[Website Ops] Questions to ask yourself when picking a website platform.

Website Platforms

A question we get asked quite often from small companies or that first starting out with a digital presence is first – What sort of website should they have, what platform should they operate on.

In my formal capacity, I’ve worked with many companies to work out what is the best solution for them, ranging from bespoke websites build from the ground up to use some of the worlds most popular pre-made services, but it’s rarely something I can answer quickly (or rather I can but only if I’ve already seen your website and had a chat about your business), it’s all about your needs or the needs of your business – All in all it’s quite a complicated question.

Very quickly when referring to a website platform, system, or generally ‘website’ and code we’re talking about what is used to ‘power’ the website, what all the code in the background is based on, and by extension, the CMS (content management system) that you’ll use to edit the content on the website, manage your orders, customers and generally how you’ll operate the behind the scenes of the website (as opposed to a developer editing the code behind the platform).

So what should my website be powered by...

This is a big decision for any company and comes down to the following factors

  1. How unique is your offering?
    1. Does the website need to integrate with other software you use (Booking systems, warehouse, sales tracking etc).
  2. Is there a platform you already know and have used?
  3. How big is your budget?
  4. How long is this website meant to last?

Starting with how unique is your offering is basically asking you how many features are you expecting your website to have.

Are you an eCommerce store selling a highly customisable product (For a furniture store when you have to pick different fabric options, accessories etc all from the product page), are you are a travel service offering bookings where customers need to be able to pick an asset, pick a date, pick options and pay a partial payment? On the other hand, you could be a brochure/information website for your funeral directors business where you just want to lay gracefully out some basic information and signpost visitors to give you a call.

Obviously the more simple the build and the design/look and feel of the website the more doors that are opened for what you can use. Basic site builders such as Wix.com come to mind and a platform that will be mentioned in this article quite often – WordPress is another great option.

It’s worth mentioning that fairly complicated websites can also be built on WordPress as well, I’ve had the opportunity to write specifications and proposals for the simplest of websites for WordPress and some fairly lengthy and complicated specs for businesses as well. 

My first advice to you is – List out the features you want your website to have – Start with the key pages.  What do you expect your Homepage to do, If you have Products then what do you expect the Category pages and the Product pages to do. If you’re unsure then the next best advice I can give is to look at your competitors, or sites that you admire, build up a small portfolio of them.

Finally – If your website is going to need to integrate with software you already run – e.g. The website is a sales and leads generation tool for you and you want inquiries to go into your salesforce account,  or perhaps your an eCommerce store and want orders to go straight into your stock management and finance program like Sage – Or perhaps far more simple – You want to do email marketing, have a sign-up form on the website and for new signups to get automatically added to your Mailchimp account – Keep this in mind – Checkout your third-party software website and see who they list as favoured integration options (assuming they even list them!)

Is there a platform you already know? 

This is an important one to ask because if you already have a platform that you like and you know how to use then it’s worth trying to keep it and upgrade it where possible to match your new requirements. If you don’t know how or you don’t think the platform can handle it then these are features that you should add to the list of your first stage.

When you move platforms e.g. from Wix to WordPress, from WordPress to Magento, from Magento to WordPress or from one closed source platform to another you’re committing yourself to a huge task full of big risks and a knowledge debt to train on the new system. 

It’s worth saying that sometimes you have to move platform because you’ve fallen out with the current one – You hate it, it doesn’t do what you want – Or worse it does do what you want but the company that is running it for you keeps breaking it and doesn’t respect you.

If you have used WordPress (or another platform) in the past and were happy with it then give it another chance, or if you hated it then remove it from the list. 

At the end of the day, it’s important that you are happy with the platform you choose. The only additional thing to think about when thinking of your past and present platforms are – Is it the platform you don’t like, or is it the support you’ve had to run it or understand it. In my experience, I’ve encountered plenty of customers who hate with a passion the Magento and WordPress platforms, but it turned out just to be a level of frustration and confusion and when guided properly that hate turned to love.

How big is your budget?

This unsurprisingly is one of the first questions I ask a client in my formal capacity. Now I’m not a salesman but it’s again unsurprisingly seen as a sales technique to take all of the client money – I imagine customers think whatever figure they give me I’ll offer the same product. This isn’t true. 

The size of your website budget has a huge impact on which platform you’ll want to pick, the features you’ll have, the level of design and support. I’ve sold sites anywhere from a few thousand pounds to projects up to 100k and I’ve been part of website project builds that lasted years and priced up to 300k. 

If you’ve only got the budget for a few hundred pounds then I can tell you know that you’ll be using a site builder like Wix, or using WordPress with a commercial theme purchased from a provider like Themeforest – Now there isn’t anything wrong with this and you can still create a good looking site this way but you need to know ahead of time how big your investment is going to be. 

In my experience, if you’re a business with pre-existing branding after a simple brochure website you’ll want to be setting aside up to £10,000 in your first year to spend on your website. If you’re an eCommerce store then expect to double that.

This all assumes that you’re paying an agency or freelancer upfront for a build – There are plenty of providers out there now that provide websites as a service where you instead pay a monthly fee (Like Shopify and Wix) or agencies that will build you the website of your dreams in return for a share of all income your business makes (Such as 2% gross for 3-5 years). 

But this is the important thing to ask yourself - and forms part of the next question - How long is this website meant to last?

Websites, in my opinion, should be completely overhauled at 3-4 years to make sure your design stays modern, the functionality stays up to date and that you’re generally keeping and putting forward a modern experience for your customers. 

On the other hand – If it’s you or your companies first website I would suggest going down a Minimum Viable Product route (MVP) – Use a cheap monthly provider with minimal custom features like Shopify (Shopify powers everything from small home crafting boutique websites all the way up to the huge gym and sportswear providers like GymShark) to get your business online ASAP – You can then use it as a minimal risk to test the market and then use the money from the leads generated or products sold to fund a more advanced website a year later. 

In short – You do sadly have to spend money to make money, but just keep your expectations realistic and remember you can always do it in phases.

Okay, but what about me?

Now I know what you’re thinking, You’ve ready a very long page and you still have no idea what you should build your website on.

In that case, let me make it simple

Are you planning on selling goods or services?

If Yes then give Shopify ago. You can sign up for a free account risk-free and a hands-on guide will tell you very quickly if it’s the system for you.

If you find it doesn’t offer all of the flexibility you’re after then give WordPress (with WooCommerce) ago. Both WordPress and Woo are free to use but you’ll need to find somewhere to host them (or a provider that handles both like 34sp.com, or a budget provider like HostGater.com).

If you know your website is going to have lots of complex features and integrations then it’s likely a more bespoke build you want – this could still be on platforms like Magento and WordPress but you’re going to need someone experienced (Like an Agency or developer) to guide you through the options – Reach out to a few – talk them through what you’d like the website to do and the websites that you’ve seen that you already like and let them make the recommendation.

If you’re not selling goods and services then I’d again recommend WordPress and if you’ve got the cash to spend then I’d recommend getting a custom theme designed just for you. WordPress powers a majority of the webs Content Management System (CMS) powered websites (websites that aren’t static) and yours needs to stand out from the crowd – While there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of pre-made templates to pick from it’s worth spending the money to make sure that yours is unique to you (but as I said before, for an MVP, pick a good looking theme and get out there ASAP).

Still unsure?

This website is powered by WordPress, It’s using the Avada theme (The best selling theme of all time or WordPress) and is hosted by HostGator.  Why? Because WordPress is a lowcost powerful platform that’s very easy to configure and the Avada theme just adds onto it with hundreds of pre-made layouts. Finally, the host is just a simple cheap host, the cheapest I could find at the time and that’s all these website needs – I could have set-up cloud infrastructure or go with a managed solution but sometimes.. You want to leave that all at work and just pick whatever the quickest and easiest.