As if we didn’t have enough choices to make in our businesses, choosing a website platform is a major hangup for people. You know you need a website, but… then what? How do you make one? Where do you go? What is a “platform,” anyway? And once you find out there are zillions of options, how the hell do you choose the one that’s right for you?
The process often looks like this: Ask other people what they’re using, get a bunch of different answers, get confused, do some googling, pick one that seems cheap and easy, get started, get frustrated, wonder if you made the wrong choice… give up and see what’s new on Netflix.
You can avoid this headache, though, by asking the right questions while you research platforms. Let’s start with a couple basics:
First of all, WTF does “Website Platform” even mean?
For all intents and purposes, a “website platform” is what you’ll use to build your website. So when you hear people say “I’m on WordPress” or “I’m a SquareSpace girl” or “I use Wix” they’re talking about which web platform they’re using. Sometimes website platforms are called “website creation tools,” “content management systems,” or “site builders.” Basically, it’s the set of tools you’ll use to do the actual making of your site. And picking the right one for you is a pretty big decision.
How many different website platforms are there?
Too many to list. Which is what makes it so hard to choose one, right? So to keep this post short enough that you can read it and get on with your day… I’m going to stick to the questions you should ask when you’re researching ANY platform. Then, over the next several weeks, I’ll dive in and evaluate some of the most popular platforms out there and share my recommendations!
Questions to ask when choosing a website platform
Every platform is going to bombard you with lists of features and benefits, so how do you sort through which bells & whistles you really need and which you don’t? Here are the essential questions to ask when you’re choosing a website platform.
Can it do what I need it to do?
What are you going to use your website for? What do you want people to be able to do when they’re on your site? The BIGGEST factor to consider when researching platforms is whether they can do the things you need them to do! (It doesn’t matter how cheap a platform is, if it can’t do what you need it to do, it’s a waste of money.) Which of these functions do YOU need?
- Do you need to take payments through your site? (Are you selling a product or service?)
- Does the platform integrate with your preferred payment processor? (PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc)
- If you’re selling a product, do you need to track inventory through your site?
- If you’re selling a service, do you want people to book appointments through your site?
- Will you be using your site to blog?
- Will you share videos on your site?
- Do you want to capture email leads? Does this platform integrate with your email newsletter service?
- Do you want to host online courses or a membership program on your site?
- Are there any other fancy functions you need so that your site works for your business?
Can I make it look the way I want it to?
How flexible is this platform when it comes to design? Your website is often the part of your brand people will see first–before they decide whether or not to work with you. So can you make it look the way you want to make a great first impression?
- Is there a theme available that you love? Are there a lot of options for themes?
- Can you change or customize colors, fonts, and layouts?
- Can you hire a designer or developer that works with this platform if you want?
How easy is it to use?
It’s important to choose a platform that’s going to be easy enough for you to figure out and actually use. There’s no point in paying for a website unless you can put your content on it and hit “publish.” Here are questions to ask yourself to determine your needs:
- How tech-savvy are you?
- How willing are you to get in and figure things out or watch tutorials or take a course?
- Are good tutorials or how-to courses available?
- Can you find the support you need when you get stuck?
How much does it cost?
Too often, I see entrepreneurs compare platforms based on price first. Really, price should be last on the list. First of all, price charts can be deceptive. One platform may have a higher starting price, but offer more features in its lowest tier than another that has a seemingly low price but doesn’t offer the features you need. The pricing between popular platforms don’t vary THAT much. So your first priority should be finding a platform that can do all the things you need it to do, looks the way you want it to look, and is easy for you to use. If you’ve made it through all the questions and you still have a few platforms that make the cut, then you can start comparing prices. Here are some questions to ask to determine the true price of each platform:
- Are there any upfront setup costs?
- What is the monthly fee for the level I need?
- Does this platform come with hosting or is that separate?
- Do I need to buy a domain name separately or is that included?
- If I’m selling products/services is there a transaction fee charged by the platform itself? (note: ALL credit card processors will charge a fee. Some website platforms charge another fee on top of this every time you sell something. Sneaky!)
- Is the theme I want free or does it cost extra?
- Are there additional plugins or apps that I’ll need to buy to make my site function the way I want?
- Will I need to hire someone to help me set my site up?
Whew! I know this is A LOT to think about! Which is why I see people put this decision off and fumble their way through business without their own website for way too long. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, though! I’ve turned these questions into a workbook that you can use to guide your decision-making process! Click here to download the workbook!
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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Website Platform