Welcome back for Part 3 of How to Build a Website! At this point, we’ve covered Picking the Perfect Domain Name and How to Choose a Great Host. Now, on to platforms – that sounds fun and techy, right? In this context, we’re just going to define a “platform” as the type of software that runs your site. You’ve probably heard of a few of them at least – WordPress, Squarespace, maybe Shopify – but, like hosting, where do you start? It depends on what you want the site to do. Sorry, I’m sure you wanted an easy answer.Jumping right into it, the majority of the time for business owners we recommend WordPress. It’s super flexible, open source, doesn’t cost anything additional the software itself to install on your host, and you can make it look like virtually anything.
By “flexible,” I mean you can do virtually anything with WordPress. We’ve built:
- Business Directories
- Social Networks
- Learning Portals
- “Normal” Websites & Blogs
- E-Commerce Sites/Stores
- Hotel Booking Sites
- Online Fitness Training/Gym Management Systems
- Event Calendar Based Sites
- Real Estate Listing Search Sites (Like Zillow, Trulia)
And a bunch more.
However, there are some circumstances where another platform is a better solution.
If You Only Want to Do E-Commerce
If you’re only looking to start an online store, then WordPress may not be the best solution for you. Shopify offers a great platform for creating a nice looking online shopping experience and helps get you rolling really quickly. Shopify runs right around $30/mo, but you don’t have to have another hosting plan, so feel free to ignore the last post about hosts.
The downside here is if you want to add a blog, it’s tricky. Shopify and other e-commerce platforms like BigCommerce are great for building online stores but are limited in other ways.
If You’re on a Tight Budget (and don’t have the time to learn WordPress)
Companies like Squarespace and Wix offer drag and drop website builders that are great for people who don’t have the time to learn WordPress and don’t have the budget to hire a professional designer. At around $10/mo, you can get a pretty nice looking site up in a relatively short amount of time. Like Shopify, you won’t need another hosting plan.
The drawback to these is their limited functionalities. For instance, if you want to add a shop to your site, an event calendar, a blog, or a “Sign up for My Newsletter” box, there’s either a big upsell, or it’s just not possible. So while you’re saving money upfront (while your site is simple), if you want to add any functions down the road, you’re often out of luck.
Additionally, if you start out on Squarespace or Wix and want to leave to build a site on another platform, it’s a major pain to get a hold of your domain name so you can move on. In my experience, it feels a bit like The Hobbit – trying to wrestle away gold/treasure/the Arkenstone/your domain name from Smaug.
If You Have Extreme Security Concerns
If you’re a bank or a hospital you may want to consider a more customized option, so as to ensure the maximum security available (basically because you’re dealing with social security numbers). Solutions like Kentico may be better, as they are not as widely used (mostly due to the cost of licenses), and thus not as likely to be targeted by malware. However, using a niche platform isn’t enough to keep you safe. If you’re dealing with sensitive information, you most certainly need to involve a security professional in the process of building your site.
If You’re Wanting to Start Your Own Blog (with Zero Cost) for Fun
If you’re just looking to get in to blogging for fun, then don’t go getting a domain and hosting and installing WordPress.
On a bit of a side note, “WordPress” is a two-fold organization. There’s WordPress.org, which is the website where you download “WordPress” as a piece of software, and WordPress.com, where it is already installed, but you can get a no-cost blog up and running. However, it is limited in it’s functions and pretty much only functions as a blog. When we mention “WordPress” up above as flexible and what not, we’re referring to the software at WordPress.org. It’s genius.
Anyway, so if you’re wanting to start a blog with no money down, a good place to start may be Blogger or WordPress.com. You’ll get a domain name like: http://YourNewBlog.wordpress.com or http://YourNewBlog.blogspot.com .
Both of these platforms are totally free and are a great way to get a blog up and running with no money down so you can test the waters a bit.
Much like hosting, there are a ton of options out there – but we like to encourage people to use WordPress, except in select situations. Even if you want to build the site yourself, picking WordPress (.org) doesn’t necessarily leave you on an island as there are tons of walk-throughs, videos, and guides on how to build a great site.