ok with a basic template where colors, fonts, and layout are generally already decided for you with just a few options to change, or do you need your website to be more custom to reflect your brand and your business?
Where do you want your business to be in five years? Be realistic. If you have semi-secret plans to add e-commerce or a membership level with passwords, plan for those changes now.
How comfortable am I with tech things? Does the idea of being responsible for keeping plug-ins updated freak you out? Do you feel comfortable searching for answers online if something stops working on your site?
Do you want to add a blog? Ok, this is actually a trick question – you can have a blog on any of the builders I’m talking about below.
Do you plan to add an e-commerce aspect to your site? Ever? If so, what kinds of things will you need your e-commerce pages to do?
How important is SEO to your website? For some businesses, SEO is a vital component of their overall marketing strategy. For others, it isn’t as much of a consideration.
Speaking of SEO, do you know how to optimize your site for SEO? Some website builders make SEO a little harder, but it all starts with what you are capable of doing or are willing to hire out for. If can be easy to bypass a website builder because you hear it isn’t great for SEO, but if SEO isn’t that important to you it shouldn’t matter. (Read more about SEO at the end of this blog post. I’m trying not to get sidetracked, but there are some overall SEO things I want to mention).
And, possibly the most important question, how much time do you have to learn how a website builder works? How easy do you need it to be?
Now that we’ve explored some questions, let’s look at how the different platforms answer those questions.
You are likely familiar with some of the names I’m going to list and may have already played around with one or two. I highly encourage you to play with the free versions of different sites. In my experience, I’ve noticed that some people really “get” some site builders and clash with others. For example, lots of people love WordPress and couldn’t imagine working with anything else - but it tends to frustrate me.
On the other hand, I know more than a few who have moved from SquareSpace to WordPress because they felt as if they were always fighting with Squarespace.
Whatever you choose, know that you can move to another site builder, if necessary (although it may be a challenge).
I want you to love your website builder. Why? If you don’t like it or don’t feel comfortable using it, you will put off updating your site or adding to it.
The four biggest options are Wix, Squarespace, Wordpress, and Weebly. Those are the ones I’m going to mention here.
If your business is purely ecommerce, then Shopify or Big Cartel may be a better option for you.
This is pick your template, drag and drop builder.
Wix has a history of being a not great option, but has worked hard to overcome that in the past couple of years. The biggest criticism I hear about Wix is that it isn’t great for SEO – which can be true, but they’ve come a long way – even adding an SEO Wizard to their platform – but you still need to know what to do with it.
There are plenty of templates and options – but if you want to go more custom, you may run into issues.
If you think you might outgrow what Wix can do, be aware that you can’t easily move your site to another builder. You’d need to copy/paste everything piece by piece. If your site isn’t large, it won’t be an issue, but it is something to think about.
This is pick your template, drag and drop builder.
Weebly is what this site is built on. I’m generally happy with it, but if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d probably go with Squarespace. I won’t lie – I picked Weebly because I was seeing a lot of Weebly ads around the time I needed to create a site and what they offered was a huge improvement over what I had been using.
Like Wix, Weebly has worked hard to make their platform flexible and user friendly. In the past, I needed to go into the coding of my site to tweak things that can now be done via a drop-down menu. Yay for progress!
Also like Wix, moving your site from Weebly isn’t an easy task.
This is a pick your template, figure out where things are and how they work builder. It makes sense once you understand how they’ve organized it, but it isn’t necessarily super intuitive.
Squarespace is fast, flexible, easy to use, and has lots of options. One of my favorite things about Squarespace is exactly how much you can customize it – which can also be a downside.
If you aren’t a designer, just go with a template you like. One of the benefits of these kinds of website templates is that nearly anyone can have a clean, beautiful site. The downside is that everyone’s sites tend to look the same. If you are tempted to start changing fonts and colors, be aware that your lovely site can get ugly fast if you don’t know what you are doing.
Squarespace is a great middle ground between easy and secure site builders like Wix or Weebly and the more feature-rich, but also more hands-on option of WordPress.
WordPress is considered the absolute best website builder by many – but I believe there can be an element of snobbery hidden in that opinion that overlooks the fact that not everyone needs a Cadillac . Some are perfectly happy with a trusty mini-van that gets them where they need to go.
There is probably nothing you can’t do with a WordPress site. It is incredibly powerful, flexible, and highly customizable.
Depending on how your brain works, you’ll either love it or find there is a steep learning curve.
One of the great things about WordPress is how many “extras” you can add to your site to make it more functional and amazing. Just be aware that those extras (called plug-ins) can become outdated and put your site at risk. WordPress also has a history of being hacked through outdated plugins. The solution is easy – just make sure you keep it updated or hire someone to do this for you.
In the end, there is no one absolute right or wrong answer among these four choices. It really depends on what you need and what you want your website to do for your business.
A couple of notes about SEO:
I’m an SEO nerd, but I also realize that the people I work with, by and large, are not techy so these recommendations are focused on the do-it yourself person who may struggle with updating a site or troubleshooting website issues. I’d rather someone create a website they aren’t scared to touch over something that has all the bells and whistles and is never updated.
If you are choosing a website builder using SEO as the MOST crucial factor, then WordPress is likely the best choice because of Yoast and other SEO plugins you can use. They won’t do the work of adding SEO to your site, but they do act as a handy on-board checklist & guide.
A lot of the SEO issues with Wix & Weebly come from how fast their websites load (something Google considers important and something you can help by optimizing your site) and how mobile friendly they are (something Google considers extremely important and something you can help by making sure any template you use has a good mobile version. If your template doesn’t have a mobile version, switch).
However, if basic on-site SEO is a part of your strategy, you’ll be fine with Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, or WordPress. There are many elements of SEO that make your website more user friendly and can attract more traffic to your site – which is a win all around, so don’t be scared of SEO…it doesn’t bite.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.