Web

Which website platform should you use?

You know you need a website, the only problem is where do you start? Do you hire someone? Do you attempt to do it yourself? There are so many options to choose from that it can seem overwhelming. 

Whether you decide to DIY or hire a designer/developer (like me 😊), it’s important to know a few things about the potential platforms out there.

When I choose the appropriate platform for my clients I look at two things:

  1. What functionality will the site have?
  2. What are their plans for maintenance?

While I can work with almost any platform, I’ve found that one of these three will tick all the boxes. Here are the three platforms I recommend and personally work with.

01. Squarespace

Squarespace is an all-in-one content management system (CMS) which includes hosting, e-commerce, and domain management. It’s a drag-and-drop website builder that allows you to create websites without having to deal with backend coding and development. While there are plenty of similar page builder sites, the reason I recommend Squarespace every time is for their high-quality templates and overall usability.

Cost & Needs

All you need is a domain name and a Squarespace subscription. Their plans start as low as $12/month, and if you work with a creative that is part of Squarespace Circle (like me 😉) we can get you an additional discount on your subscription. All Squarespace sites on an annual plan include one custom domain, free for its first year.

Pros

  • It’s an all-in-one system that handles hosting, domains, blogging, e-commerce, and more. It’s a great base to start with!
  • SSL is included at no extra cost. This is what makes turns your URL from http to https and makes it more secure. Normally you’d have to pay for this separately.
  • No coding knowledge required
  • All the maintenance is handled behind the scenes. You don’t have to worry about any type of plugin or theme updates.
  • No matter which template you choose to start with, Squarespace’s core functionality works the same, something WordPress lacks when it comes to their pre-made themes.
  • All their sites are automatically optimized for mobile
  • If something goes wrong Squarespace has excellent round-the-clock support. They also have very organized tutorials and guides.
  • Cost upfront is much lower

Cons

  • All your eggs are potentially in one basket. This can be a pro and a con, depending upon how you look at it.
  • Layout and functionality are limited to templates capabilities. If you want to do something that is outside Squarespace’s capabilities, you may have to hack the site with code which can get messy over time.
  • I think their blog is a tad over-complicated. I was training a client on the blog the other day, and we both agreed that WordPress’s blog interface is way more user friendly.
  • There’s no autosave or revisions. You have to remember to save your edits. If you make a mistake there is no undo button, which can be dicey if you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • If you’re not working with a designer, your website can end up looking like another template.

Who is it for?

  • You’re on a budget and want something quickly
  • You don’t need advanced features or customization
  • You need just a simple blog and/or eCommerce
  • You’re comfortable with using a pre-existing template as a starting point (as opposed to a custom design)
  • You want to able to easily update your content
  • You don’t want to worry about backend maintenance
  • If something goes wrong, you want to be able to quickly contact someone

Squarespace is the perfect option if you’re just getting started with a website. Their pre-made templates make it super quick and easy to get your website up and running while looking good. Because of everything Squarespace does, my clients are pleasantly surprised to find that’s all they really need.

02. ShowIt

ShowIt has recently become one of my favorite new platforms to work with! ShowIt is similar to Squarespace in that you sign up for a subscription and it’s a drag-and-drop website builder. However, ShowIt shines in two areas:

  1. You have a TON of control over design. Their drag-and-drop editor has a very similar feel to design programs like Photoshop and Sketch.
  2. You can have your blog powered by WordPress, but ShowIt handles all the updates for you!

Cost & Needs

You’ll need a domain name, which you can get from places like Google Domains or GoDaddy, and a ShowIt subscription. ShowIt plans start at $19/month and domain names can be found as low as $12/year.

Pros

  • No coding knowledge required
  • SSL included for your domain
  • Full control over your design on both mobile and desktop. This is a huge pro for me!
  • Easy to upload custom fonts
  • Autosaves while you’re working
  • Text message notifications when someone fills out a contact form. I have a client that LOVES this feature!
  • Great support team and thorough documentation. Their Facebook group is very helpful too.
  • Whether you purchase a pre-existing template or design your own from scratch, making edits will function consistently.
  • If you opt to have a blog, it’s powered by WordPress. WordPress is the best for blogging!
  • ShowIt handles all the updates and maintenance which means you won’t have to update any of the plugins!

Cons

  • It can take a little while to get the hang of their drag-and-drop editor.
  • There are some slight limitations with functionality. For example, if you want a search bar in your header, you’d have to use Google Programmable Search or something similar as ShowIt’s “built-in search” only works on WordPress pages.
  • You’re limited to Google Fonts or uploading a custom font. It doesn’t play well with Adobe Fonts unless you know CSS.
  • You have to design the mobile version as well as your desktop version. It doesn’t automatically come optimized like Squarespace is unless you purchase a pre-existing design.
  • It’s a little pricier in comparison, especially if you need extra features like e-commerce.
  • Unless you purchase their Advanced Blog plan, you’re limited to pre-installed plugins on WordPress. It’s not bad though because ShowIt’s platform, in general, handles a lot of things that you’d normally need a plugin for.

Who is it for?

  • You want full control of your design without having to worry about code
  • You want a more customized look-and-feel
  • You don’t want to worry about backend maintenance
  • You blog regularly
  • Your site has minimal features/functionality
  • You want to be able to easily update your site without having to reach out to a designer/developer
  • If something goes wrong, you want to be able to quickly contact someone

I’ve found ShowIt to be the best solution for my clients who have minimal functionality needs aside from a blog and want a beautiful site but don’t have the budget for a fully custom website.

03. WordPress (self-hosted)

WordPress is a FREE open-source CMS that you download and install on your hosting plan of choice. It has very few limitations and can be custom-coded and controlled by you. The Lovely Geek is a self-hosted WordPress site built from the ground up.

Cost & Needs

WordPress itself is free, but you’ll need to get a domain name and hosting at the very least. I personally recommend Dreamhost’s DreamPress plan (which is what I use) or Blue Host’s WP Pro plan. Hosting plans like these are not only optimized specifically for WordPress, but they usually include extras such as a free domain your first year, SSL, backups, and more. Other costs to consider are themes and plugins which can vary based on site needs.

Pros

  • WordPress itself is free, which means you can go anywhere for your hosting making it as budget-friendly as you like. Just make sure you choose a hosting plan that is specifically optimized for WordPress so it runs at max performance.
  • It’s super customizable. Between the many plugins and talented developers out there, the sky is the limit!
  • Autosaves while you’re working and you have revisions in case you have to undo changes
  • Paired with the Yoast SEO plugin, WordPress is very SEO-friendly!
  • It’s the most popular choice for blogging
  • Easily set up eCommerce with their WooCommerce plugin!
  • You’re in control of your content

Cons

If you’re attempting to do all this yourself and/or you’re not an experienced developer, the following can be cons. Working with a reliable developer/designer (such as myself) should alleviate most of these concerns.

  • Performing certain functions requires knowledge of code
  • You’re in charge of obtaining hosting and your domain name. If you don’t plan on hiring a developer then you also need to get a theme. SSL is not included either.
  • You’re on your own for maintenance. If you don’t stay on top of updating your themes and plugins then you’re opening yourself up to a HUGE security risk. However, if you update without knowing how to troubleshoot you can possibly break your site.
  • It’s a learning curve, especially if you have never built a website before. I pride myself on making the admin as user-friendly as possible for you, but if you’re DIYing it can be a challenge.
  • Not all themes are created equally. Every WordPress theme is different, and you never know what you’re going to get. They are generally overly-complicated because they’re trying to do all the things, and they’re a PAIN to customize. This is a common complaint I’ve heard anywhere from beginners to senior developers. Plus you have to deal with updates and licenses for plugins, and it can very quickly become a headache.
  • While I strongly recommend going with a custom solution tailored to your needs, this can be pricey.
  • If something goes wrong, it might be a challenge to reach out to the right person to fix the problem. You’d have to know what the problem is in order to direct it to the proper channels. Is it a hosting problem, a domain problem, a theme problem, or a plugin problem?

Who is it for?

  • Your site requires very specific/unique functionality 
  • You have a large website and/or large blog
  • You want full control over your entire website
  • You blog regularly or a blog is the primary focus of your website
  • You’re comfortable with code or learning a little bit of code

A self-hosted WordPress site is kind of like buying furniture from IKEA. It can be affordable, but you have to put all the pieces together.

What I Don’t Recommend

There are so many options out there! That being said, these are ones I tend to not recommend, mainly for the way they handle SEO, their quality of templates/themes, and overall user-friendliness.

  1. WordPress.com (okay for a free blog)
  2. Wix
  3. Weebly
  4. GoDaddy Website Builder
  5. Google Sites

How do you choose?

At the end of the day you can’t go wrong with any of these options. Some questions you’ll need to ask yourself…

  • How much control do I want over the design?
  • What does the website need to be able to do?
  • Am I comfortable making edits myself? 
  • When something goes wrong, do I want to figure it out on my own or shoot an email to customer support?

Ready to get started on your next project? Contact me for help!