WordPress is a behemoth — it’s popular, powers over 4.5% of the Internet from large companies including Sony Music, The New Yorker, and Xerox, to thousands of small businesses – and its user base continues to grow. An entire “industry” of designers, theme developers, specialized hosts, plugins (over 40,000), and other support services has mushroomed and grown with WordPress, accounting for its own impressive microeconomics.
WordPress is a free and open source content management system (CMS) for building websites. It provides a flexible and extensible framework for building a dynamic, easily updated site from a few pages to a complex Ecommerce solution. The WordPress CMS powers around 19% of the top 1,000,000 websites by traffic.
Note: When I write about WordPress, I specifically refer to the self-hosted WordPress version and not the free blog software version hosted on WordPress.com.
As WordPress has grown, competing do-it-yourself (DIY) website builders such as Wix, SquareSpace, and Weebly have joined the playing field and seen parallel growth.
All of these platforms are vying for the small business owner, the solopreneur, the freelancer, and hobbyist. The do it yourself phenomenon challenges WordPress’ dominance and threatens to put web developers and designers out of business.
Except that the extinction won’t happen. Not yet.
Let me explain.
I respect the companies behind these website builders and appreciate the simple solutions they offer an entrepreneur or small business. They are, however, built for a very specific customer persona: Bob & Jane.
- Bob wants to put up a website in a day to validate his idea. Or Bob is actually a website developer or a designer who wants to build an interactive, almost-ready mockup or prototype.
- Jane is a solopreneur – artist, baker, or plumber – who needs a quick and dirty website, doesn’t have the time or skills to define a web strategy or learn a new program, and just can’t afford a professional developer or designer right now.
- Both Bob and Jane aren’t looking long-term to establish their web presence. They need a simple website, today. These website builders do a great job for a basic web presence. Just that.
For everyone else, these website builders are not the answer.. WordPress might very well be.
Why WordPress, you ask?
The DIY website builders, while easy to use and inexpensive, have significant flaws when it comes to building or growing your business. Ultimately, they can provide you a website and that’s about it. They can’t build a website that makes you money. Let’s explore what makes WordPress a better choice for small business.
WordPress is still the Unshakable Juggernaut
WordPress is still by far the most popular CMS
And it’s still growing:
Before we talk about WordPress’ advantages for your small business, let’s take a look at the competition.
Weebly Vs Wix Vs SquareSpace Vs What on Earth?
I won’t be able to do justice to the perplexing paradox of choice for the small business owner today without actually picking on a few popular DIY website builders. I’ll point out only three of the most popular ones:
- Weebly offers a free web-based hosting service for a very basic website and tiered subscription-based (monthly pricing) for more custom options, some limited e-commerce options, and search engine indexing.
- Despite their recently upgraded version called “Carbon”, it still looks and feels primitive. It’s good for a simple web presence. But that presence alone won’t make you money. Since Weebly doesn’t have the power of various plugins (as in the case of WordPress), and the ease of integration with email providers, flexibility to add opt-in forms, out-of-the-box SEO functionality, and more tools to engage website visitors and get you traffic.
- It’s drag and drop but you can drag and drop elements only into designated areas.
- Weebly blocks sites from being indexed by search engines for free accounts.
- Wix is a cloud-based platform that offers a drag and drop website builder. Its free version is ad-supported. Additional functionality, such as E-commerce, community features, or extra storage require premium purchases.
- To use your own domain name or have an ad-free version requires a premium packages.
- It’s drag and drop, but all the dragging and dropping can happen on their templates. There is limited flexibility for design and branding.
- Once you choose a template, you’re stuck with it. You can make edits to it, but you cannot change or switch to another one. Most other website builders need only a few clicks to swap one template for another.
- Mobile version is an extra build (it’s not like you build the desktop version and mobile automatically happens).
The templates are among the most basic and worst looking ones out there. They are built in a hurry to cater to their 62 million users in over 190 countries.
- If you need extended functionality, you’ll need free or paid Wix Apps from their marketplace.
- SquareSpace is a closed ecosystem. What’s built here, stays here. If you choose to walk away, you can’t. At least, not entirely.
- Your websites are template driven. Pick a template and go with it. Need anything “custom”? Reach out to an expert – isn’t that defeating the purpose of a do-it-yourself builder?
- You won’t find the little things you can take for granted in WordPress. For example, there’s no preview button after you write blog posts. You can’t right-click and see how your post looks. While WordPress has a learning curve, SquareSpace has its own learning curve.
- Talking about blog posts, you can’t batch edit blog posts. To edit posts, you have to find them first within the SquareSpace dashboard.
- The social sharing buttons that SquareSpace provides are minimal and they don’t stay “on”. You’d have to “switch on”, every time you write a post or publish a page.
- Read more about why SquareSpace has, uh, limits (in other words – sucks)
In summary, this is how it’d would look, particulars and cost wise:
It’s Open Source & It’s Always Yours
Every website built on Wix or Weebly stays on Wix or Weebly Servers. They can never be yours. Ditto for SquareSpace (there’s a way out, but it’s too complicated and not worth your time). Each time any of these businesses go out of “business,” they take your business down with them.
Do you really need to take on that kind of risk? WordPress, meanwhile, is open-source. It’s available for free, and it always will be. Everything you (& your small business) have built – graphics, content, customizations – on your WordPress website is yours to keep.
You want –in fact, you need – that kind of security when your website is powered to get you sales, grow your audience into a community, and store an ever-growing repository of valuable content you worked so hard to create and share.
If you are selling items through e-commerce functions in your site, you want control. You’d certainly need bank-grade protection for everything that’s on your site.
Design + Marketing = Conversions: Do you understand how that impacts your business?
Websites, by themselves, don’t mean anything. What matters is what your website really does for your business.
If you are in business, your primary need is return on your investment (ROI). You might also want to establish yourself as a credible authority in your niche, help educate your customers better, and potentially make a difference to the close-knit community that begins to take shape off your site.
Say hello to Conversion rate optimization: the full basket of tasks you’d need to do (in addition to promotion and marketing) to optimize your website to maximize conversions on every page. This calls for continuous tweaking of your web pages, positioning important elements such as call to action buttons, opt-in forms, and “buy” buttons. Plus, you’d work with layouts, positioning, and more.
This may seem overwhelming for now, but this is the path you will want to take as your business grows. It is the path that takes your website from a “pretty place with your logo & about us page” to one that helps your business grow. You want your website to scale and grow with you.
To do all that, and to do it well, there are core, distinct, separate (but related), tasks you need to do. Your website needs to be built to allow for that continuous work. Gone are the days of throwing up a “brochure-ware site” and walking away. Your website is just the starting point for your content management, branding, and social media outreach efforts, but it is a critical one.
In 2011, HubSpot released a survey where they found that 76% of users said that the most important factor in the design of a website was that “The website makes it easy for me to find what I want.”
Only 10% of users said, “beautiful appearance” was the most important thing to them.
Further, Peep Laja at ConversionXL.com, once said,
“Don’t design your own website. No, really. It will suck”.
“If you build your own site, it will be ugly and it will hurt your business. You will lose money. Every day will be a wasted opportunity.”
Now, that takes out the very core of what a Wix, a Weebly, or a SquareSpace promises you. More important, though, your website design needs to WORK for you. In good design, form follows function.
You aren’t the expert
As a business owner, you are exceptionally good at what you do. As Michael E.Gerber calls it, you are the technician.
But you aren’t a designer. You aren’t the developer (Unless, well, you actually are – but then I hope you know most of this already!)
Even if you are, you should be focusing on your business and leave website design to experts. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about.
As Marvin Russell of Moz.com writes:
Our clients will never learn the basic principles of web design and marketing like the laws of visual hierarchy, Occam’s Razor, negative space, form follows function, the laws of proximity. Our clients are lawyers, real estate agents, restaurant owners, bloggers, sales clerks, bar owners, car salesmen, and more.
Design should get you results. Experienced web developers who’ve worked with clients to build websites that are more like sales machines can do that.
WordPress lends itself to experienced web developers to help implement these principles of web design and marketing.
Most Websites Don’t Cut It Anyway
No matter which route you take, you might not make the cut. First, there’s the question of design leading to conversions.
According to Peep Laja [http://conversionxl.com/what-i-learned-from-reviewing-websites/], his Lessons Learnt from reviewing websites have a story to tell. Most websites don’t even come close to getting primed up for generating leads. As such, that’s the most important thing that businesses need.
Thanks to the availability of plugins, themes, and expert help, your WordPress website can be primed (in the right hands) up for conversions.
You always have help: Simple or Sophisticated
With WordPress, you have no shortage of help from tons of “learn all about it yourself” self-help content on the WordPress official site, communities, blogs, and more.
Apart from that, you have forums and communities around WordPress that can jump in and help provide support when you need it the most. You have freelancers, small companies, developers all the way to well-known communities such as WPMU Dev. Further, you also have world’s best WordPress experts available on tap at SuperTasker or WPCurve.
If all you ever wanted was a web presence (because your friend and her friend has one), plenty of do-it-yourself website builders can do the job.
However, if you want a website that can grow with your business, can optimize your web presence, and can help you grow, we recommend WordPress. You can start simple and scale for growth.
You could do it yourself, but to get the best ROI, to prep your site for long-term lead generation and conversions, and to grow your business, you probably don’t want to. Nor do you want to necessarily be tweaking your site, finding & fixing bugs or spam, or dealing with your closed DIY vendor going out of business.
If you want a secure, stable, open source, best-in-class growth engine for your business, you should opt to keep your website on WordPress with a team of the best WordPress experts you can afford.
What do you think? Do you use WordPress or a DIY website builder?