You need a website to take your business online, but I’m guessing that you aren’t a computer science PhD or programmer. Because of that, technology choices for a website isn’t something that you would know about. This guide should help you figure that out.
This is the definitive guide to making a decision on your website’s publishing platform. We will cover self-hosted DIY websites as well as hosted (outsourced or 3rd party) website builders.
What Are Your Goals and Budget?
Looking at the graph above, you can see that there is a point of diminishing returns for DIY websites. Blogs and typical business websites are generally simple to set up and highly advantageous for you to control completely, but I would recommend going with a hosted solution for more complex websites or web applications like an e-commerce store.
So if you’re intending on building blog or website, this guide is for you. If you are thinking of building a tricked-out e-commerce store, or the next Facebook, I don’t think the DIY route is a viable option.
Options for Building A DIY Website
There are 3 main options for creating a website on your own. They are:
Self-hosted HTML website
A website like this is created on your computer with software like Dreamweaver. After you’ve created the pages, you would upload them to your web host. (We covered domain names and web hosting basics in our last article).
Unless you are only planning to have a 2-page website, I don’t recommend this route because it’s all very manual. For example, when you create the 11th page of your website, you need to update all 10 previous pages to link to it.
You will definitely need to know a bit of HTML to get the results you want. The software you use will definitely make it easier. Besides Dreamweaver, you can also use NVU (Windows and Mac), iWeb and RapidWeaver (Mac only). Tip: iWeb comes free with all new Macs.
Self-hosted website with CMS
Using a CMS (content management system) makes creating your own website much simpler. With a CMS, you login to an admin section on your website where you can add, delete and edit your website pages.
Beyond those basic features, you can install plugins or modules that will provide new features for your CMS. Popular CMS choices are WordPress (the software that I use on this site), TextPattern and Expression Engine.
There are hundreds of other CMS available, but the ones I’ve listed above are all designed to be easy to use. WordPress and Expression Engine come with WYSIWYG editors (text formatting that function like Microsoft Word), for example.
Hosted Website Builders
The 3rd option would be to sign up for a hosted website builder service. Services like this are all-in-one products that come with domain, web hosting and CMS. This means that you don’t need to register your domain and web hosting on your own, you would do it through them.
Some of the more popular hosted website builders are:
Many of these hosted website builders allow you to customize your website without needing to know any HTML, and usually offer a free option that comes with ads.
Pros and Cons of Self-hosted DIY vs Hosted Website Builders
Here’s a comparison of self-hosted versus hosted (outsourced 3rd party) solutions.
|Self-hosted DIY||Hosted Web Builders|
|Requires maintenance – must remember to backup!||Maintenance taken care of|
|Slightly higher learning curve||Not as simple as they make it sound|
|Upfront investment||Investment spread out over time|
|Own all your data||Check terms and conditions – make sure data can be exported|
|Complete control of your site||Limited control of your site, dependent on terms of service|
|Add your own features e.g. forums, members-only section||Features limited to available modules|
|Can tweak design||Deep customization may not be possible|
|Full SEO control||Limited to the platform’s SEO capabilities|
|Multiple websites & email addresses at no additional cost||Paid / limited add-ons|
|Monetize however you like||Depends on terms and conditions|
Biggest caveat for self-hosted solutions: You need to have slightly more technical knowledge, especially for backing up your website.
Biggest caveat for hosted website builders: You are bound by the provider’s terms of service. I have heard of cases where the provider mistakenly shuts the website down because of concerns that the site was hosting illegal content.
Don’t use the free option
I think hosted website builders are a great way to get your feet wet, but you should always upgrade to a professional plan for your live business website or blog.
Most of these services will provide you a free subdomain website address, for example http://mybusiness.weebly.com. You should always upgrade and go for the http://mybusiness.com option. A subdomain address gives the impression that you’re not serious and is less professional to visitors.
You should choose the technology platform that is best suited to your goals and resources (refer to the graph above).
I would personally recommend learning how to use WordPress for the flexibility and control you will have. Keep in mind that hosted website builders aren’t always as simple as they make it sound.
If time permits, play around with 1 choice from the 3 different options listed above. Otherwise, choose the best one that suits your goals and resources and start learning up about that platform.
Have a question? Ask your question in the comments. Click here to read the rest of the Website ClickStart: Simplifying the Steps to Creating Your First Website series.
P.S. I offer professional all-in-one WordPress installation and setup. Leave the technical bits to me and simply focus on planning and content.