Choosing the right platform is almost harder than finding the perfect partner. There seems to be so many features to compare or you may need to start with one and eventually outgrow it an move to another. There's a lot of opinions out there And surprisingly people get pretty passionate defending the platform they've chosen. But it's important to remember to choose a website platform for your own reasons.
So before we dive into the most popular and widely used platforms out there, we have to start with the most important steps:
- Set goals: What do you need now but also, what will you need in the near future? Consider things like needing a shop, starting a podcast, offering online ordering, scheduling consultations, etc.
- Write it down: Write down all the features you need, including how much control you want over the design, keeping the site updated, and how much time and money you have to put towards your site.
I've been working with straight up code and many platforms over the 20 years I've been creating websites. Yep, 20 years. I've had the time to use and try out many platforms and I'm presenting my recommendations below. But please remember again, choose what works best for you. My insight is meant to show you the possibilities and potential of each platform, but also the drawbacks.
You also need to feel comfortable using whichever platform you choose. You don't have to master it, be able to create a highly custom design and experience, but the power to grow your business lies in keeping your website current and relevant, so minimally you should be able to update the photos and copy.
So now, in no particular order...
WordPress (the open-source content management system) has been a round a long time, since 2003. You will find the most die-hard fans of WordPress than probably any other platform on this list. WordPress is a strong blogging platform, I actually think the best one out there. But I don't think it's great to build your entire site on. But let's break it down...
First and foremost, WordPress is free*. Other platforms that can say that often involve putting ads on your site, which is never a good thing. There are also tools you can use to style your website and blog on WordPress with little to no code needed which is a huge advantage for people looking to DIY their website. Some of the most loved are FloThemes, Divi, Elementor, and Genesis child themes, the last one needing more code knowledge but it's a powerful way to control the design a bit more.
WordPress offers thousands of plugins so anything you can think of that you need, there's choices available to you to make it possible.
First, while the CMS WordPress is free*, you will still need to pay for hosting, domain, security, and a lot of times, a designer and/or a developer to get a truly amazing website and premium plugins. So the cost is normally pretty close to another platform choice you could make. It being open-source also means there's no direct support. You have to rely heavily on your designer or developer if something goes wrong of if you did your website yourself, get ready to search for sometimes hours through forums to find a possible solution to your issue.
WordPress started as a blog platform and it's still best used for that. The tools you can use to build other pages for your site are all modular-based or require code so you don't have as much creative freedom. Plugins also give you lots of options but there are so many and no one regulating which are available, you can be using one that is incompatible with another you have installed and not know that's why your site isn't working.
I used to offer WordPress.org sites to my own clients when I first started in 2014 and I had so many clients reach out 1-2 months after launch before their site was down. It was usually the plugins issue I just mentioned or they didn't update their plugins and it crashed their site. Hacking and security is also a larger issue with a site hosted with certain companies so it takes a lot of research to find one that'll work for you.
WordPress is powerful and can definitely benefit certain businesses. But I think you'd need a developer ready whenever needed already on your team to fully experience the best of WordPress and have it be the best choice for your website. Also, if you have a ton of content, pages, etc. WordPress is a good choice but again, have a fantastic relationship with a developer.
My goal is to present this post with as little bias as possible, but I will say we have only offered Showit for a few years now and there's a lot of reasons why. We don't believe in pushing someone to use a platform that is not best for them. With that said, 95% of our clients flourish on Showit and we believe it's because it combines some of the best features all in one place, but it's not perfect for everyone!
Showit has been around over 10 years and has a small but mighty team based in Arizona. Their support is unmatched. I know if our clients ever need more technical help, they are well taken care of.
You have full creative freedom with this drag and drop platform. And remember all the pros I mentioned when using WordPress (minus the building tools)? You use WordPress for your blog with Showit and you can create pages on WordPress as well, meaning you also have the ability to create just about anything with Showit and WordPress used together.
Something else I really love about Showit is you have full control over the mobile design, they have resources to let you know what plugins are compatible, and you can embed elements like email lists, shops, membership pages, and more. Creating complex blog layouts is a breeze and if you don't want to start from scratch, there are so many amazing templates you can start with.
There are a few things I'm not the biggest fan of with Showit. First, I love having control over the mobile site design but having to leave time to design and develop that completely separate is something you want to plan ahead for. I also feel like Showit is not fully responsive since you can't develop a tablet or large screen version of your site. It can feel limiting when viewing your site on a tablet or landscape mobile.
Showit is similar to Adobe creative apps but it does have a slight learning curve with certain features, but thankfully photos, galleries, and copy all can be changed just by double clicking. The blog is what I notice tripping people up the most just because you need to set up the settings a certain way so it loads right so that takes some time to learn unless you hire someone to design and develop your site.
You can only have one domain per account, so if you need a second one, you will need another account. They do offer a 50% discount for your other account and plus sites (or subdomains) on your main account, but I wish you could have more domains on one account. On the WordPress side of things, you'll still want to update your plugins but I've noticed it's a lot less often than when I was only on WordPress before.
Lastly, because I think it's so important to be aware of, you can transfer your blog posts and any WordPress page content to another platform but you're unable to download your code and have your same site somewhere else. You need Showit to have your site function the way it does on the platform, so good to know ahead of time!
Showit is best for small businesses that are looking to create a unique website experience. The drag and drop abilities can make your site feel more custom. The community, support, and ease of self-maintenance are also huge selling points. And it's still built very well for photographers with their gallery options.
I used to offer Squarespace and still see its appeal now. It's so easy to dive into and fantastic for brand new business owners.
As I mentioned, I love how easy it is to choose one of Squarespace's (let's be honest) really clean, well-designed templates and create a simple website. This platform has a lot of great articles and great support. Plus, there's a lot of resources of people who sell codes to enhance your site and even template enhancements and designs. Many codes are available to get a discount on your first year of Squarespace, usually from sponsorships of various YouTubers.
Another major benefit is that you don't have to worry about mobile, the site auto updates making it extremely secure, and you can incorporate a blog, shop, and dozens of other app integrations all from the dashboard interface. I love how all-in-one it is. It's really straight forward for a business owner who is just starting and figuring out their brand, ideal clients, and signature offerings. It gives you a lot of wiggle room to experiment with minimal loss.
Similar to how having full control of mobile on Showit is a good and bad thing, the same goes for the lack of control for Squarespace's mobile design. It will automatically be responsive and just kinda stack your desktop design but sometimes this results in things being out of order, too big, too small, etc. The only way to fix these things is with CSS, so you do need to know some code if you want to have more control over the look.
Their plans are all over the place with what's included in which one for what price...it can get confusing unfortunately. And a little pricey compared to having Showit or Shopify when you want to have a shop. Also, once you're ready for a custom site or your business starts to really grow, Squarespace is the platform that is outgrown the most quickly of any I've worked with. When it works, it really works. But it quickly has too many limitations to really build a huge brand's website on.
Brand new business owners will benefit the most from Squarespace. If you are not ready to commit to custom, lots of apps, or want to experiment with what you offer and figuring out your audience, Squarespace is the perfect platform to have a clean and simple site that does the job.
Remember when I mentioned 95% of our clients could use Showit? The other 5% needed a larger shop so Shopify was the choice to make on which platform was best for them. Let me explain...
Shopify is a leading shop platform for good reason. It's a great choice for shops with large inventories or a lot of choices (such as sizes or colors) for their products. The dashboard (backend) is really easy to use and gives you fantastic analytics to gauge how your shop is doing. I also love that you can sell both physical and digital products with Shopify.
Their templates are really great starting places and usually require minimal code to make feel more custom. They have a network of experts that can help you and many people work with Shopify so it's not hard to find the perfect fit for your project. Their product organization is top notch and can help systemize even hundreds of items. SEO is built right in! And if you're a designer, they have a fantastic affiliate program you can use with your clients. We love to also embed Shopify Lite buy buttons into our Showit sites so the platform is really versatile.
To take advantage of their apps to use things like payment plans, upsells, and bump products, you'll need an actual store website and not just Shopify Lite. So if you don't need the whole store, you aren't able to access these apps. And many of the best ones are premium and you need to pay for them adding to your monthly cost. I also wasn't a fan that you can't create an affiliate program for your shop without using an outside service. We've recently switched to ThriveCart for our own shop and now have all these features and are loving it! But I still highly recommend Shopify.
If you have a large shop with a lot of products, but especially physical products, Shopify is gonna be one of the best platforms you can use.
Webflow is a newer platform but we've recently made the switch to them! Webflow can do just about anything and we're excited to offer it now for even more immersive and custom experiences for our clients.
SEO and app integrations are also built in and one of the best parts, you are able to download all of your code and transfer to self-hosting if you ever need to. Plus, it makes it easy to backup your own site. Webflow is used by pretty large and well-known companies. Their collections are also so powerful to make creating a portfolio, directory, and more super easily.
The absolute best part of Webflow though is that it's completely responsive and clients have their own simplified user interface to use to maintain their site. You can design your site for all screen sizes and you know exactly what it will look like. And when clients are updating their site, it's so much harder to mess up the design, creating confidence in our clients to maintain their site with ease.
Some downfalls of Webflow is that I think it still requires at least a minor understanding of code to use it comfortably. I've been coding since I was 12 so I know I feel really comfortable using it probably because of that. But I also have to acknowledge someone more tech-phobic may not like Webflow's interface.
Their pricing structure is also pretty confusing. It's not straight forward how much it costs and which plan you need. I had to ask their support what I would need. If you're not looking to DIY your website, there are developers that specialize in using Webflow as their main platform.
We see most if not all of our new clients benefitting from Webflow. With their advanced animations, user friendly client facing interface, and the ability to create almost anything we can imagine, I think Webflow could benefit anyone, especially if they hire a designer/developer to make their dreams a reality.
Avoid if You Can
These three platforms have more cons than pros and any of the above choices are much better platforms no matter what your needs are. I'll briefly touch on the biggest issue with each one that prevents me from recommending them.
WordPress.com gets confused with WordPress.org all the time. The .com version is not free and can get unnecessarily expensive as you need to expand the uses of your website. The options, like plugins, are extremely limited for what you're paying for and it's very hard to transfer your site to another platform.
I've had the most headaches dealing with Wix when building new websites for clients. This will sound weird but Wix seems almost possessive of their customer's websites. You can't transfer your content and blog posts away from their platform which is crazy. You should be able to download your own posts that you wrote.
Another issue is if you bought your domain from them, you first have to transfer ownership of your domain to the registrar they use to claim your domain and then once you wait about a week for that, if you want to further transfer it to another registrar, that then takes another week or so. For reference, this whole process with other companies normally takes 1-2 days.
So yes, I think Wix is one of the worst platforms you can use simply because you should control your website and I don't think Wix allows you to do this organically. It's all made overly complicated to discourage you from leaving them which isn't fair.
While Weebly has some pros, the limitations on the design, support, and the inability to create an international site if needed hold this platform back for me. I don't know as much about this platform as the others, but I truly feel the other platforms I covered are better options and have more resources available.
Well that was a lot of information, but I hope you feel more prepared and educated on the many platforms available out there. If you can believe it, there's even more. But these are the leaders in the world for a reason and I think you can find the perfect fit for your business.