Arguably the most important and first step in creating your own website is to choose the right platform. When I say ‘platform,’ I’m talking about the builder or software you use to create your website. But first in order to know which platform to choose you need to know which features are going to be the most important for you. So let’s run down the most common website features and see which ones you’re going to need.
Common Website Features to Consider
In order to seem professional you’re going to need your own domain name rather than being on a website company’s subdomain. (Example of what you want to avoid: ‘yourbiz.weebly.com’ or ‘username.wix.com/sitename’) What this means is you have your own address that is simply like ‘yourbusiness.com’. This is pretty standard and most paid website platforms will allow you to do this.
Self Hosted vs Hosted Solution
You’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about. This refers to how the website files are hosted (stored) on the internet. Self-hosted means that you set up a hosting account with your choice of web hosting company, then you install your website platform within your hosting account. This means that you are in control of your website files. You can download or back up your files and switch to a different web hosting company at any time if necessary; you are not tied to a single web host. On the other hand, if you opt for a hosted solution, you have no control over where or how you are site files are stored; that is controlled by that platform. for instance WordPress (.org) or Weebly can be self-hosted solutions and you install the platform software on your hosting account. Squarespace, on the other hand, is hosted by Squarespace and you can’t download your website and take it anywhere else; you are bound to Squarespace’s servers.
I’m sure that you are gonna want to compare pricing. Knowing if your platform is a hosted service or self-hosted will help determine your costs. Many platforms are hosted and have a monthly fee to power your website. Some platforms are independent software (self hosted) and possibly even “free,” which means you will need to pay for general web hosting which can range from $4-20 per month on average.
Templates that use Responsive Web Design (Mobile Friendly)
This is so important nowadays. Last year Google announced that more searches take place on mobile than desktop in the USA and 9 other countries. And 2 weeks before that announcement, Google rolled out a new search algorithm which gave favor to websites that were considered to be mobile friendly. (Tip: You can check all your pages with the Google Mobile Friendly Test Tool.) When choosing a website platform, it is crucial to ensure that you will have template options that are optimized for all devices.
If you want to establish professionalism around your brand, you’re going to want email accounts set up on your own domain. (So no more operating as firstname.lastname@example.org!) You should be able to set up a few email accounts with your own domain name. This can usually be set up within your hosting account if you’re self-hosted.
Variety of Templates to choose from & Ability to customize
You want to have a website that is beautiful, looks up-to-date, and matches your brand. Imagine what you want your website to look like in terms of overall layout. When searching for a website platform, you want to make sure there are plenty of template and design options. Another important factor is the ability to customize your design. Some templates are more customizable than others so you’ll want to know what can and cannot be changed within the certain template you’re looking at.
Not co-branded / no ads
Some free website builders are supported by advertisements or co-branded with the logo of the platform on which your building. For instance with a free or low-cost level Wix site, you will have the Wix logo and “powered by Wix” on your website, which is not professional looking at all.
Number of users or logins
Are you the only person who will need to log into your website? Or do you have assistants, employees, or a web designer that will need their own login? Some platforms only allow you to have one user.
Embedded video or maps
Consider if you will want to embed video, maps, or any other special media on to your website. Typically this will involve a code snippet to embed from a third party and your platform needs to have the ability for you to add those code snippets onto your website.
Do you want a photo gallery for your business website? You may want to include a portfolio on your website or examples of your work. Take this into consideration when you are shopping around for your website platform.
Do you want to include a form in which your website visitors can fill out their name and information which will be transmitted to your email account? The benefit of a contact form over listing your email address on your site, is that it can greatly reduce the amount of spam from automated web bots crawling your site and sending junk emails.
If you want people to easily search your site for information you will need to have a search function on your website. If this is important to you make sure that you choose a platform that will enable you to add this feature.
A blog can be a great way to post announcements, news, or articles for your business. If you have ever heard the phrase, “Content is King,” this is what you need. Blogs are also great for search engine optimization (SEO) because Google takes into account freshness and content when deciding if your website is pertinent to a user’s search query.
Do you really struggle with technology and computers? If you lack searching skills when it comes to finding answers, you might want to consider a platform that provides phone support, email support, or live chat support.
Does your platform provide your website stats or are you able to integrate to Google Analytics? If you want to keep track of how much traffic you’re getting, where the people are coming from, which social media outlets and ads are most effective, and how users are interacting with your site, you want Google Analytics!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You want to choose a platform that is built with search engines in mind – that the site will be easily crawled and indexed, so that you can be found in search results! WordPress allows you to easily manage the basics such as permalinks, titles, headings, alt text on images, and content of each page.
E-commerce / shopping cart
There are so many considerations when it comes to e-commerce, that this could be an entire blog post all on its own. First be sure if you want to have an online shop, that the website platform to choose has a robust e-commerce functionality and any features you want or need. Some builders have limitations on number of products or are limited in their capabilities and options or require much higher monthly fees for the good features. If you’re considering WordPress, the e-commerce plugin you’ll probably use is called WooCommerce. Here are some points to consider when you are shopping for your website platform.
- Number of products
- Digital or physical products, bundles, and/or subscriptions
- Payment Gateway options
- Inventory Management
- Integration with Point of Sale system (POS)
- Low or no transaction fees
- Shipping options
- Shipping calculator
- Real-time carrier shipping pricing/integration
- Supports Multiple Currencies / International Transactions
- Search, Sort, and Filter
- Product Tags and Categories
- Related products
- Product ratings and reviews
- Sales tax calculations
- Coupon codes
- Gift cards
- Customer loyalty programs
- Dashboard and Sales Reports
- Integration with Google Analytics
So think about which of these features are important to you and your business. Some of these might not be important to you at all.
Identifying your needs is the first step to making a smart decision on the website platform for your business.
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Common Website Platform Options
Here are some of the most common website builders and content management systems (CMS) for you to research and compare. I’m pretty upfront with the fact I’m biased towards WordPress (.ORG!), but this is your decision to make, not mine! I also have a lot of experience with DNN and some experience with Drupal (both of which are more appropriate for developers, as is Joomla.) I can also say that I have heard good things about Squarespace and Shopify.
- WordPress (.org)
Okay, so you have a lot to think about. My suggestion is to make a list of your “must-have” features and then a secondary wish list of “would-be-ideal” features. When you compare and consider different website platforms, you will be ready to identify whether or not a website service or platform is a good fit for your business or not. During your research you may notice that some services seem very shiny with lots of bells and whistles, but be aware of clever marketing and what subscription level you must have for all those features you want and need.
In the future I plan to write a sequel to this post which will compare a number of popular platforms in more detail. Stay tuned!