Choosing the right website platform

5th Jun 2020

Choosing the right website platform

5th Jun 2020

Selecting the right website platform for your business

Have you made the decision to invest some time and effort into a new website? Maybe your existing website is out of date and no longer fit for purpose, or your business has matured and grown out of that phase where you’re totally relying on your social media page. Either way, if the time is right for your business to go ahead and create a website, there are some decisions to be made.

The goal: a modern, responsive website that showcases your business, gets found on Google, and reaches new clients.

Most businesses identify these three goals when setting up a new website. If these goals are met, then your customers will be looking at a great website no matter what device they’re using, and they’ll find you and your business when they’re looking for help.

A website that meets these goals is worth investing in.

But what website platform to use?

There are a lot of competing options out there when it comes to setting up a new website. 

You may already have heard of Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly, for instance. And if you haven’t yet, you’ll soon start to see their ads pop up in your social media feed once you begin to research your website options! In addition to these giant international providers there are a whole host of smaller web design and development companies out there, each with slightly different offerings and strategies, and each with their pros and cons.

How can you possibly choose between them?

Let’s have a look at some of the key considerations for your business. When it comes to choosing a website the main factors to consider are:

  • A custom-built site versus an off-the rack template site
  • Whether the web company provides ongoing, effective customer support
  • The website platform’s track record when it comes to being hacked or targeted for security breaches
  • Do you get wrap-around service and support to get found on Google (usually referred to as ‘search engine optimisation’ or SEO), or is the focus just on making a pretty website?

Let’s break those factors down and look at them one by one.

Boy holding rockets shows the choice between custom websites and template websites
Custom vs Template

One way to start to navigate your way through the options is to sort the contenders into two categories. Are they offering you a website built on a pre-set template? Or are they offering you a custom build? 

Boy holding rockets shows the choice between custom websites and template websites
Custom vs Template

One way to start to navigate your way through the options is to sort the contenders into two categories. Are they offering you a website built on a pre-set template? Or are they offering you a custom build? 

Template sites

The most common sort of website out there is a template site.

The starting point for many first-time website builders is to set up an account with WordPress, choose a template theme from one of the big providers like Elegant Theme or Template Monster, and dive straight in. Other template site options are Wix, Squarespace and Weebly. These all provide small businesses with limited funds a fast way to get online. (But do make sure to check out Turboweb’s new SinglePage offering)

While most templates have a degree of personalisation enabled so your branding elements like colours, fonts and logos can be applied, there are limits to how far that customisation will go. For most themes and templates, when you want to change the look and feel of your website, you’ll have no choice but to start again with a whole new template.

WordPress themes are generally more customisable than Wix and Squarespace sites, and some of them come with great built-in features. But because a template site is, naturally, designed to try and be useful to a broad range of customers, there are often features and functions that you will never use. These unused features can then bloat the site and weigh it down in terms of load speed and search engine performance. Premade themes and templates often come with designs, functions and features that don’t really fit with your company’s branding or image, or how you really want your website to work. You can pay a web development company to adjust the template and create a fix for you, but that runs the risk of your theme ‘breaking’ the next time WordPress runs an update, and your site having display issues or even maybe not loading at all until your developer can fix it again.

Another thing to consider with template websites is that your support options can be really limited if something goes wrong with the template itself. Customer support with the giant international companies such as Squarespace and Wix can differ wildly depending on what level subscription you have with them, and might mean patiently working your way up through the ranks of a large call-centre hierarchy to get your problem looked at by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Even with a small, local web branding firm, if they’re using WordPress templates developed by another company, sometimes all the support you will get is “I’m really sorry, but that template is no longer supported.” 

Pros and Cons of Template Sites
  • Large selection of templates available from a dizzying array of suppliers
  • Usually a shorter timeline to launch
  • Smaller upfront cost
  • May not work 100% on all devices
  • Limited customisation options
  • Lots of other businesses may be using the same or similar template, meaning you lose your ‘wow factor’
  • Technical support can be uncertain when problems occur with templates or themes, compared to having a custom-built website

Custom built websites

In contrast to a template site, a custom website is built to be completely suited to your needs, and will do exactly what you need it to, in a way that makes sense for your business.

Creating a custom website involves working with a team of web professionals. They will get alongside you to understand your target audience, what your business does and who you want to reach, what you want from your website, any special functions or features that you need, and how you want your site to look.

Building a custom site from the ground up means that the future growth of your company can be planned for and taken into account in the design of your site. A good custom website designer will provide a site that can be easily expanded to add additional functions like e-commerce sales, document downloads, booking modules and more, without bloating the site in its early stages by adding things that aren’t yet needed.

Another advantage of a custom-built site is that every part of it is designed to work together seamlessly – both at a technical level, and visually on the screen. In contrast, a template site usually needs you to install a host of different widgets or plugins to get all the functionality that you need. These plugins don’t always work well together and can impose their own constraints on how your site looks and feels. A custom site eliminates those constraints and ensures that your whole website works together as a cohesive whole.

SEO, or search engine optimisation, plays a huge role in the success of a website. There are specific guidelines to follow for good SEO, and not all templates are capable of following them. In contrast, a custom-built website will be optimised during its creation. How your site is coded can affect your website’s load speed, user experience, and overall performance – all of which impact on its Google ranking. A good developer will also code a website to allow Google and other search engines to read each element on each page, giving more relevant information for their search results. This leads to custom sites having a naturally higher ranking in the system than standard template sites. This level of SEO goes beyond keyword research.

Custom-built sites do tend to take longer to create than template sites, because every part of it is being created to cater for your specific needs. In the long run, though, this will save you time in the future because your site will do exactly what you want, every time, meaning the ongoing updating and maintenance of the site is simple and straightforward.

Pros and Cons of Custom Sites
  • The website will stand out as being uniquely designed around your businesses’ needs, branding, and online strategy
  • A custom-built website is uniquely adaptable and expandable with your company’s needs
  • The site will be fully responsive and built to current industry standards
  • The site will be built to be search engine friendly from the ground up – it’s not just about keywords
  • A custom site is usually more expensive than a template site
  • The process to create a custom site is usually longer than a template site
  • The site will grow with your business
  • The company that built your site is there for ongoing support as and when its needed
Thumbs up girl shows that Turboweb provide great tech support
What support are you getting?

Another factor to consider when choosing a website platform or company, is what level of tech support you’ll be getting.

Thumbs up girl shows that Turboweb provide great tech support
What support are you getting?

Another factor to consider when choosing a website platform or company, is what level of tech support you’ll be getting.

Many free or cheap website options come with little to no technical support for when things go wrong, or that tech support comes with a hefty add-on price tag. 

This might suit you if you don’t mind spending some evenings or weekends getting up to speed with various error types, updating themes and plugins for your template site, and generally becoming your own tech-support guru. But if that doesn’t sound like a good time, you’ll want to make sure that your business has access to good technical support for your website. 

Is your web company clear on what types of support are included in their package, and what might incur an additional cost? Do you have a rough idea of what those costs might be? On the one hand, you don’t want to opt for the very cheapest option and find that you are left high and dry with no-one to call on. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be paying hundreds each month for tech support you’re only going to need a handful of times each year.

Can you pick up the phone and have a chat with a real person about your problem? Or do you need to fight your way up a complicated telephone tree of chat-bots and layers of support before you can finally talk to someone who can take action. There’s nothing like hearing a friendly, competent voice on the other end of the phone when you’ve got something wrong with your website, or you’re wanting to make a change. Even better is if they’re available for video call, or you can pop into their premises for a meeting to discuss more complicated changes and requests.

And of course, it’s worth considering the history and longevity of the web development firm that you’re dealing with. At first glance this doesn’t seem like it would have much to do with the level of support they offer but consider what might happen if you jump into a contract with a new start-up or one-man-band. The world is full of people who think they can build a website for you, but don’t have the experience or stamina to follow that through into long-term support. What happens to your website when that person moves on to a different role? Or, heaven forbid, simply stops answering your calls, or goes bust.

Choose a website design company with a track record of building great websites for businesses, and solidly and dependably providing support and advice over a number of years.

Tech support checklist
  • Is ongoing support included in the price?
  • Does the web design firm actually have developers who can trouble-shoot the software that your website is built with?
  • Can you pick up the phone and talk to someone who can help you?
  • Is the company likely be around in 1 year, 3 years, 10 years?
Pixellated hacker shows Turboweb sites are seldom hacked
Does the web platform get hacked a lot?

No website platform or software is completely immune from being hacked. However, most websites are never individually targeted by hackers. The vast majority of times that a website is hacked, corrupted, or breached it is because it has a weakness somewhere in the code that is then exploited by the thousands of automated hacking bots that crawl the internet looking for security-vulnerabilities.

Pixellated hacker shows Turboweb sites are seldom hacked
Does the web platform get hacked a lot?

No website platform or software is completely immune from being hacked. However, most websites are never individually targeted by hackers. The vast majority of times that a website is hacked, corrupted, or breached it is because it has a weakness somewhere in the code that is then exploited by the thousands of automated hacking bots that crawl the internet looking for security-vulnerabilities.

For most companies, most of the time, the hackers aren’t out to get you specifically. Instead, they have discovered a weakness in a widely-used piece of software (like a theme, template, or plug-in), and want to see how many sites they can take down with it.

Of course, if you have reason to believe that your company’s website is likely to be the specific target of a concerted hacking attempt, you should contact a specialist website security firm and work with them. But this will be extremely expensive overkill for all but a tiny number of companies.

For the rest of us, it’s all about taking steps to decrease the likelihood of our particular website getting snagged by a random hacking bot.

So, what are these hacking bots looking for?

In short, they are looking for outdated or vulnerable software, especially if that software is being used by a very large number of websites.

Chart showing number of vulnerabilities in WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Magento, 2016-2018.
Which platforms get targeted the most?

Since over 35% of all websites are built using WordPress, it is perhaps unsurprising that Wordpress is also the platform with the highest number of vulnerabilities.

WordPress is a major target for hackers, possibly because it has so many people using it. The sheer number of sites that could be taken down by a lucky bot is a tempting target. And it’s not even the WordPress core platform itself which is the main target.

The key vulnerability for WordPress sites is the usage of third-party plugins and themes. 98% of WordPress vulnerabilities in 2018 were related to these components of WordPress sites (Source here). Unfortunately for the owners of WordPress sites, it is impossible to have a functioning WordPress website without using a template or theme, and a range of plugins. It is just how WordPress sites work.

Chart showing number of vulnerabilities in WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Magento, 2016-2018.
Which platforms get targeted the most?

Since over 35% of all websites are built using WordPress, it is perhaps unsurprising that Wordpress is also the platform with the highest number of vulnerabilities.

WordPress is a major target for hackers, possibly because it has so many people using it. The sheer number of sites that could be taken down by a lucky bot is a tempting target. And it’s not even the WordPress core platform itself which is the main target.

The key vulnerability for WordPress sites is the usage of third-party plugins and themes. 98% of WordPress vulnerabilities in 2018 were related to these components of WordPress sites (Source here). Unfortunately for the owners of WordPress sites, it is impossible to have a functioning WordPress website without using a template or theme, and a range of plugins. It is just how WordPress sites work.

Fortunately, there are other website platforms out there. Some of them (like Joomla and Magento, named in the graph above) have the same multi-plugin, third-party software problem that WordPress does, but the platform is simply a smaller fish so makes a less tempting target.

Others, such as Squarespace and Wix, are less vulnerable to these types of attacks but their software is so locked down that you can’t always have your website do what you want it to do.

Which means we’re back looking at whether you want the constraints of a template site, or to invest in a custom-built site.

A custom-built website, coded by competent developers with a strong track record will not only do exactly what you want it to do, it will also be sufficiently unique in its coding that it is extremely unlikely to fall prey to the horde of hacking bots crawling the web for WordPress or the other big platforms’ vulnerabilities.

The other big advantage with a custom-coded website is that your developer team know your website inside and out. This means that if your website does get corrupted or compromised in any way they are in the perfect position to correct the problem there and then, without needing to wait for another company to release a patch, or fix the vulnerability for them. 

Website security checklist
  • Does the site rely on multiple components from third-party developers?
  • What is the platform’s track record with being targeted by hackers?
  • Custom site versus template site? (template sites may be more vulnerable to scattergun hacking attempts)
  • What tech support can you rely on? (If your site does get corrupted, how quickly can it be restored?)

Side-bar advice: What if you already have a WordPress site?

Drop everything right now and go and make sure that your site is running the latest core version of WordPress, and that your themes and all your plugins are up to date. (Pro tip: don’t just click ‘update all plugins’, update them one at a time. One of Turboweb’s team has a sad story about doing this for a hobby site and the website breaking so badly they needed to restore it from a backup file. Twice). If you don’t know how to do that, then make sure that your web design company is 100% on top of taking care of it for you. If not, and if you don’t have the time to upskill to do it yourself, then it might be time to look at migrating your website to another web platform.

Turboweb helps your company get found on Google
Can you get found on Google?

It’s all very well having a great website that does amazing things for your customers, but if your customers never see it, it’s not going to help your company’s bottom line.

Turboweb helps your company get found on Google
Can you get found on Google?

It’s all very well having a great website that does amazing things for your customers, but if your customers never see it, it’s not going to help your company’s bottom line.

Making sure your site is visible on search engines is more than just chasing that ‘number one on Google’ spot. There is a whole art and science involved in optimising your website for search engines, which is what tech people mean when they talk about SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation.

You can read an overview of Search Engine Optimisation here, but the crux of it is that search engines want your site to be useful to their users, and they need their algorithms to be able to ‘see’ what your site is about.

If your web design company creates a lovely website shell for you, and then offers you no advice or support about how to fill that website with content that will rank well on search engines, doesn’t offer you any way to track your website’s performance, and doesn’t have a conversation with you about keeping your content up to date and current, then you are only half-way there.

Good SEO management is vital to the performance of every website, and for best performance it needs to be built into the website from the very beginning. Good SEO is about much more than picking a couple of keywords and sprinkling them through your text. It involves following search engine optimisation best-practice at every level of website design and build.

It is also important to avoid bad SEO practices. Search engines are getting better and better at identifying tricks and techniques that shady web designers use to ‘trick’ them into ranking the website better than it really deserves. If your web designer uses any of these ‘black hat’ or even ‘gray hat’ SEO tricks then you might find that your website actually drops in the website rankings, rather than climbing them.

If you are writing your own content, are you given guidance on good SEO, such as how to label your images well, how much text to put on each page, and how to create good headings?

If you really want to chase that ‘number-one on Google’ spot for your industry, you want a web design team who can sit down with you and map out a complete marketing plan, starting with your site’s SEO and organic search results, and then incorporating paid advertising and other opportunities as needed. A good web design company will really dial-in the website’s SEO and get solidly performing organic-search results before looking into boosting that with paid listings, social media promotions, and search engine advertisements. They’ll also have an honest conversation with you about the level of competition for that number-one spot and how tough it is going to be there to get there – some industries will be far easier than others to achieve this, and you don’t want to just shovel money into a bottomless hole.

SEO checklist
  • Does your web design team offer professional content-writing by people who know SEO?
  • Does the content-writing team keep up with current best-practice for SEO, avoiding black-hat techniques?
  • Are you offered access to website analytics so you can check your site’s performance?
  • Have you made a plan to regularly refresh and update your website content?
  • If you are writing your own content, are you given guidance on good SEO?
  • Can your website company help you with paid advertising on the various online platforms, such as Google Ads, social media platforms, and other places where your clients are looking for you?

Talk to the Turboweb team

The team here at Turboweb have been providing quality custom-built websites for kiwi companies for the better part of 15 years. We provide wrap-around support for all our sites and can always be reached with a quick phone call or email if our clients have any questions. 

We would love to discuss your company’s plans for a new website, or chat about upgrading and refreshing your old one to keep up with the fast-changing needs of the modern world.

Give the Turboweb team a call on 0800 887 269 today.