Website platform comparisons
With so many options how do you choose the best website platform for your business? We compare the most popular ones to help you decide.
Reading time: about 8-9 minutes
In part 1 of this topic we compared WordPress, Joomla and Drupal and now will discuss Squarespace, Shopify and Wix.
The concept behind Squarespace is simple: it’s a website publishing platform that lets you build a sleek looking site without necessarily resorting to coding. It does’t have as large a market share as the previous 3 CMS platforms we discussed, but its popularity over the last few years has been on the rise.
- Customisability – The number of templates available is dwarfed compared to other platforms but there is a decent range available. They are editable but unless you know how to write custom css you are limited to the options available in the customiser which is usually just basic things like colours and fonts. It doesn’t come with a great amount of extension options either but the lack of choice makes it simple to use and appealing to beginners who want to get something up quickly and take care of ongoing management themselves.
- Cost – Squarespace is a fully hosted platform so you won’t have to buy web hosting. You also won’t have to invest time or money in ongoing maintenance, updates and storing back-ups as this is all-inclusive. As for their plans, these range in price from $16 to $52 per month dependant on your needs, and being simpler to set-up, development costs to initially create a site for you should be more affordable. If you plan on selling via the site, its worth noting that payment gateways are limited and they charge a 3% transaction fee if you’re on a non-commerce plan.
- Site Speed – Reviews demonstrate that overall, site speed is somewhat of a weak point for Squarespace. There are built in functions but fine tuning is not available. For most users, this isn’t a massive issue but if you’re in a competitive niche it could be a factor worth considering.
- Security – Security on the other hand is great and is all taken care of for you by the platform. You also get an SSL certificate (adds extra security and encrypts data) included which is great for user peace of mind and is beneficial from an SEO perspective also.
- Support – They have a support team dedicated to its own website builder as well as a library of support articles, videos, live chat, email support and a community forum to help you build your website. Professional support beyond this is also readily available.
- SEO – The platform has built-in SEO tools to boost your website but online reviews indicate this is both limited and not user friendly, with some sections not even using the correct terminology which can be confusing, especially for novices.
- Ease of Use – Adding and editing content is very user friendly and requires only a small learning curve. Some (especially beginners) will most likely require professional help to initially create the site and provide some education, but most users can take care of on-going management themselves with little effort and cost, which makes it very appealing.
Types of websites you can build with Squarespace:
Squarespace is very versatile in that you can create a wide variety of sites ranging from simple one-page portfolios to fully integrated e-commerce sites. There really isn’t any limit as to what kind of site you can create, but there are limitations as to how far you can customise and add certain functionalities to it. Depending on the type of site you’re creating this will either be a non-issue or a hindrance.
Squarespace has a lot of advantages in that its very affordable to get started and a lot of the ongoing work is all taken care of for you. Additionally, its aimed at people who lack expert tech skills so has been created to be user friendly enough that you can manage it yourself. Developers love it because when they hand over the site to their client they can be confident they will have an excellent user experience. It’s limited features might not be ideal for all business owners but for simpler websites and in terms of ease of use for absolute beginners Squarespace is a great choice.
Shopify is an all inclusive platform created specifically for e-commerce websites. At the forefront of its development is convenience, ease of use and great support.
- Customisability – There are hundreds of website templates to choose from which do allow for some basic customisations within the theme options itself, but further alterations to code can also be made with the help of a developer. You can also extend functionality of the template and functions with hundreds of available free and paid apps.
- Cost – Shopify is a fully hosted platform so you won’t have to set-up or buy web hosting. Their plans range from $29 to $299 per month (more for large scale websites). The standard set-up is usually suitable for most small businesses but if you require paid apps to extend the functionality of your store the ongoing costs can quickly add up. On paper the cost for Shopify can appear expensive compared to other platforms but the appeal is that most people can manage the site themselves and not have to worry about any maintenance. Depending on how far you want to customise the theme, initial development is usually very affordable not being as complicated as other platforms to set-up.
- Site Speed – Performance is mostly taken care of for you already and generally site speed for Shopify sites is very good. Users can improve things even further by other factors such as choosing a quality theme, limiting apps and optimising images.
- Security –This too is completely taken care of by the platform. All sites get an SSL certificate (adds extra security and encrypts data) included which is great for user peace of mind and is beneficial from an SEO perspective also. Shopify is known for always keeping their security systems up to date with best practice.
- Support – This is another great feature of Shopify as they provide 24/7 support via live chat, phone, email, and Twitter. For users who want to fix things on their own, Shopify offers extensive documentation, how-to guides, knowledge base, video tutorials, and forums. There’s also an abundance of developers available when you need professional assistance.
- SEO – Being an e-commerce specific platform, Shopify structures its SEO around ranking for products, which makes it terrific for that purpose. The built-in SEO functionality is strong and can be extended further if necessary with apps. A big part of how Shopify lets you arrange sites is with categories which is not only great for your users but search engines love it too.
- Ease of Use – An easy to use drag and drop interface makes it ideal for those who are looking for something that is quick and easy to learn and manage themselves. Managing your products, sales, and inventory inside Shopify is also user friendly and being an all-in-one solution makes it very convenient. Most people will need a developer to build their site and some initial education is required to learn its ongoing management, but even non-techy people can quickly get started with this platform.
Types of websites you can build with Shopify:
Shopify is a website platform designed specifically for online stores and can cater for small businesses right up to enterprise level sites with thousands of products. It’s completely scalable so you can adjust your plan accordingly as your business grows. If e-commerce is your primary focus, Shopify is a great choice.
As a dedicated e-commerce platform Shopify comes with a range of integrated store management tools; inventory management, statistics, marketing solutions and more. It also handles all the technical parts of your store which means you don’t ever have to worry about maintenance. Its completely scalable and can grow as your business does. Like anything there is a learning curve involved but it is very user friendly (even for complete beginners) and Shopify support is excellent. One disadvantage is you don’t have full control over everything and additional costs for apps can quickly add up which can make it expensive for start-ups.
- Customisability – There are hundred of templates to choose from but there isn’t much control over advanced features. You can access the code behind your site for greater customisation but this will require the help of a developer. Building tools including a drag-and-drop editor make it easy for beginners to design pages and there are also hundreds of third-party apps to extend the functionality of your site. One downside is that you can’t switch templates after your site has been published and if you do switch you’ll lose your content and have to start over.
- Cost – Wix has a free plan, but only if you use a Wix subdomain (e.g., yourwebsite.wix.com) and this also comes with limited functionality and display ads that you have no control over. The paid plans (to remove the above) range from $11 – $35 per month; the higher your plan, the more features you unlock. As a fully hosted platform you won’t have to set-up or buy web hosting or worry about ongoing maintenance. Wix is also appealing to some as you can usually build the site yourself without the help of a developer at all, saving on initial set-up costs.
- Security – This too is also managed by the platform and all websites come with an SSL certificate (adds extra security and encrypts data) included in all their plans which is great for user peace of mind and is beneficial from an SEO perspective also.
- Support – Wix provides free help by phone and email, plus hundreds of articles and videos are available to help you build your site. If you get stuck, you can also submit your question to the forum. Answers are usually prompt but sometimes a bit of email back and forth can occur until the issue is solved. Wix isn’t very popular with developers so finding professional help might not be as easy, but usually you can solve any issues via the aforementioned avenues anyway.
- SEO – Wix has a lot of SEO features built-in and there’s apps available if you need guidance or keyword support but it is limited. If most of your leads come from word of mouth, referrals, social media, etc. then people should be able to find you when they google your business specifically, but if you rely on non-branded organic searches you will have a serious disadvantage.
- Ease of Use – Wix is generally known to be easy to use for everyone with a quick learning curve. Most people can manage both the build and ongoing management of a Wix site so that and the associated savings are what make Wix particularly appealing to those on a small budget.
Types of websites you can build with Wix:
Wix is suitable for anything from personal online portfolios to small business and e-commerce websites. It doesn’t accommodate for larger more complex sites though and customisation and functionality options are limited so it usually appeals to small businesses and start-ups with a limited budget and who are happy to go with something fairly simple.
Because you can build a site with Wix cheaply, its a great platform to at least get you online if you have a very limited budget. It’s also handy that all the tech side of things is taken care of and you can manage ongoing changes and updates yourself. Should your business expand in the future though you might outgrow it and end up spending more anyway on a re-design. Like all things, you get what you pay for.
How to choose the best website platform for your business
Now that we’ve covered 6 of the most popular platforms, which one is the best?
All have pros and cons and which one is best is dependant on a number of factors such as your needs, budget, time and skills. Here’s some questions to ask yourself to help narrow down the list:
- What is the primary goal of your website?
- Do you want full control over the design and/or functionalities or are you willing to have some restrictions?
- Budget: how much can you invest on the build and ongoing maintenance?
- Are you tech savvy enough to use this platform, or willing to pay someone else to manage it for you?
- How much time are you willing to invest in education if you want to manage the site yourself?
- Growth: Is the platform adaptable should your business grow and expand?
What’s our favourite platform?
Of all 6 platforms discussed, WordPress, Squarespace and Shopify stand out for me as favourites.
If you’re looking for a versatile, fully customisable, adaptable and professional website within a reasonable budget you really can’t go passed WordPress; there’s a reason that it powers almost 1 in 3 websites across the globe… nuff said 😉
For those who have smaller budgets and a simpler website is sufficient, then Squarespace is a great alternative. With everything all-inclusive, no maintenance and the ability to take care of ongoing management yourself, its no wonder it’s popularity over the last few years has continued to rise.
Finally, if you’re building an e-commerce site specifically and want an all inclusive solution that you can manage yourself and not worry about maintenance, then Shopify is a great choice. Yes, the costs to run it can add up depending on how far you push it, but what you get in return is really great value for money.
We hope this article helps you to choose the best website platform for your project and of course if this is something we can help you with, feel free to get in touch!