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If you've been hanging out here at all, then you probably know that I'm a big advocate for having a website for your business – whether you've been in business for 30 days or 30 months. (If you've been in business 30 years, then you're probably not reading this! 🙂
One of the first things you need to do before you build your website is pick a website management system – whether that's a full website builder, or hosting with your own CMS. Confused by what all that means? Read on my friend, read on.
What is a website CMS?
A content management system (CMS) is software that is used to create and manage digital content. CMS systems help you maintain consistency across your website and make it easy to build pages, blogs, and more. Common website CMS systems include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
A CMS allows you to manage the master design of your website (like your colors, header and footer layouts, navigation, etc.) separately from the content that appears on any page.
What is a website builder?
A website builder goes beyond just a content management system, adding more functionality like drag & drop page building. With many CMS tools, you may need to work on code (including HTML or CSS) to get your pages to look the way you want. With a website builder, it’s more of a “What you see is what you get” functionality. You add “blocks” to your page (like a block for a headline, image, or text) and then add your content within those blocks. (If you ever used a desktop publishing program like Microsoft Publisher, then you’ll recognize this type of system.)
A website builder makes it even easier to build a website than a CMS alone.
Which is the right CMS or website builder for your small business?
Before we can answer that question, you need to understand the goals of your business. Don’t just think about what you need today. Instead, consider your 3 to 5-year goals for your business. You certainly can change platforms as your business evolves, but you can save time, energy, and money by picking a robust platform from day 1.
- Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you selling products or services online?
- How many products are you selling? (If you’re going to be selling an expansive catalog, then you’ll want an eCommerce platform rather than a CMS or website builder.)
- Are you planning on blogging, video blogging, or podcasting? Some platforms make it easier to blog than others.
- What amplification channels are you planning to use?
Now, let’s get into the choices!
Should you use WordPress for Your Small Business Website?
Whether you choose to use WordPress.com or use the free WordPress.org system, WordPress is now the most prominent content management system in the world. Some estimates say over 30% of the world’s websites are powered by WordPress, including People, the New Yorker, TechCrunch, and Variety.
The platform boasts over 31,000 themes available from over 200 theme developers. Plus, there are over 50,000 plugins available to get your website to do almost anything. Yes, you can even get your website to do silly things like filling the screen with dancing unicorns (Cornify) or a zombie hunting game (Shoot the Zombie).
WordPress recently added additional functionality to their content management system to improve page building, called Gutenberg. There are also independent page building tools you can add to a WordPress.org website, like Divi. I have found Elementor to be the easiest to use, and they’re always adding new functionality.
Pros and Cons of WordPress.Org Websites
- Complete control over every aspect of your website
- Thousands of pre-made themes
- Use the existing page builder or use a drag & drop page builder like Elementor.
- Thousands of free (and paid) WordPress plugins that can add functionality to your site quickly and easily.
- Thousands of freelancers to provide support
- Low-cost to get started
- Performance – there’s not a lot of code to run WordPress, so it loads quickly
- Can add on eCommerce functionality
- No corporate support
- Must provide your own hosting & domain name
- Most commonly hacked (although there are plugins and hosting programs to help mitigate this)
- May need coding knowledge to get everything to work just the way you want
- Lots of updates – both from the core functionality as well as your plugins
Pros and Cons of WordPress.com Websites
- Get started in 5-minutes or less
- Hosting included (custom domain costs extra)
- Choose from dozens of pre-designed themes
- Must pay to upgrade with features like a custom domain name and additional themes
- Cannot upload plugins or themes from wordpress.org repository
- No backend code, database, or file access
Differences between wordpress.com and wordpress.org sites
The most significant difference is hosting. When you use a wordpress.org website, you’re responsible for your own hosting. With wordpress.com, they do all the hosting for you – but not without a cost. You can also choose hosting specifically for WordPress. My dedicated WordPress host of choice is WPEngine. GoDaddy also offers dedicated WordPress hosting capabilities.
WordPress.com sites also have limited functionality compared to a self-hosted WordPress.org website. Even with a paid plan, you’re limited to the plugins and themes that the company has selected.
- WordPress.org: Free for base functionality. Pay for hosting and domain independently
- WordPress.com: Free to $45/month
Should you use Squarespace for Your Small Business Website?
Squarespace has quickly risen to the top of the list when creative businesses are looking for an all-in-one website builder and hosting solution. With award-winning templates and drag-and-drop page builders, Squarespace has fans in the thousands including websites for notable celebrities like Idris Elba and Keanu Reeves.
- Visually appealing templates across a wide range of industries
- Extensive feature set within the website builder
- Full customization control without the need for coding
- Can add on limited eCommerce functionality
- Easy to use – low learning curve
- WYSIWIG Editor – what you see is what you get
- Hosting included – nothing to download, update, etc.
- Security is managed by Squarespace, as are backups and redundancy.
- Everything is built-in. No worrying about conflicts between plugins, etc.
- 24/7 chat & email support
- No app store means you’re reliant on its in-built features
- Can take some time to get used to
- Some users find the terminology confusing
- May not be as easy to use as Wix or Weebly
- Mobile ready
- Most templates rely on high-resolution, professional imagery – which you may not have if you’re just starting out
- No choices on functionality – what they build is what you get.
- SEO is not intuitive – you may have to hunt around a bit to get your SEO data where you want it.
- Limited eCommerce functionality – more like it has a shopping cart & payment functionality
Pricing: $16-$46/month (paid monthly)
Should you use Wix for Your Small Business Website?
Wix used to be the dark pony in this race – hated by web developers and SEO hunters alike. The original website builder used technology that made it very hard to optimize for search engines and had slow load times. In the last few years, Wix has updated their software away from Flash. Wix is now a reliable choice in the website builder market – especially if you only need a website for a short time. (That means I don’t recommend it for regular business use!)
- Competitive pricing for a short-term project
- Free plan available (caveats: no custom domain, displays ads for wix.com, and has limited functionality)
- Robust selection of themes, although not as extensive or varied as Squarespace or WordPress
- Hosting included – including security & speed management
- All-in-one solution – no additional plugins so no conflicts
- What comes out of the box is the functionality that you’re going to get.
- Pricing is expensive for long-term projects
- The “AppStore” is mostly iFrames that you put onto new pages – not a real integrated functionality
- Limited SEO functionality
- Limited marketing tools – like adding FB pixels, etc
- No way to export data if you want to change platforms
Pricing: Free – $500/month
Should you use Weebly for Your Small Business Website?
Weebly, owned by Square, is bridging the gap between a website builder and an eCommerce platform. As one reviewer described it, “it’s not as flexible as Wix and isn’t as sophisticated as Squarespace, but it’s easier to use than both.”
So when should you choose Weebly? To be honest, there’s nothing that makes Weebly stand out against the competition. It doesn’t have the most beautiful designs, nor the most functionality for the price. But it is designed to be easy to use, so if you’re just looking for a simple, straightforward solution, then Weebly may be the right choice for you.
- Simple pricing – including free tier which has Weebly advertising
- Easy to work, out of the box
- Can add your own custom code
- Responsive Themes
- Can create memberships
- Hosting & security included
- eCommerce functionality included
- Strong onboarding program
- Not many themes to choose from
- Hard to organize large websites
- Challenging to migrate if you decide to move to a different platform later
- Owned by Square, which means they may not add too many new features that don’t have a direct benefit to the parent company
Pricing: Free – $38/month
Should you use ClickFunnels for Your Small Business Website?
ClickFunnels isn’t really a “website builder” – unless you ask one of the thousands of affiliates who are recommending ClickFunnels as an alternative to a traditional website.
So what is ClickFunnels? It’s essentially a landing page builder with additional marketing functionality. If your business is selling a single product (or series of products) online, then it could replace a traditional website. Instead of building a site where people navigate from page to page, click funnels focuses on helping you build a funnel or series of pages that moves visitors where you want. For example:
Lead Magnet > Sales Page > One-Click Upsell > Product Delivery
- Designed for conversions and sales
- Upgraded packages include email marketing services and affiliate programs
- Funnel blueprints designed on your goals
- Free and paid templates available
- Visual drag & drop editor
- Not intended for a catalog-style commerce site
- Limits on the number of funnels, pages, and visitors on lower-tier plans
- High learning curve
- Higher price than other website builders
Other Options for Small Business CMS Tools and Website Builders
There’s no way that this is an exhaustive list of all the builders out there. In fact, many hosting companies offer their own website builders, with varying degrees of success. If you already have hosting from one of these companies, it may be worth investigating their options as well. A couple of examples:
Advanced CMS tools, including Joomla and Drupal, are also available. Like WordPress.org, the software itself is free to use with paid options for upgrades. In my limited experience, they’re harder to use and have less widespread support from the freelance community as a whole.
Finding the Right Solution for your Small Business Website
Now you know a lot more about the options out there for small business website builders and content management systems – but how do you know which one is best for you?
Take advantage of trials and demos. Many of these systems offer free trials or demos so you can get hands-on experience before you sign on the dotted line. You'll want to look at how easy it is to use, since you may be working on your website on a regular basis.
Consider support options. Even if you're a fairly tech-savvy person, you may run into some unexpected hiccups in setting up your website. Evaluate the support options available – both from the developer itself and the freelance/consultant community.
Compare features to what you need (today and in the future). Earlier, I encouraged you to document what your business goals were for the next 5 years. Now, align those with the features available on your top 2-3 website builders. Sometimes the additional features you need may be on an upgraded tier that you can move to later without moving your entire website to a new platform.
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