So, you're thinking about building out a new website...exciting! And now it's time for you to consider a host, a domain, a website platform...Wordpress vs. Squarespace vs. ShowIt -- it can be a little overwhelming! Especially if you're new to a lot of this. But it's worth it!
It will build your businesses' reputation, increase brand credibility/professionalism, and give you an incredibly personal, strategic platform to connect with your dream clients and promote your unique spark of genius.
However, the deeper you dig into the website design process, the more confusing it can get.
What is the difference between a domain host and website host? Why are some so much more expensive? What is an SSL certificate — and do I need one? Why do some website platforms come with a monthly fee when WordPress.org is free? Which platform is best for my e-commerce store?
I totally get it. My clients often come to me with the same look of overwhelm in their eyes (...and I've been there, too!). Your website is a huge investment of time, money, and energy and it can be scary jumping in without feeling like you know all the facts.
Your website is the building where your customers can find you. You can choose how it looks, how many rooms it has, how you decorate it. It's all you, and (hopefully) no one else has one quite like yours.
Your website platform + website designer/developer are your architect/builders. They're the ones that provide your foundation, guide you through the building process, and help you to make your building your own. Some platforms offer a selection of layouts/blueprints to choose from with limited customization, some let you build completely from scratch.
You may (or may not) get great ongoing support when you have maintenance requests or something breaks. You'll want to choose your builders in accordance with your ability/desire/time to DIY moving forward. You'll often pay a little extra if you want the pros to manage updates, maintenance, and security for you every month.
Your hosting provider is the street you live on. They agree to lease you a piece of "land" in exchange for a monthly fee. Some streets are more crowded than others, and you share your space with many other businesses.
If it's too crowded or you have a few HUGE businesses on your street, it can be hard for your customers to reach you in a timely manner (it can slow down your website).
If you're feeling fancy, you can buy your own street (a virtual private server, AKA a "VPS") and have it all to yourself. If you're sharing your street with strangers, it can sometimes open you up to break-ins (hacks) and security threats if your website platform doesn't provide some additional security.
Finally, your domain is your building's address. It's how you direct your customers to find you. You want to make sure that it's as simple and as accurate as possible so that people don't get lost along the way or type it into their GPS (browser bar) incorrectly.
I've done a lot of research over the years. There are a million different options when it comes to choosing a website platform, and I've worked with many of them. They all have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but not all platforms are equal. I've found WordPress, Squarespace, and ShowIt to be the most reliable, professional, and well-supported.
✓ IDEAL FOR YOU IF: you're relatively tech-savvy, somewhat comfortable with basic HTML coding, and you're looking for some fairly advanced functionality (like a membership site, advanced e-commerce shop, and/or advanced SEO capabilities), and you want a website that will likely grow and evolve with you over many years.
✖ NOT GREAT FOR YOU IF: you're unfamiliar with basic HTML, you want a website that is super simple and straight-forward, and/or you don't need a bunch of fancy features.
$ MONTHLY FEE: FREE! Well, sort of. WordPress.org is an open-source platform, but you WILL need to pay for hosting and your domain (typically billed yearly).
A note on choosing a WordPress domain + host:
Unless my clients are coming to me with a domain and hosting provider already selected/purchased, I typically recommend Siteground or Flywheel for website hosting.
Siteground is a wonderful entry-level shared hosting provider. They're also an excellent choice if you plan on hosting multiple websites and/or sub-domains on one hosting account. I highly recommended their managed WordPress hosting. If you're not sure what that means, the fine folks over at WhoIsHostingThis.com posted a great article on managed WordPress hosting here. (Siteground is their top pick, as well!)
Flywheel costs a little more than some of the bigger, cheaper names -- but the benefits are significant:
Unless you're a WordPress back-end pro, I wouldn't recommend going with one of the cheaper hosting providers. Trust me on this, you want someone who knows what they're doing protecting and managing your website behind the scenes for you.
✓ IDEAL FOR YOU IF: you don't want to mess around with coding/HTML to make basic updates, you want an "all-in-one" platform for your website, e-commerce store, and blog, you're not super picky about the design as long as it looks professional, and/or you may want to switch up your template fairly frequently without having to start from scratch.
✖ NOT GREAT FOR YOU IF: you have a very specific vision for your website's design/layout (Squarespace templates are beautiful, but limiting), you have advanced needs for functionality/integration (such as a membership site or complex e-commerce store), and you want your website to make a super unique, "one in a million" visual impact.
$ MONTHLY FEE: Varies (currently starting at $12 per month). This includes your hosting, security, tech support, and unlimited storage. You're paying for the convenience of an all-in-one system that is super intuitive and easy to manage.
✓ IDEAL FOR YOU IF: you want to build an amazingly unique, show-stopping website that is 100% custom, you like to work with "what you see is what you get" website editors, you only need a few website pages (that look top-notch), and you're interested in working on the WordPress blogging platform (they have a great integration!)
✖ NOT GREAT FOR YOU IF: you plan to add lots and lots of pages over time, you need advanced functionality (like a membership site, e-commerce store, etc), you like to swap out your website design a lot,
$ MONTHLY FEE: Varies (currently starting at $19 per month; $24 with a blog). This includes your hosting, security, tech support, and WordPress blogging integration (if selected). You're paying for the power of a limitless design platform with amazing support.
How are you feeling? More confident about your choices? Do you have any lingering questions? Let me know in the comments below!
And if you're looking for help building the website of your dreams, Ember & Co would love to chat! Learn more about our pricing and availability here.
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Argh. I’m still having issues making a choice. Thank you for this post though. Already shared it!
Hey, Brianne! I'm glad this helped, but I'm sorry that you're still struggling! What lingering questions/challenges do you have?
Perfect post, much gratitude for this valuable content!