It feels like every second post in my social feed recently has been the same question: I want to build a website, what platform should I use?
As a designer who’s used (to date) Square/Weebly, Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress/WooCommerce, I maybe have a few more comparison points than most. So what are my top recommendations for website platforms?
My top pick for: Cheap† & easy e-commerce sites
Weebly has been around as a website platform for a while (15 years!), but has really only recently become a serous contender as the result of its acquisition by Square.
This has pretty much turned Weebly sites into an e-commerce add-on to Square’s commerce suite. This means it’s one of the cheapest options (you can get a fully-functional e-commerce site completely free!), and also, it’s completely integrated with Square, including its POS system, and the products and inventory within it.
For those who do markets, events, or other in-person sales, you can grab their basic card reader from Officeworks for $59, and use Square to manage all your in-person and online selling in one nifty little bundle, with no additional out-of-pocket costs (just their processing fees of ~2%). You can even sell on social media with the free plan!
Square’s simplicity is also one of its weakness. The easy-to-use drag-and-drop builder is a bit clunkier than Squarespace’s, so you do have less ability to customise the layout. That said, that can still be a pro if ease-of-use is one of your criteria!
The other main point against Square is their pricing† – while the base pricing is cheaper than a lot of comparable website platforms, additional functionalities tend to be priced much more highly than elsewhere, and they’re constantly taking free features and reducing the inclusions to push customers onto higher subscriptions. You only need to add one or two paid features (eg access to PayPal and email marketing) and it goes from being incredibly cheap to more expensive than the competitors.
You do also have limited access to integrations and customisations, like integrating with other systems, custom-coding features, or adding external payment methods, so you may find that your business outgrows Square’s capacities, but it can be more than adequate for many businesses’ needs.
They have support available Monday-to-Friday during local business hours, and they do have quite slow page load speeds, so I don’t recommend it long-term.
Link: Square Online*
* This referral link gives you your first $1,000 of sales fee-free, courtesy of Nyx Apothecary.
† Update August 2023: Square have recently significantly increased their website prices, and moved some basic features previously available on the free plan (eg the ability to embed external code/features) to their more expensive plans. The base plan + email marketing is now on par with the price of Shopify (including their in-built, fairly robust email marketing).
My top pick for: Robust & multi-channel e-commerce
If you’ve thought about e-commerce, you’ve probably heard about Shopify – it’s what they specialise in!
As such, Shopify is one of the more powerful e-commerce options out there, without stepping into the realm of enterprise software. They’re constantly adding new features, and they’re the go-to e-commerce platform for other software to build integrations with. You can manage multiple sales channels (like Facebook, Pinterest, eBay, and Google) right out of the box, plus a bunch more via their extensive app library. And if there isn’t already an app for something? It gives you easy access to the API and all of the website/theme code, so you always have the option to custom-code features (or hire a developer to do it for you)!
Their free integrated POS app also offers most features a small business would need, and the PRO plan is still pretty competitive compared to other options on the market.
Shopify is probably the most expensive option (as far as entry-level plans go), but the other mark against it is that Shopify is not the most intuitive.
Because new features are continually being added onto an existing system, some of them might not be located where you expect them, or fit together in a way that’s user-friendly – practical functionality wins out over an intuitive user experience. Once they’ve got the hang of things, most folks I know love it, but for others, the learning curve and lack of user-friendliness just isn’t worth it, especially when the competing options are cheaper.
They do also have an enormous library of resources to help you figure things out (here are some links to them), and their 24/7 support staff are incredibly helpful!
Want to give Shopify a go? Get in touch and I can set you up with an unlimited free trial (usually 14 days)! Otherwise the link above offers a $100 credit after your first bill.
My top pick for: Standard websites with minimal-to-no e-commerce products
Squarespace is super-easy to make a really attractive and functional website with. You can have a pretty, professional-looking site on your own domain from just $16/month (or from $25 for e-commerce sites). It’s easy to use, medium-customisable, and you can do a lot of your website management straight from the phone app!
My two biggest gripes with Squarespace are both e-commerce related, namely product management, and integrations.
While Squarespace will allow you to have unlimited products on all of their e-commerce plans, managing all of those products definitely gets quite unwieldy once you get over 100 or so products.
Integrations are also sorely lacking for those of us who aren’t able to access US-only features (although API access on the Advanced Commerce plan does open some extra options). For example, when Squarespace recently launched their (US-only) POS (Point of Sale) feature, they removed all of the previously-existing POS integrations. So if you sell in-person, at events, markets, or a physical store, there’s no easy way to link your in-person sales information with your website. This might not be an issue for folks who carry large amounts of stock, but if you’re worried that you might sell out of something at a market and then have someone buy more online (that you can’t fulfil), it might be a concern.
Squarespace’s new design page creation interface gives you more control without a need for any technical skills. The flip-side of this is that it has become much more complex, and in the process they’ve made it much more difficult to create a responsive website. 83% of customers consider a seamless website experience on all devices to be very important [source], so this is unfortunately a pretty big mark against their new direction.
Other Website Platforms
Wix is another one that’s come a long way in recent years. While they often offer significant discounts, I find the back-end rather clunky. It’s drag-and-drop, but still highly-customisable, and it handles a larger number of products quite well! They do also try to up-sell you every time you log in, which I found quite tedious. It also doesn’t offer POS integration outside of the US, which might be an issue if you also sell in-person. It is also definitely the most unresponsive, so unfortunately I can’t recommend it.
[Note, 02/11/2023: Wix is also an Israeli-owned company who have fired staff for criticising Israel’s genocide against Palestine (on their personal social media).]
WordPress/WooCommerce: Unless you have a technical background, I’d generally recommend against the open-source/”self-hosted” version (WordPress.org). If you’re tempted by it because it’s cheap, then you’re probably missing some of the additional costs, or some features/tools I’d recommend for a secure site. If you run a self-hosted WordPress site, you’re also responsible for maintaining the functionality and security — something that’s included as part of the price with hosted platforms.
WordPress websites make up something like 40% of all websites on the internet, and 3/4 of websites with malware, with more than 4.3 billion attacks in 2020 attempting to exploit known vulnerabilities [source]. This means that maintaining your website and keeping it secure can be an enormous ongoing task. Not sure if that’s something you feel like committing to? You can hire a developer to offload this onto. Or try one of the great hosted website platforms discussed above!
Making the Decision: Which Platform Should I Use?
With all the above said, I have two pieces of advice for choosing between website platforms for your website:
- Make a list of everything you need from it. The features that are non-negotiable. Make a list of the features you’d like as well, even if they’re not deal-breakers. When checking out your options, look for these. Are they included by default? Will you need to purchase a higher plan to get access to them? If you need an app/integration to get those features, is it paid or free? And how well does it work?
- Make use of free trials! Most will give you 7-30 days to play around with the platform before you have to pay anything – take advantage! Sometimes something ticks everything off my list, but I just really don’t like using it – and vice versa! Play around with it, get a feel for it, start building your website. If there’s anything that you just don’t vibe with, cancel and move on – it’s much better to figure out now than once you’ve already paid for a whole year!
I hope this run-down on the popular website platforms has been helpful, and left you with a little bit more of an idea where you’re going, or what you’re looking for — I tried to be brief!
It can definitely be an overwhelming decision to make, especially if you’re new to websites, e-commerce, business in general, or all of the above – and especially if you’re not that techy! But you don’t have to make any decisions right away, and you don’t have to stick with them forever.
If you’re not sure of a decision, it’s ok to forgo the discount of an annual subscription in order to just pay month-by-month until you’re sure – e.g. saving 20% off the cost of a year is great if you use it the whole year, but not so much if you throw in the towel after a few months!
That said, if you just want to dip in your toe while you’re getting the hang of things, a free Square/Weebly site can be a great way to do that — that’s what I did!
You also don’t have to do it alone!
If you’d like a hand deciding between different options, figuring out how things work, or even if you want to hand the whole thing over to someone else altogether(!), I can help. Just get in touch and I’m happy to provide whatever assistance you need.
The information above is based primarily on my own experiences, with my own websites, and client websites — I’d love to hear what others think! Feel free to comment below with your own experiences, I’d love to learn from you.
See also: Etsy vs. Website – Which is better?
* This blog contains some referral and affiliate links. I may be paid a commission if you use these links to make a purchase.