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How to Select the Best Website Platform for Your Small Business
I often get this question. It’s one of the most important decisions a business owner can make for their website. Not all website platforms are created equal. It’s important that you select the right platform for your business. There are six areas that should be your focus when evaluating the various website platforms available on the market.
Types of Website Platforms
There are so many platforms available for you to host your business website. While most platforms are similar, they are not all the same. There are two types of website platforms: self-hosted and cloud hosted.
Self-Hosted Website Platforms
Self-hosted website platforms like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla are popular due to their flexibility. A platform is considered self-hosted if the website owner purchases website hosting from a host company such as GoDaddy or Blue Host. Website hosting can cost you anywhere from $5.00 to $50.00 per month, depending on the features you select.
Self-hosted website platforms offer you the flexibility you need to create any type of website you like. In addition, self-hosted website platforms allow you to keep control and ownership of your platform. On the flip side, there can be a learning curve to creating your website using one of the compatible content management systems.
Cloud Hosted Website Platforms
Cloud hosted website platforms are all-in-one packages. You pay one fee for all of your necessary features like website design, hosting, e-commerce, marketing, etc. Cloud hosted website platforms can be thought of as turn-key operations. You can easily drag and drop your text and images into a template and have your site up and running within days.
While cloud hosted website platforms are desirable to novice business owners, there is a downside to them. You do not own the platform and therefore cannot make major changes to your website and the way things are displayed. Cloud hosted website platforms can be rigid.
7 Areas of Focus
Technical support is going to be the number one key to a successful website. If you are a novice or completely green when it comes to building a website, you are going to need very good technical support.
Not all platforms have dedicated support. For example the self-hosted WordPress platform may not have dedicated technical support, depending on your website hosting company. Some hosting companies will offer free limited WordPress support by phone or email, but not all.
Most cloud-hosted website platforms offer some sort of technical support, but you’ll want to check the times of service. Some of these platforms are not located in the United States and may not offer convenient customer support hours. Other companies don’t offer phone support, only email support, which may be a slower process that you’d prefer.
Most websites start as a template and morph into something more customized. The level of customization varies depending on the platform you use. Self-hosted website platforms will offer you more flexibility with respect to customizing your website.
Cloud-hosted website platforms also allow you to start with a template but the level of customization can leave a lot to be desired, especially if you don’t have a coding background. However, the pre-made templates can make it easy for you to get a website up and running quickly without the mess and fuss of custom designs.
It’s rare that you’ll want just a plain website. Most businesses require some additional features. Whether that be e-commerce, appointment setting, membership or the like; you’re going to want something extra on your site.
Most cloud-hosted website platforms offer these types of extra features for an additional cost. For example, SquareSpace is currently selling their basic website package for $12/month USD, however if you want to add e-commerce, you’ll be looking at $26/month USD.
Whereas, if you were to use a self-hosted website platform, you’d more than likely be able to setup e-commerce for free. But not all features will be free. There are some “plugins” available for a fee that can be used to expand functionality on your website.
No matter which platform you go with, you will always own your content (unless otherwise stated by the platform’s terms and conditions). Most of the larger, more well-known cloud hosted platforms, allow you to maintain ownership of your website, but not the platform itself. This means, at any time the platform can be taken offline without consent and could interrupt your business.
The same (sort of) holds true with self-hosted platforms. The website hosting company can make updates and adjustments to their servers which could, in turn, bring down your website. The difference is, with a self-hosted website platform, you own the platform too. Not just your content. This means you can make changes to the bones of WordPress if you choose. Not sure why you’d want to, but the choice would be yours.
You always have the right to change your mind. You may decide today you’d like a Wix website and next year decide to go with WordPress. This is totally fine! BUT, check on transferability before signing up for anything. How easy is it to transfer a website from one platform to the next?
For example, SquareSpace has the ability for you to export your website content from SquareSpace to WordPress if you want to. This is a great option and means you can move your site whenever you’d like. This gives you better control over your website.
The final area of importance is cost. You want to spend your budget wisely. Think about the math when deciding on which platform to choose. Let’s look at an example. The going rate for a basic website is $1k. This is to have it professionally designed using something like WordPress. Next, you’ll need a domain name which will run you about $13 a year, but you can often get a free domain name with hosting. Now, like I mentioned earlier, hosting can run you anywhere from $5 to $50 per month. Let’s say you go with a $10/month package. So now, you’ve got a professional website up and running on a self-hosted platform for $1,120.
On the other hand, let’s say you want a basic website, but want to build it yourself using SquareSpace. The basic website (as mentioned previously) is $12/month. That’s $144 / year. This doesn’t include the hours of time you’ll put into designing and setting up the website. Every hour of time you spend trying to build your website, is an hour away from running your business. This must be taken into consideration as well.
When deciding on a website platform, it’s important you not just consider cost, but the other things discussed in this post. You want your site to be fully-functional, aesthetically pleasing, and accurate. You can get all of that using either self-hosted or cloud-hosted solutions. You must choose what will work best with your company and your budget.
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