How to Choose a Website Platform
WordPress shouldn't be your go-to website platform just because "everyone uses it." To get the most out of our websites, we have to understand who will be using it and what we will be using it for. There are an endless number of platforms to choose from, so I will cover a few of the most common and up and coming below to help you decide. Heck, you may not even need a website; I'll cover that below too.
Is a Website Necessary?
Balancing whether to invest time in a website or social media is becoming a difficult topic for many small to medium-sized companies. It's hard to justify the cost of a website that only gets 50 views a month when a Facebook or Instagram account is generating 1000's of impressions per week. In our opinion, needing a website comes down to knowing what information needs to be conveyed to sell your product or service. For instance, a local clothing store that doesn't sell online could be discovered via search through Google My Business. From there, its products/style could be conveyed through Instagram and Facebook. With that, it would be easy to interact with its audience in smaller format posts about new products or events since its offering is pretty straightforward. Things get a little bit more challenging when a product/service is less mainstream.
If a company were to make heavy-duty construction equipment, more than likely, consumers would need to know more than what is easily explainable on social media. In this case, they would need a website. The same problem of social impressions versus website visits will usually still exist in this scenario. In this case, we like to think of website visitors as more compelled potential consumers as they have taken a step further into learning about a product or service. We'll talk more about how to leverage social to generate website traffic later on.
Wordpress (Hybrid - client/agency managed)
WordPress (wordpress.org, not wordpress.com) is a website framework with a built-in CMS (content management system) initially created for blogging. It is a prevalent platform and has been around for a long time. The benefits to WordPress are its easy setup, user-friendly interface, and a massive library of plugins. Together these factors make it flexible enough to handle pretty much anything.
WordPress's endless features can also be its downside. Since, with little effort, it can do just about anything, unskilled users often add too many plugins/functionality that reduce load speeds, plummet usability, and eventually end up with a mess of a website. Many companies will use pre-made templates for their site's design, resulting in a lot of sameness/boringness across the internet. There are many platforms similar to WordPress, such as Drupal and CraftCMS.
WYSIWYG Editors (Typically client managed)
WYSIWYG Editors are website platforms such as Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace that allow users to design and build websites in a visual editor (What You See Is What You Get). This type of website platform is an excellent choice for small organizations with very low marketing budgets. Making websites with WYSIWYG Editors is by far the easiest way to build a website. To create sites on these platforms, users simply choose a template and swap out the content and base design elements (such as logos, fonts, and colors). Many common tasks can be handled on these platforms, such as blogging, e-commerce, and donations. While all this may sound great, there are numerous downsides to WYSIWYG's that include:
- Lack of customization, especially from a functionality and design standpoint)
- Often over-engineered for basic websites, which leads to UX clutter and increased load times.
- Similar to WordPress, unskilled users can wreak havoc on the site's design/functionality.
- Due to each platform being proprietary, it's hard (and can be impossible) to migrate sites to new platforms if looking to make changes in the future.
Shopify (Hybrid - client/agency managed)
If unfamiliar with Shopify, think of it kind of like WordPress but for e-commerce rather than blogging. Shopify is a flexible e-commerce platform that can range from a template-based design/functionality to a completely customized selling platform with custom automated tasks.
Webflow (Hybrid - client/agency managed)
Webflow is a platform that continues to gain traction due to its technical cleanliness, ease of use, and ability to be completely customized. While most WYSIWYGs export a heap of junk code, Webflow is a WYSIWYG editor that builds sites with concise code that can even be exported and coded on top of by real developers. Webflow's code structure allows for complete design customization (even allowing custom code-based animation) of just about everything.
On top of all of these other great features, this platform has options for CMS or e-commerce functionality. Users building sites on Webflow should know the basics of HTML and CSS, which may require a slight learning curve. If a company wants to manage a Webflow site internally, be sure to account for some upfront training on the platform. We would suggest Webflow to any company with a lower budget that has big goals for their site long-term as it requires no back-end development and, after being built, can be managed internally with little outside help.
Static (Agency managed)
More or less, static websites are websites that have no back end or content management system. To add or update content, the code itself must be updated. While it may seem like this method of building sites is outdated, it is making a comeback. Static websites are completely customizable from a front end and design standpoint and usually can provide the simple functionality that most small to medium-sized organizations are looking for.
It's simple to make static sites stunning since developers and designers tend to be the only people working on them. For that reason, there is no worry of adding functionality or safeguards for untrained users. Typically static websites also have fantastic SEO, performance, and accessibility by nature. If your team is looking for a more hands-free approach and isn't focused on implementing blogging for their content marketing, static may be the way to go!
JAMstack (Hybrid - client/agency managed)
Custom Web App (Hybrid - client/agency managed)
A custom web app is exactly as it sounds, a custom-built web application. If that is still confusing, think of it like a mobile or desktop app, but based in a web browser. Companies looking for a marketing site more than likely do not need a custom web app. Use cases for web apps are typically anything the requires a user to log into the platform (i.e., managing a bank account or searching for houses on a site like Zillow). While websites usually provide information, web apps are built to provide a service. As such, web apps should be designed to help users most efficiently use the service, rather than discovering or finding relevant content (unless it is a news or social app). Web apps are a large investment and definitely can not be explained in one blog post, since they can do just about anything.
Common Missteps When Building a Site
When we look at bad websites, they primarily fail due to how they're built or designed.
Bad Build: Wrong Platform
Whether building a site in-house or using an agency/studio, stand firm on your beliefs. Often, people coding/designing the site will try pitching what they're most comfortable with rather than what's best for the project from a technology standpoint. To reiterate, when it comes to a platform, it's critical that the intended functionality and the team using it determine it.
Bad Build: Lazy Developer
If your website has any weird glitches or poor functionality, make sure someone fixes it. There are no excuses. Plenty of websites have been built that don't have issues. Having a site that functions appropriately shouldn't add to the bill, either. Too often, we see sites made by agencies (skilled professionals) break on mobile devices. Hold people accountable, even for the smallest of details.
Bad Design: Lazy Designer
Sometimes designers will breeze through template-based sites because they are not creatively fulfilling compared to a more custom approach. Beautiful and useful websites are achievable within all budgets. While some lower budget, template-based platforms are less flexible, typically, the templates have good design. It's crucial for designers to play to the template's strengths aesthetically. With that, a website doesn't have crazy animations or 3D interactions to be interesting. Nice typography and a decent color pallet can go a long way.
Bad Design: Ugly Brand
Companies that have ugly, outdated brands should not expect their website's visual experience to be any different. For many small to medium-sized companies, a website is a substantial investment. If considering updating or redoing your website, it may be a great time to modernize your brand. It can be scary if updating something like the logo has a trickle-down effect on other branded collateral/infrastructure. Still, often even a few simple changes can make night and day difference in a website's design.
🛠 Now we build!
It’s safe to say, anyone who made it this far in our article has a solid understanding of what options they have to build an impressive website. Now it’s time to get to work. As with anything, taking the first step is the hardest. If you need a hand breaking ground, shoot us a message! We would love to help get things off the ground, even if we’re not the right fit.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please reach out if you have any questions or comments on what we’ve written. Furthermore, if there are other subjects you’d like to learn or read about that are within our wheel house, we love suggestions. ✌️Read more thoughts