Nowadays everybody is searching for their very own web presence. Their little piece of the world wide web they can use to share their thoughts and opinions, provide useful information or maybe even buy and sell something. The problem arises when newcomers to the field try to set up a site that will enable them to fulfill their needs.
Realistically most of us fall into this category, so it’s no wonder that we’re always on the lookout for that perfect platform that lets us build anything we want without requiring too much knowledge in return. Based on what you want your site to be, there are several key factors to take into account when considering which of the many available platforms to use.
This task alone is often enough to make you quit entirely. Don’t despair, however, because we’ll be listing what to focus on when making your choice, along with highlighting platforms that are particularly good in a specific area. By the end, you’ll have a firm grasp on the issue and will be on your way to create your perfect piece of the web. For those hungry for more knowledge, we direct you to an even more in-depth analysis here.
The start – choosing a direction
Much like you would choose a character in an RPG based on their stats (that make them good in some things and not so good in others), your first step will have to be figuring out what you want from your site.
Types of sites can range wildly, from blogs centered around original content, through information sites, to eCommerce sites. Each is a legitimate choice, but a choice that will define your approach and alter key features you’ll be looking for and subsequently the optimal platform you’d use.
Since we’re looking at this topic from a beginner’s perspective, we’ll stick to the most popular solutions – WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify. We won’t be comparing them to each other but instead will highlight one or more if the key feature you’re looking for is worth mentioning. So, without further ado, let’s break it down!
Ease of use
Any way you look at it, if you’re just starting out, you need something approachable, to begin with. It doesn’t matter if you have the most advanced and robust tool available if you’re spending more than half the time figuring out how it works.
As a starting point, fewer functions are actually preferable, along with a simple user interface and a quick learning curve. Approaching site-building/management from the ground up like this enables you to establish a strong foundation of basic knowledge you can then further upgrade as you learn.
Gone are the days when site-building was reserved for those that can create a site in a few hours through HTML alone. Because so many small businesses require a web presence the market has shifted to accommodate this growing need.
Weebly, for example, embodies this by implementing a drag-and-drop editor. These aren’t preferred by experienced users because the underlying code gets too convoluted, but having a real-time visual editing tool can be essential for early success. Speaking of visual editors, we must mention WordPress that, while text-based by default has access to a multitude of options through available plugins.
The functionality and ease of use are backend issues – your visitor won’t know how much time you had to put in and through how many hoops you had to jump. All they’ll see is the finished product on the frontend.
While you ideally want something you can pick up quickly, it has to serve its purpose i.e. attracting visitors. Over time, trends on how a site should look have come and gone and we’ve come a long way. From dark backgrounds with neon lettering (the legendary and still active Space Jam site), through slow and complex flash pages (that will fade out now that Adobe is done with flash), to the new slick and minimalistic designs intended to work on a variety of screens.
Now more than ever, more often than not, will you need style over substance just to bring people in, and only then will you be able to share your content. Also, always keep in mind that your site needs to be responsive i.e. that it scales well to all screens.
Mobile/tablet users outweigh desktop users when we’re talking about just browsing the web, and you must account for that. Every platform you’ll find will have an already implemented system so you shouldn’t worry whether some don’t have it, rather we’re just pointing it out, so you don’t forget to use it.
Naturally, all of us would rather forward brand visualization and design issues to specialized staff or outside services. However, since this is rarely a possibility when starting out, you want to look at premade templates.
Professionally made, and in most cases further customizable, these will enable your pages to look the part without really having to do much work. Squarespace excels in this regard, with their templates even earning awards making them a more than a solid choice for those of you that prioritize a striking visual style and overall design.
Outside of Squarespace, Wix also gives you more than enough professionally made templates to choose from with their levels of customization scaled up or down based on the user’s experience. You can be done in a couple of minutes, or lose yourself for hours.
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at how certain key features shape your choice based on what type of site you’re looking to run.
Let’s start with the big one right off the bat. It’s quite common that a small business finds itself in a situation where they have to expand online. In these cases, there’s a high chance something like that could prove to be a problem because of an obvious lack of experience on one hand and a lack of assets to outsource the work on the other.
People tend to look for solutions they can quickly grasp and build a webshop with, no matter how rudimentary, just to fill the form – this is wrong. There’s an old saying – “if you’re going to do something, do it right” and it can be fully applied here.
A good webshop can significantly increase your revenue, more so than anything you can do on the retail level without an online presence. It’s therefore advisable you put some time, effort and even some money into it. Luckily, since this situation is a more and more common occurrence, there are solutions abound. Take Shopify for example.
It’s a site builder that specializes in webshop creation. To emphasize how often it’s used, you need to look no further than the fact that it’s the third-largest online retailer in the US, following Amazon and eBay. If you know nothing else about the platform, this speaks volumes.
Look a bit deeper and you’ll find a streamlined selling experience that features preexisting integrations with other platforms such as the aforementioned Amazon, meaning your goods will be sold on multiple platforms not just one and – it’s done automatically.
It’s also worth mentioning WordPress here – one of the most used plugins on the platform is WooCommerce, you’ve guessed it, an eCommerce plugin. You probably won’t get such a well-rounded experience as you would with Shopify (it’s their primary function after all), but it’s worth mentioning because of how widespread a choice WordPress is as a platform.
Marketing tools and SEO
The online market is dense with all kinds of sites, so finding your niche and rising above the rest is a daunting task, one you’ll have to put considerable effort into.
To get your brand out there, you have two distinct paths. The first one is obvious and centers around marketing and marketing tools provided by your chosen platform. These include elements like pop-ups, email campaigns, or registration forms to entice subscriptions. Elements such as these are different than ads and/or ad campaigns you simply pay for – that you can create irrelevant of the platform you’re using.
The second path is SEO; a term you’ve probably heard of but might be unsure of how important it really is. Search engine optimization, or SEO, just as its name suggests, represents how well your pages and subsequently your site is optimized to be featured as a result in search engine queries.
Since the time of typing in URLs in our browser is long gone and everyone is using Google to get to their web destination, a high SEO rank is critical for higher traffic numbers and therefore overall success, with the holy grail coming in the form of the coveted first page.
While Wix provides very good options through the app market that can put your site on the map and make people take notice, we must highlight WordPress. There are so many plugins that focus solely on marketing tools and SEO that you’ll be hard-pressed not to find something that works for you. Everything from site optimizers, text analyzers, form builders, analytics, and much, much more is ready to go in just a few moments and a couple of clicks, making WordPress your best bet to make an immediate impact.
By now you’ve probably picked up on how many boxes WordPress checks. While it is a great platform, it’s not the best of the bunch, but instead, because of its open-source nature, it simply covers the most ground. Wix works in a similar way with its app market trying to blanket users with functions.
On the other hand, you have more specialized platforms like Shopify that focus on eCommerce and Squarespace that’s all about visual appeal and style. Finally, you have Weebly that’s very simple to pick up and use, but you run the risk of outgrowing it as your needs evolve.
What we’re trying to say is there is no universally “best”, or “perfect” platform out there. The ones we’ve emphasized are certainly the cream of the crop but choosing one among them is impossible and ultimately unnecessary. This article has been primarily about highlighting features to look out for, and those should be your decision-makers going forward with choosing the best platform for you.
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