We're spending a lot of time at home this year, staying safe and it's a great time to get online. This means it's a great time to build an online space for you, your business, your idea, your blog - all the things. You're looking for a place to build your digital home.
Lately, I've seen a huge rise in questions that start along the lines of, "What should I use to build my website?" that's always followed by a long list of well-meaning humans who suggest x CMS (Content Management System) or Platform based on what they've used and their experience with said systems.
What I don't see asked though.... are the human's goals of this new digital home and asking a bit more about what they're looking to sign up for.
The context is important with this decision and there are a lot of places where you can build a website in 2020 and they're spending a LOT of money to get you to choose them.
CMS' & Platforms are BIG Business
Shopify has been scaling their entire enterprise for years and a large portion of that is their very good marketing. They've launched Kylie Cosmetics and Shopify powers so many small business websites that in 2019 it owned 21% of the eCommerce platform market.
Then Wix, oh Wix. Their YouTube ads are everywhere & they work with an endless list of influencers, most notably Karlie Kloss. Haven't we all been trying to watch a YouTube video on or listen to a podcast and that dude-like dude-guy interrupts to try to tell you how easy to use Wix is?
And that advertising is directly moving the needle as we can see in the market share for eCommerce companies.
The point? There is a lot of money in getting your eyeballs and your dollars into the platform's by making it sound easy.
There are also many platforms beyond these three including some noted in @web's tweet (above) like Magneto, Weebly, WooCommerce (aka WordPress) etc. SquareSpace, Shopify & Wix are just the platforms I see recommended the most. This landscape is big, has a lot of players in it and holds a lot of real estate - digital real estate.
So how many CMS' / Platforms are there?
The big ones we've mentioned are SquareSpace, Shopify & Wix but the world has so much more to offer from WordPress, Hubspot, WebFlow, Joomla, Magento, Ghost, Drupal, BigCommerce, Weebly and the list goes on and on and on...
There are too many options. So it makes sense as to why someone would ask "what should I use to build a website?" - the choice is overwhelming, so I completely understand why it's easier to have people tell you where to go.
Also, a lot of these companies are paying publications to say lovely things about them or building websites to also say lovely things about them - causing even more confusion, so who do you believe?
All I ask when deciding on a digital home, is that you step back from the list of recommendations from strangers on Facebook to take into account these 4 things, regardless of context.
4 Things to Think About Before Deciding on a Digital Home.
YOUR DOMAIN NAME
My #1 point is if you're buying a domain, do not purchase your domain name through any of these CMS systems/platforms.
Please ensure you've purchased your domain somewhere where you can control it forever and not just when you move away from that CMS to something else, or that CMS goes out of business, or gets acquired, or countless other reasons I've heard.
Buy your domain through a reputable domain provider and pay the x amount per year yourself. It's worth it to keep your own domain under your own control.
I've seen too many humans lose control of their domains or have to go through leaps and bounds to have to get control their own domain as these CMS's make it easy to get setup, often including a domain for free - but if you ever move or want to change anything, watch out.
Where to buy a domain
Luckily there are companies that just deal in domain names.
Domains are a whole world onto themselves, they all have a yearly fee and most of those listed above also provide privacy so no one can scrape your email off of the registration and spam you - speaking from personal experience.
#2 is ask yourself - what do you need to connect to your website? Do you have a newsletter? A CRM? Do you use a 3rd party system for signups? Are you a real estate agent and you have to connect your listings? Odds are this point brings up that there's probably something specific to your industry you need to connect to your website.
These questions can go on and on, as you unearth all the pieces that get connected to websites and how complicated that can be on today's internet.
And you're not the only one you need to connect all the things together. WordPress has 55,000 plugins in it's official database. Shopify has 3,100 plugins! The internet is also here to help you with copious amounts of options. The marketing tech landscape is at 8,000 services to help you out as of 2020 with all the variations of those things.
Lastly, don't forget tracking.
Maybe you use Google Analytics out of the box just to see how your visitors interact with your website. BUT! I always check what analytics integrations are available and have seen some surprising answers that have taken us in different directions as not all of these platforms have connectors to all of these things, OR more so they may cost extra $$$.
#3 is how much control do you want over updating your site? Do you want to be able to change out every piece of it or once the theme/framework is set are you happy to update content and let it run or do you want to never touch it again? Or are you working with developers who can help you out? Or are you a developer and want to look at all the elements?
Also, think about how much you care about your site being hosted on someone else's platform that you can't control personally. I've seen clients want to change core functionality sometimes but they're stuck or the CMS won't take any suggestions.
Also something to think about - some of these companies have gone out of business and imagine that COVID-19 will change things even more. What's your plan if/when they shut down?
Shopify had a breakup with Mailchimp in 2019 that left it's users to figure out solutions on their own. The web constantly evolves but thinking about things like these before you make a decision gives you the ability to go in with open eyes and not get shocked when something changes.
Do they have any rules about adding content and who's content that ends up being? Also check if you can export everything that you import into your site, you'd be surprised who doesn't offer that. Can you make backups of the site? Or does that cost extra? How are updates handled or are you going to need a dev to upgrade your PHP when new versions come out?
LAST BY NOT LEAST - YOUR COMFORT LEVEL
Lastly, #4 is what is your comfort level with tech, updates, changes, managing the site overall? Some of these CMS' will tell you it's going to be easy and there's no developer required. The truth is a developer may still be required.
Are you going to be comfortable making the updates yourself or would you just like to have someone else do it? Or would you like to get in just drag things around to where you'd like to place them.
All of these are trade offs. With dragging elements around you lose access to the code a lot of the time, or the systems add a lot of code in the background that could slow down your website. With adding your own images are you comfortable with re-sizing them so they'll be optimized or does the CMS/plugins you've chosen do that for you?
There's a lot to think about as you manage your new digital home.
Bonus: Do you want to sell things?
Some of the CMS' listed above focus on allowing you to sell with their platform and some added that functionality on later. For instance WordPress started as a blogging platform, that's still its core. It's only been later that WooCommerce was developed and released to enable merchants access to that. On the other side Shopify started as ecommerce and their blogging functionality is pretty limited.
Selling is *big* business and choosing a CMS that doesn't prioritize that could put your business in a pinch, quite literally.
Write it this all down before you push the buy button.
Just like when you buy a house, you tour it and get someone to do an assessment or do the assessment yourself - so write it down.
- Buy your domain outside of the system you use to build your site.
- Make a list of the integrations you'll want/need.
- Think about how much control you'll want and what you'll want to change in your digital home.
- How comfortable are you with making updates? Do you want to touch code ever?
- Bonus: eCommerce.
That's it. If the answers to all of these are you want ultimate control over everything, I advise you to look into (but not decide until you've done your research!) WordPress as the rest of the options out there always have something missing and WordPress is still a very robust system and provides a ton of flexibility. There's a plugin/integration for almost everything, you can host it on your own server, your design can be anything and you can ensure that the anyone can update the website - without having to look at (much) code. There are many drawbacks with WordPress too, but that's another article...
For your future digital home, asking these questions is worth it as migrations or replatforming are not fun for clients or easy. I'm waiting on one client who's been doing a redesign for a year now after they put things all over the web and now want to consolidate them and that's just 1 story.
If you choose one of these or any other wonderful platform for your digital home and it doesn't turn out the way you envisioned, I'm one of the weird people who enjoy migrations a lot. I'm always happy to talk to help anyone through them or if you have any questions reach out - I hang out on Twitter and am happy to chat.