Need a New Website? How to Choose the Best Option for You

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Do you want a new website and feel confused about all the options out there? Would you like a few tips to get started? I've written this article to share what I've learned from working with clients over the years. I hope this will help you make some good decisions and have a solid foundation for your website from the start.

This article is in three parts: defining your goals and requirements, choosing the best solution, and choosing who to work with. Whether you have a simple or complex website in mind, and whether you have a small or large budget, knowing what you are trying to achieve, choosing a platform that fits your needs, and choosing competent people to work with (if you need them) makes sense. Thinking about all of this before you start can help make best use of your resources and help your project go more smoothly.
 

Part 1: Defining Your Goals and Requirements is Important

Start with the goals of your website and knowledge of your visitor. These are essential to define the requirements of the website. The choices you make after, follow from this important first step. Take some time to think about the following questions.

Consider your website's and your visitor's goals:

  • What is the main goal of the website -- why do you even need one? Is there more than one goal? (You may be trying to sell something, collect emails, build a community of fans, get new volunteers, have people contact and hire you.)
  • How does this compare to the goals of your business or organization in general? 
  • Is your business or organization growing and how will the previous goals be different in three or five years?
  • Who is your ideal visitor? How old is she/he? Is she young and trendy, or older and more conservative?
  • Is your ideal visitor very tech savvy or does she not know what a web browser is? Is she on a portable device (cell phone or tablet) or on a desktop computer?
  • Is your visitor here for personal reasons or for work? If for work, is it for government, non-profit or a private business?
  • How else would you describe your ideal visitor?
  • What is your ideal visitor trying to do on your website? (Find your contact info, educate themselves on a topic, or buy something?)
  • How does “what your visitor is trying to do” compare with “what your website is trying to do”? Does it conflict with what the visitor is trying to do? (For example, if your visitors are mainly coming to educate themselves on a topic, and you are trying to sell something, pitching your products and services “front and centre” on the website might not appeal to them.)
     

Based on the above, consider your website requirements and functionalities:

  • What types of content will you have? For example, blog articles, events, photo galleries, staff listings, products, product reviews, bulletin boards, testimonials, downloadable files. 
  • Do you need a calendar of events?
  • Do you need a blog? 
  • Do you need photo galleries? If yes, will they have about a dozen images or hundreds?
  • Do you need to post videos, host podcasts or webinars?
  • Do you need to collect emails for a newsletter?
  • Do you need to integrate your social media accounts?
  • Do visitors need to be able to share your content on their social media accounts?
  • Do you need a contact form?
  • Do you need other forms such as registration forms or surveys? Do you need the form submissions to be emailed to you and/or downloaded into spreadsheets?
  • Do visitors need to search the website? Do they need to do advanced searches?
  • How many people need to post to and edit the website? Just you or all of your staff? Do you need different levels of permission? Are the editors tech savvy or not at all?
  • Do you need a private area to share files or communicate for people within your organization only?
  • Can the public post on the website? What do they post (events, blogs)? Are they tech savvy? Do they need profile pages? 
  • Do you need to sell something online? Are you selling physical products? Are you selling content on your website for a membership fee? Are you selling in your own country only or internationally?
  • Does the website need to be multilingual?
  • Does the website need to be highly secure? Would it be a particular target for attackers?
  • Will the functionality need to evolve as your business or organization grows? 
  • Anything else?
  • Based on your goals, what are the simplest website requirements? (Keeping a website simple may convey a message more clearly; simple is often easier and cheaper to build and maintain.)
  • What is your budget? Do you have a budget that can match your requirements? Will you have a budget for future maintenance?
  • Who will create the content for your website? Who will update the website and are they tech savvy? Do you or your staff have time dedicated to updating the website? 
     

Consider the overall style of the website:

  • Do you have a logo?
  • Do you have a very defined branding and colour scheme to follow? Is there a certain style or “look and feel” you want to convey?
  • Do you have particular requirements regarding accessibility to disabled visitors?
  • Do you need your website design to be totally unique and an award winning candidate, or can it be fairly simple and common looking?
  • What have you seen that you like or dislike about other websites?
     

Part 2: Choosing the Best Solution for You

Once you have a good understanding of the goals of your website, what your visitors are trying to achieve and what functionalities are needed, you can start exploring the different options available. 

There are currently many types of websites to choose from and they all have different advantages and inconveniences. I will cover three categories that are the most common: online Website Builders; ready-made templates on Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal; and customized websites on CMS. (Another category would be fully custom-made, high-end website projects, but these are beyond the scope of this article.) If you don't know what any of these words mean, don't worry, I'll explain them in detail below.

Quick Comparison of Website Solutions

  Website Builder (e.g.  Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, PageCloud) Ready-Made Template on CMS (e.g. WordPress, Drupal) Custom Website on CMS (e.g. WordPress, Drupal)
Ease of use Very easy. Can be easy to use, if it's well-customized. Can be easy to use, if it's well-customized.
Time to build a website Fastest. Medium. Longest.

Changing the layout

Easy to move things around on a page. May be limited by the template chosen. Totally customized and it takes more work to move things around on a page.
Styles Beautiful, professional-looking templates. They are included in the fee. Hundreds of templates available. Some are free, some have a small cost. Limited customization. Totally customized.
Types of content (e.g. calendar, blog, photo gallery) Least flexible. Limited to what is offered by the company. Very flexible. More can be added, though may be slightly limited by the template chosen. Most flexible. More can be added. 
Customization of functionalities - what the website can do (e.g. automatically posting to Facebook; automatic emails to people who sign-up for a webinar)  Least flexible and customizable. Limited to what is offered by the company. Very flexible and customizable. More can be added and built over time, though may be slightly limited by the template chosen. Most flexible and customizable. More can be added and built over time.
Portable Least portable. The website files are with the Website Builder. So if they close or raise their fees, it's difficult to export the website to another platform.

Very portable. The website files are on your hosting account. The files can be readily exported and used to redesign a new website by a professional. There might be some limitations due to the template chosen.

Very portable. The website files are on your hosting account. The files can be readily exported and used to redesign a new website by a professional.

Search Engine Optimization

Least customizable.

Very Customizable.

Very Customizable.

Learning Opportunities Articles, videos and online forums.  Articles, videos and online forums. WordPress and Drupal have been around for years and are open-source, so there are large communities with conferences, training programs and books. Articles, videos and online forums. WordPress and Drupal have been around for years and are open-source, so there are large communities with conferences, training programs and books.
DIY or Hiring Someone

It's common to “Do It Yourself” with a Website Builder; it can take time and effort to learn to build and use your website; support from the Website Builder company is usually limited. Some people hire a web professional to save time.

It's more common to hire a web professional to work with a CMS; they can build your website, teach you to use it and provide ongoing support. It's possible to “Do It Yourself”; basic CMS is usually more complex than a Website Builder; there's limited support for the CMS.

It's most common to hire a web professional to work with a CMS; they can build your website, teach you to use it and provide ongoing support.

Access to Professionals

Website Builders are newer than CMS's. There are professionals that specialize in using each Website Builder.

WordPress and Drupal have been around for years and are open-source, so there are thousands of professionals to choose from worldwide.

WordPress and Drupal have been around for years and are open-source, so there are thousands of professionals to choose from worldwide.

Hosting

Included with the Website Builder.

Many hosting companies to choose from. Usually an annual fee.

Many hosting companies to choose from. Usually an annual fee.

Costs

Usually a monthly fee. No additional maintenance fees. Depending on upgraded plans, long-term cost can be comparable to other options.

Usually affordable, even for small budgets. Initial cost is higher than Website Builders. Small, ongoing maintenance fees.

Initial cost is highest, due to custom design. Small, ongoing maintenance fees.

Security and User Permissions

Little to no customization.

Very Customizable.

Very Customizable.

E-Commerce

Usually cheapest option for simple e-commerce.

Some templates are available for e-commerce.

Most adaptable for complex e-commerce websites.

Website Builder (e.g. Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, PageCloud)

Online Website Builders (WB) are designed for people who want to build a website themselves. They offer a cheap, quick and easy option. They are well-suited for very simple business websites and simple e-commerce sites, as well as one-person blogs or portfolios. However, even on these platforms, it takes time and being a bit tech savvy to learn them, so it can be more efficient sometimes to hire someone with experience to help you build your website.

Advantages:

  • Easy to use, especially for beginners. 
  • Relatively fast to build a website.
  • Easy to play with different layouts and move things around on a page.
  • Beautiful templates to choose from, which are included in the cost.
  • “How to” articles, videos and forums are usually free online.
  • Hosted by the WB company, so no additional hosting fee.
  • No additional maintainance fee.
  • Usually the cheapest option for a simple e-commerce website.
  • Some are free if you don't use your own domain name. Most have a monthly fee.

Inconveniences:

  • It takes a bit of time and effort to learn to use the platform.
  • This is the least portable option. Your website files are with the WB company, so if the company closes or raises their fees, you cannot readily export your website to another platform.
  • The number of pages may be limited by the plan chosen.
  • Types of content and functionalities (what the website can do) are limited to what is offered by the company. Little to no customization. 
  • Search Engine Optimisation is less customizable and often poor.
  • Little to no control over security features. Not suited for websites where the public posts a lot of content.
  • Support from the company is usually limited. Help is usually through public forums.
  • Especially with upgraded plans, the long-term cost can end up comparable to the other options below.

Ready-Made Template for Content Management Systems (e.g. WordPress or Drupal)

Ready-made templates or themes for Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress and Drupal are a bit more complex to set up, but provide a lot more functionality. The cost and time investment is usually slightly higher, especially at the beginning. However, you have more flexibility in the short and long-term.

Advantages:

  • If your website is simple, this option balances customization and cost. It's more flexible than Website Builders, and is faster and cheaper than a totally custom website.
  • There are hundreds of templates to choose from. Some are free, some have a small cost.
  • Your website is very portable. The files are on your hosting account, so they can be readily exported, if you want to redesign your website. If you choose to, you can move your website to another host or developer.
  • It can be easy to use, if it's well-customized.
  • Different types of content can be added.
  • Functionalities (what the website can do) can be added and built over time. Search Engine Optimization is effective and easily customizable.
  • “How to” articles, videos and forums are usually free online. There are large WordPress and Drupal communities, with conferences, training programs and books.
  • There are many website hosting companies to choose from, giving access to everything a hosting account can offer, like unlimited email addresses.
  • You can hire professionals for part or all of the development. WordPress and Drupal have been around for years and are open-source, so you have access to a large pool of professional developers.
  • Buying a template and getting some customization is usually affordable, even for small budgets.
  • No monthly fee.

Inconveniences:

  • Limited customization of the style of the templates.
  • Some styles and functionalities can be limited by the template chosen.
  • Learning basic WordPress or Drupal is usually more complex than Website Builders.
  • If you “Do It Yourself”, support is very limited.
  • Hosting is usually an annual fee.
  • The CMS needs to be updated for security, so there are small ongoing maintenance fees.
  • Initial cost is higher than the Website Builders.
     

Custom Website on Content Management System (e.g. WordPress or Drupal)

These are custom-made websites with styles and functionalities that are designed for you.  The higher cost and time investment reflects in greater customization and flexibility. You are basically paying to have the design process be driven by your needs, to have your website do what you want it to do, and to be able to expand and adapt it later.

Advantages:

  • The best choice for flexibility, customization and portability.
  • The best choice for complex and higher security websites.
  • The best choice for websites and companies that will likely expand and require new functionalities over time.
  • Your website is very portable. The files are on your hosting account, so they can be readily exported, if you want to redesign your website. If you choose to, you can move your website to another host or developer.
  • It can be easy to use, if it's well-customized.
  • Different types of content can be added.Functionalities (what the website can do) and style (how it “looks and feels”) are totally customized.
  • Most adaptable for websites where the public posts a lot of content or different levels of user access are required. Fully customized security features.
  • Most adaptable for websites that require private areas, such as members-only areas or intranets.
  • Most adaptable for complex e-commerce websites.
  • Search Engine Optimization is effective and easily customizable.
  • There are many website hosting companies to choose from, giving access to everything a hosting account can offer, like unlimited email addresses.
  • A professional builds your website. You receiving training on how to use it and ongoing support.
  • WordPress and Drupal have been around for years and are open-source, so you have access to a large pool of professional developers.

Inconveniences:

  • This is more expensive and takes longer, especially in the beginning, due to the custom design process.
  • Learning to use the website can more challenging, depending on the complexity of the website and how the structure was designed.
  • The layout is customized and it takes more work to move things around on a page than with Website Builders.
  • Hosting is usually an annual fee.
  • The CMS needs to be updated for security, so there are small ongoing maintenance fees.
     

Part 3: Need More Help? Choosing Who to Work With

You may enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill and saving money by doing it yourself. However, this is not ideal for everyone. You may already have a full plate and prefer to save time by hiring someone with experience to help you. Even for a simple website or a Website Builder, a professional can often do in several hours what could take you several days (or weeks) to figure out on your own. So if you're wondering whether or not to hire someone, consider: what your website goals and requirements are (in part 1 above), what solution makes sense for you (in part 2 above), and balancing your time and money.

Hiring an individual or a company to build your website can be as confusing as choosing the type of website solution you need (in part 2 above). As a rule of thumb, you want to find the skills and experience to match the complexity of your website. There's a difference between asking your cousin to change the oil in your car, and going to the mechanic to get the engine changed (unless your cousin is an experienced mechanic). There's also a difference between going to a competent mechanic that charges fairly, and one that turns out to be an incompetent rip-off. Like working with a reputable mechanic, working with a reputable web professional should bring comfort in knowing that you are being well taken care of.

If you want someone to help with a Website Builder (WB) like Squarespace or Weebly,  make sure that they have at least some experience with html (the basic language for web pages), have experience with that WB or are comfortable learning new software. 

If you hire someone to build a website on a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal, more skills are required. In this case, I'd recommend hiring a professional. Web professionals are more expensive (more than hiring a computer student), so ensure that you get the expertise and service you are paying for. View their online portfolio and visit their live websites on a computer as well as on a cell phone (modern websites should look as good on a full screen as on a hand-held device). Ask them what happens if your website goes down and how they ensure that your data is safe. If you are not comfortable with computers, ask what kind of initial and ongoing training and support they provide. Read their testimonials, and ask your friends and colleagues if they've heard about this person or company.

With all of the options out there, if you hire someone, make sure it's a good fit. If you are checking out a web professional, ask questions and seek more than a “one-size-fits-all solution”. Look for someone with skills and experience, who provides attentive and personalized service. 

Whatever you choose for your website, you want to have a good experience making and maintaining it, and you want users to have a good experience using it. I wish you an easy and creative process making your website! 

If you enjoyed this article and you are considering a professional for a website on a Website Builder or CMS, please contact me for a free meeting.

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