This is members-only content.
When it comes to designing a website for your business, which platform should you choose? To keep it simple, I’ve narrowed it down to the three platforms I use most: Squarespace, Shopify and WordPress.
Most likely, you want a website that will promote your business, generate leads and ultimately sell your products or services. It might be tempting to only focus on what you want your website to look like — and aesthetics are indeed important to generate an emotional response. But your website ultimately needs to convert visitors into customers, and for this it needs to work well.
What would you like people to do on your website?
Take some time to reflect on the following questions when you start planning your website:
What do you think potential customers need to see and read to start engaging with you?
What do you want them to do (such as buy something, sign up, make a booking, etc.)?
Is there anything you are likely to need in the future?
Once you work out what you need on your website, you will be better able to assess which platform will be most suitable, both in terms of design and functionality.
How tech savvy are you?
Assuming you will DIY your website, think about how comfortable you are online, especially when it comes to:
CMS (Content Management System) interface
All three platforms offer both free and paid ‘themes’ (or ‘templates’, as they’re called in Squarespace), which you can customise to a certain point using the CMS.
If you choose a Shopify or WordPress theme, make sure you do so from a reputable source. Read reviews and check the developers. The theme needs to be well coded and well supported; otherwise you might end up with a slow site and conflicting plugins.
As far as interface is concerned, WordPress has the steepest learning curve and, unless you have access to a developer, you are pretty much on your own! Being an open source platform, it requires you to take care of everything to build a website. There are lots of how-to resources out there, but think about how keen you are to learn and how much time you have.
Squarespace and Shopify, on the other hand, are ‘hosted’ platforms, which means that not only do they take care of the technical side of things, but they also provide customer support. This is part of your subscription fee, so make the most of it! There is a certain comfort in knowing you are not alone.
Note that with these hosted solutions, you need an active subscription to run your site and you cannot download a full copy of your site. If you decide later to leave Squarespace or Shopify, you will be able to download some of the content but you will need to rebuild your website. You cannot just switch to another host.
So, what do I recommend?
Squarespace is a great solution if you are just starting out, need an information or portfolio website and are on a tight budget.
Squarespace offers a good range of templates that you can customise with your branding.
All templates are responsive and work well on all devices.
There is enough functionality to set up beautiful pages, have a blog, build a mailing list and even run an online store.
The drag-and-drop interface will appeal to those who are not tech savvy, and you won’t need to worry about technical maintenance or updates, which are included in your subscription.
You have to work within their templates and functionality, which can be frustrating if you want something specific.
On the e-commerce side of things, it is not possible at the moment to display multiple currencies, which can be an issue if you sell internationally.
Despite these limitations, the initial investment (in time and money) is usually lower than with other platforms and you can achieve great results.
Shopify is best for retailers. Whether you already have a brick-and-mortar store or are just selling online, Shopify is a comprehensive e-commerce platform.
It is easy to navigate your way around.
There are lots of themes available to purchase and customise, and with so many apps to choose from (including free ones), you can really push your online store.
Unlike with Squarespace, you can access and modify code to design and develop custom layouts. You may need a pro for this but there are plenty of Shopify ‘experts’ available.
The focus is on the products and the homepage. Any other page apart from those can be bland and a bit difficult to manage, though there is the customization option noted above.
WordPress will suit you best if you want flexibility and are tech savvy.
You can essentially do anything!
The flexibility often requires more time and more expertise. However, you can always get help for the initial setup and then learn to manage the site yourself once it is up and running.
Emmanuelle Harrington has been a website producer for more than twenty years. Her focus is on helping small creative businesses find their voice and connect with audiences by creating beautiful websites and providing personalised training. Based in the Adelaide Hills, she works with clients all around Australia. Visit her at studiomanusha.com or follow her on Instagram (@studiomanusha).