Deciding where to host your website and the platform you should use is often the most researched decision that business owners must make. Often, a pros-vs-cons or even a side-by-side comparison can illuminate the best choice based solely on your specific needs. So, we’ve taken the liberty of doing that just for you.

The following 4 sections are broken down, in no specific order, on the following: WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix, and Shopify. We’ve used each of these platforms extensively and provide our personal observations in addition to the incentives that each may provide. If you’d like to skip the details and head straight to the summary, you can do so by clicking here.

 

  1. WordPress

The largest content management system on the web, with an estimated 75 million supported websites, WordPress shows no signs of slowing down. WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform, but has since developed into a universal platform for serving applications, eCommerce businesses, and more.

There are plugins and themes for just about anything you can think of—from teaching your site to perform tricks to generating content involving your favorite food items. Support for eCommerce activities and the ability to customize every single item on your website makes WordPress the desirable platform to choose when starting your website.

However, WordPress has quite the learning curve. Users with no previous WordPress experience must get accustomed to the plethora of options thrown at them from the dashboard, and that’s only after WordPress is completely installed. WordPress touts their “Famous 5-Minute Install”, which requires a background in web server management, MySQL knowledge, and a whole lot more. Luckily, most popular hosting companies like GoDaddy, HostGator, or DigitalOcean (what we’re currently using) offer 1-Click WordPress installs to do the job for you. Hassle-free installs that don’t require you to get your hands dirty.

Digital Ocean WordPressPreview of the 1-Click WordPress install on DigitalOcean

The ability to choose and change everything can either be a blessing or a curse depending on your patience and desire to set up a website. Judging by your choice to perform this research before committing to a single platform indicates that you are willing to take the extra steps required to get exactly what you need, and that’s what WordPress offers.

The friendly community behind WordPress.org is, perhaps, the reason why it has become so large and influential. WordPress.org is and will always remain free to the users, with your only responsibility to provide hosting if you want to use your own domain. WordPress.com, the hosting service provided by WordPress’s co-founder Matt Mullenweg, provides free WordPress domains as well. After all, WordPress.org is an open source community project backed by the support of hundreds of thousands of talented engineers who made it what it is today.

WordPress is also used by some of the greats such as CNN, The Rolling Stones, PlayStation, Obama. Hell, even Angry Birds is served on a WordPress platform. For every four sites you come across, chances are that at least one of those sites is served on WordPress.

Angry BirdsAngry Birds running on WordPress

The bottom line is this: If you desire complete control and customization over your website without hitting a paywall like so many other platforms, go with WordPress. The learning curve is steep but it can save you money in the long run. There are hundreds of free themes provided right out-of-the-box, and the entire community of plugins are at your disposal.

 

WordPress Pros:

  • Absolutely free to use (does require a hosting service to serve. We recommend GoDaddy or DigitalOcean).
  • Allows you to completely customize every aspect of your site, no paywalls in your way
  • Wide range of uses:
    • Can be used as an eCommerce platform with the help of popular plugins such as WooCommerce
    • Can be used as a professional news/blogging platform
    • Can be used… to do nearly everything.
  • You OWN your website. So long as you own the hosting, all content is yours. You are in full control of your data and your content
  • Thousands of documentation pages and friendly users who can help you with any problems you might have

WordPress Cons:

  • You need to pay for hosting. Sure, you could go with WordPress.com’s free hosting options, but you don’t get to enjoy all of the benefits WordPress has to offer without hitting that paywall
  • You are responsible for your data. That means you need to run updates and backups. There are plenty of plugins to help you with that process (we recommend Jetpack), but it can seem daunting
  • WordPress can often feel slow or bulky, and that’s because it’s a pretty large platform. With every additional feature, it takes that much longer to load. You might not end up using every feature, so the time spent loading it all in can be wasteful

 

  1. SquareSpace

SquareSpace has been on the rise since its founding in 2003, now showcasing its software through celebrity endorsements from Jeff Bridges and his sleeping tapes to, most recently, John Malkovich and his fashion line.

John Malkovich advertisement

SquareSpace is the home of modern design templating. Unlike WordPress, what you see is what you get with SquareSpace. Its drag-and-drop template building is incredibly convenient for those who have no background in website development. Instead of embedding content through HTML tags or code, users can simply click on the ‘Add Block’ button at the top of their page and select from any of the provided options. Beyond customizing the details of these blocks, there is nothing more to it.

SquareSpace provides users with up to 84 different themes (there may be or less depending on how old this article gets), all incredibly sharp, yet simple and effective. With every new celebrity endorsement, a new theme arises. Themes are broken down into categories based on your needs, be it “Online Stores”, “Food & Drink”, or even “Wedding” for those who want to go all out (yes, SquareSpace has 6 specially designed themes for those who need a wedding website to share with all their Facebook friends).

Upon first choosing a theme, users are presented with four simple questions: What is this website about? What are your goals for this website? What type of content? What is the site title? These four simple questions guide SquareSpace to build a layout of pre-made “demo” content and pages that you can customize to your needs. This is especially useful for those who have no idea what types of content to display. SquareSpace has already done much of the heavy lifting and it’s up to the user to personalize the experience with their brand or company.

SquareSpace OnboardingSquareSpace’s onboarding process

Like I previously mentioned, SquareSpace is truly what-you-see-is-what-you get. There are only a handful of options available exclusively to eCommerce plan subscribers, and the payment plans are $26/month and $40/month. A site running WordPress can provide the same eCommerce options for free. However, SquareSpace’s software isn’t third party or open source, which means that you have guaranteed security. There is little-to-no room to misconfigure your website and open it to security issues, but you lose out on all the extensibility of features that a platform like WordPress provides (and you get John Malkovich on your side).

SquareSpace offers a great 14-day free trial for those looking to get a feel for their software, and if you decide that they have everything you need, you can choose to upgrade to any one of their 4 payment plans starting at $12/month billed annually. Their plans include 24/7 support, and they all support eCommerce (if that’s what you’re looking to do). You also receive a great deal of cool features like their built-in analytics dashboard, which allows you to track all traffic and engagements with your site. This feature comes right out-of-the-box, which means that you don’t have to use Google Analytics like some other platforms.

 

SquareSpace Pros:

  • 14-Day free trial to experiment with their platform
  • Dead-simple user interface, can have a complete website up and running in under an hour.
  • Secure platform for eCommerce-related activities
  • 24/7 Support team available through live chat, email, and more
  • No maintenance or updating required
  • Free custom domain and analytics
  • G Suite (business email) account included in payment plans of $18/month and up

SquareSpace Cons:

  • You cannot host your own SquareSpace sites
  • No support for third-party plugins or themes
  • Payment plans are required since SquareSpace hosting is mandatory
  • eCommerce transaction fees for two lowest payment plans
  • Bare-bones marketing tools, hard to integrate SEO/third-party analytics

 

  1. Wix

Just like SquareSpace and many other popular website-builder platforms, Wix allows users to build sites through a suite of drag-and-drop tools. Unlike SquareSpace, however, Wix operates on a “Freemium” model—that is, you don’t necessarily have to pay for their premium upgrades to host a website, but the more you pay, the more you get.

Anyone can sign up for a Wix account for free and reap the benefits of their “Drag ‘n Drop editor”, unlimited pages, 500MB of storage, free templates, et cetera. Those pages feature a Wix domain and prominently display an advertisement banner at the top and bottom. Hosting is included, with or without their premium plan upgrades.

Upon signing up for Wix, users are presented with a single question: What kind of website do you want to create? Answer “Business” and it displays a set of business-related themes to pick from. You can always refine your choices using their filters on the left sidebar, so I went with the second most popular option: “Professional Make-up”. In seconds, a step-by-step video pops up and walks you through the platform. Skipping it simply brings you to the bread and butter: the website editor.

Wix EditorPreview of the full website editor

You can select from several options to construct your website on the left or run through some fine-tuning on the right. The interface is incredibly powerful and very minimal in space. No coding experience required, and you can have your site running in seconds. Just like SquareSpace, you are provided with a ton of “demo content” that you must tweak to your liking. In every section, there’s a video guide to show you the process so that you never get lost.

Pricing is a tad cheaper as compared to SquareSpace, starting at just $5/month. The lowest eCommerce tier is $17/month, and the most expensive is just $25/month—giving you access to features like priority phone support and professional review (a staff member looks at your interface and SEO to give you some pointers). Similarly, to SquareSpace, you get a 14-day money back guarantee on any of your premium plan upgrades.

Wix PlansWix pricing plans

Wix is a very popular option for static websites, like portfolios or galleries, because it’s on the cheaper side of platforms and has the basic number of features. Wix also has built-in support for G Suite, so you can set up a professional account using your business’s domain for email. Every month they are adding new features to integrate your social profiles and popular SEO services.

Wix is a great, cost-effective platform for simple drag-and-drop website building. Lower-tier pricing plans offer the bare minimum, whereas their “Freemium” model requires slightly higher plans to unlock features such as specialized contact forms and eCommerce shops. Their editor is slightly more difficult to navigate than SquareSpace’s but they do offer a slightly larger collection of features through their “Wix App Market”.

One of their cooler premium features was the “Wix Bookings” application. For a slightly larger monthly fee, you can add this booking service to your site. It’s a great addition for businesses that offer appointment-based services, like a nail salon or haircut joint, and you can sync up your staff’s Google calendars so that specific appointments can be made based on their availability.

 

Wix Pros:

  • Cost-effective website solution
  • Offers a free hosting service for basic users
  • Plenty of features and add-ons available for use (available in the “Wix Market”)
  • Step-by-step video guides to show you how to properly use the website builder
  • Excellent phone support available almost all day
  • Dedicated services to help you optimize your website
  • Built-in mobile view website editor

Wix Cons:

  • The “Freemium”/paywall business model often limits you from using specific features without first paying for them, often resulting in a higher bill than you first thought
  • Basic paid plan still shows advertisements
  • Your template/content is fixed and cannot be easily changed without starting over. This can get annoying if you find that you want to experiment with designs.
  • Bandwidth limitations, even at some of the higher-priced plans
  • No way of exporting data or pages, so you’d have to start over in the event you ever need to scale

 

  1. Shopify

There is no doubt that if you’re interested in eCommerce, you’ve likely heard of Shopify at this point. Touted as the “best” name in eCommerce, Shopify raked in nearly $34 billion gross merchandise volume revenue, reaching $15.4 billion in 2016 alone. They attracted over 100 million shoppers last year, and their numbers continue to grow. But this article is not about what Shopify has done, it’s about what Shopify can do for you.

You’ve heard it before and you can hear it again. Drag-and-drop website builder. No website development knowledge. Blah blah blah.

Sign up is a breeze, just enter your email, a password, and the name of your store. One problem: you can’t use the same store name as somebody else. That means if you’re sporting the generic Pet Goods name, chances are your name has been taken. You might have to give it a little pizzazz, or just ask the previous store owner to fork the name over. But here’s the cool part: they truly understand what it means to offer a 14-day trial. So much so that they’ve added this option: the “I’m just playing around option”.

Shopify OnboardingShopify onboarding process

After entering your address, you can jump right into their user dashboard and play with Shopify. Of course, there are not one but TWO call-to-action buttons asking you to select from their premium plans. They really want you to join.

Shopify DashboardPreview of dashboard with call-to-action buttons highlighted

You can start by customizing a theme or jumping right into your products. They do a fine job of separating design from business so that once you get the store up and running, you never really have to worry about themes again. There are only 10 free themes, or you can choose from nearly 200 premium ones. We found that most themes can run you an average $140 and up, and each theme usually comes in 3 to 4 different styles. Of course, every theme is mobile ready.

The website builder tools sit off to the left while your live site fills the majority of the screen. You can easily flick between mobile and desktop view with some poorly labeled buttons in the bottom left-hand corner, and easily undo or redo those crazy changes you might’ve accidentally made.

Shopify Website BuilderShopify website builder preview

There isn’t a whole lot of content that comes standard out-of-the-box, nor are there really that many features to choose from. Yet, everything is so simple when building the page and it should really be that way. Users shouldn’t be overly distracted with useless items, it should be kept as a simple experience from start to finish. One thing I did find attractive was just how easy it is to move sections around. No fumbling with where to grab and where to drop, just select from the panel on the left and drag up or down.

The preview is designed to be just that: a preview, and not where the users interact. That degree of separation can make the experience much easier than all the clutter that platforms like Wix or SquareSpace display. It almost felt a lot like WordPress’s “Customize” feature, where users could modify content settings without touching the page itself. It makes it easier to visualize what the exact page is going to look like, no dotted-line guides or outlines to interrupt your work.

This can be looked at as either a positive or a negative to some users. Sure, the editing process is much cleaner and rich, but it doesn’t allow for as much customization as one would like. Maybe you want to offset that image by a tad, or build some weird layout that looks ‘hip and modern’. Sure, Wix and SquareSpace might let you do that, but Shopify really doesn’t.

That’s also why WordPress, Wix, and SquareSpace aren’t dedicated eCommerce platforms; they allow you to choose what they are. Shopify, well, is and will always be a dedicated online shop. There’s no avoiding its purpose, but it does incredibly well for what it’s meant to do: sell your products (or services, if you’re into that).

Shopify has some incredible plugins and extensions that allow you to mix some more personal items, like social media or blogs. But, that’s really all there is. If you’re using Shopify and not trying to sell products online, you’re using it wrong.

There are many apps that assist you with the more important tasks: invoicing, printing shipping labels, and more. Some are incredible apps like Kit, which can handle all of your marketing needs with just a text message stream. You can tell it to run advertisements on your social media pages, and it will automatically generate the content for you. It’s a virtual employee at no additional cost to you. Marketing, sales, shipping, inventory, accounting, customer service—you name it and the app likely exists on Shopify.

Best of all, Shopify handles their own payment gateway. This means you can leave PayPal out as the middleman and manage all your money right from your dashboard without ever leaving the site. It accepts most major credit cards with the Shopify POS, which means you can integrate your physical store point-of-sales system right into Shopify.

With these features, Shopify comes at a cost. Their most basic plan is $29/month (unless you’re looking to sell solely through Facebook and in person, in which it only costs $9/month). The more expensive plans offer additional features, such as physical gift cards and abandoned cart delivery—allowing you to remind customers to complete their checkouts. These more expensive plans also come with slightly lower credit card and transaction fees.

Shopify PricingShopify’s pricing tables

There is no additional fee for hosting as everything is included. Security certificates (SSL) come free with every plan, and you are not locked into your contract unless you choose their annual or biennial plans (which come with 10% and 20% discounts respectively). There are some neat analytics and reporting features that allow you to track customer acquisition and behavior. This allows you to fine-tune your business and target the right audience.

 

Shopify Pros:

  • Incredibly easy user interface and experience
  • Powerful business tools and applications that can assist you in every category
  • Integration with retail store point-of-sales systems
  • No middleman payment gateway, all sales can be handled through Shopify
  • 24/7 support via phone, live chat, and email
  • Level 1 PCI compliance—this means that all customer data is stored securely (and Level 1 means that over 6 million transactions are processed each year)

Shopify Cons:

  • Everything is expensive. Pricing plans start at $29/month and go up to $299/month. Premium themes go for $100 or more
  • Not a whole lot of personalization and customization beyond the basic layouts provided
  • No self-hosting options available (only allows users to export data to CSV)
  • App installs are required for several features—features that other eCommerce platforms, like BigCommerce (https://www.bigcommerce.com), come with right out-of-the-box
  • Shopify is limited to three production variant options, so if you have an item that requires more options than just color, size, and material, you’re out of luck.

 

Summary

So, you’ve been given some lengthy details about each of these 5 platforms but you’re still not sure which to choose? Well, here’s the too long, didn’t read version (TL;DR):

  • Go with WordPress if you must have absolute control over everything, if you want every to manage every single detail, and can support third-party plugins and themes. WordPress is dynamic, and on purpose, so it has tons of features to support that. It also means you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and adjust to the learning curve of this platform.
  • If you’re a fan of letting the platform do nearly all the work, and you LOVE modern design, go with SquareSpace. They have built-in eCommerce, but they’re best used as static pages to showcase your brand and some information about it. They are also quite pricy, and I bet that has something to do with the included SSL certification security and their celebrity endorsements during Super Bowl advertisements.
  • Wix is cheap and easy. Their “Freemium” business models has users hitting payment walls to access some of the better features, but a majority of their site building platform is inexpensive. Everything is self-hosted and you won’t have to touch a line of code to get your site up and running.
  • Shopify is the best-of-the-best for eCommerce, but it comes with a hefty price tag. If you’re willing to spend the extra money, it could pay off in the long run. Themes are not cheap, but most additional features are. Many of the better features come with the lowest payment plan, and the higher payment plans can be attractive for larger businesses with more volume of sales.

Should you go with any of these platforms, we recommend that you take advantage of all features they offer. But, stay mindful of the costs associated with each and plan accordingly to how you anticipate your business to grow and what future demands you might incur with your website.

What platform do we recommend? We love WordPress. This site runs on WordPress, as does nearly a quarter of all sites everywhere. Anything that you desire to build, WordPress allows you to do so with no hesitations. This also means that you have to be willing to work on updating and maintaining your site.

If you need any assistance in this process or would like to know more about alternative solutions, contact us directly and we will be happy to assist with your goals.

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