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My Favourite DIY Website Platforms for Small Business

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) Squarespace, Shopify, Square/Weebly, Google Sites, Wix, WordPress/WooCommerce, and more, I maybe have a few more comparison points than most. So what are my top recommendations for website platforms?

Just wanna skip to what I’ve got to say about a specific platform?

Squarespace

My top pick for: Standard/catalogue websites with minimal-to-no e-commerce products

A screenshot of the Vintage & Art Nouveau Candles Squarespace website home page

Squarespace Pros:

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!

Squarespace Cons:

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.

Design Interface:

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 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.

Link: Squarespace*

Shopify

My top pick for: E-commerce

A screenshot of the Nyx Apothecary Shopify website home page

Shopify Pros:

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 Cons:

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!

Link: Shopify

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.

Square/Weebly

My top pick for: Cheap† & easy e-commerce sites (Hobby/Beginner level)

A screenshot of a Square/Weebly website home page for Look-a-Loik Designs, with an intricate mechanical ring

Square Pros:

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 Cons:

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).

Google Sites

My top pick for: Something free & basic to get you started.

A linktree-style proof-of-concept web page with a round image of a person smiling and eating noodles, followed by a short introduction, 4 buttons, and Facebook & Instagram icons.

Google Sites Pros:

Google Sites are completely free! There is no paid plan to up-sell you to, making it the only platform I’m aware of that allows you to add your own custom domain without paying extra to do so! It’s flexible, responsive, and fairly accessible, and while you don’t have advanced SEO features, Google seems to trust Google Sites because… it’s on their platform, and you can connect both Google Analytics & Google Search console. You can also embed basically anything, which gives you an enormous amount of flexibility outside of the included features.

Google Sites Cons:

This definitely isn’t a platform that’s suitable for a professional-grade website: Design options and features are extremely limited. It doesn’t have a blog, ecommerce (although you can embed Shopify ecomm features, or Stripe/PayPal products), forms (although you can embed them), or schedulers (which can, again, be embedded). You also can’t set your own social sharing image – Google Sites will set it based on the site logo/content.

I wouldn’t consider it an alternative to the website platforms listed above, but it can be a great alternatives to platforms like Canva Sites, Linktree, etc.

But didn’t Google close Google Sites?

Definitely not! But also, kinda…

Google Sites has had two versions: Classic (2008-2021) and New (2016-). One of the ways that Classic sites had been used was to create free websites for Google Business Profiles, so as the final phase of sunsetting Classic Google Sites, Google announced that websites created via Google Business Profiles were being closed as of 5th March 2024. Not only has there been no announcement of New Google Sites going anywhere, but they’re also recommended (in the aforementioned announcement) as a tool for affected users to create their replacement website with.

Link: Google Sites

Other Website Platforms

Wix

Wix is another one that’s come a long way in recent years. While they often offer significant discounts, I find the back-end super 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, and it’s not uncommon to continue charging people after they cancel their subscriptions. It is also definitely the most unresponsive, so I really 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

No shade against WP – it’s one of the world’s most-used website platforms, and for good reason! But unless you have a technical background, I’d generally recommend against it as a DIY option – particularly 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!

Canva

Recently I’ve seen a lot of people recommending Canva’s ‘website’ tool, so let’s just give a lil run-down on the reasons why I recommend giving it a pass. While sometimes all you need is a cheap, single-page website/landing page, in addition to being extremely limited in terms of features and inclusions, Canva ‘websites’ are unresponsive, inaccessible, genuinely terrible for SEO. I’d recommend Google Sites as an alternative.

GoDaddy (& Other Non-Website Platforms)

No pros, just cons. When domain registrars or other non-website platforms add their own website builder it’s almost exclusively a poor-quality cash-grab. You’ll get a sub-par platform, and they also usually work out more expensive than just using a specialised website platform.

Which website platform is best?

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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!

Parting Words…

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!

* This blog contains some referral and affiliate links. I may be paid a commission if you use these links to make a purchase.

See also: 5 Quick Fixes for a More Professional Website

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.

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One Response

  1. I use Easy Funnels – especially good for audio professionals in the music industry: Easy Funnels is a website builder platform that is designed to help businesses create sales funnels and landing pages quickly and easily. It provides a range of customizable templates and themes, as well as a drag-and-drop editor that makes it easy to create professional-looking pages without any coding skills. Easy Funnels also offers a range of features, including email marketing integration and payment processing.

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