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deannasonni

What Website Platform Should You Use?

By Client Resources, CMS, Helpful Explanations

Concept Level : Beginner

20%

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.

Budget

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.

Strengths

  • Simple sites with limitations – minimal features, no advanced/complex functionality
  • Professional services – photographer, yoga instructor, restaurant, straightforward sales, landing page
  • Simple ecommerce
  • Blog
  • Easy to edit content and images yourself
  • Imagery focused, minimal
  • Quick development
  • Self-managed platform – no need to regularly update

Weakness

  • Complex sites – advanced features and functionality
  • Dynamic features – 3rd party integrations, paid webinars, feature-rich forms
  • Advanced Ecommerce
  • Speed
  • 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.

Strengths

  • Flexibility and customizations – a web developer can build whatever feature, tool, functionality you need.
  • Feature/functionality rich
  • It can grow with the business
  • Speed
  • Customizations
  • SEO and optimization options

Weakness

  • 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).

Strengths

  • 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
  • Security

Weakness

  • Cost
  • 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. 

Compatibility Check

By Client Resources, Helpful Explanations

We All Work At Our Best Differently

Transparency and honesty saves time, stress and money – so let’s get to it!

There are three concepts that will improve your understanding and help you assess compatibility when entering a working relationship (not just with me!) in the web/tech field :

  • Reviewing the relationship and expectations through an easy analogy.
  • Work style: do you need a Maker or Manager schedule?
  • Specifics to working with me: guidelines and perspectives.

It helps to think of web development like building a house.
In fact, it’s a really good analogy!

  • A small house costs less than a big house. So do websites.
  • A house built by a professional builder will turn out better than a house built by an amateur. Same with websites.
  • Custom features like marble counters and custom designed cabinets cost more than the stock features. So do websites.
  • It takes time and strategy to build a strong, well made house. Same with websites.
  • If your house has a new bathroom, then you decide to move the bathroom to another room – you lose that cost in time and materials spent on building that original bathroom. Your builder isn’t going to give you a free bathroom just because you changed your mind. Consider all the construction and new planning that will go into moving a simple bathroom: tare down walls, build new walls, dig holes and install new plumbing, electrical and other infrastructure, buy new materials, allocate extra workers, push back deadlines, etc. Proper planning before building will avoid this. Same with websites.
  • Who would build a better house – you, your neighbor/peers, or a professional house builder? Same with websites.
  • Who would be a better advisor for a custom paint job – you, your peers, or a professional painter who knows about paint, its chemistry, and what paint works with what materials? Same with websites.

These points might make you laugh or roll your eyes, but I’ve found them really helpful for introducing clients to the web world and what to expect, and how to view the project.

WORK STYLE: Maker or Manager

Knowing if someone’s productivity style is a Maker or Manager is really insightful for knowing how they work best, and knowing what to expect from them in your working relationship. Similar to knowing if someone is a strong extrovert or introvert; it will frame your relationship style and approach. Many web/tech professionals are Makers, myself included.

There are two types of schedule, which I'll call the manager's schedule and the maker's schedule. The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour...But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

- Paul Graham

Another explanation via Sketchplanations:

“In Manager Time a day is neatly sliced up into hourly chunks according to the calendar. Meeting someone is as easy as finding a free slot that coincides. You don’t have to worry too much about what you’ll be doing next as your calendar will tell you.

In Maker Time a day is an open book to get something hard and meaningful done. Even thinking when a meeting might be and remembering to go can distract from getting on with making. Long, uninterrupted chunks of time, not sliced and diced by meetings on the hour are ideal to make progress on hard problems and tackle something new. Even a single meeting in the middle of an afternoon can disrupt that long meaningful chunk into two that make it harder to tackle something big as you have to context switch and pick up where you left off.

Most modern offices operate on Manager Time. It’s great for meetings but comes at a cost for getting meaningful work done. If you’re a maker you may associate with the feeling that to get some real work done you feel you need to do it at the weekend, or in an evening after everyone’s gone home, when you’ll be free of interruptions.

If you’re a manager, consider your makers when you schedule your next meeting.”

Working With Me

In striving to create an environment of mutual benefit and success, here’s some helpful considerations to see if we would be a good fit:

GOOD FIT
  • You are looking for a strategic partner with expertise.
  • Your business/brand is open to tasteful adjustments/redesigns if needed.
  • In honoring my clients and giving them my undivided attention, I do not take unscheduled calls, and you are fine with that.
  • As with any development project (again, think: building a house!), you understand that estimations and time projections are subject to change and impossible to be spot-on.
  • You are comfortable communicating via email.
NOT A GOOD FIT
  • You’re not in the market for web / online business development expertise.
  • You simply need someone to apply your website ideas.
    • This is best for a Virtual Assistant, or a tasker you can hire on sites like UpWork. Like any agency that takes pride in their work and their client’s success, I do not apply ideas that would be a poor decision for the client and their web presence.
  • You need to be able to call at any time.
  • You are looking for cheap, not well done.
  • You often need 24 hours or less turn around time.
  • You have an inflexible budget and/or desire work and results that are realistically outside of your budget.

Understanding Images in Containers

By Client Resources, Helpful Explanations

A common frustration and confusion with clients is when their website images don’t appear as they expect. They think the image is too zoomed in, or too cropped or too panoramic feeling. This is because we need to consider how an image behaves with wherever it’s being placed.

For visualization purposes, let’s imagine the image is placed within a box – because indeed it is – whether it’s a slider, or an image grid, or a full width image.

There are three options for your image within that box

Consider the below two examples with the pink image box and observe the image placed within the image box.

  1. The image can stay in its original form and be whatever height and width it is originally. As you can see above, this might not always fit the image box well. Look at all that white space on the left and right. The image and the image box would have to be the exact same height and width for it to fit perfectly, which isn’t too realistic especially with responsive design.
  2. The image can cover the box. This will ensure the image completely covers the image box area. However, as you can see the image needs to get bigger, it needs to zoom in in order to cover the image box. This results in only a portion of your image displaying. Sometimes the image can feel panoramic if the image box is too short in height, or if the image itself is obviously really zoomed in.
  3. The image can contain itself within the box. The image will fit in the box by matching the image box’s height. With this option you see 100% of the image, but you also aren’t filling the image box completely. This sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t.

If you are looking to add images to a full-width slider for example, then you want to cover the image box. With that, the above pros and cons will apply. The best solution is to pick images that either are generally around the same height and width (aspect ratio) as the slider image box, or better yet choose images that aren’t compromised with some zooming and cropping.

Images that work well in sliders

  • Square, square-ish, or 4:3 aspect ratio.
  • Scenery, nature, abstract (less negatively affected by cropping/zooming).
  • Images that sit within a bigger image or background. Think: a white slider with just an iPhone in the center.

Images that do not work well in sliders

  • Images with specific/definitive subjects such as people – a zoomed in or cropped person does not work.
  • Images with content sensitive to being cropped like showcase or portfolio pieces.
  • Long rectangle images – these will need to zoom in so much, that you will only see what feels like a sliver of the image. As shown above with the sunflower.
  • Images whose content is important to absorb or read. This is regarding the separate concern of usability and communication; don’t expect your users to obtain important information from a moving object!

Below is a visual example of what an image needs to do in order to fit a sliders image box – shown as the bright purple box. You will see the image has to zoom in in order to cover the image box area. If your slider is the full width of your webpage, it will need to cover the slider image box.

The image will have to zoom in a lot if the image is a long rectangle as shown below. Look at the original image, and look at how little of the image we see when we zoom it in in order to fill the slider box.

That’s why it’s best to find an image that is compatible with these restrictions. Here is a great example of an image that is close to the slider size and isn’t negatively affected by zooming in a bit.

These considerations apply to any image whether it’s a slider, grid, slideshow, carousel or full width image. Another huge factor is responsive design and how the image box can potentially change with the screen size, but that’s a gigantic topic that I might cover later 🙂

Visuals are so important to your site. The judgment and use of those visuals is equally important. The reality is: what you want to work might not always translate to web. Don’t force something that isn’t working.

If an image you love isn’t working perfectly on a slider – it’s best to not use it on the slider and find somewhere else to place it. A great impression is more important than a single image.