When it comes to small business website design, it’s important to do the research before hiring an agency or building the website yourself. In this blog post we uncover the differences and benefits of various website platforms.
Being 20 years since I designed my first website, technology has come a long way. I remember the days of Geocities, blue hyperlinks, animated gifs, clipart and midi music that played when you loaded a website. And depending on your internet dial-up speed, you could grab a coffee while most sites loaded.
Even worse were websites stuffed with unrelated keywords just to rank higher in search results. There’s definitely much more too search ranking now!
Fast forward 20 years and we enjoy websites with embedded video playing in the background, parallax full screen images, social media integration and online shopping purchases with a single click.
Have a smartphone, tablet and desktop computer? No worries, most of today’s websites are auto-responsive to adjust to the screen resolution of the device, providing the best user experience.
Small Business – Now High-Tech
Building webpages has always been a job for highly technical people who enjoy looking at code all day long. Though larger, more comprehensive websites still require a skilled web developer, small businesses now have affordable options.
Thanks to computer nerds, drag-n-drop web platforms have been developed to allow do-it-yourselfers the ability to build a website that looks fairly decent.
If you want a web agency to take care of the design process, it’s become much easier for them too. Platforms like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal make it easier for small business owners to have a website that looks big business without the big ticket price!
This means that affordable web design for small business is possible now because hard-coding a site from scratch is no longer needed, saving tens of thousands of dollars while ending up with a professional product.
What is a Rented Website?
Every website that is on the internet is basically a collection of code and images in folders on a computer (server) somewhere in the world. When you type in a website address in your web browser, it is pointed to the computer where your files are located and your browser displays them. This is the basics of web hosting and it’s required to have a website on the internet.
Web hosting is required for all websites and most web host companies provide this service for a monthly fee. Some website platforms combine two services (website platform and web hosting) into one price. In this case we consider it a rented website. A rented website will work on their proprietary platform, but it cannot be moved or migrated to another web hosting company.
Rented website platforms are typically do-it-yourself platforms where a business owner can create the website or in some cases, hire a web design agency to create the site.
The platform is kept up-to-date by the service provider and includes popular features like social media integration, ecommerce, contact forms, basic search engine optimization (SEO), photo sliders and more.
Rented Website Limitations and Benefits
Unfortunately, there are limitations if you are looking for a more customized solution. A major hurdle when it comes to a DIY website builder, is the lack of proper SEO. This means that ranking well in search results tends to be more difficult than an owned (open source) website platform.
If the customer service is poor, you aren’t happy with the options or want a cheaper hosting service, you are unable to transfer your website because it is on proprietary framework.
It’s similar to transferring your cell phone to another service provider, but being forced to buy a new phone because your existing phone isn’t compatible with the new network.
Because you are unable to migrate your website to another web host, you would be stuck having to redesign your website.
Prices for rented websites can average $26/month for a personal website, $37/month for a business website or $56/month to as much as $395/month for an ecommerce website.
The cheaper rented websites are are usually canned sites. This means that you choose from a list of predesigned static templates and simply add your photos and text. Most of these templates look dated and lack the “wow factor” that a custom website can get you.
DIY website platforms lack the most when it comes to marketing. If all you desire is a pretty website, you’re on the right track. But if you want a website that does more than look pretty, find a trusted web design agency to develop a website that is an investment—turning visitors into customers.
It really depends what your needs are as a small business owner. Rented websites are usually a cheap way to get started if you want to design your own website. Make sure to consider your goals and the growth of your business before making any decisions.
What is an owned website?
Last year Jeff spent a few thousand dollars having a reputable marketing agency design his company website. Within the following 12 months, his sister married a great guy who happens to have started a web design firm. He wanted to support his new brother-in-law, so he contacted his current web design agency. They were happy to assist in the transfer. This worked because Jeff was a website owner.
An owned website is something that is not on a proprietary platform and can be migrated to a different web host if required.
Whether you build a DIY webpage or have a website company create one for your business, you want to be able to control the platform without losing data, having price increases or compromising on options that you really want.
Owned websites are typically built on open source software or hard-coded html and php.
Open source websites are a based on a framework that can be downloaded by anyone, used in it’s current state or improved by coding new features and sharing it with the world.
The framework is usually free for download and is flexible with highly-customizable templates, plugins and modules to accomplish virtually anything you are looking to integrate into your website, all without having to know how to code.
The Flexibility of Open Source Websites
Need a mortgage calculator? There’s a plugin for that.
Want a popup subscribe form? There’s a plugin for that.
Need a wholesale order form that provides discounts based on quantity? There’s a plugin for that.
Want a website that integrates with your accounting software? There’s a plugin for that.
Here are just a few things that we have done for small business customers using open source platforms:
- An estimate form that calculates concrete required for a job and then provides an instant quote.
- An affiliate system that calculates commissions for referrals from other websites.
- An ecommerce website that links and syncs with Google Shopping to drive more sales.
- A newspaper website with an ad banner platform to generate income for the website owner.
- REALTOR® websites with embedded real estate listings and lead generation.
- Appointment booking and payment solution for a salon business.
- Integration with customer relation management (CRM) software for lead generation.
- A membership directory for local businesses, listed by category and searchable.
There are many different open source platforms to choose from, the most popular being WordPress, Joomla, Magento and Drupal. There are free, open source and paid plugins available depending on the developer and the complexity of the plugin.
We use WordPress as our first choice because it’s customizable and features countless themes and over 54,000 plugins! WordPress is used by over 33% of the world’s websites.
As mentioned earlier, web hosting is required, regardless of the website platform you choose. Owned websites usually cost less to host, often between $5 to $20/month through most service providers.
The downside to an owned website is having to pay for the website development up front. We often work with small business owners to arrange a payment plan that fits the budget.
A website maintenance package may also be required if you wish to update or make changes to your website.
Updating most open source websites is fairly easy with a little determination or training. If you aren’t interested in updating the site yourself, the web design company who built your site should be able to help you. If not, because the website is open source, you should be able to use another company with the skills needed to perform updates for you.
What’s the Best Option?
Deciding on a website platform really depends on your vision and goals. If you are looking for a quick website that you can build and update yourself, a DIY rented website may be your best option.
If you are looking for a long term solution with flexibility, custom options, and control over your website, you may choose an open source website.
Keep in mind that when a web design firm builds a site, they may still use their own proprietary website platform. This means that it may not transfer to another web host, or be easily updated by you or other developers.
If you are hiring a webdesign company to create your site, make sure that you know if it’s open source or proprietary before signing on the dotted line.