There’s no point trying to choose a website builder until you decide: what do you actually want from your website builder? Obvious question - sure, I think so. But do most website builder reviews ask it of you? Nope, not often. And no, the answer is not: ‘a website’. That’s what you want your website builder to ostensibly help you fabricate, sure, but your real goal isn’t a website – that’s the proverbial sizzle. A business whose turnover and inherent value is powered by, or at least boosted by, an effective online presence is what you’re probably more interested in - ie, the steak.
There are a multitude of blog articles floating around the ether, advising aspiring users of website builders (also commonly referred to as Content Management Systems) of what is good, and what is not so good, about the website builders that are out there now.
They all speak with some level of confidence about what it is that certain website builders are particularly good for and there are innumerable articles out there that recommend which website builder is ‘right for you’. But there’s also a crucial, missing element to most of these blog articles – they tell you what you need, they don’t first ask you what it is that you want to achieve.
And a common idiom I’ve learnt to live by over the years, which was first espoused to me in the context of recommending solutions to clients, is this:
“Prescription without diagnosis, is malpractice.”
So before we saddle our (predictably) WordPress-powered soapbox and try to convince you precisely how and why WordPress, above Wix or Weebly or Squarespace or one of the other major website builders, is the duck’s proverbial nuts (no ducks were harmed in the making of this slightly crass expression), let us first ask you that question:
What is it that you want to achieve with your website? Obvious question, right? Sure, but the answer isn't usually so crystal clear when you have to articulate it after some pesky blog article (ie this) poses it to you.
Now, seeing as this is a blog article, and not a 2 way live chat, my question will have to remain largely rhetorical. But, if I ask it of myself before I proceed to spout my insights, that can at least speak to what points I address. More traffic? Better online conversions? Modernise your brand? Just have a site so you don't look unprofessional by not having one? Some particular online functionality to entice potential customers - a calculator, a questionnaire, a quote tool? Combat a particular competitor, or all competitors? Create a forum to boost your blog content? The objectives of a new or rebuilt website, are varied and many.
What you want to achieve, by building your website via one of these ever-easier-to-use website builders – is the prism through which you can view the strengths, weaknesses, relevance and or irrelevance, of each website builder
you’re checking out prior to choosing your proverbial horse to back.
Now another key point – aside from actually asking what you want out of your website rather than assuming everyone’s goals are homogenous and thus giving a homogenous one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-all answer – is this: consider the source. When you read a blog article about ‘which website builder is a top 10 website builder’ etc, bear in mind that most of those articles have a financial motive in saying exactly what they’re saying to you. Affiliate fees, referral commissions, that kind of thing. And are they writing as website designers? Or – like you – as business owners or as startups? If they are writing as business owners or startups, cool, they probably relate to you and what you’re trying to pull off. If they are writing about ‘this is pretty and this drag and drop is easy’ – that’s a design point, not a ‘will it attract more, and convert more, customers in the context of how Google and other major search engines rank, or don’t rank, the website you’ll end up with’.
So consider me as a certain type of source – I’m not an IT guy, although I’ve run public software companies I also had CTO’s and the like to do the tech stuff while I focused on the commercial stuff (divine what you will from my counter-technical jargon) – I’m just a business owner. I’m not a designer – although I’ve designed and built some fairly involved websites and actually love the design aspects of websites from a personal gratification perspective when I build them – I’m just a business owner. And one who knew that his online presence was the make or break for his businesses. And still knows it. My websites are marketing tools – among a whole arsenal of marketing tools I rely on, they are the final destination that I point all of the traffic that my other tools generate, towards. They’re there to win me more clients, and more turnover, because in and of themselves that is the entirety of the value they represent to me. I say that to relate to you as a business owner or startup or person interested in marketing your business – if you are, then this article and the perspective that fuels it, is perhaps a source you should consider. If you aren’t – then perhaps it isn’t as relevant for you. Either way – consider the sources of any articles out there (including this one) and you’ll have a frame of reference for how to infer from said articles.
Big hairy disclaimer: in parts of this article I’ll sing the praises for WordPress. Am I in some way compensated by WordPress for doing this? No. Is my site, Clicktacular, based in part on WordPress technology and does it stand to gain if even more users (on top of the 75 million sites out there said to be based on WordPress now) turn to it as their best of breed solution? Hell yes, in theory I do. So I am biased, I am not impartial. But… I was brand and platform agnostic before I went with WordPress. I looked at, tested, fiddled with, broke, and plain old banged my head against a bunch of website builders before I chose WordPress. And I do NOT recommend WordPress for everyone as the one, single, blanket solution. It suits my purposes, and my purposes and objectives may not align with yours. So read on… and we’ll see if they do or not.
So, let’s get back to positing a few possible, albeit highly generalised, reasons you want to build your website and the things that you want that website to do for you:
- Do you want to just get found online by more customers?
Ok, cool. Even a well established, highly profitable business, can always do with more customers, right? If not this very instant, then at least in the near future so that their money well doesn’t dry up. So you can use the easiest to use website builder on the planet (this is always going to be a matter of opinion, but amongst millions of users if there is a consensus forming that some of the marketplace leaders like Wix or Weebly are easy to use then there must be at least some substance to that consensus). Sure. That has a whoooooolllllleeeee lot of allure – because in this day and age of time poor, attention-span-shortening users (ie you and I), easy is a big bonus.
And the website builder you check out can not only be easy, it can make super pretty websites. Again, Wix and Weebly and Squarespace – have some absolutely stunning designs and templates. And as one of my first every DIY website projects was in Squarespace, and then thereafter I did a whole bunch in Wix – I can attest to them being both relatively easy to use (Squarespace wasn’t so hot on the easy about 4 years ago when I used it, but has improved since) and as having some pretty designs.
But here’s the clanger of a reality check – easy, and pretty for you - don’t equate to better at being indexed, and ranked, by search engines.
So you can theoretically create the most beautiful website on the planet, and do it waaaayyyyyy easier than 15 years ago when you would have had to be an actual, trained or experienced web designer (or web developer and designer) to achieve this. Your website can have a beautiful face. But if it doesn’t have all of the many, and fairly complex, vital SEO organs within it – then it just isn’t going to be found anywhere near as often, or as readily, as the world’s ugliest website that may just have those vital organs.
And if an ugly website is in the first few pages of SERP (search engine results pages) and yours is languishing sadly, but beautifully, on page 146,721 based on the same search keyword or phrase being entered by your potential clients – then the bad news is, you’re sh*t out of luck.
Now – what those ‘SEO vital organs’ are and how they work, is not just a science unto itself – it’s a whole bunch of sciences. Keyword research, keyword optimisation, backlinking, domain authority backlinking, meta tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords… the list goes on and it isn’t the point of this article, so I won’t digress into those gigantic topics. But I will say this: WordPress (yes I am totally biased, but no WordPress doesn’t pay me a red cent to sing it’s praises) has,
by far, the most ‘plugins’ that have been designed, by thousands of developers from all over the world – to implant those SEO vital organs into your site.
As of now – October 2017 – Wix, Weebly, Squarespace – cannot even come close to competing on this front. WordPress has just over 50,000 plugins developed by its gigantic and diverse developer community. Each plugin has 1 purpose – make it so that non-coding, layperson plebs like myself (and, presumably you too) can get the super powerful functionality (in this instance SEO magic) added to their website – WITHOUT having to know any code, and without having to be an expert on the functionality (read, SEO) itself.
Wix has around 300 ‘apps’ by comparison. So WordPress has it beat by a factor over over 150 times, with spare change to boot. Not all of the WordPress plugins or Wix plugins are aimed at SEO – but a large number of WordPress’s are designed exactly for that. I’ve used, extensively, both website builders, and I invested months in my Wix websites (plural). All of which I then reluctantly and mournfully had to abandon, when I realised that I could have sites quickly and easily, and beautifully – but I couldn’t have the horsepower under the hood that I needed to turn my website from something pretty, into something extremely powerful and profitable. At least not by my metrics for what is powerful and profitable.
- Do you want to convert more of your website visitors into actual, paying customers?
I’m going to generalise and presume your answer to the above question is a deafeningly resounding ‘f*ck yes!’. And for the very small per centage of you to whom this generalisation does not correctly apply – you’re outliers, and I’m willing to bet a small % of the overall population of readers of this blog. So you can either skip this part, or… yeah, just skip it. The rest of you read on, please.
So – getting visitors to your website is a real accomplishment and worth of some acknowledgement. But –
the more noteworthy and or expensive and or time consuming that accomplishment is (and it’s most likely all of the above) – the more devastating it is when you attract traffic, but don’t convert a respectable % of said traffic, right?
So, that begs the completely subjective question of ‘what’s a respectable conversion rate?’.
Well, the answer – being subjective – is up to you. And I wouldn’t presume (on this point at least) to know what your standards or requirements are there. But I can tell you what is average – which I personally don’t count as respectable, but then again if it was impressive, it wouldn’t be average. Those two are so often mutually exclusive.
So that average website conversion rate, of traffic to ‘actions’ (ie enquiries, or customers if you’re really firing on all marketing pistons) is: 3.6%. Yikes.
I sh*t you not. 100 people come and visit your beautiful, sweat and blood soaked (figuratively only, hopefully) website. And 3.6 of them, well, let’s call it 4 – actually do anything about all of that incredibly cool and valuable intel you’ve invested into your website? That… kind of blows. But that’s where another of those deep and fickle sciences comes into play – conversion.
So with question 1 – we had SEO being the science that you want built into your website design.
The key word there is ‘design’. These easy to use and great designers – are just that. They are there for the most part, for now at least, to make pretty. Not to make SEO, or to make powerful.
Not for the search engine ranking and indexing purposes, at least.
With question 2 – we have conversion. Landing page design, split-testing, UX, click-through rate, Calls To Action, anti-abandonment tools, audience segmentation, etc etc etc … you get the picture.
And my (totally subjective) view, but one borne of years of hands on experience as a business owner – NOT as a designer, is that again, with over 50,000 plugins, and a solid chunk of those being developed expressly to improve website traffic conversion – the other major website builders (yes, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Joomla etc) cannot even begin to compete with the range, choice and overally depth of functionality (cumulatively at least) of what WordPress offers.
- Do you just want a website so that you have one, that people can check out to make sure you are a real business, and not much else?
If your answer to this question is ‘yes’, and if your ‘yes’ is extremely likely to stay a yes for many years to come – then I’m going to go ahead and recommend you do NOT use WordPress.
Because if your answer to this question is a sincere ‘yes’, then I will assume (if I’m wrong go ahead and consider yourself an outlier, statistically) that ‘easy’ and ‘pretty’ are all you want from your website.
And if that is the case – use the easiest, cheapest option you can find. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace – or something along those lines.
But just to be sure – I am going to elabourate on my assumption and say that if you really just want something easy and pretty, then you are a well established business, with a full clientele, and not much if any extra capacity to take on new customers, ever. So you’re really just looking for a new website, so that you aren’t embarrassed by how dated your old one looks, so you don’t LOSE customers? Your site is not about trying to GAIN or acquire more customers via (a) being found by potential customers ahead of your competitors and or (b) converting more traffic on your site into real paying customers.
Ok – if your answer to question 3 is still that resounding, final, definitive ‘yes’, best of luck to you in your uptake of the website builder that most effectively tickles your aesthetic fancy.
But if like the vast majority of business’s or bloggers out there who want to compete against the millions of other sites out there, and know that to be competitive they need to invest some time, energy and brainpower – because easy is rarely good, and good is rarely easy – then we’re back to WordPress.
Is WordPress perfect? F*ck no.
It has many, many plugins that don’t have the neatest or lightest code – or at least so I’m told by many expert bloggers and by some of the PHP / WordPress developers I sometimes utilise to make my websites do online gymnastics that haven’t already been primed by existing plugins. But – with 60.7% of the website builder marketshare (#1 by a proverbial country mile, with Joomla sitting at a distant #2 with 6.3% and Wix at #1 with 5.97%) and with an incomparably huge developer community – what you can get from WordPress, aggregates out to being completely, dazzlingly unbeatable. If you want to wave a non-coder wand and demonstrate the inexplicable magical powers of an online mage.
Now – I am just a business owner. I don’t want to be a website designer, I just want to build my site and my online presence (a) exactly how I see it in my head and (b) without having to pay $10,000 to $100,000, when I want it to have bigger and better bells and whistles to beat my competitors to the punch by outclassing their websites. So that’s why I’ve learnt to use WordPress. No other real reasons than those 2. So if you’re also not a designer, but are a blogger or business owner who wants a powerful website because you get that online is the new battlefield for customers and marketshare, then you’re in the same boat as I was when I made my choice to move to WordPress. And perhaps you’re in the same boat as me – in terms of what I actually wanted to achieve, and have achieved, by using WordPress to build my website. I didn’t want an easy, pretty website that was a glorified shiny online brochure, that my more tech savvy, SEO savvy, and online conversion savvy competitors would then proceed to blow out of the water. I was willing to find a more powerful website builder – spend a little longer on the initial learning curve – in order to then reap a lot more marketing and business growth benefits for the rest of my days. I’d rather spend more days upfront, for more days of success and business growth on the way out. Saving a few days upfront, and spending years regretting it by constantly being reminded of the immeasurably heavy opportunity cost of cutting corners – wasn’t a gamble I was willing to take, and lose on.
How do you tell, and how do you really believe, when someone like me insists that WordPress is the be all and end all, IF your objectives with your website are in line with what I've outlined in this article? Don't trust opinion, trust fact. And one of the best ways to bypass opinion and tap a vein of cold hard fact, is to watch what other people have already achieved, or not, using WordPress. So check out how many of the world's top ranking and highest profile websites have achieved, according to their Alexa ranking, using different website builders.
Who are some of these mysterious but apparently successful brands / sites that Alexa ranking has at the top of the food chain, via their WordPress sites? Samsung, Toyota, Mercedes, Ebay, Ford, VW, MTV, Renault, Time, Vogue, Hootsuite - to name but a few.
Are the above statistics pretty telling? Yaaaaaaaaaaaa-bet-your-backside they are. But you might say 'sure, but these are big companies and they spend time and money galore on their sites' etc. Then I'd ask -
are you aiming to be a small site, and a small business, and never get bigger? I'm not. So if you are aiming for your version of world domination, take some queues from those sites that are already in the 'domination' zone.
Why not aim really, really high? Especially if the tool they've used, WordPress, is by and of itself free. They didn't pay a fortune for WordPress, they may have paid a bit to develop it or customise it, or host it etc - but then you have (warning: slightly shameless plug ahead) tools like Clicktacular, that do all of the set up and hosting etc for you, and are just as easy to use as Wix or Weebly or Squarespace (try a free version, judge that one for yourself). So what roadblocks do you actually face to try to actively emulate the world dominating sites? Zero.
So the last question for you is a repeat, and reiteration: what do you want from your website? If you know the answer to that, and you really should before you start assessing website builders, then you should already know which one is for you if you give any credence to the above, or the dozens of other articles (eg here, here, here, here, or here) out there that make similar assertions to this article.
Does WordPress have a longer, larger learning curve because it can do more, but it has more moving parts to it? Absolutely. Which is why I started Clicktacular - which was designed to be a bridge between the powerful, but sometimes overly complicated world of WordPress as a website builder, and the people out there like myself who wanted things like instant, one click theme set up and hosting, simple and pleasing-to-the-eye point'n'shoot frontend editor, simplified backend etc. Clicktacular was built to make WordPress simpler, easier, and better as a user experience - without sacrificing any of the horsepower under the bonnet that WordPress has. But did I write this article just to plug Clicktacular? (please, hold your laughter until the intermission). No - I truly believe WordPress is the number #1 way to take my ideas, and hopefully your ideas, from the back of my / our brains, and put them out into the W3 landscape, without needing a veritable pilot's license and physics degree to steer it.
So if you don't want to click and start your site instantly via Clicktacular - no sweat, and no hard feelings. But however you do it, if you want the maximum firepower for your online presence, WordPress (powering 28% of the entire internet's website properties as of 2017, and having 60.7% of the entire CMS / website builder marketshare) is the way to do it. If you want easier, it's out there. If you want better, I don't believe it is, not at the time of writing this. So however you get into WordPress, I hope you give it a try, and then continue on to persevere until your site is a smashing success.