WordPress websites have been the standard for building most websites for years; from the very simple to the more robust. However, lately, we’ve noticed a trend when speaking to a lot of potential clients– a devaluing of the platform because of some fundamental misunderstandings about what WordPress (and working with a professional) can do.
A response we get a lot is, “Can’t I just go build that on SquareSpace?”
With the saturated market of easy online builders like SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly, many automatically assume these are equal replacements for WordPress. In reality though, that’s like comparing a modular piece of ikea furniture with something custom built.
This is not to say one is better than the other, but depending on your needs, knowing the differences could be key to choosing the right approach for your website. To help identify what is the best option for your business, ask yourself a few key questions before getting started:
Do you want the website accessible and optimized for phones, tablets, and laptops?
Considering that more than half of all website traffic is from a mobile device, your answer should be “Yes.” Not only are responsive websites the new standard, but those optimized for mobile devices (i.e. phones and tablets) will rank better in Google search results compared to non-mobile optimized sites.
If you are looking for the most flexibility and the most control over your mobile layout, WordPress provides full customization. Because the code that controls the layout and design is fully accessible through your server, the smallest adjustments can be made to customize each responsive level. This ensures your layout not only looks good, but is best optimized for your visitors at each level.
Most online website builder templates are responsive, and adjust accordingly for tablet and mobile, stacking each section for readability. The responsive layout typically follows a standard set of rules the determines how the layout responds as the window size and device changes. The level of optimization ranges from builder to builder, but most provide a few limited options to adjust how content appears. This may include text size, or order in which content appears.
Are you “ok” with using an existing theme for your website layout and design?
You’ve probably seen an existing website that you like. Good news is if you want your website to look like a current design trend there is a good chance you can find a template of some sort to work with. However, if you are looking for a layout and design that is tailored to your business and brand, you’re probably going to need to build something custom.
There are is no shortage of customizations when it comes to WordPress. In fact, this is where most of the time, planning, skill, and creativity comes in when you hire a professional to build your website. However, there are many options when working with WordPress – the fully customized to the “page builders” that can give the online website builders a run for their money.
When using an online website builder your usually have the option to start with a blank “canvas” or choose from an existing template. Whichever you choose, will determine the amount of work you put in. Most templates are flexible enough to customized from a starting point, and while in most cases you’ll have limited options to choose from, if you’re going for a simple site, it should provide you with everything you need. If you start with a blank canvas you can likely create a pretty customized layout, but could hit some bumps (see below).
There are some caveats though. If you’re not exactly tech savvy, don’t have an eye for design or don’t really know what makes a good website layout, you could end up “dragging and dropping” yourself into a mess of a site.
How important is search engine optimization for you and your business?
For any business that wants to be found on the internet via a search engine, search engine optimization is crucial. The question then becomes how aggressive do you need to be in your search engine optimization strategy and tactics.
From how your website theme is built to plugins you can leverage to add more functionality there is no shortage of opportunity for optimizing a website built in WordPress. As a content management system it inherently follows a few best practices.
Each online website builder offers different options for what you can optimize on your website. Some however, don’t even follow the “minimum” recommended best practices. At a minimum you will want a tool that gives you control over the URL structure, page title, header tag usage, meta descriptions and proper section tagging such as header, navigation, body, and footer. This is something to be aware of when selecting a builder site.
Are there any third party services or applications that you need to integrate with?
Whether you need to accept payments through your website, capture visitors for your email list, or promote your social media accounts, be aware of what third party services you need on your website. Further be sure to determine if those services need to be integrated into your own database or CRM.
Because WordPress is fully customizable to the code level, there are virtually no systems it cannot integrate with if the provider offers a connection. Even in a situation where there may not be a direct connection, a work around very often can be used to achieve the desired outcome.
Before you sign up for an online website builder, they typically provide a list of what tools, services, and add-ons are available. Be sure to browse that list and confirm if what you need is on it. If you are looking to do simple things like collect emails, or even build a shop, several will have you covered. Do keep in mind that if your needs grow you are limited to the options the online builder provides.
Do you plan on updating or building the website yourself?
Depending on your business, technical experience, available time, and budget you may want to get hands on with designing, developing, and maintaining your website. However, if you’d prefer to be hands off then allow the experts in the field of website design and development analyze your needs and recommend the best solution for you.
If you’d prefer to not work on your website, great! Sit back and relax as the experts do their job. However, if you’re planning on getting hands on, there are various page or site builders that are on par (or better) than the online site builders. Most of them require a little bit of setup and configuration before you can get up and running. Alternatively, you developer may set up basic custom fields to control your content with no builder at all.
Virtually all of the online website builders have a WYSIWYG editor. This usually consists of a “front-end” view of your website where you can drag and drop widgets into various columns and layouts. Be mindful of consistently and aesthetics as you’ll have a lot of control over type, color and spacing. Similar to layout, if you don’t start with a template design, or have a plan in mind you could end up with an inconsistent looking site.
TIP: While SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly may make it easy to build, but don’t discount the idea of bringing in professional help. Having a designer or developer help you consider layout and user experience can you help you get a lot more out of their templates.
Asking these questions can you start finding the right direction for your website platform. Have you had experience working on the content side of either? Love it? Hate it? We want to know! Give us your thoughts in the comments.