If you have decided that now is the time to launch a new website for your business you may have started to explore some of the options available to you. A simple Google search will return 395 million results, not all of them relevant of course but it’s an indication of the wide range of services and information available to you. You may have given some thought to your requirements, if not you might find my blog post, New website what you need to know, useful.
You have a number of options available to you which include:
- DIY website builder like Wix or Weebly etc
- Static “boutique” website
- Content managed website like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal etc
It’s useful to understand the main differences between these options and the implications for you the end user.
DIY Website Builders
DIY website builders like Wix, Weebly and GoDaddy offer a wide range of packages to suit every need. Typically they offer a drag and drop web based interface that lets you build and update your website using little more than a web browser. Many offer free packages that even include the hosting although you should be aware that most of these don’t allow you to connect your own domain name, offer little or no support and are fairly crippled in terms of functionality and storage space. If you’re prepared to pay then you can remove the hosts branding, connect your own domain name and gain access to more advanced features like HD audio and video players, social media integration and more.
These packages enable you to produce responsive web designs that work on a wide range of devices and don’t require a huge amount of technical knowledge although it helps if you have a basic understanding of how to create a web page. Be aware that website builders like these are software as a service which means that you are effectively renting your website and when you stop paying you lose access to it.
A static website is often used where the information it contains rarely changes and/or the user requires a “storefront” to represent their business online. These tend to be cheaper and are fairly simple, consisting of just a handful of pages with basic information. For example you might have home/landing page, a services page and a contact page. The content and structure of the page is contained within an HTML (Hypertext mark up language) file and the design and layout is normally determined by a separate CSS (Cascading style sheet) file.
Whilst it is not impossible to update the pages yourself it does require some knowledge of HTML and CSS as well as how to download/upload files to/from the web server using an FTP program. If you are not comfortable with this then you may end up paying a web designer to make the changes for you which could end up being less cost effective in the long term.
Content Management Systems
A content management system is a system used to manage the content of a website. There are literally thousands of content management systems out there including the popular ones WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. It’s difficult to say with any degree of confidence which one is the best because some are better suited to particular projects than others and each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Most offer the ability to edit and manage the content of your web pages using a web browser interface. Unlike static websites there is no real need for the user to have knowledge of HTML and CSS. Content management systems can range from the very simple right up to very powerful and complex ones but essentially they consist of a number of key components.
- A database that stores information about the content of your web pages
- A delivery mechanism that uses pre built HTML templates and CSS files to compile the pages
- Media stored on the web server such as images, videos, audio and other documents.
When the user loads the web page in their browser a request is sent to the web server which compiles the page into valid HTML using the page templates and information taken from the database. Whilst this is an over simplified explanation, it does give you a basic understanding of how your final webpages are served up to your users. Content management systems offer a number of advantages over static websites
- They require little technical knowledge to create and edit web pages, offering the end user a simple web based visual editor to work with.
- The website design, or theme, can be changed without losing the original content making it much easier to update in the future
- Many content management systems offer advanced functionality and add-ons such as e-commerce, blogging platforms, social media integration and much more.
One of the biggest disadvantages to a content management system like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal is the reliance on plug-ins to extend the functionality of the website. Overuse of plug-ins or out of date badly coded plug-ins can slow your system down and expose you to security risks. A good developer will not rely too heavily on plug-ins especially for basic functionality and will take steps to mitigate these risks. Properly designed and maintained sites coupled with a good web host and back up strategy should be more than adequate for most small business purposes.
I build static and content managed websites for my customers, it’s your choice based on what your business needs. For my content managed websites I use WordPress which is a well established, highly customisable platform which powers more than 20% of the world’s websites. It was originally a blogging platform so it’s content management roots go back a long way but today it is a modern secure platform combining huge variety in design and functionality with ease of use when configured correctly. Take a look at this blog post, The WordPress Dashboard to see just how easy it is to use.