Imagine building your own house. Whether you or a contractor builds it – you will mainly care about the design, layout, and whether the cupboards have enough space, right?
But – you’d also care on a certain level about the materials, engineering, and craftsmanship behind the scenes – even if you don’t know exactly how they work.
You’d want the right materials for the job, so that you’d have a house that lasts; that does what you want it to do; that isn’t a pain to use; doesn’t make you reliant on that builder; and doesn’t break the bank.
It’s the same way with websites – here’s why (and how to choose).
A website consists of…
- Files that can be read by your browser (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer)
- A place for those files to live where your browser can access them
Optionally, a website can have a “backend” system that help you create and manage those files.
And that “backend” system is what we usually call a “website platform,” because hand-coding a website is usually too tedious, too hard to manage, and really quite unwieldy.
Types of Website Platforms
1. Site Builders
Site builders help you create your site, but do not help you manage it.
They are usually included free with hosting plans, or are bundled on your PC/Mac (such as FrontPage, DreamWeaver, or Illustrator).
Site builders do the heavy lifting to create the files for your website – but are typically hard to maintain, update, and do not allow you to manage content (like images, blog, etc) easily. I’ve done reviews of Squarespace, Weebly and Wix who are the three largest players in the space.
2. Content Management Systems
Content management systems use a computer database to store your website information, then uses a computer language (such as PHP if you’re curious) to create, manage, and update the website.
WordPress is the most popular (and is free), but there are hundreds of them on the market – including proprietary systems. Here’s a what the WordPress backend looks like:
3. Specialty Platforms
Specialty platforms are put out by companies for specific purpose websites – such as eCommerce websites.
They usually function like a Content Management System, except that they are owned and hosted by a single company – so they can customize exactly for their customers.
There are also free shopping carts that allow eCommerce – but very limited website management.
Here’s why all that matters…
The platform you or your designer chooses will have costs. Here’s what to keep in mind…
1. Nothing is truly free online. If something is free – then it will usually be pushy about upsells (I’m looking at you, “free site builders”), or will require extra support and training (WordPress), or will be absolutely horrible (the rest).
2. There will be upfront and long-term costs. You should be able to lay them out and predict what they are – including switching costs if you need to change in the future.
Even though the main point of the website will be the look, layout, and feel – the platform should have a good foundation for your website to grow, or just sit there.
Here’s a few questions to ask your designer or ponder if you’re choosing yourself…
- Is it well-supported and regularly updated?
- Is it dependent on a company staying in business?
- Is it dependent on volunteers – and are there a lot of them?
- Does it have good security?
- Does it have good SEO?
- Will I be dependent on my designer?
- Do I have the 100% rights to how I use it?
- Is it reliable?
Will the website platform do what you want it to do?
Will it be easy to use?
Does being able to easily update it matter to you?
(If so – you probably want to avoid proprietary content management systems, and site builders).
Do you need eCommerce bundled, or 24×7 support?
How ShivarWeb Rolls
I use WordPress for everything. I’ll also consider Shopify for some eCommerce stores.
Just like houses – there is no right answer. And your contractor (ie, web designer) probably has very good reasons as to why they are doing what they do.
But the point is to know and be a smart consumer. Be sure to know why and how about your website platform – and if it will get the features that you want.