If you are considering building a website, the main question that you will most likely ask yourself is which platform to build it on?
If you have not researched this far yet, then you may be surprised to know that this is not a simple decision. There are a lot of different platforms to choose from, all with their own benefits and limitations. Should you choose Kajabi, Joomla, Squarespace, Weebly, Shopify, WordPress, Leadpages, Clickfunnels, Drupal, Wix or even a custom coded website?
To help you answer this question, we will break these down for you so that you can make a more informed choice and not regret your decision further down the line.
Before you start to think about which platform to choose first be clear of your requirements and what you need it to do. Just as important, also try to be as clear as possible what your requirements will be over a period of time. Can you see this changing? You may want a simple brochure website now, but you may have an eye on setting up an online store next year or growing your own online community. How you answer these questions will have a massive factor in what platform may suit you better than the others and avoid having to rebuild the site later on.
All of the different website platforms can be broken down into two main categories; that being Saas platforms and self-hosted (although technically, we could really get geeky about this and break these down further, these two broader categories serves us well)
SaaS stands for System as a Service. As nerdy as this title is, you most probably use SaaS platforms without even knowing it.
This is a platform that you sign up to as a user and your membership allow you to have your own space within it. It basically is a way of delivering applications over the internet; on-demand services and hosted software. Think Netflix, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Spaces, heck, even Gmail would also be considered a SaaS platform in this wider context.
There are also SaaS platforms that specialise in website creation. The main ones to look out for are Wix, Squarespace, Kajabi, Clickfunnels and Leadpages among others.
With these platforms, you sign up, usually pay a premium fee and the service will equip you with some different templates. Usually it’s a drag and drop page builder so you can lay all of the different elements of your pages out and get everything looking how you would like it.
SaaS platforms are pretty easy to use and some come with nice templates and layouts that you can choose from. A big bonus of using a SaaS platform is that you are also essentially paying them to host your website too, so there is no additional cost regarding having to pay for and set up a web hosting server account. As everything is on their platform, there is also no maintenance for you to do and everything is kept nice and secure.
Your new website will be humming along in the background doing its thing whilst you get on with running your business – nice.
Some services are better than others and in our experience, depending on the client’s usage requirements, we would usually recommend Squarespace.
However, in their ease of use and simplicity also comes their restrictions.
The main downside of using a SaaS platform to create your website is that there are limitations to what you can do on the platform. These are fine if you just require a simple brochure website and/or a very simple online store. Some platforms also allow you to set up online courses too and a few other things but you will always be restricted to what the platform offers and you cannot expand out further if the platform doesn’t support that.
Very often as your business grows and changes, you may find that you will soon outgrow a SaaS platform and will be looking elsewhere as you need to expand outside of its capabilities.
If you are considering using a SaaS platform really do your homework and look into the small details. Sometimes its the small details that may catch you out. For example, having a simple online store is great, but if you want to use a payment processor that is not supported then bad luck, or you may want to create different bundles of your online courses, which again, you may face limitations in doing so.
We at Digital Startup Solutions have seen quite a few clients who have come to us to rebuild their websites away from their existing SaaS platforms onto something more substantial as their online business was growing in areas that their existing platform no longer supported. Unfortunately, SaaS platforms will not let you migrate your fancy-looking website away from them, so the only course of action is to literally rebuild the entire site from the ground up, which can be a lot of work.
A self-hosted website is just that, you host the website yourself. In fact, you have complete responsibility for it in every way, from the setup, its maintenance, security and sorting out any issues should (or when) they arise.
However, don’t let this put you off because the reverse is also true. As you are in complete control, it also allows you to create pretty much anything that you require. And it is this flexibility that makes them great choices for an evolving online buisness.
The three main self-hosted platforms are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.
So popular is WordPress that we would recommend this over any other platform, any day of the week. We recommend it so highly just because it is so popular. This means that there are countless tutorials for it, most add-on software is written for it and most web developers are proficient in it. We are not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with Joomla and Drupal, it’s just that the sheer scale of WordPress makes it’s choice a no-brainer – WordPress is so popular as a platform that a staggering 25% of the entire internet is now based on it!
Consider that giants such as The BBC, Bloomberg, Star Wars, Sony Music, MTV, Microsoft, Disney, The New York Times to name a few, use it.
**** we are just going to throw some confusion in here. WordPress can also be utilised as a SaaS platform as well as self-hosted. If you choose the SaaS version of WordPress, then you can migrate your site away from it and host it yourself. We wouldn’t really recommend doing this and if you are looking at WordPress as your platform of choice, then self-hosted is the way to go, and what the remainder of this article will be discussing. ***
What makes WordPress so flexible is its use of add-on software called plugins. There are currently 55,000 plugins in the WordPress depository and countless more private ones beyond that. These are specialised bits of software that is written for a specific ability or task.
Want a high-functioning online store? No problem. What about a membership area? Or for users to make appointments and that appointment to automatically sync with your business diary? Yup, no problem also. We have written an article on plugins which you can find here.
The main thing that you will also require to run a self-hosted website is the hosting. A good web hosting server account can be as little as a few bucks a month and this can be upgraded as and when you require it. These days the server is set up for you and its not tricky to get your site up and running.
With a self-hosted website, it may be a bit more of a hassle to get things up and running initally, but over the long term, you have a website which you can adjust, add to and pretty much keep for as long as you need it.
If, on the other hand, you just need a really simple site, then Squarespace is definitely the way to go. Just bare in mind that if your future needs changes, then it’s likely you will be rebuilding it on a platform like WordPress eventually. It just depends if you want that hassle further down the line.