Concept Level : Beginner
A Content Management System (CMS) is a platform for building a website. It’s an easier route than building a fully custom website that requires a lot more programming and hands-on development. A custom built site can also be integrated into WordPress so that the blog element is on WordPress, but the rest of the site is custom.
Which route is best for you?
You need to know your business first before thinking about a website
Business development is separate from web development. I’ve had clients who needed ecommerce added to their website, yet they didn’t know their own products fully and therefore didn’t know what their products needed. Or they never thought about what shipping logistics/process fit within their unique business model. A strategic partner can help find solutions to what you need and itemize key questions that need answers, but cannot make major business decisions.
Think about the conversation you want to have between your business and the online world
Like any aspect of web development, it’s best to plan, plan, plan before you start any web development. First, think about your goals and who you are. Are you a business service, a professional service, a lifestyle site? Are you making a big brand statement, or focusing on products? What do you need the website to be, to do? Is it there as a digital brochure for your business; do you need to generate customer leads; differentiate from the competition; showcase your work; get people excited about what you do, etc.?
What is the objective?
Knowing your objective will influence the features, user experience and functionality your site needs to have. If you need to generate customer leads, then you’ll need an acquisition/sales funnel with opt-ins and a management system to track and market to your leads.
If you mainly need polished visuals and a few pages about your photography service, then you can look at more simple solutions like Squarespace, and don’t need to consider robust options that you won’t be needing.
Knowing your business needs online will help guide the decision on what platform is best to achieve those goals. It will also help you save costs by not taking routes that are superfluous to your needs, and by properly planning ahead, anticipating needs, and structuring those in the beginning instead of backtracking and re-doing work. I see this happen a lot. Clients don’t think ahead enough and therefore spend time and money building, only to tare it down once they realize it’s not what they need. You need to be strategic.
Going back to the building a house analogy, your budget will dictate the scale of what we can do. Are we building a mansion or a simple one story house? Think about and visualize the differences in building those two – the differences in planning and materials, work load and time frame. Very different!
The nature of web development does not realistically pair well with inflexible budgets. Planning ahead for what scale of a website we are building will help frame the budget needed to achieved agreed upon drafts and plans of action. But estimating a final cost is not realistic, as much as we want it to be. This is so not only because building for the web is a unique process every time based on unique needs, but also because clients 100% of the time want changes and those influence time and cost.
Squarespace - $
If you work within Squarespace’s strengths then it’s a great option for a simple but attractive, effective and affordable website. It is possible to customize Squarespace, but at that point you are going against the grain of what Squarespace is made for and the cost can start to add up.
- Simple sites with limitations – minimal features, no advanced/complex functionality
- Professional services – photographer, yoga instructor, restaurant, straightforward sales, landing page
- Simple ecommerce
- Easy to edit content and images yourself
- Imagery focused, minimal
- Quick development
- Self-managed platform – no need to regularly update
- Complex sites – advanced features and functionality
- Dynamic features – 3rd party integrations, paid webinars, feature-rich forms
- Advanced Ecommerce
- Control – layout, how things behave, limitations
Wordpress - $$
Wordpress comprises most of the websites on the internet. It’s an “open source” website platform which means it has almost endless possibilities. It’s a platform on which to build things, whereas Squarespace offers select ready-to-go features to plug in easily. Since WordPress is more of a blank slate, it takes more time than Squarespace to build a site.
- Flexibility and customizations – a web developer can build whatever feature, tool, functionality you need.
- Feature/functionality rich
- It can grow with the business
- SEO and optimization options
- Takes more time to build, overall more complex than Squarespace
- Not self-managed – regular maintenance needed for health and security of site
- Hosting not included – unlike Squarespace
- Vulnerable to hacking – if the site is not regularly maintained
Custom, from scratch - $$$
This is the best option if you are going for a robust, complex site that doesn’t need regular content updates. Custom sites are a significant web development project, are more expensive, and requires a resource to manage the backend (updating scripts, fixing update bugs, etc).
- Facilitates complex functionalities – databases, 3rd party integrations, scripts
- Complete control and access – no CMS or plugins to get in the way
- Faster and more lightweight than WordPress
- Speed / performance
- Grows as you need it to
- Time to build – resource heavy
- Requires regular web maintenance
- No ready self-manage option – however, it is possible to tie in a custom site to WordPress for self-manage options
As your strategic web partner I can assess your site’s needs so we can discover what is the best web platform for you.