Welcome to the first of a 5-part series of articles on how to create your website. The series examines which platforms to consider using, through to SEO (how to get your website to rank better on search engines). While the focus of these articles is on the DIY aspect, a specialist web designer can be a worthwhile investment in many situations. Some are also cheaper than you think.
As with the discussion of Apple versus Android, the discussion of the better platform to build your website on has staunch supporters on both sides. While there are other service providers, this article focuses on two of the leading site builders used today; and WordPress.
Choosing which web platform to use can be a hard decision. Both are excellent, used by many companies and individuals and both platforms have their strengths & weaknesses. There are pro’s & cons to each system. However, you can create a great website using either platform.
The Apple versus Android arguments transfers well into discussions over which of these two platforms you should use. Squarespace is a closed system that “just works,” whereas WordPress is a much more customizable system, with a multitude of plugins to use. However, WordPress requires a slightly higher level of knowledge to get the best results.
Let’s look at each platform in a little more detail.
WordPress is insanely popular. The WordPress website states that 32% of the web runs using their platform. Moreover, the website you are reading this article on uses WordPress too.
WordPress.com and Self-Hosted
In reality, WordPress has two different platforms: the self-hosted version (you host the website on your own choice of servers) and WordPress.com, (the hosting gets managed for you). Web hosting is the space on the web that stores your website. When visitors type in your website address, it retrieves your website from the server so that the visitor can view it. Hosting costs can vary depending on your needs, but you can find reliable hosting for your WordPress site for under $5 per month. We’ve negotiated a great deal on behalf of our readers to self-host with Bluehost. Get it here.
The key appeal with WordPress is its flexibility. Many people tend to go for the self-hosted version because of the ability to add more plugins and themes. Whereas wordpress.com limits the plugins and themes you can use, which is in some cases for good reason. However, I shall get to that in a moment. The ability to use these relies on you choosing a more expensive monthly plan.
Although it may seem daunting for the uninitiated, self-hosting is more simple than you may think. If you purchase your domain name (the website address), and the hosting with the same company, things are even easier. Many hosting companies have one-click WordPress install, which means your hosting service installs the latest version for you at the click of a button. Using self-hosting also means you can set up a professional email address associated with your website (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The main reason people love WordPress is its flexibility. As an open source platform, WordPress has thousands of templates to create the perfect style for your website. Their style and prices range from free to hundreds of dollars. Generally, the paid themes come with more features. However, there are some fantastic free themes to get you started.
With some coding knowledge, you can tweak your website design to achieve a completely custom look. However, that means learning how to code or employing a developer, which may not be something you wish to do.
As well as an almost infinite number of themes, there are also a multitude of plugins available. These plugins can help with everything from improving your SEO, through to creating beautiful galleries or adding purchasing options to your site. Whatever you want to do with your site, chances are there is a plugin out there to make the job more simple. These plugins (like themes) range in price from free through to around $50 (US) for premium plugins from high-end developers.
While also a strength, the main issue with WordPress is its open source nature. Many of the themes and plugins out there are well created, but there are some that are created by amateur developers. These plugins may have issues that can range from content not displaying correctly on your site through to taking your whole website out with an error. You also need to be mindful of security. You do not want your website to get hacked via a rogue plugin. When choosing your hosting, always make sure you look at the protection they offer you and your website.
Learning to use WordPress
The learning curve with WordPress is steeper than a platform like Squarespace. For those with little technical knowledge, it can be daunting. However, there is a vast online community to help and thousands of hours of training if you have the time to invest. As no-one strictly owns WordPress, there is no specific customer service option like you get with Squarespace. So, if you run into a problem that you cannot fix, you have to be reliant on your knowledge, Google searches, and the kindness of others through the forums.
Chances are, you’ve heard of. They have a slick advertising campaign that’s all over the media. While there are other website builders out there (Wix being the main alternative), Squarespace is considered by many to be the best.
Squarespace is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) website builder. The design works around a style editor, where you can change the design of your site. While it’s not as customizable as WordPress, you can make a lot of changes to your pages without any coding knowledge.
The key to Squarespace’s success is simplicity. Squarespace takes care of hosting your site, and you can register your domain through them too. These options make the whole process more straightforward than the WordPress option. However, this comes at the expense of the vast range of customization options available with WordPress.
Squarespace has many beautifully designed templates. To the untrained eye (nearly all of the general public) the templates look like you have spent much money on a beautiful website. In general, the style is quite minimal, with the focus on photography to make the template shine. All Squarespace templates come optimized for viewing on mobile devices. You can also preview your website on a computer, tablet, and phone with the simple click of a button. These templates are all tried and tested and guaranteed to work across devices, which is gives peace of mind.
Within each template, there are several page designs to get you started. You can tweak these using the tools within the software to create a personalized page. You can change the position of text, image sizes, colors and fonts, all without needing to learn a single line of code. That isn’t to say there is no learning curve with Squarespace, but it won’t be long before you feel confident using it. There is also a vast support network online.
Plugins with Squarespace are limited. However, they all work seamlessly and make the process simple. By now, you may be sensing a theme here?
Dedicated customer service
Something that is helpful for many users is the dedicated customer service available. You can email your issue, and one of the Squarespace team gets back to you personally, addressing your specific issue. This feature is awesome for the less technically minded. Squarespace is quick to respond and always provides you with the official information to fix the problem.
If you’d like to get a little more creative with your Squarespace site, you can write custom CSS into pages and inject code. However, most people choose Squarespace, so they don’t need to bother writing code. You probably want to concentrate more on what you do, which is take photos. Rather than learn how to code and spend much time learning how to work a website platform.
Concerning small business, Squarespace has features to sell products through their platform. Moreover, they are now adding email marketing to their platform too. So, Squarespace is becoming a one-stop shop for small businesses.
The final thing to factor in with Squarespace is the cost. Prices start at $144 per year or $16 per month. For the top e-commerce package (which many of you won’t need) comes in at $480 per year or $46 per month.
To sum up, Squarespace is a more expensive option, as the costs are ongoing. However, when you compare it to the price of paying for hosting, purchasing a nice theme and a couple of decent plugins for a WordPress site, there is little difference over the first 12-18 months of ownership. After that first year though, WordPress is a cheaper option.
However, if you want a new theme after 18 months (which many people tend to), the price comes back to being even (if the theme is not free). Also, you have the benefit of tried and tested designs and plugins as well as customer service.
So, which should you choose?
That depends on your needs. If you’re a technically-minded person and have the time and inclination needed to get the best from it, then WordPress could be the ideal platform for you. However, if you want a website that looks great and is easy to set up and use, is for you. Although, just like iPhone and Android, once you get into a system, you tend to stick with it.
Me? I’m a Squarespace guy (and an Apple guy). The reason is simple. Squarespace is pretty much hassle-free.
Although I have a grasp of coding and consider myself technically minded, Squarespace has everything I need. It is simple for me to work with now that I know my way around its features. There is support on hand should I need it, and the pricing difference isn’t big enough to make me move over.
I have had WordPress sites before (and am looking at it for a project I am working on right now), and I know lots of successful companies who use them (DPS for a start). I like the minimal hassle and if that comes at the expense of customization, then so be it. However, that’s me. What do you guys think?