Setting up a website for your small business is an exciting prospect. It’s a milestone for any brand, with the potential to help you reach new customers or clients far and wide. The journey to launching your new site, however, begins with an important question – which hosted website platform is the best choice for your business? (I’ve also written about self-hosted options like WordPress or Joomla if you need a more scalable and flexible website.)
With so many website platforms to choose from in 2020, it’s important to explore your options. Taking your time here will help you find the site which will best suit your needs and budget. Here’s my guide to some of the most widely used website platforms to help you make the best choice for your business.
It’s worth noting that in the case of each of these website platforms, the “cost” listed is the standard month to month or annual fee including hosting. In each case, there will likely be additional charges ranging from app downloads to payment gateway transaction fees. This is in addition to purchasing and renewing your domain name. Remember to do your homework to ensure you’re happy to accept any further charges!
Choosing the best website platform for your business needs
While website builder sites are fantastic for helping small businesses create really beautiful websites, SEO can be an issue. Wix and Squarespace are known to be limited in terms of their in-built SEO options, so keep this in mind. Being found in internet searches is, of course, a very important consideration.
Wix has evolved from a site many dismissed as a budget way of throwing together your own website to a major player. It has a lot to offer for small businesses as a website platform. Let’s take a look at the features and weigh up the pros and cons:
Cost: £4.50 – £25 paid monthly (£54 – £300 per year) or £36 – £264 if paid in one annual instalment
Pros of Wix:
- Ease of Use – Thanks to their drag and drop website builder, Wix is an extremely user-friendly platform. The site also has a massive template collection available to customers, which is a huge plus for anyone new to website design. The flexible elements allow you to personalise the basic website templates to best showcase your brand.
- Design – Building your site only to discover your template is missing an important feature? Never fear! Wix has hundreds of additional apps to support e-commerce, expand mailing lists and add more functions to the site. Just keep in mind that these apps do come at an additional price.
- Multilingual – The Wix website editor supports 16 languages. This is a massive plus if you’re looking for a website builder to support a multilingual site.
- Back-Ups – It’s comforting to know that your site is automatically backed up by the Wix “Site History” feature.
Cons of Wix:
- Not Interchangeable – While Wix has an incredible range of templates, a major downfall is that these templates are not interchangeable. This means if you are looking to give your site a refresh in a year or so, you won’t be able to simply move it to another template. You’ll be looking at building the website all over again.
- No Migration – In a similarly problematic vein, Wix sites are not currently transferable, and because of this, you won’t be able to migrate to another website platform like WordPress or Squarespace. This is fine if you have no intention of expanding or moving to a more complex website design further down the track. Think carefully about your plans, as transferring to a different website platform will mean starting from scratch!
- Wix Branding – While it is a plus that Wix offers a free version, the free option includes Wix ads and branding. This version also does not allow you to use your own domain name, which looks less professional.
Verdict – Extremely easy to use, with excellent design features and automatic backups, Wix is a fantastic option for beginners. Permitting you don’t have great plans to expand in the future, Wix is a great choice.
? Find out how to best promote your small business website.
Squarespace is often referenced as one of the more visually popular website platforms. It’s known to offer users the ability to create an extremely professional and aesthetically pleasing website. Let’s explore to ensure it isn’t a case of style over substance.
Cost: £13 – £37 paid monthly (£156 – £444 per year) or £120 – £360 per year if paid in one annual instalment
Pros of Squarespace:
- Design – As a platform, Squarespace takes amazing template design a step further than Wix. The designs are cool, modern and sophisticated, with a distinctly professional feel. The ability to create something this slick and professional without the help of an external web or graphic designer is incredible.
- Customisation – For those looking to further develop their site beyond the basic template, Squarespace has the option to edit the website code. This means you can easily move towards a more advanced setup over time.
- Customer Support – The customer support on Squarespace is excellent, with live chat and a 24/7 email ticketing system. This enables you to receive a quick response any time you encounter an issue. For those creating a business website for themselves, this is a huge plus.
Cons of Squarespace:
- User Interface – While the templates are undoubtedly some of the most visually applause-worthy out there, the Squarespace interface is not quite as popular. Unlike some other sites, Squarespace doesn’t offer an easy drag and drop system, which can make it more difficult to navigate for beginners. This could potentially slow down the launch process for those new to website building.
- Technical Issues – Another downfall of Squarespace is potential speed issues on mobile. This is a fairly common complaint amongst users, and not ideal considering that (according to Quoracreative) “almost half of mobile users are said to have chosen to go with a competitor after a negative experience with your mobile site” (quoracreative.com, January 2020).
- Fewer Languages – Squarespace is not the best choice when it comes to building multilingual sites, as only 6 languages are supported by their system.
- Less Customisation – Squarespace does not allow for separate mobile editing, which means that your mobile view will be dictated by how you edit the desktop site.
Verdict – If a really beautiful website is what you’re after, Squarespace is the obvious choice. If you’re just starting out though, you might be best starting somewhere simpler while you build your technical knowledge!
There are two different WordPress platforms to work from – .com or .org. The .com version, discussed here, is more of a “website builder” in line with the others on this list. The .org option is the more complex, but notably more flexible and widely used software, but it requires a much more advanced level of coding knowledge to work with! When choosing the best website platform for a small business, the .com version is a simpler place to start.
It’s no surprise that WordPress features on this list. Since its initial launch almost twenty years ago, WordPress has become a giant in the world of website building for large and small businesses. It is known to be home to some very well known websites including TechCrunch and MTV News, and powers over a third of the web as of 2020.
So, does WordPress as a website platform live up to the hype? Let’s check out some of the pros and cons.
Cost: £3 – £36 per month (paid as one annual instalment)
Pros of WordPress
- Trust – WordPress as a website platform currently powers 34% of the web (Source: Hosting Tribunal, 2020). This is a pretty phenomenal stat, and that level of trust and brand recognition cannot be ignored. The popularity of WordPress means easy integration with lots of handy and often necessary tools is readily available, from SEO software to Payment Gateways. Third-party plugins, however, are only available from the £240 per year Business Subscription up.
- Blogging – WordPress.com is an excellent platform for blogging. If the main purpose of your small business website is to share blog posts, this is definitely the platform for you.
- Back-Ups – WordPress.com automatically backs up your site, giving a level of security in knowing your site is protected. A massive plus when considering the best website platform for your business!
Cons of WordPress:
- Technical Issues – Feedback suggests that glitches and issues with web page speed are common due to regular changes and updates behind the scenes on WordPress. It can also be tricky to keep up with these changes if you’re not a web design expert.
- Less Flexibility – WordPress.com is more in line with a blogging platform than a website builder, which means it offers a lot less flexibility to users than some of its competitors.
- Complex User Interface – WordPress is not a straightforward system for beginners to learn to navigate. Unlike sites like Wix, which offer a fairly self-explanatory website building process, WordPress aligns more closely with traditional sites. This system requires more coding and technical know-how from the get-go. While the .com site is certainly more user-friendly than WordPress.org, both require a level of coding knowledge to make the most of the website platform.
- No E-Commerce – The lower-cost subscription options do not allow for the creation of an online store. The e-commerce option starts at £36 per month.
Verdict – Starting a blog or prioritising blog content? WordPress is definitely the place to be! If, however, your site is more technical, or you have e-commerce plans, you might be best looking elsewhere.
While the previous website builders discussed are website platforms with the option to turn your site into an online store, Shopify is e-commerce specific. In addition to the regular site, Shopify Plus is available to entrepreneurs looking to scale their online business. This makes the site an ideal choice whether you are a small online store or a much larger organisation.
Cost: $29 to $299 per month (10% discount on annual payment and 20% discount on biennial payment). $9 “Lite” plan available for Facebook selling but no access to full online shop
Pros of Shopify:
- Ease of Use – Ease of use is a massive plus when it comes to Shopify as a website platform. The website builder is easy for users to navigate, and also comes with a great number of helpful guides. This makes it a great choice if you’re a beginner.
- Social Media Integration – Easy integration of Facebook and Instagram shopping is a bonus considering that (according to smartinsights.com) “30% of consumers say they would make purchases directly through social media platforms”.
- Customer Service – Excellent customer service via live chat. With quick response time and detailed feedback, the Shopify help centre is a fantastic example of how to keep your customers happy.
- Abandoned Cart – The “abandoned cart” feature is really helpful to follow up with potential customers.
- Point of Sale – Shopify has a Point of Sale option, which allows customers to use the system in a physical location in addition to the online platform.
Cons of Shopify:
- Transaction Fees – The Shopify payments option (which is transaction fee-free) is only available in certain countries. While the website platform is compatible with over 100 external payment gateways, it does mean adding this on will be unavoidable.
- No Gift cards – Gift cards are a fairly standard option for most stores (both on- and offline). Unfortunately for users, Shopify only makes the gift card option available on their more expensive plans.
- Limited Product Options – Shopify has a limit of 3 product options within a single product, which can be an issue for business owners with a wide variety of individual styles.
- Fewer Features – while Shopify has an incredible number of apps to add features on to a website, it is slightly more limited in terms of existing features than some of its competitors. The apps are an extremely straightforward workaround, but worth noting that they may add on an additional cost.
Verdict – new to running an online store? Shopify is the perfect choice. With an extremely easy to use interface and great customer service, building your site on Shopify will make the setup and running of your site as easy as possible.
? Check out my top tips on how to convert more website visitors into paying customers.
Bigcommerce is another e-commerce specific platform and a very well established website builder at that. Some of their more well-known clients include Toyota and Ben & Jerry’s. Offering an extremely “versatile solution” (according to their website), let’s explore their offerings in a little more detail:
Cost: $29.95 to $299.95 per month
Pros of Bigcommerce:
- Existing Features – As website builders go, Bigcommerce offers some of the best options in terms of existing features. This means you are less likely to require external apps or downloads to get your website to meet your business needs. Compared with Shopify, Bigcommerce includes more website features in the month to month plans, which is a definite plus for users.
- Product Options – Bigcommerce offers far more in the way of product options (sub-categories within one product listing), allowing up to 250 in comparison to Shopify’s restrictive limit of just 3.
- Gift Cards – Gift cards are available on all plans.
Cons of Bigcommerce:
- Complicated Terminology – Bigcommerce is not always the most user-friendly in terms of its wording. It can be tricky for beginners to navigate because of this consistent use of complicated terminology, so keep that in mind.
- Threshold for Sales – Bigcommerce has a yearly threshold for sales on each plan, forcing you to upgrade if you hit that mark. The threshold for the standard plan is $50,000.
- Abandoned Cart – The useful abandoned cart feature is not available to customers on the standard website plan, which is another reason an upgrade might be necessary to make the most of your site.
Verdict – used to running an online store and looking to launch something new? Bigcommerce is an excellent choice. With fantastic built-in features and a perfect system for scaling a business, the sky is the limit. If, however, you’re exploring your options for the first time Bigcommerce might be more complicated than you need.
Decision time – which website builder is best for your small business?
The next step is over to you! The website platforms explored above are among the most popular out there, and each has its strengths. When weighing up which is the best website platform for your small business, some things to consider are:
- Whether or not you require e-commerce capabilities.
- The budget you have available to work with.
- The level of technical knowledge you already possess in terms of web design or coding.
And then it’s on to the exciting part! Once you’ve selected the best website platform for your business, go forth and get creative. It’s time to make that dream website a reality.
To read more about how to make your website work for your small business, have a look at these: