Thinking about a website? This article is for you!

Thinking about a website? This article is for you! I wanted to write a post about when you get to that point when you want a website but you’re not quite sure what to do next. I wrote previously specifically for bloggers who want to blog and you can read about this here. I wanted to however, write more generally about some of the technologies which are available, some of the questions I’m asked, and some of the problems I see. You’d do well to consider all these points when you’re considering a website for yourself or your business.

Your idea.

Be really clear in your mind what it is you’re trying to achieve. If it’s a personal website, consider who your audience will be, and what you’re hoping to get out of the website. If it’s for a business, think about what your business will deliver, will it do anything online or have any specific requirements? You can then therefore understand what you may need from your website. If it’s to raise brand awareness, you’ll be needing a brochure type website. If you’re selling stuff, you’ll need e-commerce functionality. Do you need a complimentary app? Do you need specific functionality? How will your audience use your site. Be really clear on what it is you want to achieve.

Budget

Don’t fall foul of the attitude of ‘I only want’ or ‘something simple like’. You do that as a human being to devalue what you’re asking for because you don’t attribute financial value to it. By starting sentences either in your mind or to others with that type of language, what you’re actually saying often is ‘I want to spend the bare minimum possible to realise my idea’. We’ll come onto why this is important next.

Attitude

For businesses specifically, you often think you want something ‘simple’ but you’re rarely qualified to understand what simple means. By being honest about things such as capability & budget, you’ll be better to then shape the solution you’ll use. I speak here around how to get the best out of web developers if you’re going to utilise 3rd party help.
Really ask yourself the question – are you doing yourself and your business justice, with your decision around how you’ll tackle getting a new website. Are you valuing it enough and if it was something you held more close to your heart? Measure the ratio of effort you’re putting into this, and whether it’s appropriate.

The Technology

The barrier of entry for getting a website is super low now. Most people are capable of spinning up something reasonable using the myriad of tools & platforms available. From WIX or hosting company’s website builders, which have step by step guides on how to do it and will automate a lot of the process for you. To wordpress.org which offers a free tier allowing you to have a bit more flexibility in your website creation (Squarespace are also pretty good) to advanced platforms such as The Grid which uses AI to produce web layouts! You provide the content, it does the rest. Simple!

However, the issue with a lot of these platforms (despite some of the glossy marketing) is they are often not simple. To use them you often need to be already comfortable with using quite complex on-screen interfaces, and understand the basic structuring of a website. (think The Grid or SquareSpace). WordPress offers you more freedom, but people are often then impotent because they become lost in the sheer amount of templates, functionality & such like and then get frustrated leading to their project stalling. WIX and companies of that ilk do a reasonable job, but often the compromise is so much if you want to keep it free, in things such as features or having to carry their ‘website powered by Wix’ or domain name branding it’s often not worth it. Only you can decide your sweet spot of what you are comfortable with to keep the solution you use cheap, vs what you will want to present to your customers. Consider what impression you are giving to your customers, (even if you’re starting out small) by using one of these freemium services.

The term ‘freemium’ is often used for these types of platforms whereby even though the initial purchase is cheap, often to keep the service running or even use rudimentary functionality such as contact forms and email, the price can often spiral. Watch out for that.
For e-commerce sites there are a range of platforms which are great, from Woo-Commerce (an integration bolt on into WordPress) to Magento or Shopify and others. So think of those if you’re selling something.

Examples

I think Squarespace really do offer some of the best templates, https://www.squarespace.com/templates and you could easily find something you want from it’s extensive library. However, even their pricing is buried at the bottom of their website https://www.squarespace.com/pricing but the list of features which really should be standard in any site are split between two pricing tiers. You are even charged more for paying monthly!

Wix pricing is quite clear https://www.wix.com/upgrade/website but you get pitiful storage and I think their templates often look dated and immature or often, all look the same. https://www.wix.com/website/templates

WordPress is a powerful platform powering a good proportion of the Internet. However, WordPress.org and professionally hosted full blown WordPress are quite different. https://wordpress.org/ Be really clear a lot of the best features aren’t in the .org version but this platform probably offers the best bang for your buck and remains quite low-cost overall.

The Grid is ok https://thegrid.io/ but will require you to have quite a lot of knowledge.
And a final note on all these platforms. Often, they don’t work well on mobile as the attention to detail isn’t there. Considering over 90% of your audience will consume your website from a mobile device, you should really consider ensuring you carefully pick templates, themes & page layouts which work well on mobile.

Maintenance

An often missed & confused part of having a website is the cost doesn’t stop once you have done. You have to think about content changes, updates, how often you’ll update it. Often these platforms update their core technology and that can render sites unusable, so you then have to go in and update them. You have to do this constantly. You should budget either your time or cost into monthly maintenance of any website and don’t think owning a website is a one of cost. Don’t forget about email, storage & annual renewal of your domain and web hosting.

Summary & advice

This article may sound like I’m putting people off using these low-cost platforms or trying to sell a more bespoke solution – I’m not. They can be great, and the more you play with them and get used to them, the better the output will be for you. However, do consider in my twenty five years of experience growing from a small independent web developer and helping many inviduals start their online journey for themselves or their business, I’ve never seen a suitable implementation of one of these systems.

Advice

Explore all of the platforms above and give them a fair trial. Pick one you like and stick to it. Understand the pricing and test their customer support. The measure of any of these companies (and remember, they are almost always overseas and often you’ll be at the mercy of a contact centre) is how good their support is. Pick one, build your website, and you’re good.

If after you explore realise that it may not be the route you go down, consider writing what you want down into a bit of a plan and putting it in front of a web developer.

Like anything in life, you only get what you pay for.

Mario DeCristofano

35 year old Digital native, grumpy, occasionally sweary & always passionate, I write about IT, technology & the things which interest me. @mariodc on Twitter.

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