Which Platform is Right for your Website?

I was sparked to write this article based on comments to my previous article WordPress Websites, What the Tutorials Don’t Tell You! in a local Facebook Group I’m a member of for CoWork Niagara. The comments lamented the idea that everyone seems to reach for WordPress as the tool of choice when creating a new site.

Now I’m not going to slam WordPress too hard here, it’s one of the tools in my arsenal and one I rely on for certain jobs. This site, for example, uses WordPress as a writing room for my blogs. However the comments alluded to the concept that WordPress is the only solution, or always the right solution, and the fact is that just isn’t true.

Throughout my career I have watched developers and agencies push WordPress as an ideal solution for everything. I’ve watched teams struggle to complete very complex sites using a platform that wasn’t designed to create those kinds of sites. I’ve also watched people create websites that are likely to be never be, or very rarely, updated using WordPress, which by design is meant to be used to update content regularly.

Butter knives are not screwdrivers!

Depending on your skill level you can make WordPress do anything you want it to do. I honestly cannot think of anything the average website does that you cannot accomplish using WordPress. That does not mean it is the right tool for the job, it just means you can likely use it to accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish,.

just like you can use a butter knife to turn a screw, but there are really cool things that are actually designed to do that job much better than a knife.

What does your site need  to do?

That is the first question you should ask when choosing a platform for your new site. What do you want your site to do? Is your site  a basic brochure site that just describes your services or products that is relatively static and rarely updated? Do you require a blog component? Maybe it’s a much more complicated site that requires e-commerce or special user functionality such as educational courses. Knowing what you want to do is paramount to making the decision on platform.

What can you afford to pay?

Second is knowing your budget. Building a bespoke site will often increase the price over building a WordPress site but in many cases doing so will lower the cost of operation over time. And all to often you can actually pay more up front for a site when the developers are trying to use a technology not well suited for the site’s requirements.

There are usually cheaper options too compared to building a WordPress site. Static sites written in pure HTML and CSS and site builders like SquareSpace offer budget friendly options compared to using a CMS or bespoke site.

Are they selling you what you really need?

If you’re working with an agency or developer ask questions. Ask why they want to build your site using the platform they’re proposing. Ask if there are other options and the reason they chose the option they did. There are far too many technology specific agencies or shops out there in my opinion. Companies that sell a certain platform because it’s the one they’re good at, not because it’s the right choice for the job. If they can’t give you a reasonable explanation for why they believe your site requires the technology they’re using then walk away. Ask them to show you examples of sites they’ve built using other technologies, if they can’t, they’re likely selling you what they want and not necessarily what you need (it is also possible these are both the same thing, but just be sure it is what you need, even if it is also what they want).

What are your options?

There are numerous ways to build a website, each with their own set of pros and cons. Below are just a few that will hopefully give you some help when making your decision. They aren’t in any particular order, and this list is certainly not comprehensive.

Basic HTML, CSS and Javascript

This is the basis of the web. Everything, every single other technology listed here will generate HTML and CSS. I added Javascript because most sites use it these days for things like user interaction, transitions and features like modals.

  • Good for – Sites that are updated rarely and have limited functionality. Brochure sites that tell your customers about your products or services
  • Ease of useModerate to Difficult. Updating these sites does take coding ability, so they aren’t for the less tech savvy unless you don’t mind paying someone else to update the site.
  • CostLow to moderate. This depends entirely on the complexity of the site.
  • PerformanceExcellent. This static type of site is the best of all the other options for speed. There is no database interaction required so the sites are just served to the browser without any creation of the HTML going on in the background.

CMS

This is where WordPress fits in along with systems like Craft, Drupal and others. CMS stands for Content Management System, and by the name they are designed to make adding or editing content less painful. They all include some  sort of user back-end that allows editing of pages or posts using a word processor like interface.

  • Good for – Sites that are updated regularly or have a blog component. They are also useful for basic e-commerce.
  • Ease of useEasy to Moderate. As I mentioned these type of sites include a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor in the back end for editing or adding content to the site. It requires some knowledge but your developer or agency should provide training in how to use your site.
  • CostModerate to High. High generally comes from trying to do something the system was never intended to do. Putting a square peg in a round hole as it were. Some CMS’s are far better suited for some tasks, ask your developer why they chose the one they did.
  • Performance – Good to Horrible. Built properly a CMS can be fast, but it needs to be built right. Since all CMS’s access some sort of database or file system to generate the HTML in the background they’ll never be as fast as static sites. There are tricks like caching to help with this but it’s still rare they’ll keep up with a static site.

Bespoke using a back-end technology

Bespoke means custom, technically HTML, CSS and Javascript sites are also bespoke, but this category is different because  it includes a back-end technology of some sort to generate the pages and handle user interactions.

  • Good for – Complicated websites or web applications. Sites like Facebook, or Twitter for example. I’m not saying just billion dollar sites, but sites that require complex user interactions or functionality. Sometimes this type of site can be built using a CMS but often making a CMS do what it needs to do is more complex than building from the ground up.
  • Ease of useEasy to Moderate. This depends entirely on your developer, but since you’re usually dealing directly with your developer and telling them what you need your end result should be a relatively easy site to work with.
  • CostModerate to Very High. Building another Facebook is likely to run well into the millions of dollars. Building a basic to do list, not so much. This is completely dependent on the functionality and the technologies used.
  • Performance – Good. Again, this is dependent on how good your developer is and the technologies used. These sites almost always use databases and generate HTML on the fly. That being said, unlike a CMS your developer has full control over these interactions and can fine tune your site without having to have the “kitchen sink” mentality that most CMS’s have.

Site Builders

There are a number of these on the market and they’re getting better all the time. SquareSpace is my personal favourite at the moment, but there are others like Wix, Weebly, even WordPress is sort of a player in this market although significantly dumbed down from using it as a true CMS.

  • Good for – Basic brochure sites to basic e-commerce and blogging depending on the platform you choose.
  • Ease of useEasy to Moderate. These builders are usually designed for ease of use, they offer design templates to get you started with pretty simple to follow instructions on modifying them to your needs.
  • CostLow to Moderate. Most of these builders are relatively cheap, under $25 a month if you do everything yourself. The cost can rise if you hire a developer or designer to work on your site. Many of these builders, SquareSpace for example, allow you to do more complex things like user interaction and modifying, or completely designing a bespoke site, tasks better suited to a developer than a DIY user.
  • PerformanceModerate to Good. These sites are usually pretty quick, the one thing they don’t do really well is create good code. Looking at the code in the background shows it’s rarely well optimized. They’re getting better at this all the time, but I don’t envision them creating good, clean and well optimized code like a real developer would; any time in the near future.

In Conclusion

As I said, there are a great deal of options available to you when choosing a platform for your website, this article was just meant to educate you that there are far more tools available than WordPress or whatever you’re being told you need. Make sure what you’re being told is what you need and not just what your developer or agency uses for their hammer with every site!

it’s your site. It should be built using a technology that makes sense for what it is trying to accomplish!

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