website is arguably the most crucial sales and marketing tool for businesses. But there is often confusion around the best platform to use. Which will provide the best functionality at the best price, and without hidden costs?
We've focussed our comparison on WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Zoho Sites. While these sites are capable of eCommerce, this article has been written for businesses that don't primarily sell their goods or services online.
Developing a website from scratch and with 100% custom code is expensive and, most of the time, unnecessary. Instead, most platforms like the ones we are comparing offer themes, which are templates that can be customised. These themes have built-in features, design functionality and page layouts. For example, themes will usually have a pre-built page for Home, About Us, Contact, and Blog with some variation based on different industries. Some will include options for carousel images, while others might offer a parallax effect. So, it's important to choose a theme that is as closely suited to what you want as possible, as it will require less customisation.
WordPress offers the largest selection of themes, and these themes have the most variation of functionality. The remaining systems are actually all fairly similar and don't have very many themes on offer. This limited selection can be a good thing though - it makes it much less complex and time-consuming to find a theme you like, especially for businesses not looking for anything particularly unique.
While themes offer pre-developed layouts and functionality, everything within them can be easily customised to suit your brand. Fonts, colours, images and content can all be altered to align with your branding. Layouts can also be edited easily at a basic level by adding or removing sections such as video, image or text blocks. What you typically can't change are effects. For example, if you want a page to display your portfolio of work or case studies, and you want something to happen when the mouse hovers over an image (like text appearing or a colour changing), this will often already need to be a feature offered by a theme.
Again, WordPress themes offer the most options and flexibility, whereas the rest of the platforms are similar in their simplicity. WordPress also offers the widest variety of plugins to themes, which allow another layer of customisation. For example, if a theme doesn't include a testimonial carousel feature, a plugin can be added without having to create any custom code.
At this point, you're probably thinking that WordPress is the best choice, but it does have a few downsides.
Ease of Use
While WordPress offers the highest level of customisation, this comes with complexity, especially when using several plugins. Unlike the other platforms, WordPress requires a higher level of technical expertise to set up and to manage. Additionally, the ability to configure WordPress sites in different ways using themes and plugins leaves more room for error or bad practise. Generally speaking, WordPress needs to be set up by an experienced developer, while other platforms are simple, intuitive, and can be set up by almost anyone.
What a lot of businesses don't realise is that WordPress, unlike the alternatives, isn't managed. WordPress is like your mobile phone and the applications you download, where both the device and the applications need to be regularly updated to maintain optimal functionality. The WordPress theme and the plugins you use all need to be periodically updated or your website will slow down or stop working. Updating usually needs to be done by developer, as a back-up is required prior to an update in case a new version of a plugin or theme is incompatible and compromises the website.
WordPress, unlike the others, doesn't include hosting. This means that you need to choose a hosting provider and connect your WordPress site to it. This is an additional cost to consider - but more than that, it makes seeking technical support more complicated. If your website crashes, you'll have to engage with more than one point of support.
Having a separate hosting provider does have its advantages, though. Firstly, you have a choice of where your website data is stored. If your existing hosting provider (and their hardware) is located overseas, then your website will be slower for local visitors. You can also fire the hosting provider and choose another if they don't perform well. Lastly, you can easily set up sub-domains and point them to different places. For example, if you're white labelling a solution or building a custom application and you need a sub-domain which is hosted elsewhere, you can easily manage this through your hosting provider.
Zoho Sites does offer sub-domains and also offers very good support. If you're planning on building custom solutions or white labelling existing solutions but want a managed website, you might consider using Zoho.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Some developers might say that WordPress has the best SEO capabilities. However, this isn't really true anymore, as other platforms have predominantly caught up. In fact, WordPress is typically slower because of the ongoing maintenance required, as well as all the plugins that need to load. This will work against your optimisation activities. Your website structure is also only one part of your SEO, which as a stand-alone activity won't get you ranking well on search engines. Read more about how to rank for SEO if you want to learn more on this topic.
There isn't a huge difference in direct costs for each platform. WordPress is free, but you will need to pay for hosting. The others, excluding Zoho, charge a monthly license fee in the region of approximately $20 per month, plus or minus a few dollars. Zoho is a little different because it's a full Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool which has modules to manage your entire business. While you can buy a license for their website and nothing else, you'll get the most value by using as many of their modules as possible (HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Customer Support, Project Management, etc). Their ERP costs $35 per month for each employee in the business or approx. $100 per month per license (suitable if you have many employees but most wouldn't need a license).
An additional cost to consider is the cost of setup and management. As we've mentioned, a WordPress site will likely require a developer to build and then to maintain, which means it's typically the most expensive of the platform being compared in this article.
Each platform has pros and cons, but they are all good and reputable platforms. We recommend documenting the functionality you need and features you would like before deciding whether you would like a managed or unmanaged (WordPress) platform. From there, select a theme you like before embarking on your project.
If you'd like advice in selecting the right system for your business or support in designing and building a website, contact us for an obligation-free chat. We have expert developers, designers, and writers, who are ready to help.