When it comes to owning a business there's a lot that's overwhelming, but nothing quite as overwhelming as managing your website. There's just something about web stuff that feels like a special kind of complicated hell.
Your website is huge part of not just your brand, but your business overall. It's a visual representation of your brand. It doesn't matter if you have a product based business or you're a service provider, your website is your online store front. It's literally how you make money to put food on your table.
Your website is a critical piece of your success. So if you find yourself sending people to your instagram account instead of your website, putting off updates and edits, or fighting with your CMS it's time to make some changes get your site working for you instead of the other way around.
A question I hear often from business owners is "What website platform is the best one?" Everyone is looking for that golden ticket, that secret formula, that *one thing* they're missing in order to find wild success and unlock a river of money directly into their bank account.
But the truth is there's no right answer. There's no one platform that's THE one that's going to make you an overnight success. Your website is not the key to success—it's a tool you use to build a successful business.
The first step to selecting the perfect website platform for your business is knowing what you need. Write out a list of what you want—what's a nice-to-have and what's absolutely non-negotiable. Evaluate your business needs. Do you primarily make your money selling products? You'll want a platform that's more ecommerce forward. How important is content production to your business, do you need a blog? What kind of features do you want it to have? Do your products have variants? What email marketing service do you use or other integrations do you need? What frustrates you about your current website platform? All of this needs to be taken into account before ever deciding on a platform.
Once you know what you're looking for in a website platform, you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each platform. I suggest booking a call with a web strategist (cough cough... ahem... you can book a call with a really good one by clicking here), but I'll give you a quick, high-level overview of some of the most popular platforms to help get you pointed in the right direction.
Squarespace is a popular website platform (accounting for an estimated 2.8 million live websites) created for small business owners to be able to quickly and easily design and manage their own website. The platform has grown a lot in recent years and added a ton of features such as e-commerce, email marketing, and a "members area" which is great for subscriptions or courses.
It's simple to use and has a ton of pre-designed templates you can customize, all designed to be fully responsive so they look great on mobile devices as well. It's fully hosted and web based which means you don't have to deal with downloading any programs or deal with third party hosting services, and you can access your CMS and make edits from anywhere you have a wifi signal.
Squarespace utilizes an on-page editor so you never have to touch a line of code if you don't want to and can make all your edits directly on the page.
Generally speaking, I'm a big fan of Squarespace and its usability for small business owners. I think it's a great option. It's editor is easy to use and it's ability to handle images is really flexible (no need to pre-crop your images and I love the built in ability to pick a focal point within the image so the subject is always visible no matter what breakpoint you're viewing the site at.)
My absolute favorite thing about Squarespace is its one-stop-shop-safe-squarespace-ecosystem vibe. It does everything for you: you can buy your domain, get your customized email address, your hosting, manage your website, your email campaigns, your e-commerce, everything all in one place. Squarespace sites are rarely the target of hacking attempts and overall the platform has little to no downtime. It's very reliable plus there are lots of support groups and very helpful customer service at your fingertips.
While Squarespace does have a lot of great looking, pre-designed templates they all have a certain "Squarespace-yness" to them and they're pretty easy to spot from a mile away—not great when you're a business owner wanting to grow your business and stand out. In order to maintain it's user-friendliness Squarespace keeps some pretty tight boundaries that can be really frustrating when you're wanting to create a really custom feeling website. Thankfully, you do have the ability to add custom CSS code which means you can hire web designer and do some amazing things but depending on the customizations it could make your website a bit less straightforward to maintain in the back end, and essentially removes any option to get support from Squarespace customer service. (They can't help troubleshoot sites with custom coding on them, which means you'll be paying a web designer or developer if you need help.)
Squarespace does have e-commerce capabilities which is great news for business owners everywhere. The checkout process is smooth and it's easy to set up your store. However it's a very manual process to add products and it gets overwhelming very quickly. Squarespace is not primarily an e-commerce platform and managing products is very cumbersome. I don't recommend it for businesses selling more than a handful of items.
A few of the biggest frustrations I've found with Squarespace is that there is no staging area. That means any changes you make to your website, you're making them to the live site. This gets really tricky when it comes time for a brand refresh or a redesign and can mean it's necessary to put up a temporary "coming soon" page in the meantime. This is a huge drawback in my opinion. You never want your website to be down when you run an online business. It doesn't look professional and it can cost you a lot in lost business.
Another major issue that makes me want to deduct a star from Squarespace is that there's no ability to have page templates. You can kind of get around this by duplicating an already existing page, but, again, it's very cumbersome and can leave you feel like you're having to reinvent the wheel every time you want to add a new page to your site.
✅ Great for smaller sites, service providers and online businesses without a lot of e-commerce.
✅Allows businesses to get up and running quickly without needing to hire a developer.
✅Can be customized beyond the template with the help of a web designer and/or developer.
❌Not ideal for product-first business, or those wanting to update the look and layout of their site often.
❌Probably not a great fit for those who aren't already creatively inclined. If you struggle to create a social media graphic because "design just isn't your thing," you're not going to enjoy Squarespace when it comes time to add new page to your website.
In my eyes, Shopify is THE platform for product-first businesses. It powers nearly 4 million websites (more than doubling since 2020), and accounts for over 10% of e-commerce stores, globally. It's popular among small businesses as well as large ones. Brands like Kylie Cosmetics, Skims, Victoria Beckham Beauty, Sephora, and even Tesla use Shopify. It's probably safe to say you've shopped on Shopify powered website.
Like Squarespace, Shopify is a complete all-in-one, cloud based platform so you never have to leave its safe, cozy bubble to get any of your website needs. It's truly built with product-based businesses in mind and makes it wildly easy to mange your products, create shoppable collections, track order fulfillment and offers shipping discounts. Shopify even has a point-of-sale (POS) system so you can take in-person orders if you ever host a popup shop or open a brick and mortar store. Plus it has built in e-mail marketing (one of my favorites being the abandon cart email that has been proven to have a crazy-high open rate and can increase conversion by 10%!), various integrations with social and other selling platforms creating easy set up of multiple sales channels.
You can hire a developer to create an entirely custom designed website for you, or you can select a Shopify approved, pre-designed (but still customizable) theme so you never have to worry about downloading some questionable theme from a sketchy website. The themes in the shop range from free all the way up to $400-$500, so there truly is something for every budget.
Shopify offers various tiers of service from their $5 starter plan that lets you get started by selling products on social, all the way to their $2000 Shopify+ plan designed for high-volume businesses. But chances are, if you're anything like our clients, you'll be paying around $30-$80 per month depending on the size and needs of your business.
You may hear rumblings in the small business community that Shopify is a DIY platform. While that's technically true, that doesn't paint an accurate picture. Shopify is a complex platform with a lot of moving parts and while you are a very strong and capable person who, I'm certain, can handle anything, you would be selling most of your nights and weekends for the foreseeable future to the daunting task of setting up and styling your shop. I highly recommend hiring a Shopify designer and/or developer to do this for you (inquire with us for a quote!) so you can stay focused on all the other needs in your business.
Another frustrating reality of Shopify is all the additional apps you may need that aren't included in the base price. On one hand, the apps (which are like plugins) make it possible to add almost any functionality to your shop. But on the other hand, many of them require monthly subscriptions which can feel a little nickel-and-dime-y. (I'm going to take this chance to remind you again that I strongly recommend talking with a professional before subscribing to anything. It may be possible that a custom solution can be created for you which can cost more upfront but save you money in the long run.)
✅ The go-to platform for product-first businesses.
✅ Lots of flexibility and customizability make it possible for you to have a unique shop fully branded to your business.
✅ Pre designed sections make it insanely easy to add new pages to your site while page templates make sure you only have to manage your products and not page designs.
❌ Can be very time-intensive and confusing if you're trying to DIY.
❌ Lots of hidden costs and add ons can pop up if you're not careful.
ordpress is by far the most commonly used website platform around and it's estimated that nearly 36% of all websites use Wordpress for their CMS. It powers one third of the top 1,000 websites across the globe. What started out as a blogging platform has grown to become the most popular web CMS in the world and powers all kinds of websites now, including e-commerce sites.
Wordpress is a free-to-use, open source platform. It can be heavily customized to almost any degree and has tes-of-thousands of available plugins to add even more features and capabilities. Essentially the sky is the limit when it comes to Wordpress. No matter if your business is big or small, Wordpress can can be customized to suit your needs.
Ultimately, Wordpress is a blank canvas for you to bring your own building blocks and create whatever you want.
It's confusing. Wordpress.org is the open source, free-to-use software. However there is also Wordpress.com which is a hosting platform owned by a company that was created by one of the Wordpress co-founders. If you use the open source version of the program you'll need to find your own website hosting.
Also, because Wordpress is open source and makes up a large portion of live websites, it's very vulnerable. Keeping your website fresh with the latest software updates is a critical security measure. Falling behind (like most people do) leaves your website open to attack. One stat I found stated that Wordpress sites get 487 billion spam comments per month. So you'll need a spam blocker. And you have to be very careful where you get your plugins because those can be Trojan horses for malware.
There are website builders you can use to make creating your website a bit easier, but to really do a Wordpress site well, you'll need a web design team. You can hire a studio to create your website for you, and then manage it yourself, however it's difficult to make any edits or changes to the design once your site is developed. You'll likely find yourself needing an on-going retainer with a developer or wishing you had an in-house developer.
✅ Wordpress is extremely customizable for just about any kind of business.
✅ It's the number one website platform across the entire internet.
❌ Wordpress is not an all-in-one platform and you'll need to get your hosting, domain, and other needs from outside providers, which can be confusing.
❌ If done improperly, it can be vulnerable to malware attacks.
❌ You may find yourself needing ongoing support from a web team.
Webflow is a new(ish) website platform that launched back in 2013 but has started to grow in popularity over the last 4 or 5 years. (Side note story: I remember when it launched and I thought it was just the COOLEST thing ever, but it took a few years before it really started gaining traction.) Webflow's popularity is rising quickly. It currently accounts for over half a million websites and its user base grew by 67% in 2021. (In fact, Happyland Creative is part of that 67%!) Webflow has progressed a lot over the last 10 years and what started as a single-page-no-code web builder has evolved into a powerful, highly customizable, wildly flexible web platform that can accommodate almost any type of website.
Webflow marries the creativity you find in platforms like Wordpress with the idea of quick, on-page updates like Squarespace, and the pre-designed section ease of Shopify. It's a magical unicorn, if you ask me.
Webflow allows you to have a crazy creative web design with lots of animations and cool, editorial layouts. You can achieve practically anything you dream up with Webflow. It also has e-commerce capabilities or can be used with Shopify Lite, allowing you to build your design on Webflow but harness the product management and fulfillment capabilities, as well as the checkout process provided by Shopify. I also love that it's ridiculously easy to update your text and images right on the page. No more fumbling through a back end CMS to find what you want to change!
Another thing I love about Webflow is that it provides that cozy, safe protected bubble like Shopify or Squarespace. You can build your site, host your site, and manage your size all from their platform. It's got great support and documentation (included an in-depth "Webflow University" training series) so you can find an answer to any problem or question you have.
Webflow is not DIY friendly (unless you're comfortable reading and understanding css code.) While you don't have to write code to build a site, you do need to have a grasp on how code is structured so you can build your site most effectively. Webflow has a pretty big learning curve in this area. Thankfully it allows you to create your own custom pre-made sections that can be used as building blocks when it's time to create a new page. Basically you hire a designer to create your building blocks for you and then you can easily create pages in the future.
Webflow is still the new kid on the block when it comes to website platforms, which means they're still adding new features and improving old ones. So depending on the size or needs of your business it may not have exactly what you need just yet.
✅ Webflow is extremely customizable and easy to manage when it's set up correctly.
✅ It's an all-in-one platform that allows you to build, host, and manage your website in one place.
✅ Webflow is still growing and adding new features all the time.
❌ It's not created for business owners who want to DIY their website. You'll need to hire an expert.
This is just a small sample of the website platforms out there. Are you ready to talk to an expert about which website platform is right for your business? Book a complimentary info call with us today to start the conversation!