The Best Website Platforms

Pros and cons of most development options

So you’re in the market for web design.  If you have come to this page you are undoubtedly in the process of figuring out what type of website will be the best solution for your business.  With so many choices nowadays, it is rather difficult to dig through the maze of information and come up with a solid answer.  This is why we have decided to provide a comprehensive guide about many of the different types of website platforms available today. If you want a more basic look at what goes into the web design process, check out our main page about it here.

Two Website Development Approaches:

At its core, there are two types of approaches to build websites available today.  First, you have the self site builders.  These types of systems are designed for the end-user to create the website him/herself without the need of a web developer.  It’s DIY.

The second type of approach utilizes the services of a web developer who will then create a website for you.  These types of sites are often built with the use of a content management system, or (rarely) hand-coded.

Here is a list of some of the more common products available for either approach:

Site Builder Solutions

  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • Shopify (ecommerce)
  • Site Builder
  • Weebly
  • 1&1
  • Adobe Muse
  • BigCartel (ecommerce)
  • IPage
  • Etsy
  • Simbla
  • Godaddy SiteBuilder
  • Volusion (ecommerce)
  • VistaPrint Web Builder
  • Zenfolio
  • Jimdo
  • BigCommerce (ecommerce)
  • MoonFruit
  • Yola
  • 3d Cart (ecommerce)

Web Developer Solutions

  • WordPress
  • Magento (ecommerce)
  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • WebGUI
  • eZ Platform
  • ModX
  • Concrete5
  • ComposR
  • Dreamweaver
  • Typo3
  • Frontpage
  • Open Cart (eCommerce)
  • WooCommerce
  • X-Cart

This is by far not all of the sites we have run across over the years, but it is a relatively comprehensive list.  For the purposes of you selecting a good solution, the analysis we will be providing you should help you determine which approach ultimately will work the best.

Determining which Website Development Approach Works with your Personality:

It’s important to understand the pros and cons of each approach.  Utilizing a site-builder is certainly the less costly approach, but it is not necessarily the cheapest in the long-run.  When working with a self-builder, you need to be the type of person who likes to tinker with stuff.  You also need to have an “I like to figure things out” mentality.  If you are not the type of person who likes to invest time into research and learning technical tasks, you may not want to utilize a self-builder.  While these systems have come a long way with respect to user-friendly interfaces, it still takes a certain amount of technical know-how to truly put a decent site together.

Determining which Website Development Approach Fits Your Business Model the Best:

Another factor to be taken into consideration is what you are looking to accomplish with the website.  If you’d like to site to be purely reference-driven, meaning you don’t really care if it ranks high on Google but just provides visitors general information about your business, then a site-builder is certainly a great potential solution.  Site-builder sites often work well for individuals who simply want to provide individuals basic information about their services, but really acquire customers in a fashion outside of the web.  A prime example is anyone who attends local networking events, has a business card with their company information on it and tells folks to visit the website to get more information about their services.

Content Management Systems vs Hand Coding:

Hand-coding is the process of building a website with one line of code at a time, whereas a Content Management System (CMS) provides the core-code functionality out of the box. Both approaches have their pros and cons.  Hand-coding generally gives you better control of the design as you are able to get the design to do exactly what you want.  Hand-coding also generally allows for faster web page loads because a good coder can create code shortcuts allowing code to be read faster.  Finally, hand-coded websites tend to be hacked less as hackers often like to find vulnerabilities in codes used across many websites (more on this below). Hand-coding does have some considerable drawbacks though.  First and foremost, it takes more time to build a website.  This generally increases the overall cost of the website as well.  Additionally, hand-coding tends to commit a business owner to a particular developer because the hand-coded website is best known by the person who originally built it.  If something is wrong with the website, it can take a long time to debug.

Content Management Systems (CMS) are prebuilt website platforms allowing a web developer to deploy the core platform easily onto a server.  Design Developers then create templates that work with these platforms, allowing website builders to quickly deploy designs.  A CMS allows users to control and manage the content within a website relatively easily without the need of having to understand code. The beauty of these systems is that even a novice is able to make website updates relatively easily after a website has been built initially.  Unfortunately, the use of uniform platform codes makes CMS systems targets for hackers.  If a hacker can find vulnerability in a website platform code, then he/she may have access to thousands of websites who utilize the same platform in question.  It is up to the website owner to stay on top of security updates for the platform.  As with your computer and mobile devices, all systems require on-going maintenance.  As long as a website owner understands the need for this, most CMS platforms provide a great infrastructure to launch a small business website.

Ultimately, deciding on whether to build a hand-coded website or selecting a CMS lies with the website owner, though nowadays most website owners select to use a Content Management System because of ease of deployment.

Open Source Website Platforms vs Closed Source Website Platforms:

Website Source code is the code written by programmers to run a website platform.  It’s the part of the code that a regular website user never sees. When source code is closed, the code is protected by the website platform developer from being copied or altered.  Open source is the exact opposite.  Open source code is readily available to anyone, with the idea being that it is to open to the public, creating mass collaboration that results in better website platform versions.

Open source is cheaper, given that it typically comes free. Not only does this save you start-up costs but it also avoids the necessity of having to stay with a particular vendor long-term.  Additionally, open source allows you to make changes to the website platform code.  These code updates are often shared with website developers around the world and thus provide for greater advancement of website platforms.  Unfortunately, open source also has its drawbacks.  Due to the fact that the code is readily available to anyone, seedy individuals often find vulnerabilities in the code and exploit it to their advantages.  This is the root cause for website hacks.

In contrast, if you purchase closed website platform software, the organization who sold you the code generally assures that any bugs are fixed ASAP.  With open source code, on the other hand, getting to the bottom of things may take considerable more effort, especially if website code changes were made.

The bottom line ultimately depends on you.  While open source is by far a less expensive option in the short-term, it does require additional TLC in the long-term to assure all code systems stay safe.

The Best Website Platforms for SEO

WordPress

WordPress is going to make the top of our list here. We have worked with almost all platforms out there over the years and WordPress takes the cake for ranking high on Google. The main power behind WordPress is the large number of plugins that can be used to extend WordPress functionality with regards to SEO. While the system is already pretty SEO friendly out of the box, the plugins really make it shine. With the right selection of plugins and proper permalinks selected, WordPress is a true powerhouse when it comes to SEO. The coding on the platform is easy to understand by the search engines. Title tags and heading can be managed easily. As WordPress is really a blogging platform at heart, the content creation on the platform is a breeze. We often have clients jump into the site after we have built it to manage their content themselves. Themes help in many different ways. Most importantly, a high-quality theme will assure your site creates the proper HTML for SEO. Additionally, most of the WordPress themes out there nowadays are mobile-friendly, driven by quality coding with mobile optimization in mind. The final benefit we really like about WordPress is that it has a massive online community which works hard to build better platforms and plugins continuously. While we love WordPress, we do need to caution website owners of the risk of hacking. Due to its popularity, it is one of the most hacked website platforms out there. Always assure to keep your WordPress site security up to date. This will require an on-going maintenance cost. Budget for it.

Drupal

Drupal itself does not have a great native SEO component, but we really like the Yoast Plugin you can use with it.  Utilizing Yoast and Drupal certainly makes for a great website combination.  While there aren’t that many Drupal developers out there, the templates tend to work great with SEO.  There are several other plugins we feel are worth mentioning for Drupal to help run a quality SEO campaign.  Pathauto is certainly one of the plugins we will always install on the sites.  This plugin assures that the Drupal platform creates the proper website urls for SEO optimization.  Additionally, we tend to use Global Redirect for automatic 301redirects and a meta tag optimizer to assure we are delivering the right content on the search engine results pages.  If you are looking for a scalable solution that gives you a heap-load of design options, then you may want to take a closer look at Drupal.  It certainly wins with the Customization crowd.  In general, Drupal is very powerful and flexible.  With the power of Drupal modules, you can get Drupal to do almost anything.  One word of caution, while Drupal is a great solution, the number of developers is low, thus if you ever have to switch to a different developer, you may be hard-pressed to find a good local one.

Joomla

While Joomla has been losing steam in the last few years due to an interface that can be a little convoluted; the platform itself still provides a solid foundation for SEO.  As a matter of fact, our own website used to run on the Joomla platform for many years.  It wasn’t until 2015 that we decided to migrate to WordPress.  Joomla, out of the box, probably has one of the best page development interfaces.  If you are not a big fan of adding many plugins to manage your content, you may want to give Joomla a closer look.  The disadvantage of Joomla is that it’s a “middle of the road” platform.  On the one hand, WordPress is on the user-friendly side, whereas Drupal can customize almost anything.  Thus if you are looking for a nice “middle of the road” website platform, take a closer look at Joomla.

If you know you’ll want extra features on your website, Joomla isn’t the best choice. The Joomla community offers tons of modules, but they are currently hard to find and harder to maintain. Both WordPress and Drupal have a much better handle on this.  Speaking of community, if you end up developing your website in Joomla, make sure to keep it up to date.  Short of WordPress, it is one of the most hacked systems on the web.

The Best eCommerce Platforms

Shopify

Shopify is a hosted eCommerce platform, meaning you’ll pay a monthly fee to use it.  Shopify cannot be purchased once.  You are going to be paying recurring monthly fees based on the feature set you choose.  This type of setup for eCommerce is great, especially for start-up businesses because it assures you are completely PCI compliant.

For people who want to save money upfront and who aren’t extremely savvy with the computer a managed ecommerce platform like Shopify is highly recommended.  From a SEO standpoint this managed solution is probably one of the best we have ever seen.  With the right tools, these sites actually index in Google quite well and thus are one of the few managed web platforms we are giving the nod to.  Products can be individually optimized and pages can be setup to be indexed properly.  A slew of Shopify apps including Smart SEO and SEO Doctor can help optimize your store to your heart’s content.

As the interface is completely secured and hosted by Shopify itself, you don’t have to worry about your customer’s security.  All stores can have a unique domain name, which you can even register through them.  All of your data is automatically backed up and all of Shopify’s plans come with unlimited bandwidth.

Additionally, the system actually supports many business models including companies who dropship, set up subscriptions and need a POS.  Finally, the system can also provide blog purchase buttons, support Facebook selling and setup affiliates.

A few drawbacks to Shopify include their pricing structure.  Shopify charges a monthly fee and a percentage of transactions.  This can add up.  From a content marketing standpoint, Shopify also lags a bit.  The blogging software interface does not have all of the features we’d ideally like to see.  It’s something you can deal with but it can be a bit annoying.

Finally, as with all hosted eCommerce platforms, we need to mention that if you were to ever want to leave, the best you could get would be a CSV export of your product information.  All of the other “stuff” like your design, and user interface is gone.   To be fair, the same holds true for all of the other hosted eCommerce solutions, but it is still something you may want to consider before pulling the trigger.

Magento

Magento is an actual application you can purchase as a license, meaning it is not a managed eCommerce platform.  For this reason, it does provide some features we really like.  First and foremost, it is very flexible.  It has a good amount of features that other eCommerce platforms lack.  The platform has a wide range of features which allows users to manage multiple stores, support multiple locations, run multiple languages and calculate in multiple currencies.  It is mobile friendly.  It is also built open source, which allows for a programmer to add custom features.  With all of these features, it is quite scalable, which is something important to consider if you are looking to start a small store with the intent to grow large.  Additionally, one needs to weigh the development cost of Magento versus the higher transaction costs of a managed platform.  Generally speaking, if you have a small number of items, Magento is more expensive on a “per item” cost basis than a managed platform.  However, as the eCommerce platform grows with more and more products, the transaction costs with managed platforms become expensive.  Thus Magento is a great website platform if you have a large number of products ready to be sold.

There are a few drawbacks to the platform that often times force a potential buyer to cross this application off the list of potential eCommerce platforms.  First, there is generally poor product support and a lack of developers.  This can make maintenance a bit tricky.  You’ll want to assure you are working with an experienced Magento developer who is going to stick around.  Replacing a good Magento developer can take time and often means your website developer is not local.  For this reason, for folks who like to work with people locally, Magento is often not going to work.  Additionally, because it is such a feature-rich platform, it tends to run best on a dedicated server.  While dedicated servers are great for shopping carts, it really only makes financial sense once you have lots of traffic to the site.

Magento is one of those products that make sense to a specific set of needs.  The only time we really recommend it, is when a client already has a successful store and is at a point of large future expansion.  It is not a start-up product.

BigCartel

If you are into creativity and selling unique items, this is the store for you. It is definitely a direct competitor to Etsy, but it has a much cooler vibe.  It is a fully managed application based on “per product” pricing.  Unlike Etsy, it does not restrict the types of items you can sell and you can most certainly link to your social media accounts.  The fee structure is clean and simple and pricing for the platform appears to be on track with the rest of the managed eCommerce platforms out there.

While to platform is pretty simple to setup, it lacks a few fundamental components we’d love to see in the future.  One of the biggest that appear to be missing is the ability to review items purchased.  This makes it rather difficult to judge the quality of what you are buying.

Overall it’s a decent entry-level platform, especially if your products are very creative in nature.

Etsy

Surely you have heard of Etsy, but chances are you have heard of it as more of a resource to find little home-made trinkets.  Indeed, Etsy is the biggest eCommerce platform for small homemade businesses. It has established itself, not as an eCommerce solution, but as a resource for people to go and find “one-off” things that you’d have a hard time finding elsewhere.  As for our evaluation, we are not going to look very much at the intended brand positioning, but more at the functional aspects of the business owner interface.

There is no limit to the number of items you can have in your store. Community and forums about store setups provide plenty of advice for new store owners. Buyers can search the entire site for specific items and find your shop on accident.  Due to the fact that Etsy is a customer brand in itself, it makes purchasers more comfortable buying from vendors on the platform.  Unfortunately, the shop interface cannot be customized at all.  What you see is what you get.   This puts it pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from a product like Magento.

Etsy also restricts the type of items you can sell in your stores.  They do this to maintain the Etsy brand.  These types of items are restricted to handmade, vintage and supplies. Currently the Etsy interface barely allows links to blogs & social media accounts.  That’s a big drawback for us when recommending this platform.  Finally, their fee structure is a bit complicated.  Thus make sure you fully understand this before opening a store.

We like Etsy, but much like Magento, it is for a very specific application.  Usually the folks who end up opening an Etsy store run a home-based business with the intent to keep it vintage.

Volusion

Much like Shopify, Volusion is managed eCommerce solution.  While both products appear to provide the same feature set, each platform does have a few subtle differences.  One of the features we really like about Volusion is that they don’t charge a “per transaction” fee for cart purchases.  Compared to Shopify, that definitely is a big plus.  Volusion also has a large amount of industry-specific themes available.  While some of the themes can get a little pricey (some quite pricey) the overall quality of product is definitely there.  From a user perspective, Volusion really hasn’t picked up a large new user base despite having a similar price point to its main competitors.  This is somewhat concerning as the overall product is lacking end-user acceptance.  Thus we are a bit cautious with our nod for the product.

Unfortunately many of their themes are not yet mobile friendly.  Considering we live in such a mobile world, this is completely unacceptable.  The Volusion extension store also only has a handful of apps (about 80) available to its store owners.  In comparison, Shopify has about 1400.

If you inherited a website with a Volusion cart, we generally tell folks to stick with it until it is time to rebuild.  At that point in time, we generally recommend using a platform more readily accepted by business owners as it generally drives future platform innovation.

There is no limit to the number of items you can have in your store. Community and forums about store setups provide plenty of advice for new store owners. Buyers can search the entire site for specific items and find your shop on accident.  Due to the fact that Etsy is a customer brand in itself, it makes purchasers more comfortable buying from vendors on the platform.  Unfortunately, the shop interface cannot be customized at all.  What you see is what you get.   This puts it pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from a product like Magento.

Etsy also restricts the type of items you can sell in your stores.  They do this to maintain the Etsy brand.  These types of items are restricted to handmade, vintage and supplies. Currently the Etsy interface barely allows links to blogs & social media accounts.  That’s a big drawback for us when recommending this platform.  Finally, their fee structure is a bit complicated.  Thus make sure you fully understand this before opening a store.

We like Etsy, but much like Magento, it is for a very specific application.  Usually the folks who end up opening an Etsy store run a home-based business with the intent to keep it vintage.

BigCommerce

This managed eCommerce platform first and foremost shines with its seamless template integrations.  The platform can virtually handle and industry.  Whether you’re selling dog supplies or offering a range of services, there’s a template designed for you. Currently, there are about 115 free templates and an additional 80 templates for sale. If you are looking to build something yourself and design is not your strong-suit, you will want to give the platform a closer look.  Probably our favorite part with this platform is its ability to integrate with a large amount of other online store platforms including Shopzilla, Nextag, Ebay and Bizrate.  It is also very strong in its ability to connect to Facebook.  One aspect you’ll definitely want to consider about BigCommerce is their sister app, BigCommerce Next. This is the mobile version of the software, allowing you to build a mobile-friendly version of your site.  This app comes with several functions exclusively suited for mobile devices.

On the negative side, their templates for purchase are expensive.  You can easily spend $200+.  While such an investment is not a big deal if you are serious about launching your store, it is rather costly in comparison to other managed platforms out there.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is definitely the most popular eCommerce platform of choice today.  The main reason for this is that it is a sister product of WordPress and is now being used by 28% of the online stores word-wide. The best feature of this platform is also its worst.  WooCommerce is free and open-source, so you can host it anywhere and attach it to any WordPress website.  Unfortunately, therein also lies the problem.  Much like the actual WordPress platform, this application is extremely prone to hacking.  Therefore, you need to assure you always keep your platform up to date. With a slew of plugins, you can sell physical and digital products, take secure payments and collect taxes, manage shipping and control inventory automatically. Considering that this plugin is actually a free add-on, it is a very attractive option to add to a WordPress site.  The drawback to the application is that it takes quite a lot of time to configure.  Thus, the platform itself may be free; you are going to have a considerable amount of development time involved, getting the platform to function the way you want.  The SEO features are ok.  Product and service optimization can take a bit of time and requires on-going tweaking.  The nice part about the application is that you can however virtually do anything to adjust its pages.  That a big plus if you are looking to develop a custom application.  Security is good, as long as you are keeping all plugins up to date.  Hackers do love this application because it becomes an easy target if it is not maintained.

Overall, we love this application.  If managed correctly it provides the ability to scale your business without having to pay exorbitant on-going transaction fees.  If you already have a WordPress website and are looking to add a store, you should definitely give this platform a closer look.

3dCart

3dCart is probably one of the most intuitive managed cart platforms out there.  The cart has a decent feature set to scale a small business.  The backend features are solid, making it rather easy to use.  All of their free themes are mobile responsive.  This makes 3dCart one of the only eCommerce solutions where you don’t have to worry about any mobile integrations.  As many of the other managed solutions, 3dcart integrates with all of the major business service applications such as Quickbooks and Constant Contact.  As do the other managed solutions, for payment processing it works with Paypal, Stripe and Authorize.net.

We used to recommend this cart quite a bit a few years back, unfortunately as of lately, the cart has received some negative reviews for its lack of customer support and billing practices.  While we have not experienced this issue ourselves, we simply recommend that you take a closer look at their reviews before purchasing the platform.

Open Cart

This hosted open-source platform (not managed) has a good amount of followers for several solid reasons.  First, this eCommerce platform is a great starting point for small to medium-sized businesses.  It has a quality interface with multi-store support.  For this reason, we usually recommend this cart system to medium-sized businesses looking to expand operations online while providing products from multiple stores.  The platform allows for drop shipping, a great feature for businesses that work with a multitude of suppliers and don’t want to deal with the hassle of personally shipping products.  From a sales performance standpoint the system also offers abandonment tracking natively.  This is normally an add-on with other platforms.  As with most of the other hosted platforms, product info can be sent into the cart with FTP.

The platform does have a few cons we’d like to mention.  There is no native site search feature.  This is somewhat odd not to offer with the initial feature set.  From a SEO standpoint the system lacks the ability to add SEO tags.  If you are looking to have your products found online through regular Google searches, you may be a bit challenged with this cart out of the box.

Customer profiles can only be added with additional plugins.  Thus, if you are looking to manage client profiles, you may need to purchase an additional plugin to get that accomplished.  On its own, the platform does not currently offer any antivirus, which is rather surprising considering the large amount of hacks that are occurring nowadays.  Having said that, most of the quality customer profile plugins do provide antivirus protection of their own, negating the need to have an out of the box solution for that issue.  Finally, the platform does not offer any custom shipping features out of the box.  Those would need to be added.

Overall it is actually a very solid application.  We like this cart, as long as it runs alongside a website that is optimized for SEO.  Usually we accomplish this by adding the eCommerce platform as a sub-domain to an existing website.

X-Cart

I don’t want to say we saved the best for last, but short of WooCommerce this is probably one of our favorite open-source eCommerce platforms.  It never really took off like some of the other systems out there, but it is a wonderful solution if you are looking to build a stand-alone shopping cart and don’t want to be locked into a managed platform.  The platform is great for optimizing for SEO.  SEO tagging is part of the standard feature set.  Additionally, the cart has several SEO plugins available that can considerably improve upon the standard features.  The Wysiwyg editor enables the owner to describe products with drag/drop designs, making product description work a breeze.  Customer profiles are standard with the entry-level license.  It also includes customer account creation.  As this is a standard feature set, the entry-level cart also comes with antivirus scanning.  As with all of the hosted ecommerce solutions, ftp access is possible.  This makes mass product additions very easy.  The platform is PHP and with the purchased license allows developers to make substantial changes if desired.  Custom shipping and product bundling is possible.  As a matter of fact, this is one of the few open-source cart platforms that offer this out of the box. Most of the major integrations are standard; the only one that is not out of the box (which is odd) is Paypal.  An API is available, which allows quality web developers to add virtually any quality third-party application.  That’s a huge plus for anyone who requires a custom solution.  Finally, the cart actually works natively with WordPress.  While, at the writing of this review, we have not done such an integration, we have heard great reviews about it.

A few drawbacks are worth mentioning.  There are no search reports natively, meaning you cannot see which products are searched often.  There aren’t any automatic emails after a purchase.  That is an add-on that needs to be bought.  Drop-shipping is not currently available as part of the initial application.  If you are looking for a platform to seamlessly integrate this, X-Cart is probably not a good choice.  Finally, there is a considerable lack of language integrations with the “out of box” version, mainly missing German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

Overall, we do love this eCommerce platform, mainly for its SEO abilities.  If you are looking to sell products to English-speaking countries and need cart customization to get that done, you are going to be well-served with this platform.

The Best Platforms for Building Your Own Website

Wix

This is hands-down the platform of choice for anyone who doesn’t want to make a large investment into their web presence.  This managed website platform has excellent support services for the DIY builder.  500+ templates give a business owner plenty of options to build a good site.  The templates are designed in a quality-focused manner with excellent drag/drop functionality.  Integrations for the platform are plentiful.  Some of our favorites are the live support and newsletter options.  While Wix is known for the great tools they offer free, they do have paid packages. The difference between paid and free is quite simple.  The paid options allow for increased storage, bandwidth, and access to further features.  Of course paid plans don’t have ads.  Overall, the Unlimited Plan provides the most bang for your buck.

Unfortunately Wix is not a good solution if you ever want to switch templates.  The process of getting that done is rather cumbersome.  Often times it is easier to just start building a Wix site from scratch.  If you are looking to rank your website Google, Wix is not a good solution.  The SEO features are rather lacking.  Finally, site stats require Google analytics.  While Google analytics is free, Wix does charge to have it added to your site.

Ultimately it is a question of where you are in your digital business life.  If you are just getting started and are looking to get your feet wet, Wix is a good solution, but don’t expect it to set the world on fire with lead acquisition and Google ranking.

Squarespace

First and foremost, this managed website platform has some of the most beautiful templates we have seen come out of the DIY builders to date.  All of the templates are mobile-friendly.  This is a great feature as a website owner doesn’t have to worry about any mobile integration.  The template style options are extensive and fairly easy to integrate.  Much like Wix, we like Squarespace for those individuals who just want to get started with their web presence.

Although Squarespace seems to be more flexible, than most of its DIY builder counter-parts, it does have some minor drawbacks.  The main drawback for us is the inability to really optimize the platform for SEO. While Squarespace lets you completely rebuild your website in a professional way keeping your site’s architecture clean, it does not allow for fine-tuning of SEO components.   Finally, to date, Ecom only works with Stripe.  We hope this will be updated soon.

Overall, we like Squarespace for its intended use.  If you are a new business owner on a tight budget and don’t care about Google rank, you should take a closer look at this platform as well.

Weebly

Weebly has been around forever, but it has never really taken off the way some of the other platforms have.  The user interface is very friendly, predominantly due to its drag/drop design features.  Their templates are pretty trendy and all come with pre-designed page layouts.

Unfortunately Weebly lacks on the template optimization side.  All of the designs are rather limited.  You pretty much have to be happy with what you get.  Extensive customization is not available.  We also hope that their blog feature set will increase eventually.  Currently certainly lacks behind Wix and Squarespace.

1&1

This is a managed website builder provided by the 1&1 hosting company.  If you are looking for a reference-driven website 1& 1 could be a possible solution.  The company has about 10,000 templates to choose from.  Many business types are supported.  The web developer interface is somewhat rudimentary with the style editor mainly changing font, coloring and background images.  One feature we like is the history button, which is something many of the other builders don’t have.  The History feature essentially allows you to go back in time and select a previous version of your design.  Ecommerce add-ons are available, but at a rather pricey premium.  HTML/CSS editing is possible to create your own layout.  Just click on the “HTML/CSS” tab after clicking the Layout button and begin coding.  You can also upload your own Javascript code if you want. Before making a purchase, we do recommend you take a closer look at their payment structure.  We have seen considerable price increases for any website that is hosted with them for more than one year.

GoDaddy Site Builder

GoDaddy is a massive company and chances are you have run across their products in the past.  The GoDaddy Site Builder, also called Go Central, is GoDaddy’s version of a managed website builder.  What makes this product attractive to a good amount of people is that it combines domain registration, hosting and website construction into one product.  Thus, a novice doesn’t have to figure out how to connect registered domain names with constructed websites.  The builder itself is fairly easy to use.  If you have ever painted by numbers, you’ll be able to put a website together with this tool.  If you do get stuck with any design issues, the support staff is extremely helpful.  This is probably one of GoDaddy’s biggest strong suits.  Their support teams are readily available for help and are always extremely courteous.

As with many of the other managed website builders, these sites do not perform well with SEO.  We have seen GoDaddy websites rank in low competition markets, but perform poorly the minute the site is competing in a market wherein hosted applications like WordPress and Drupal exist.  The site builder platform is proprietary making it impossible to move to another host.  Thus you are locked into the GoDaddy hosting program until you decide to build a different site.  Finally, the design editor itself does not have a drag & drop functionality.  This makes the design process a bit cumbersome.  ECommerce can be added to the platform, but again it will be proprietary to GoDaddy.

Overall, it’s a decent tool if you are looking to have all of your web presence housed under one roof.  It will not get you ranked on Google for anything worthwhile, but it does provide you with a good reference-driven website if that is what you are looking for.

Vistaprint Web Builder

If you want something easy to set up and don’t care about a cookie cutter approach, then you may want to take a closer look at this site builder.  Much like GoDaddy’s website platform, this website builder is also a managed solution.  It is proprietary to Vistaprint.

There are no template themes to choose from, instead you actually choose a header and footer design, create the body of the page with blocks and set colors manually. You are not going to find any true ecommerce functionality and there is no newsletter functionality.

Until this website platform gets a better interface with additional options, there are much better choices out there to get your website set up.

Website Platforms with the Most Versatility

For each of our three core categories, we wanted to pick our favorite web platform to illustrate which we find the most versatile.  Of all of the sites we looked at WordPress to the cake for hosted solution because it has the largest available support community possible.  Sure, the platform is vulnerable ot hacks, but one just needs to stay on top of it to assure the site is protected.

Wix won us over for most versatile managed website platform.  This DIY site builder has by far the largest amount of templates available, thus making it rather versatile.  Unfortunately it is not the best for ecommerce, but then again none of the DIY builders do a great job with that.  If we had to pick a DIY ecommerce solution, our nod would certainly go to Shopify for its extensive feature set.

Our favorite custom ecommerce solution would have to be X-Cart.  This relatively unknown cart system has a wonderful feature set out of the box, especially if you are looking to sell predominantly in the US.

Website Platforms When Looks Really Matter

Many people want to build websites purely based on looks.  While we personally disagree with this approach, we do get this question quite a bit.  Thus we wanted to share with you which applications we feel really shine in this category.  Thus, in no uncertain order, here are our top contenders.

We love WordPress when it comes to beautiful sites, simply because there are just so many templates to choose from.  There are over 10 million websites currently using WordPress themes.  Additionally, the platform boasts over 50,000 plugins to fine-tune your new website.  We have to put WordPress at the top of our list, simply because you can create pretty much anything with the platform currently.  Drupal is a close second though.  We are going to make this an honorable mention.  The design capabilities in Drupal are just as good as WordPress, the only reason we did not give it the Number One spot is because of the lack of developers currently using it, thus making it difficult to find a replacement developer if needed.

Related Content: Why Use WordPress?

Squarespace, in the Looks Category, wins us over as the top manage hosting platform predominantly because every theme of theirs is automatically mobile friendly.  As we are living in a mobile-driven world this is certainly an important factor to consider when selecting a good looking theme for your website.

Finally, on the shopping cart side of things, we will select Shopify.  While its design featured are more restricted than a custom ecommerce application, for most business owners out there, a managed shopping cart application is a great way to go, and Shopify really has an amazing set of templates available to create any style and look you are looking for.

Website Platforms That Are Easy to Use

Depending on your overall business goals, you obviously need to consider which website platform makes the most sense for you to manage.  Now, you may simply decide to have a webmaster handle it all for you.  At that point in time, the field of options opens up dramatically, but if you are intending on managing the website yourself after it has launched, here is a set of website platforms we would choose if we were you.

WordPress is pretty easy to use.  For a hosted platform, the interface is very easy to use.  This has really been the driving force behind their online success.  Even if you get stuck, the community help sections of the platform usually provide solid answers to any problems.  If you are still stuck however, there are plenty of developers around who can help with fixing things.

Wix is definitely one of the easiest managed website builders out there.  It strikes a good balance between Ease of Use and visual appearance. For anyone just looking to have a reference-driven website that is not focused on ranking for search terms, this is a great solution.

Much like WordPress, the Shopify interface is very easy to use.  We have several clients who have come to use with Shopify sites they have built themselves.  This platform keeps a novice “in line” and doesn’t allow someone to stray outside of generally accepted UX.  This means that the interface always assure the presentation of products happen in a logical manner, designed to help a store owner sell his/her products.  It’s a wonderful platform for anyone getting started with an eCommerce business.

Other Website Platforms

Finally, there are other website platforms we have run across over the years.  We have them listed below.  Generally, we would not recommend any of the tools below to build a website for numerous reasons, predominantly because these platforms make Google rankings rather difficult.  Here is a list of them in no uncertain order:

  • WebGUI
  • eZ Platform
  • ModX
  • Concrete5
  • ComposR
  • Dreamweaver
  • Typo3
  • Frontpage
  • Adobe Muse
  • IPage
  • Simbla
  • Zenfolio
  • Jimdo
  • MoonFruit
  • Yola

As you can see, the choices for building a website are endless.  Whether you are looking for a hosted solution, or managed shopping cart, whether you are looking for a managed website or a custom application, your options are quite extensive.  Ultimately the choice is yours, but we highly recommend that you take your time in selecting the proper platform for your specific needs.  We also recommend not just thinking about the immediate future, but also consider the long-term implication of your selection.  Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to you is if the website actually works for its intended purpose, but then limits your ability to scale.  Thus we always advise out clients to select a website platform that is in line with their overall business growth goals.

If you are looking to build a quality website and still have questions, please feel free to give us a call and we’ll happily discuss your options with you.