Chapter 2

Platforms

Choosing the right website platform can be confusing. Through this chapter we will breakdown the different types of website platforms to better understand which platform is right for you.

Website platforms aimed to get you up and running in no time.

Website builders like Weebly, Wix, and SquareSpace have presented small business owners with a way to build a website without all the heavy upfront and learning curves costs that come along with more custom and robust solutions. Through the table below we break down each website builder for a more through look at which one might be the best fit when taking this route to build your website.

Overview:

Wix.com was founded in 2006 as an Adobe Flash-based website builder. After the success of the Apple iPhone in 2008 several website designers and website services moved away from the use of Flash for websites because the iPhone did not support the platform. Wix introduced an HTML5-based platform in 2012 and stopped the support and development for its Flash website builder.

Features:

Wix offers over 500 templates and an easy-to-use drag and drop editor that does not require any technical knowledge. Check out these Wix website examples for ideas on what their templates and editor are capable of creating.

Ease of Use:

Super easy! The Wix website builder is very simple in its design. The first few days after signing up, Wix will also send you training emails to help you build your website. If you are looking for a website platform to get you up and running quickly without relatively any learning curve, Wix is definitely a great solution. However, Wix is very limiting when it comes time to customize and add features to your website. If your website has any inclination to grow it may be wise to look for a different solution.

Pricing:

Wix.com promotes itself as a free website builder for one-page websites. This type of platform is typical to lure you in with its free access and then charge you for additional expenses like a custom domain, seo tools, and feature add-ons.

Overview:

Squarespace was created to make good design easily accessible to artists and local businesses to place the focus on their stories. They are a trusted website builder who is known for their reliable support team. Do not underestimate your future need for tech support. It will always come up no matter what platform you use, so it is something to keep high on your priority list. Squarespace hosts all of their websites to retain the ability to help you when you need it.

Unlike Weebly and Wix, you will be able to take some of your code with you after your contract ends, but not all of the code will convert to another platform. It is equivalent to being able to take some of your furnishings from your rented apartment, but your custom made furniture just won’t fit your new apartment. Currently, Squarespace exports only as WordPress files.

Features:

Squarespace hosts websites specifically designed for e-commerce, small businesses, and design and art portfolios. The easy to use interface makes it easy to your website up within an hour if you have your assets and content ready.

Squarespace has 40 templates that are simple, clean, and modern. The number is fewer than other platforms, but there is plenty of variation for the design lover looking for a minimalist aesthetic. The feel of each template will change drastically once your unique imagery is used. You can also use multiple themes within one website. Use the best contact and shop pages for you, even if they aren’t from the same theme. Fonts and colors are easily adjustable as well.

The e-commerce is fully integrated, permits you unlimited products, and is designed by Squarespace. Squarespace ecommerce also comes with a few integrations with apps like Xero and ShipStation. However, the e-commerce function is not fully as developed or robust as Shopify or WordPress’ Woocommerce plugin, so if this is the website’s main function, you should consider these other platforms.

Ease of Use:

User Friendly – In other words it’s easy. Squarespace makes it extremely easy to get going quickly and easily with your website, which will be beautiful if you have beautiful photography to add. It is also easy to maintain. However, marketing with SEO and landing pages is not easily done within the platform. Third-party apps are also very limited.

Pricing:

When you are ready, you will be able to slowly scale your website by upgrading your monthly package: Cover Page, Personal, Business, Basic Commerce, and Advanced Commerce. Packages are monthly, but will cost less if you sign-up for an annual plan.

Overview:

Weebly was founded by students at the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in 2006. The university required students to maintain an Internet portfolio of their work. In response, three business students decided to build a platform that made it easier for their fellow students to build their portfolios.

The big catch – This type of platform can be referred to as a renter because your monthly fee covers everything you need. However, you can only dress the website and you only own the elements that you bring to the website builder. Like renting an apartment, you do not own the sink and cannot take it with you when you leave. On Weebly, you do not own the code or the design. So, if in the future you decide to leave Weebly, you can only take your text and images with you.

Unlike Wix, Weebly comes with some pretty cool features right out of the box. With built-in analytics, you can view user website visits, page views, search terms used, and informations on the websites that referred the viewer. Weebly also is designed with SEO in mind, all accounts include a sitemap, HTMl friendly coding, meta descriptions, and the website speed and mobile responsiveness that search engines have come to expect.

Features:

Select from over 100 professionally designed templates. There are enough themes to fit nearly any preferred design. Choices range from classic to minimalist to bold. Each theme also comes with multiple color schemes to further distinguish your website.

Zero technical skills are required to build a website using their drag and drop editor. Easily add content elements like text, photos, maps, and videos. Select the type of element you want to add and drag it onto the webpage. Edit your text without the knowledge of HTML or CSS with the built-in text editor, which works similarly to standard word processing software.

Ease of Use:

User Friendly – In other words it’s easy too. Creating your website is very easy, intuitive, and fast. Registering for an account takes you through a setup process that asks about the purpose of your website. This can be a website, online store, or a blog. Next, you choose your theme, the color of the theme, and your website’s URL or website address.

Once these elements are set-up, you are placed into the website’s drag and drop builder. The builder includes messaged tips that help to guide you through the process.

The whole process can take less than 30 minutes, or if you are in a huge hurry you could do in less than 10 minutes. Weebly is made for the person that needs a website right now so take that into mind when considering Weebly and how it fits with your website goals and growth plan.

Pricing:

Weebly offers four packages: Free, Starter, Pro, and Business. All four packages include the drag and drop website builder, free hosting, unlimited pages, storage space, and support via email and chat.

Building a new website? Try a Content Management System.

A CMS (Content Management System) is a computer application or set of similar programs that can be used to create or, as the name suggests, manage digital content. This is done by adding, editing, or deleting content that is to be published on a website. A huge pro to using a CMS is that your content editing is separate from the design and functionality of the site, so users that aren’t technically trained can add, format and edit their content on the website without having to fiddle with design and coding. Let’s take a closer look at the top three most popular CMS options to choose the best solution to build your new website on.

Overview:

Since WordPress’ inception in 2003, it has had undeniably the best run of all available content management systems. In the CMS (content management system) market, it is a big fish in the pond with a market share of 60 percent and climbing. More impressively, WordPress recently crossed the 30 percent threshold for usage overall. Based on Internet Live Stats, that means that about 560 million websites run on WordPress, making it the fastest growing CMS platform of the last eight years. The latest version has alone been downloaded over 90 million times and among some of its users are well-known websites like the New York Times, E-Bay , Forbes, GM, and Jay-Z.

Features:

WordPress boasts a variety of features including: simplicity, flexibility, publishing tools, user and media management, full standards compliance, easy theme system, extend with plugin and premium add-ons, built-in commenting functionality, search engine optimized, multilingual, easy installation and upgrades, and most importantly you own your data.

Being an open source platform, developers around the world contribute to the WordPress community through development of new features, plugins, themes, and other tools to help you streamline the build of your new website.

All of these features enable WordPress to be one of the most flexible content management systems, capable of helping your website grow from one-page reference site to full blown e-commerce website with a million plus visitors a month.

The code behind WordPress is very simple and clean, making it easy for search engines to read and index the site’s content. In addition, each page, post, category, and image can have its own metadata allowing for very precise search engine optimizations. The bevy of both free and premium theme and plugin options designed and developed for WordPress is reason enough allow to give it a shot. There are hundreds of thousands of plugins that can enable you to add complex functionality to your website with just a few clicks.

Ease of Use:

Little to No Developer Knowledge Needed

Ease of use is a strong point of WordPress and one of the main reason for its success. Setup is quick and easy and called the 5-minute install for a reason.

In addition to that, many hosting companies (e.g. LiquidWeb) offer one-click install options for WordPress. This makes creating a website no more complicated than submitting an online form.

In addition to that, the WordPress user interface is very simple. It offers less options than your Facebook news feed and you can achieve most things with simple mouse clicks, such as updating your site. The latter is also very important for WordPress security.

Content creation is also super easy. If you can use a normal word processor, you can create posts and pages with WordPress. The process is intuitive including adding images and other media to your posts. WordPress also lets you embed content from many external services with simple copy and paste.

For more complex layouts, there are page builders. These enable beginners to create and modify the look of pages with a graphic interface rather than coding. All of this also makes it simple to teach WordPress to clients. In WordPress 4.9, we saw the addition of visual backend editor named Gutenberg by WordPress. Read more about the addition of Gutenberg and that means for designing pages and posts for your website.

Pricing:

If you are utilizing a managed WordPress hosting provider than WordPress is automatically issued and set up for you to being building your website. Otherwise follow these steps to get started using WordPress.

Overview:

The third contender in our CMS comparison has been around longer than the other two systems. Drupal’s first version came out in 2001 and by now it is the third most popular solution for building websites. Its overall market share is 2.2 percent, which means that about 41 million websites run Drupal in the background.

What’s interesting to see is that this system is especially popular among bigger websites. Among the one million most popular sites, it is actually more popular than Joomla. The reason for this being that Drupal is designated for large scale web projects with unlimited amounts of customization and extensive feature sets.

Drupal is subsequently the most technically advanced CMS of the bunch. However, like the other candidates, its main technology is PHP and it is also an open source and community-run software project.

Features:

Drupal is all about building custom websites. For that reason, it comes with a lot of built-in customization options. You are also able to edit files directly and customize almost anything you want. As a consequence, as a developer, there is very little that you can not customize.In addition to that, like the other CMS, Drupal is also part of a healthy ecosystem. It offers 40,000+ modules and more than 2,600 themes to add functionality and design options to your site. Due to enforced coding standards, they are also basically guaranteed to work together. That’s something that is not always true for WordPress plugins and Joomla extensions. However, their installation is a lot more technical than in the other two CMS.

Ease of Use:

Developer Level Knowledge Needed

The Drupal installation works the same as for its predecessors. In addition to that, the CMS also offers so-called distributions that are Drupal versions with extensions and modules pre-installed. They make it easier to start building certain kinds of websites. Drupal’s admin area offers a lot of customization options from the get-go. This gives you a lot of control over your site. However, it also meant that the Drupal interface was the most complicated. Yet, in recent time there have been efforts to simplify it.

Aside from that, Drupal is the most technically advanced solution of our CMS comparison. Unfortunately that means it requires a working knowledge of PHP, HTML and other programming languages to make any meaningful changes. This includes updating your site, which often requires you to make code adjustments to make existing components compatible with the new version.

As a consequence, Drupal comes with the steepest learning curve and requires the most knowledge. As you can imagine, this also makes it hard to hand a site over to clients.

Pricing:

Drupal was made for fast performance. As a consequence, it is less hardware hungry than its competitors which is good news for server costs. You might need some premium themes that also cost about the same as for the other two platforms.

On the other hand, unless you are a developer yourself, building a website with Drupal pretty much guarantees that you will have to pay somebody. It is by far is the most complex solution on this list and not suitable for beginners. For that reason, development costs almost certainly need to be part of your budget.

Of course, you can also choose to dig into the system yourself. However, that way you are trading time for money. Depending on how valuable your time is, this can be a good or bad investment. Yet, it will also greatly prolong the launch of your site.

Overview:

Joomla! (as it is correctly spelled) was established in 2005, as a fork of another CMS called Mambo. The name derives from Jumla, a Swahili word meaning “all together”. This refers to its nature as an open source project maintained by a community of volunteers.

Joomla is the second most popular CMS on the web. Its market share in the CMS market is 6.3 percent, on the entire Internet it powers 3.1 percent of all websites. This translates to roughly 58 million web presences. Overall, it has been downloaded more than 93 million times.

Like WordPress, Joomla is based on PHP and an SQL database. Other characteristics are also similar, such as the division into a front end (the visible part of the website) and back end (the administration area). You will learn more similarities below.

Features:

Joomla mimics the same feature set of WordPress and offers more functionality out of the box than WordPress. However, with this added functionality comes more complex customizations and editing which you will learn about in the next section.

Ease of Use:

Some to Little Developer Knowledge Needed

In terms of complexity, Joomla is somewhere in between WordPress and Drupal. If you are a moderately technical person, you should be able to get into it quite quickly.

Manually installing Joomla is also similar to WordPress. Simply download the software, upload it to your server and run the installation script (check out this detailed guide). Many hosting providers also offer one-click installs for Joomla.

Aside from that, the CMS also provides a graphic interface to add and manage articles, media, menus, extensions and change settings.

Here, too, page builders are emerging to help beginners implement more complex layouts without having to code. Joomla also comes with one-click updates. Overall, the CMS offers more functionality out of the box than WordPress but is consequently also more complex.

Pricing:

The expenses for running a Joomla site are similar to WordPress. The software itself is free but you will likely have to spring for premium templates and/or extensions. Prices in the official directory have about the same range as for WordPress. Since Joomla is a little more complex than WordPress, the likelihood that you will need professional help is higher. Due to market forces (less supply, higher demand), this might be a little harder but it’s still doable. The price range for development work is also about equal to WordPress.

Selling products online? You need an E-Commerce platform.

Ecommerce, also known as electronic commerce or internet commerce, refers to the buying and selling of goods or services using the internet, and the transfer of money and data to execute these transactions. Ecommerce is often used to refer to the sale of physical products online, but it can also describe any kind of commercial transaction that is facilitated through the internet. When building an Ecommerce website there are three major platforms that stand out, WooCommerce, Shopify, and Magento.

Overview:

Shopify is certainly a top choice for most small business companies going Ecommerce. It is easy to use, affordable, and has a massive growing community around it. Shopify is less costly to maintain than open source platforms and all the updates are handled for you. Shopify now has over 500,000 users, a massive increase from a few years ago.

Features:

Like any ecommerce platform, you can manage your inventory, gift cards, customer abandoned cart reminders and nearly any other part of your ecommerce store using Shopify.

Shopify has a one-click integration with Google Analytics and hosts its own App Store with hundreds of extensions — including integrations with popular email platforms like Mailchimp and customer email capture popup mechanisms.

Moreover, there is a custom solution for small businesses. Even if you have no intention to open online hypermarket you still may find the right option for yourself. With the Shopify Lite, you may connect with your customers through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or any other popular online channel. Customers may even use Facebook Messenger chat to buy the items they want.

Ease of Use:

From the technical side, Shopify is a CMS sharpened for online store creation. It’s really user-friendly and can be easily managed by a non-programmer. Read this article on setting up a Shopify store, we had a minimally functional Ecommerce store in 15 minutes. The customization of a Shopify store is as easy as it can be. You can literally create any look and feel for your website that you can dream of.

Pricing:

The product is subscription-based and starts from $29 per month for the Basic plan. It includes unlimited merchandise creation, unlimited file storage, discounts codes, two accounts for the staff members, 24/7 support, and more.

Overview:

WooCommerce is not a fully-fledged CMS, but just an e-commerce plugin for WordPress. But this doesn’t make it any less powerful.  We have built websites on Shopify and Magento but WooCommerce gives both a run for their money.

In terms of ubiquity and sales, WooCommerce is the largest of the ecommerce platforms.

According to some studies, more than 30% of all online stores use this e-commerce plugin. Likely, this is because WordPress is so big. And if you have a WordPress blog and decide to sell something, WooCommerce is the only show in town.

Features:

With built-in WooCommerce features, you may sell physical, digital, and affiliate products. You also get geolocation support, Ajax shopping cart, discount coupons, shipping and tax calculator, responsive design, SEO optimization and Google Analytics integration.

Paid WooCommerce plugins allow adding some advanced features, such as quick browsing, product comparison, a list of desired products, various payment methods, a pop-up notification, which displays the latest orders placed in your store, additional products offering that is displayed just before purchase and so on.

You may also list your WooCommerce products on eBay, publish your WooCommerce products on Amazon or even add Shopify’s buy now button to take advantage of both platforms’ features.

Even though WooCommerce works on WordPress, not every theme will work smoothly on your site. It’s better to use special crafted WooCommerce themes (free or paid).

Ease of Use:

To some extent, WooCommerce is just as easy to use as Shopify. But there’s a catch.

The catch is this: Although working with WooCommerce on a daily basis is just as simple as with Shopify, setting up the store isn’t.

Basically, since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin and not a subscription-based solution like Shopify, this means that you need to handle a couple of things before you ever get to work with WooCommerce itself.

Mainly, you need to complete the following:

  1. Get a domain name
  2. Sign up for a hosting account
  3. Install WordPress
  4. Find and install a WordPress theme

It is only after you have those four taken care of that you can install the WooCommerce plugin on your WordPress website and start getting through the configuration of your online store.

Unfortunately, those steps do require some level of comfort around web-related things. After all, it involves setting up your web server, redirecting your domain to said server, and lastly getting WordPress properly installed and made operational.

To make that somewhat easier on yourself, you can choose a specialized WordPress hosting company that will take care of the domain and WordPress installation for you, leaving only the WooCommerce part to you. Either way, it’s all significantly more difficult than Shopify’s one-click, “sign up” button.

There’s also the design. WooCommerce doesn’t come with any actual “design”. It’s all handled via a WordPress theme of your choice. Luckily, WooCommerce works with basically all themes on the market, but it’s still on you to find one you like and install it on the site.

As I said, the platform in itself is just as easy to use as Shopify. The second you get the WooCommerce plugin installed and activated, you’ll see the on-screen setup wizard. It consists of five(-ish) steps and takes you by the hand through every crucial element.

Basically, it lets you choose the main parameters of the store, and get everything neatly configured. For example, some of the important steps involve things like currency settings, shipping and tax, and payment gateways.

Once the installation is done, you can start using your store and begin adding products.

Pricing:

WooCommerce is an open source solution, but of course, you should not expect it to be completely free. You may want to buy a customized theme for your shop or add some commercial extensions to make your site work faster.

Overview:

When it comes to Shopify vs Magento vs WooCommerce, the three platforms couldn’t be more different… in some ways.

Magento CMS was released in March 2008 and was bought by eBay in 2011. Now, more than 250,000 sites around the world work on this platform.

Olympus, 20th Century Fox, Time Out and many others companies use Magento as a platform for their online stores.

The first thing you should know about Magento is that it comes in two flavors. The first one is Magento Open Source, free CMS software for self-hosted online stores. To use it, you should have your own domain name and web hosting.

The second one is Magento Commerce which includes Magento Open Source and Platform as a Service (PaaS) hosting. You may test the paid option for 30 days and then make your decision.

Features:

Magento’s strength is in a great variety of built-in functions.  You can easily change currency and languages, apply discounts for the selected items or for the loyal customers, add coupons, generate detailed reports, and much more. The buyers may leave the reviews and add the rating for the items.

This is a very valuable feature because the majority of online shoppers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and read reviews before making their buying decision.

Different search engine optimization tools are also in place. For example, the webmasters can optimize the page of each product. To make the store properly indexed by search bots one can easily create an XML-map of the site containing the links to all the pages of the online store.

In addition, Magento CMS has many extensions and various templates. You even can dig into HTML or PHP-code if needed to implement the special feature you need for your store.

With this platform, you may create several online stores and then manage them using one admin panel.

If several people manage the online store, it is possible to assign different role types to the manager, programmer, accountant, copywriter and so on.

Ease of Use:

Frankly, Magento is a better solution for mid-size companies that have engineering resources. Simply, Magento is a little bit more code-intensive and less intuitive for the novice ecommerce entrepreneur. Building a Magento task will be a tall order for the average business owner and may require a developer or designer to help with the build of your ecommerce website.

Pricing:

Magento Open Source is free. The price of the Magento Commerce depends on the expected online revenue and average order value of your store. This can range from a little bit, to millions of dollars per year for larger stores.

Chapter 3: Understanding UI/UX