Which website builder is best for small businesses?

4 Feb 20

Etsy, Amazon, Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, GoDaddy.  There’s an endless choice of platforms to build your website on.  It’s bewildering.  Overwhelming.  How are you supposed to choose which website builder is going to be the best one for you to use?

Some have very slick marketing.  It is really easy to be seduced.  They tell you how quick and easy it is to build a website.  They tell you what an amazing website you’ll have.  How it will revolutionise your business (although we might agree with that one – just having a website can be revolutionary).  But there’s a bit more to it than they may be telling you. We’re cutting through the marketing bs to tell you what we really think…

Are we biased?  Possibly (we build websites in WordPress).  But our first website was not WordPress.  And we learnt (the hard way). 

Using a Marketplace like Etsy, Amazon, Not on the High Street

At the one extreme platforms like Etsy, Amazon, eBay etc (“marketplaces”) allow you to list your products on their website, usually for no/min up-front fee (some like Noths charge) – just a commission on each item you sell.

When you are first starting out that can be a really good idea.  It gives you the opportunity to test whether there is a market for what you are selling without making the investment (in time and money) in a website. 

Contrary to popular belief, most of these platforms are rubbish at bringing in new customers unless you have something very different to offer.  Search for “candles” on Etsy and you get 380,00 results…  Even “soy wax candles” gives over 40,000 results.  You need to generate the interest in your products and use the platform purely as the administrative vehicle for processing the order (which they do well).  If they bring in any new customers consider that a bonus.

But as your business grows they can be expensive and you are building your business on someone else’s foundations.  You don’t have a lot of control.  It’s not your “brand”.  And there is value in building a brand.  

Using a Website Builder

Then you have the likes of Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, GoDaddy, Shopify etc (“website builders”).  These charge a monthly fee to use their proprietary software and hosting together (you can’t use their software on another host). 

This software gives a professional looking set up if you invest the time.  It is designed for you to build your own website but, if you don’t want to, there are professionals/businesses who will build you a website on these platforms (for a fee of course) – giving an even more professional looking website with less effort from you.

The cost depends upon which website builder you use and what you want to do.  If you want “shop” functionality for example you need an e-commerce plan which is more expensive.

Because these use their own proprietary software there are a limited number of themes (which give the “look”) and applications (which increase the functionality of a website – WordPress call them plugins). Some of these may be free, some aren’t.  Some website builders have more than others to choose from (Shopify has the widest range after WordPress).

A limited choice can be good or bad.  It is a bit like going to a one stop shop versus a supermarket.  Do you need/want 50 different packets of pasta to choose from?  Sometimes…

For example some website builders, like Wix, have their own email system for sending out marketing emails.  If you want to use a third party email system it is more difficult to have some form of signup on your website (depending upon which you choose it may not even be possible).

They’re also not always as quick to adapt to market changes.  Wix websites are not currently strictly “mobile responsive” (they can be built to look good on mobiles but the way they do it is not technically responsive which is an issue for Google search).  Most of them are also not strictly compliant with the “cookie consent” position of the ICO (I believe Shopify is compliant/you can get compliant Shopify applications).

If you are going to go down the route of using a website builder then we strongly recommend thinking about what you may want to do now and in the future and then comparing each of them.  Look at the cost of the plan you will need for each too.

Our first website was built using Prestashop.  Who?  Yes, quite (they are still going).  It was the “bees knees” for e-commerce websites back in 2012.  But it was overtaken by others.  That website needed an overhaul a couple of years later (because websites were increasingly being viewed on mobiles and ours, like others built at that time, looked rubbish on a mobile) and Prestashop had not kept up.  So we ended up changing (to WordPress).  And we had to start again.  We “lost” all our customer data (of course we took copies but we weren’t able to transfer the order details, logins or passwords over to the new website – so customers had to create new accounts).

And that is the biggest issue with a website builder.  You don’t own the website.  They do (because it uses their proprietary software).  If/when you want to stop using them (maybe because they’ve increased their prices and/or altered their terms, maybe you want to do something you can’t do with them, maybe they’ve been overtaken by Prestashop or some other newbie that has arrived on the scene), you’ll have to start again.

how to choose a website builder

What about WordPress?

WordPress is different.  Wordpress’s code is publicly available (it is free too – you just pay for the hosting and you don’t need to use WordPress’s own hosting).

This means that you “own” your website.  If your website host puts up prices/you’re no longer happy with their service you can transfer to another host.  If you no longer want to use a particular theme you can change (there are free themes and there are “premium” themes which you pay for).  And if WordPress go out of business you still have the code and therefore your website.

35% of websites in the world are built on WordPress (according to W3Techs).  That compares to about 1.5% for SquareSpace and 1.3% for Wix (Prestashop is now 0.6%).  And WordPress’s market share is still growing (it has grown every year for at least the past 10 years).  The White House, Sony Music, Renault, Weber and Walt Disney Corporation websites are all built on WordPress as well as millions of small businesses.

WordPress has had a reputation for being more difficult to set up and more difficult for non-techies to use.  That is not really the case any more.

The difficulty lies in the amount of choice you have.  Which theme should you use?  Which of the many plugins (additional applications which expand the functionality of your website) should you choose?  You don’t need to know any code.  You can even build on a “drag and drop” basis like the website builders.  Wordpress has come a long way.  

Why do we only use WordPress?

We only build websites using WordPress.  To be honest we could probably make more money using a website builder (because of their generous commission structures).  But we don’t think they are the right long term choice for any small business. 

We’re WordPress superfans.  Websites built with WordPress are the most flexible to grow with your business.  You “own” the code so are not dependent upon the terms (or survival) of any other business.  Wordpress doesn’t have to be difficult (you can build your own – no coding knowledge required).  It is very widely used (so there are always people who can help with any issue – someone else will have been there and probably recorded a youTube video).  And it can be cheaper than using one of the website builders (ongoing WordPress hosting is cheaper than the monthly fees for a website builder so it just depends upon any upfront costs – eg purchase of a theme/involvement of a professional). 

And if you would like a new WordPress website?  In addition to professionally designed websites built bespoke for you we now offer a lower cost service – a professionally designed/built website with step by step instructions for you to customise the website with your own logo, colours, text, images, products (if appropriate) and links.  We’ve chosen the best theme for you (it is a premium theme which is incredibly flexible) and given you the right level of functionality (with the ability to expand it further in the future as your business grows).  All at a price competitive with the website builders.  You just need to worry about the content! 

Further details of our bespoke and customisable websites can be found below  

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