Big purchases we make in our personal lives tend to turn into something that is a reflection of our personality. Think about it—cars, weddings, houses—all things we have likely done some prep work on, asked others about, and then made a decision based on our preferences and what we feel “is me.” This is because what we associate with needs to be representative of who we are.
Why then do we feel like this doesn’t apply in the digital world? Is your company’s online presence a good representation of what it is like to work with you? And what exactly is the difference between a bad, good, and great website platform? Which website builder is the best? Which CMS is the best?
Think of your website like finding a place to live. There are a couple non-negotiables you should have, without which, it’s not suitable for living.
Wherever you move it should have a roof, ceiling, floor, bathrooms, kitchen, living area, and a place to put a bed. How this is put together can be drastically different—from a studio apartment to a chateau. When purchasing a website, you are getting a place to live in the digital landscape.
So let’s do what every homebuyer does and create a pros and cons list to establish your non-negotiables.
Squarespace & Wix Website Builders (The Apartment)
These drag and drop website platforms do a good job of giving you the basic rooms you need, allow you to rent, and make it as easy as possible to get moved in. Yes, you can change out some paint colors and set up your own furniture, but no one is instructing you on the best way to make the most out of your space. Your company may be at a point where this is all you need, so let’s look at that pros and cons list:
- Gives your company a web presence (a place to live, an address to go to)
- Inexpensive monthly hosting costs (rent, not ownership)
- Allows for some customization (paint on the walls, put in your personal furniture)
- Templates follow the latest design trends (brand new apartment, sleek new and modern)
- No guidance from an expert on what content needs to go where (no interior decorator)
- Time-consuming to set up, even on the easiest website builder (no movers or painters)
- Not a ton of customization allowed (prebuilt layout, unable to switch out materials like carpet or counters)
- No one maintaining your website (you spill red wine on the carpet, see ya security deposit!)
- Don’t own the website (you can’t move your apartment if your landlord sucks). You own the content, but not the proprietary code that powers your Squarespace site.
WordPress vs Drupal vs Joomia (The New Construction)
These website platforms are like going into a new neighborhood and getting to pick from pre-existing blueprints. The foundation and structure are the same from house to house (which makes them tried, true, and secure), but there are many options within each blueprint to make this house completely your own (hardwoods vs carpet, granite vs marble, shower vs tub vs tub shower).
The layout of the house can be customized and, with a team of experts, you can determine what is best for your needs (what is the user’s experience as they visit your home). There are some limitations—the builder will have certain materials and options at their fingertips to offer—but it is much more economical and tested than doing something completely custom.
- Built on a secure, popular website builder—i.e. WordPress comprises 28% of all websites worldwide (a solid blueprint)
- Easy to use Content Management System—meaning it won’t drive you crazy to make updates to your site once it is built (want to add-on to your house, you have that power!)
- Utilizes the expertise of third-party plugins to create experiences like a custom-built website without the high expense (buying a refrigerator from Lowes versus having a refrigerator custom built-into the cabinets)
- You own this site, you can package it up and take it to another host/agency and continue to use the site without issues (you have the keys and if HOA sucks you put your house on a truck and drive it away)
- There are agencies that help build these sites and walk you through the process of how to get the most out of WordPress to reach your business goals (home builders walk you through your options and discuss what is the best solution for you and your home)
- These website platforms can look and feel custom (you can pay for all of the upgrades and even get a subcontractor to put something in that no other house has—it just costs a little more)
- There are limitations to functionality that a purely custom site would allow you to do (you won’t be able to take vinyl house blueprint and replace the vinyl with stone, the structure just won’t support it)
- Risk of reliance on third-party developers (subcontractors, some are great and some aren’t)
- Without guidance, these sites can look horrible and not represent your company well (you can buy log houses where they ship you all of the materials, but if you don’t know how to put it together, it could get ugly)
The Custom-Built Website (The Chateau)
For this we are talking Biltmore, Chateau Elan, Buckingham Palace, or simply a custom built house like no other. Every detail is meticulously combed through and with enough money, your wildest dreams can come true. You will need a team of experts to walk you through how to make your vision a reality to make sure it is the best experience for your guests.
- Get exactly what you want from your website; both what your customers see when they visit your site and what you see when you log-in (every detail of your home to your specifications)
- No other website like it
- Typically a longer process than the two previous platforms (got to grade the land and import the materials)
- Usually on a proprietary Content Management System or not on one at all, meaning that if you want to leave the agency that built your website, you will likely need to start over (that house will be demolished on that property)
- Most expensive option (but it’s a Chateau!)
- Not thoroughly tested (first time they have built this kind of house, may have some long-lasting errors that have to be constantly maintained)
- Lack of community support
DIY vs Freelancer vs Agency (Who is Building Your House)
Now that you have created a pro and con list about which type of house you want, and have a good idea on what is and is not negotiable, you have to decide who you want to build your house. You can have the finest materials, but put together by the wrong hands can create a nightmare. Let’s review our options for who can put together a website for you.
You (Build Your Own Log Home Kit)
How hard can it be right? With Squarespace and Wix boasting the ease of their drag and drop website builders, this seems like a legitimate way to create a web presence for your business. If you have some graphic design/photography background, or at least have dabbled this can be a great place to start.
- You have complete control of what content goes on the website (Pick out the type of wood your log house is made out of)
- No hard costs associated with paying an Agency/Freelancer to build it (no paid labor to build the house)
- Start with templates that guide you on how to build your website (Working off of blueprints and guides to put the log house together)
- Your time is valuable and you can spend a lot of your time getting this setup
- The website will look like a lot of other websites that use the same website builder unless you spend a significant amount of time customizing your content to make it feel different. (How different are log houses really?)
- You will be maintaining your website should anything break (Leaky roof, you get up there to fix it)
- You don’t own the website after putting this much work into it. As stated earlier, you own the content, but not the proprietary code that powers your Squarespace site.
Freelancer (Sole Contractor/Licensed Builder)
You aren’t that handy, but you have heard good things about this local contractor that can put a house together with the highest quality. You have examples of his work and they seem like really great houses. Hiring someone with some expertise is definitely an advantage over doing it yourself.
- You have a go-to person regarding your website
- They bring years of experience to your website project and a different perspective than the one you have
- If something goes wrong, they may be available to help fix it
- Less expensive
- Only one mind helping you set the strategy for your company’s web presence
- Usually project-oriented, meaning freelancers want to go from one new build to the next. Often this results in a lack of support for websites they build in the past, as it just isn’t that profitable for them to continue to are only one person to complete the entire project
- Not guarantee you’ll be able to to get a hold of a freelancer when you need them
Agency (Home Building Company)
The final way you can get a house built is to have a reputable company who has numerous examples of the quality houses they have built, and made it an incredible process for the homebuyer along the way. This is how most people get houses built because of the incredible investment made in building a home, they want a dedicated team of people to make their home what they want, and advise them throughout the process.
- Team of people contributing the strategy of the website to create the best possible result. Someone focused on the user experience, someone focused on the design, someone focused on the quality of the content, makes a much better website in the end (The plumber, the electrician, the contractor, the floor specialist, the foundation specialist, all important in building a great house)
- Can get in touch with someone at the agency should something go wrong
- Typically offers support to keep your website up and running and at a high performance
- Not all agencies are created equal, and it can be difficult to determine who is the right fit for you to work with
- Most expensive option, but price can vary wildly based on the type of website platform you are building on
Other Things to Consider:
Hosting (The Neighborhood)
Where your site lives can be a huge liability if it isn’t in the right neighborhood. You can pay for a completely custom website, put it in a less than stellar area of town, and the performance and security of your website could be compromised. Make sure you know where your website is going to live before purchasing one.
HOA Fees and Amenities
Not only is it important to know where your site is hosted, but also what your agency or provider offers while working with them during the project and after it is live.
- How much is hosting?
- Are they checking for security updates?
- Is support included?
- What are their support response times?
- How often are their websites offline?
- Are they reporting analytics to you in a way that tells you if you are succeeding in your web presence?
- Are they tracking if people are engaging with your website in a way that is producing leads for you?
- Are they sitting down with you to review analytics to find out how to get more out of your website?
- Are they renewing your domain name (web address) yearly for you?
How to Choose a Website Builder
You have to decide which website platform is right for your company based on your specific needs. Regardless of which website building route you decide to take, there are basics that it should have (like the roof, ceiling and floor).