For many new businesses a website can be their biggest initial investment. I get asked lots of questions about websites and which are the best. I thought a post outlining some of the most common options might be useful.
So what are the options for a website?
I am going to outline 3 different option levels and hopefully you will be able to see where your business fits now. None of these options are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They all have a place and the reason they are ‘wrong’ is simply that they are being used in the wrong place. (Of course there are more than 3 options but these are the most common so I hope you can forgive the ways I have not mentioned).
Option 1 – Use a fully hosted website solution.
Equivalent to: A rented house
In this option you pay a company to do all the tricky stuff for you. They will provide templates to build your website using their own software which allows you to customise the site. There is nothing to install anywhere, it’s ready to go and the provider takes care of backups, updates, security and spam. For a simple site, if you are prepared to have the companies adverts or branding on your site, this can even be completely free.
This is a great way to get started with a website with minumal risk. It’s also possible to get a simple business website up pretty fast (as fast as a couple of hours if you are happy to use their templates with little alterations).
The website is always ‘owned’ by the company you are buying the service from so if you decide you don’t like their services you will have to start over with a new website somewhere else. You may also not be entitled to build a website that looks the same if you have used one of their templates as they will own the copyright for it.
If you go for this option I would recommend you pay the provider a monthly fee to enable you to use your own domain name (www.yourbusiness.com) and email which gives a much more professional look to a site. You can also integrate eCommerce relatively easily, a great way to get an online shop up and running but be aware that they will often take a cut of every sale. This can still be great value when you compare it with the cost of setting up a bespoke eCommerce site.
While the service provider will have add-on features that allow you incorporate extras like email list sign up, calendars, galleries, social media and more they will be restricted to those that the provider chooses to make available. If they don’t do something there is nothing you can do about it. For most people this won’t be a problem but if you have specific ideas about what you want on your site then it may be a deal breaker so check availability before you build your site.
In summary this option can be a great way to get started, for businesses where a website is a nice to have feature that isn’t worth a huge investment or time input and for people who want to keep the tech to a minimum. It can also be good for new business that is finding its feet, you can make quick changes and as you get clearer on your clients and branding you might move onto option 2.
It’s like a rented property, you can do some superficial changes to the way it looks but you can’t do anything significant and you have to leave it all behind if you move out!
Pros: Quick, Easy, Less effort for updates etc
Cons: Can be limited in what you can do, initial low prices can quickly rise with increased requirements, not possible to move the site if you aren’t happy.
Option 2 – Self Hosted Website
Equivalent to: Owning your own home
Self hosted is one of those annoying names that doesn’t really make sense. Self hosted means that you choose which website host you you use, rather than you actually have to do it yourself. As with all the options, you need a domain name (www.yourbusiness.co.uk). You then rent some space on a server where you can host your website. You pay them a monthly hosting fee for this service. You then install some open source (freely available at no charge) software such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. These allow you to build your website yourself on your website (self) hosting. The difference between this and fully hosted is that if you don’t like your host you can up sticks and take your complete website with you.
[An aside about WordPress.com vs WordPress.org. This is another source of confusion but there are very significant differences between the two. WordPress.com is a fully hosted solution that comes under option 1. This was set up to enable less skilled users to make use of some of the features of WordPress. WordPress.org comes under option 2 and is the free, open source software that powers over 18 million websites!]
The great thing about open source software is that anyone can develop extras to improve it which means that there are thousands of themes (designs) and plugins (extra features) for your site, all of which can then be further customised as you have access to all the code if you wish to meddle!
As well as being responsible for which software you use, you will also be responsible for backing up your site, security, spam and keeping it updated with the latest versions of the software you choose (you want the latest as this makes it less likely to be hacked) but many of these things can be done using plugins which make it easy. You can use plugins to set automatic backups and lockout potential hackers and some hosts will manage some of these for you for an extra fee. (Watch this blog space for an article on how to set up your website to back automatically – coming soon)
Once you have installed your chosen software you can choose a ready made theme (from 1000000s some free and some paid for) and then by making changes to the theme you can design your site yourself. You can also add plugins which are tiny bits of software that give extra functionality to do pretty much anything you need. You only add those that you actually need so the site stays manageble. WordPress, which is the software I use for websites, is built to give great SEO (search engine optimisation) and as you can control all aspects of the site it is often easier to get it to rank well on Google Searches.
As with owning your own home, you have all the responsibility but also all the flexibility. You can get experts in to help with the different bits if necessary or if you prefer some DIY that works too. (My new Build Your Perfect Website Course teaches you the basics of DIY if you’re interested).
Pros: You get full control, very flexible to create the site you want
Cons: You are responsible for your website (though you can pay someone to take responsibility)
Option 3 – A bespoke site.
Equivalent to Building Your Dream House
A bigger business with specific requirements might find that they want more than they can create themselves. A this point it’s time to get in the experts and have a website developed specifically for you. This is likely to be the beginning of a long relationship with your developer as, while you may be able to add new blog posts, it is likely that you won’t be able to make any significant changes without your developer’s involvement.
Once you are clear on who your clients are and have a clear brand then this won’t be a problem and you are likely to keep the same website for a number of years without significant changes. As you can imagine this will come a much higher price than a website that uses a premade theme, even if it is edited to look like yours, but your site will do exactly what you want and if it is written from scratch it should be very fast.
As your business gets bigger and busier the outsourcing your website management should be on your to do list so this is a natural progression for many businesses. As you are starting from scratch there really are no restrictions… it’s like building your dream home.
Pros: You can have exactly what you want.
Cons: It costs you
So there you have it… the 3 ways you can get a website. I haven’t listed all the providers, just some key ones and, as I said at the start, there is no wrong way to do it. Find the best way for your business and get your business one the world wide web!
I’ve summed it all up in a table (which took me 5 minutes to make because I have a lovely self hosted site 🙂
Fully HostedRenting a house
- Low cost (though watch for price increases as your biz grows)
- Easy to use
- You don’t ‘own’ the site
- Can be harder to get SEO good
- Less choice in design and extras
Self HostedOwning your own home
- More complicated than fully hosted
- Greater choice of provider
- You own the website
Lots of different designs and functionality available
- Very flexible
- Requires more technical knowledge
Bespoke SiteBuild Your Dream Home
- Coded from scratch
- Requires developer involvement
- May be hard to make changes later
- Significantly more expensive
- Great for established business
- You get exactly what you want!