Finding the right fit is important when it comes to many things - but many organizations fail to review all options when it comes to their web presence. We’ll take a high level look at three options and review some of the main pros and cons of each.
Custom and Semi-Custom: WordPress/HTML/Templates
Web framework engines such as WordPress have come to dominate the web development industry.
Wow Factor. There’s no argument that custom sites can be impressive. There are practically no limits if you know how to code, implement add-ins, plug-ins and apps.
Templates allow for fast tracking. There are hundreds of thousands of templates available to download on various sites. Chances are pretty good that you will be able to find a layout, color scheme and font that you like with the exact functionality that you need. These templates will (after some training) allow you to enter your text and pictures, ostensibly getting your website up and running in no time.
They’re everywhere. WordPress sites account for roughly 30% of the top 10 million websites in the world. They are found in virtually every language and every region across the globe and continue to grow.
Resources are easy to find. Whether you are looking to add Vimeo to a HTML site or an RSS feed to Wordpress, you’ll find thousands of videos, whitepapers and tutorials on how to do so. You’ll also find thousands of companies willing to help you build, customize, optimize and fix your current site. Training classes are widely available, either as events online or held in person.
As individual as you are. When dealing with websites that require functionality such as member areas, customized forms and similar functionality, custom development is not only the best option but often the only one.
Looks Easy. The "hook” for templates is that they look easy. Running a quick search through Google returns over 287 million results for tutorials. The truth is that the basics are easy enough and you can learn enough to put a basic site up with relative ease, but if you don’t know the inner workings of the code, you are likely exposing yourself, your visitors and your customers to security risks. While you are given a template and some basic directions, you are often left to figure out the rest yourself: How many subjects should be in the header? Can I mix drop downs and direct links? How do I optimize for performance? Where do I enter SEO keywords? Without experience or extensive research, you are likely to struggle.
Price Spectrum. A leading WordPress consulting company is encouraging developers to increase the cost of their sites and services. As a result, they are reporting that the average WordPress site costs $20,000. They even offer training to web developers on how to charge more for sites. On the other side of the spectrum we have the low cost alternative - buy a template and customize it yourself, then upload it to your hosting provider and maintain as necessary. These templates are relatively inexpensive and are often based on leading design. Many website developers use templates to build sites for clients, wrapping the cost into their bid and increasing their margin.
Even outside of the WordPress environment, custom websites or templates can get expensive. Once you add up template costs, hosting, SSL certifications, add-ins, domain costs, content hosting (Podcasts, menus, media, etc), and the like you often end up in the $200-$1500 range just to do it yourself. While you can download the framework for free and templates are cheap, you will likely find yourself spending much more than you originally thought.
Open Source. With frameworks such as WordPress being open source, your encounter the risk of hidden malware or viruses in third party add-ins and widgets. Security is in your hands. You have to install SSL on your own. Templates are built at a point in time and not often updated, so you may be installing security breaches that will have to be updated before you implement your site. Framework defaults often give hackers a clear path to finding files they need to exploit because defaults are not changed by the average user.
Patching. As bugs and vulnerabilities are found in the framework or add-ins associated with these tools, patches and fixes are created and distributed. Constantly. This means you have to either update your framework with a patch or pay someone to do so. These patches often break custom code as well, which results in rework.
Best for: Large entities with budget available, tech savvy individuals, and web design companies looking to build and support websites
online builder: SquareSpace/Wix/Shopify
In response, perhaps, to the growing costs associated with custom website development the industry has seen the rise and growth of companies such as Squarespace, Wix, Shopify and others. These companies market themselves as a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to get online.
One stop shop. Theses providers often offer a single monthly or annual rate which includes pretty much everything you need to have a fully functional website. With the option to purchase email and office suites as well as other integrations directly through a single host, you can wrap up the basic web and office tool needs in one convenient bill. And that bill is often smaller than purchasing each service separately.
Basic and Advanced. The interfaces provided within these tools are designed to be user friendly and generally intuitive. Even if you are not comfortable with getting a site up and running yourself, the maintenance and enhancement of the site can be easily learned. Most of these providers also have a network of partners who provide training and development services as well. Additionally, companies like Squarespace allow for custom CSS and code injection within their templates - providing advanced functionality for web developers.
Closed Source. While platforms such as WordPress are considered to be open source, these providers are closed source - adding security and reliability. They are not only protecting your website and reputation, but theirs as well.
Evolving Design. These providers continually review, tweak and add new templates to their catalog. This means you can update your site with relative ease, keeping your web presence fresh and appealing to your customers. As new functionality is made available, these companies do a good job of communicating out and providing support as well.
Responsive and Optimized. The majority of these providers build their framework to be responsive and optimized for a variety of screen sizes, tablets and phones. This means little to no custom coding to make sure your site is visible to everyone with a screen.
Limited Add-ins and Apps. These website builders were created by companies which form business relationships. As such, the users are subject to the partnerships formed by the platform. While companies such as Squarespace are working to constantly provide more and more applications and plug-ins, the user is still limited to the partner products. The only caveat to this is that many of the hosted template companies allow for custom code, which will allow the experienced user to accomplish just about anything reasonable.
Reliant on features and design sets. There is a certain amount of flexibility that you might have to exchange for the ease of use and security found in these providers. You may be limited to the fonts that the provider has listed or might not be able to frame in other sites or automatically translate your page to German. In many cases, however, the providers are either working towards providing the most requested design features or others have figured out a way to work the functionality in.
Monthly/Annual billing. As with most solutions, you have a monthly bill to pay when it comes to the template driven providers. As an upside, it is a single bill and you often can get discounts when purchasing through a partner developer or if you pay for a year in advance.
Commitment. While some people might tell you that once you have a Squarespace, Wix or Shopify account you are locked in for life or have to start over - it’s not entirely true. There are ways to move your site from any of these providers over to other hosting companies - it’s just not necessarily a do-it-yourself operation.
Best for: Small businesses, restaurants, entrepreneurs, artists, photographers, entities that want help building a site but wish to maintain it themselves, those on a set budget
Basic Builders: GoDaddy and other “free with purchase” providers
Hosting providers all seem to give some form of website builder that you get to use to create a online presence and go live quickly.
Support. Most of these providers offer 24/7 support either through email, chat or phone for no extra fee.
Price. There’s almost always the option to build a website for free when you purchase domain hosting, which makes the price seem very appealing.
Redirect. When you own multiple domains and want to drive the traffic from all of them to one site, you can redirect users automatically. There are situations, however, where anti-virus and security software will block redirects. In order to avoid this, some companies will create a basic page letting the user know that the website they are looking for has move and provide them with a link.
Ease of maintenance. We often hear that users stay with a free builder such as GoDaddy because it was easy to learn and easy to maintain. This certainly is a common theme, but only for the most basic of sites.
Support. While there is 24/7 support available through chat and phone, the scope of the support is usually limited. If you performed any type of custom code, you are on your own unless you want to remove it and anything dependent upon it. Keep in mind, this are the same support staff who answers the phone for domain, billing and customer service - so don’t expect a high level of technical acumen.
Outdated looks. Websites today are generally designed to be responsive, interactive and visually stimulating. These providers simply aren’t. While most are mobile optimized, the look and feel of the sites are generic, clunky and outdated.
Limited Functionality. With these builders, your customization is often limited to selecting from a relative select set of fonts, adjusting colors and choosing one of 6 or so “feels” for the site. Move sections? No. Custom code? No. Apps? Limited. Drag and drop? Nope. You pretty much get what you see. This can cripple a business as it grows.
Limited Volume. If you are looking to sell products online, this isn’t the choice for you. Many of the providers limit the number of products you can have in your catalog and the number of transactions you can complete in a month. Nobody wants their website limiting the amount of money they can make in a month!
Uniqueness. There’s a fairly limited number of templates to chose from and aside from some basic color and font customization, you
Best for: Those wanting to redirect a secondary domain to a primary one, local interest clubs or organizations, students who are learning web design, temporary sites that don’t need depth or functionality.
While there are distinct uses, advantages and disadvantages to each category of website ultimately you have to decide what is best for your business based upon your skill set, budget, and desired web presence.
Quandary Tech Solutions has helped many companies and organizations decide on which approach is best for them. If you would like our assistance as well, please reach out.