Which Website Platform is Right for You?

Which website platform is right for you? WordPress, Squarespace or Shopify - Mariahmagazine.com

An in-depth look at  WordPress.com — WordPress.org —  Squarespace — Shopify
Get the facts PLUS a quick flowchart to help you decide!

Being a web designer/developer and being active in the industry for a while, I’m always talking about platform options with clients or glancing over the “platform debates” in Facebook groups.

Before we dive into comparing the options keep in mind that the correct website platform for you has nothing to do with “which platform is better”, it has everything to do with you, the website owner. Each one is fantastic in their own way, but all have their downsides, depending on your needs.

Stay open minded about the platforms. Just because one works for someone else, that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect fit for you.

Here are some of the variables that will play into which website platform is right for you:

  • Do you have a blog, business, or combination of both?
  • What kind of functionality are you looking for?
  • Do you need a website right-this-second or do you prefer to plan? (Tip: Always plan, but keep an open mind about solutions. It will save you tons of headaches whether you’re DIY’ing or hiring someone to help)
  • How much control do you want when it comes to customizing?
  • How much time do you have to spend learning about the platform?
  • How much money do you have to invest in your website?
  • Are you familiar and comfortable with HTML/CSS….or the World Wide Web in general?
  • How much involvement do you want in your website?
  • Will you be updating it or will you hire someone else?

Don’t feel like sifting through the difference? Not a prob bob, I’m a visual decision maker too!

Take a look at this flow chart I made and answer the questions to help you narrow which website platform would benefit you the most!

Which Website Platform is Right for You? WordPress, Squarespace, or Shopify -- Mariahmagazine.com

(*There are affiliate links included in this post but I would never recommend a service that I didn’t wholeheartedly think was amazing. I only suggest products, services, and tools that I would use with my own website and/or client websites)

Okay, let’s dive into the free option first:

WordPress.com

Who’s this perfect for?

  • New bloggers

How much does it cost?
It’s free. (Well, their basic plan is free. If you want more than their basic plan, you’re better off starting with WordPress.org – more on that below)

What’s the scoop on earning money with ads?
Because WordPress.com is a platform that’s free to use, WordPress’ rules clearly state that you’re not allowed to earn any income through ads placed on your website. The only way to start earning money from ads is to upgrade to one of their more pricey paid plans. Even then, you can only apply and receive a percentage of the revenue (not the ENTIRE amount) generated from ad-clicks on your site.

Can I Sell Products on WordPress.com?
Nope. You’d need the WordPress.org platform to do that (more on that below).

Who’s in charge of hosting my site?
On WordPress.com WordPress hosts your site. You don’t have any technical things to set up and worry about like servers, maintenance, updates, etc. WordPress.com takes care of all of that for you. This is a huge benefit for people just starting out in the blogging world.

Since WordPress hosts your site, you don’t have control over it. You have the rights to your copy, but you don’t technically own your entire blog or website. If you (even accidently) break one of WordPress’ rules, they could shut down your website without chatting with you about it.

Can I have my own domain?
Not for free. When you use the basic free plan with WordPress.com your domain name will have “.wordpress” at the end. So, for example, my website would be “www.mariahmagazine.wordpress.com

You can absolutely purchase your own domain name and link it to your WordPress.com website, but you’d have to upgrade your plan to a paid one in order to set it up.

What about design?
When you’re on WordPress.com you’re limited to the number of themes (designs) you’re allowed to choose from.

Themes are kind of like templates. They provide you with a framework to create your blog/website around. Without a theme, you would have to create your entire blog/website from scratch with coding.

Having free themes and designs to pick from is awesome for a blogger just starting out so that you’re not overwhelmed with choices and can focus on creating awesome content. But, for a more experienced blogger that’s looking to take their blogging to the next level, this is extremely frustrating.

If you’re looking to make specific changes and customizations to a theme on WordPress.com they require you to upgrade to one of their paid plans and even then, you’re still limited to what you can do.

A HUGE part of customizing a website and blog to fit your needs and style come from plugins.

Plugins are pieces of code that you install on your website to help extend the functionality of it. WordPress is an open source platform, meaning that anyone from anywhere can contribute to the software. That’s what makes it such a powerful platform. One way people contribute is by developing plugins to extend the functionality for websites. If you’re looking to do something realllllly cool on your website, chances are that someone somewhere has already made a plugin for you to make your idea possible.

So, let’s say you want to add social media sharing buttons to your blog posts….you can chose from a TON of different plugins to help you do that.

For example, on my website, MariahMagainze.com I have plugins that help me:

  • Filter out spam comments
  • Check and update my SEO
  • Create social media icons that link to my profiles
  • Speed up my website
  • Create and integrate my portfolio
  • Automatically create website backups

BUT, here’s the downfall……WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to upload plugins to your website. They limit you to the standard functionality of WordPress….which is perfectly suitable for a lot of new bloggers that aren’t looking to spend any money on a platform.

Who’s WordPress.com NOT good for?

  • Business owners
  • Experienced bloggers

If you’re looking for a platform to use for your business website, please don’t use the free version of WordPress.com. Seeing a website with “wordpress.com” in the domain name is a huge turn off for users and customers. It gives off an amateur vibe, which as a business owner you want to avoid from the start. Even the paid WordPress.com packages aren’t worth it. You’re MUCH better off starting with a self-hosted WordPress.org website. It will give you that solid foundation to build off of and the ability to customize your website for your industry and ideal audience. (And don’t fret, the costs associated with hosting, domain, web design, and maintenance are usually tax deductible)

If you’re a blogger that’s just starting to dip your toes in the blogging world, then WordPress.com is a great way to get started.

Keep in mind, you can always upgrade from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. If you want to start with WordPress.com (or have already) and later decide that you want to move your blog to the self-hosted WordPress.org, you can totally take all of your content with you. Moving from one WordPress platform to the other is absolutely possible.

WordPress.org – My personal favorite!

Who’s this perfect for?

  • Experienced bloggers that want to take their blog to the next level.
  • Business owners that need an online presence and website for their business.
  • Creatives that want to showcase their portfolios.
  • People looking to sell ecourses and/or have a membership area
  • Just about everyone, from any industry or niche.

WordPress.org is the most flexible and customizable website platform out there, hands down. The possibilities are completely endless and the foundation is perfect for growth and strategy.

But, here’s the catch: If you don’t have the budget to hire someone to build your WordPress.org website for you, you’ll have to set aside some time to learn the platform. It’s very user-friendly but can come with a steep learning curve if you’re not familiar or comfortable with the internet. Self-hosted WordPress.org websites are not a “quick-fix” for someone you needs a website right-this-very-second.

WordPress is a powerful tool, but in order to avoid getting frustrated by it, you should set aside some time to plan out your website and online goals. This will make the process a million times easier and help you avoid some frustrating roadblocks.

Since WordPress is an open-source project there are A LOT of working parts to it. If you’re eager to learn the ins and outs of your website, this is the platform for you to dive into. But, stay focused. It will help you avoid a lot of overwhelm…..because there are a lot of choices, for just about everything.

If you do have the budget to hire someone to build your website/blog for you, this platform is perfect. The cost of hiring someone depends on what you need, the level of customization, the designer/developer’s skillset, and their rates.

(Please note: When it comes to website design and development, you get what you pay for. If you want a cheap designer, you’ll get a cheap result which could lead to more expensive problems down the road)

….which leads me to my next point ?

How much does it cost?
WordPress itself is free, but building a website with WordPress isn’t.

Since WordPress.org is self-hosted, you (or your web designer) are in charge of setting up your domain and hosting package to install the WordPress software on (vs. WordPress.com where they take care of that for you).

  • Domain names: This is what you type into the search bar in order to get to your website. (Mine is: mariahmagazine.com) Some people don’t realize that you have to pay for this, annually. It’s a reoccurring cost of a website. Every human who owns a website has to pay for this.Sometimes people even buy more than one version of their domain name….for example, I could also buy “mariahmagazine.net” – .com and .net  are essentially two different domain names, so these would have two different registration costs.

    Cost: Usually around $10 a year per domain.

  • Hosting: This is where your website lives. In order to have your website be accessible on the internet, you need to PUT it on the internet. There IS a difference between cheap hosting quality hosting. Usually, you get what you pay for. Depending on the needs of your website, you might be able to go with the cheaper kind of hosting but you may be cutting yourself out of customer service quality security features.

    Quality/Premium Hosting costs more but there are plenty of benefits involved, especially when it comes to capabilities features.

    Cost: Starting at around $5/per month for cheaper shared hosting. Better quality hosting can cost $15/per month up.Need hosting? I ALWAYS recommend *Siteground to my clients. They’re the bee’s knees.

  • Design: Okay so the two previous costs were mandatory for a WordPress.org website. This section is kind of optional. (by kind of I mean, you can get away with not purchasing anything for your website design but I can’t promise it’s going to be effective or look too hot).

    WordPress.org has thousands of themes to choose from to help you build a great website. These themes (designs) range from free to a few hundred dollars. It depends on what the goal of your website is, who your target audience is, and what kind of functionality + design you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a fantastic foundation for your website, I suggest checking out the Genesis theme from StudioPress. I always use their framework when creating child themes for my clients! (and this website is on Genesis)

    Sometimes people on WordPress.org think that because they’re paying for theme/web design that they have free range of anything everything on the internet. That’s not the case.

    Besides the theme itself, you may have other costs that contribute to your website design like certain fonts, stock photos, plugins. These costs can be a one-time charge, or they can be reoccurring, depending on the feature.

  • Why do some plugins cost money? These are called “premium plugins”. Sometimes a certain functionality you want on your website isn’t included in WordPress and it order to add it you have to pay a developer for their code so you can use it. In order for the developer to continue to update that functionality, debug problems, and add more features, they need to be compensated. Coding takes a lot of skill, time, and patience and developers can’t make cool things for you to use if they’re not getting paid…..people gotta eat, ya know?)

    Please note:
    WordPress doesn’t have regulatory standards for themes and plugins. What that means is that anyone can build a theme or a plugin. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Good, for developers that follow industry standards and code efficiently. Bad, if the developer doesn’t keep their themes/plugins updated or uses code that conflicts with other themes/plugins.If you’re going to pay for a theme or plugin, PLEASE make sure you do a little digging first. When was the last time the theme/plugin was updated? Does it have reviews? What do the reviews say? Is it compatible with the current version of WordPress? Does the developer answer questions that customers have?

If you’re an experienced blogger or a business owner that wants an effective website, you should HIGHLY consider hiring a professional to help you out. Professional web designers and developers can create customized themes that are specifically fit for your business/project/goals. This is the only design option that allows you the opportunity to have complete control over your website design, functionality, and keeps your specific goals visions in mind from the very beginning.

If you want a professional looking website, with consistent branding than your best option would be a customized theme — shoot me an email and we can build a website just for you your business.

What’s the scoop on ads?
When it comes to having a self-hosted WordPress.org website, you have control to do whatever you please with ads. You can place them wherever you’d like, and use whichever ad program you’re interested in.

If you want to sign up for Google Adsense, I have a tutorial here!

(when putting ads on your website, please be mindful of your website users. Make sure the ads aren’t overpowering, slowing down your website, or taking away from your content + design)

Can I Sell Products on WordPress.org?
Absolutely! Download the free plugin WooCommerce and it will integrate with your WordPress website and allow you to sell products.

Please keep in mind security and payment processors for this.

If you want people to purchase DIRECTLY on your site, you’ll need an SSL certificate which can be purchased through your hosting provider. SSL certificates give your website an extra layer of security to help protect your customer’s private information.

Who’s WordPress.org NOT good for?

  • People that need their website right-this-very-second.

    • WordPress takes time to learn, ESPECIALLY if you’re doing the design, content, and maintenance yourself. The good thing is, the WordPress community is so big that there are always YouTube videos and written tutorials to help you along the way but if you don’t have the time or budget to hire someone else to do it all for you, I would consider other options.
  • People that like to have dedicated customer service and reassurance.

    • WordPress is an open source project. It doesn’t have an help desk or a customer service center. That’s where people like me come in, WordPress designers and developers. Instead of relying on a service center, you rely on the WordPress community or a specific WordPress specialist you trust.
  • People that don’t want to maintain their website or pay someone to maintain it.
  • People that want to go the DIY option without the steep learning curve.

Squarespace

Who’s this perfect for?

  • People that want to create their website themselves without the steep learning curve of WordPress.

    • Squarespace is a drag-and-drop website builder. It will take a little getting used to if you’re not familiar with the technology, but it’s far easier to do in a short amount of time vs. WordPress.
  • People that don’t want to worry about maintaining and updating their website.
  • People that need a website that doesn’t require any special functionality or customization.
  • People that need a website launched in a short period of time.
  • People that don’t need control over their hosting quality or servers.

In a nutshell, Squarespace is perfect for people that are only looking for website essentials.

How much does it cost? Packages range from $12 a month to $40 a month.

Who’s in charge of hosting my site?
Squarespace hosts your website. It’s wonderful if you don’t want to worry about servers and the technical part of your website but this also has some downfalls.

You can’t choose the quality of your server aka how fast it is.

If Squarespace, as a company, goes down….you lose your website because it’s on their servers. If you have WordPress and you have control over your hosting than if your company goes down, you can take your website backup to another company and you won’t have to start from scratch.

Can I have my own domain?
Yes absolutely! You can purchase a domain through Squarespace or through a third party like GoDaddy or NameCheap and link your Squarespace website up to it.

What about design?
When it comes to designing your website with Squarespace, it’s kind of mix between WordPress.com and WordPress.org

You don’t have to pay for any themes or designs, all come with the Squarespace membership.  They have a handful of templates for you to choose from and all of them can be tweaked to fit your needs.

The cool thing that a lot of people love about Squarespace is their drag-and-drop builder. It allows you to switch up your template and customize your website without knowing any code at all. You can adjust your fonts, colors, spacing, and other design elements just by playing around in the style editor.

The annoying thing about Squarespace is how restricting it can be. All though they let you change a lot of elements to help give your website that custom look, there are still things that are just not possible. Some themes offer certain functionalities, while other themes don’t for example:

  • Some themes allow you to have page-specific headers + footers, others don’t.
  • Some themes allow you to add a parallax scrolling, others don’t.
  • Some themes allow for “Image Zoom” on product images, other’s don’t.

Those are just a few examples.

When you compare these restrictions to the flexibility of WordPress, it can make a huge difference in your platform choice.

Squarespace doesn’t allow you to add plugins. So if you want to add a cool feature to your website, but Squarespace doesn’t have it, you can’t get it. For certain bloggers and business websites, this isn’t a big deal because they only need the essentials. But, if you’re looking to make your website more customizable than the ones already built in, maybe Squarespace isn’t the best choice for you. 

What’s the scoop on ads?
It’s basically the same deal as WordPress.org – Squarespace allows you to sign up with third party ad services like Google Adsense and add the codes to wherever you’d like within your website.

(when putting ads on your website, please be mindful of your website users. Make sure the ads aren’t over powering, slowing down your website, or taking away from your content + design)

Can I Sell Products on Squarespace?
Yes. Squarespace offers e-commerce plans that start at about $26 a month, which includes an SSL certificate for more secure checkouts.

Squarespace themselves don’t charge a transaction fee, but the payment processor does.

Note: Regardless of the website platform you choose, online payment processors like PayPal and Stripe will always take a small percentage. It’s how they make their money.

My Professional Opinion:
Squarespace is awesome. It’s a really wonderful platform for people that only need website essentials or people that want to build a website themselves without a learning curve. It’s bridged a big gap in the website industry. It allows people that don’t know or want to know coding to customize their website and launch it without having a big budget for a customized design.

I offer Squarespace as an option to some of my clients (when it fits the project) because of the low maintenance, and the easy user-friendly editing. When I hand a client their Squarespace website, they can usually log in and figure out how to maneuver around by themselves vs. WordPress where I give them a full training session on how to use it.

My three biggest problems with Squarespace are:

  1. They don’t give you a media library.

    • In WordPress when you upload an image to your website, it goes into a library for you to use whenever you need it again. On Squarespace you have to keep uploading that same image as many times as you need it, when you need it.
  2. They don’t give you enough control over SEO.
    • They let you handle all of the basics, which is all a lot of people need, but if you’re a business or blogger that is looking to have full control over SEO and options, I suggest using WordPress.org and the Yoast plugin.
  3. Customizing is restricted.
    • Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen people do AMAZING things with Squarespace templates, but at the end of the day, you can pick a Squarespace website out of the crowd because they don’t allow advanced customizing. This isn’t a problem if you’re not looking for anything customized, but it’s one of the big downfalls for me as a developer. Sometimes I have to tell my clients “I’m sorry that’s not an option with Squarespace”. In WordPress, if there’s something that a theme doesn’t come with and a client wants it on their website, I can do my research and upload a plugin or I can access the server files to customize the templates, styles, and overall functionality of the website.

Who’s Squarespace NOT good for?

  • People that want/need a customized design
  • People that are looking for special or advanced functionality that isn’t built into Squarespace
  • People that want full control over SEO
  • Business owners that need extensive e-commerce features
  • People that want access to theme files and FTP
  • People looking to sell e-courses and create e-courses on their website
  • People looking to have a membership area with individual customer profiles

Shopify

Who’s this perfect for?

  • People that are selling products, whether online, in-store, digital, or a combination of them.

They offer a POS application that synchronizes with your online store so you can manage your physical location and online shop from one Shopify dashboard (that’s super cool). They even let you have different products online vs. in store.

Since they’re built for handling online shops, they know what e-commerce website owners need. Some of their features are pretty amazing and are built right into the platform like:

  • Automatic carrier shipping rates
  • SSL certificates
  • automatic taxes
  • flexible shipping rates
  • dropshipping
  • Customer accounts
  • Refunds
  • Fulfillment centers
  • Gift cards
  • Product reviews
  • Discount codes
  • Daily backups
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • PCI-Compliance
  • Product reports
  • …..basically everything you’ll need without worrying about finding a plugin.

How much does it cost?
For a Shopify membership, it starts at $29 a month and goes up to $299. Depending on the package that you sign up for, they also charge a credit card rate + transaction fee.

Who’s in charge of hosting my site?
Shopify.

This is kind of like a Squarespace and WordPress.com thing. You don’t have to worry about finding a web hosting company because Shopify handles it all. The cool thing about them is that since their platform is built for e-commerce stores, ALL of their packages come with an SSL certificate to make the checkout process for your customers more secure.

They also have 24/7 support. So, if you come across a problem, you can contact them and they have professionals on the other end ready to help you out.

Can I have my own domain?
Yes, absolutely. You can purchase a domain name through them or you can use a third party company like GoDaddy or Name Cheap and point your domain name to your Shopify account without a hassle.

They also offer a “myshopify.com” domain name for free with your plan, but I would advise against this option. It doesn’t make your website and store look professional, and when you’re trying to sell things online you have to create a sense of trust and professionalism with you clients from the get go.

What about design?
When it comes to the design of a Shopify website, it’s a mix between WordPress.org and Squarespace.

Shopify has over a hundred premium and free website templates to choose from, which is a lot MORE options than Squarespace, but a lot LESS options than WordPress.org

The great news about Shopify templates is that since everyone using them is an e-commerce website owner, they have a little strategy behind their designs. They put selling your products on the forefront so you don’t have to worry about it. Just like all of the other platforms, some themes are better than others, you just have to find one that fits your products, industry, and appeals to your target customer.

Unlike Squarespace, Shopify gives you access to your themes files so that you can customize every aspect of your store’s theme. If you’re not happy with one of the templates that Shopify offers, you can hire a web designer + developer that specializes in Shopify to customize it completely.

The limiting factor is that they don’t allow plugins, but almost everything you’d need for an e-commerce website is already built into the platform itself, so I honestly wouldn’t even consider that a downfall.

What’s the scoop on ads?
Shopify allows you to integrate Google Adsense onto your website, but you might want to be extra careful with this platform. Depending on how you set up your Adsense profile, Google might show your competitors on your website, which would bring more traffic and sales to them and away from you.

Can I Sell Products on Shopify?
Yes! That’s what this entire platform is built for, selling.

Since they focus on e-commerce websites, they have some pretty awesome features when it comes to running an online store. Like, on Pinterest for example, they integrate with Pinterest to allow a buy button to show up on your pins….or with Facebook to allow you to set up a mini store on your Facebook page.

They also have a ton of resources and analytics geared towards shop owners and increasing growth.

Who’s Shopify NOT good for?

  • Anyone who’s NOT selling products.

Shopify is an e-commerce website solution. If you’re looking to sell products online, but your blog is also extremely important, I’d take a step back and ask which one is MORE important.

That will determine if you should go with WordPress.org and add WooCommerce, or dive into Shopify.

If your primary objective for your website is to sell products, I’d say Shopify, hands down. It does have a bit of a learning curve if you’re going to set up the template yourself, but just like WordPress, they have a large community to help you along the way, along with 24/7 support.

CONCLUSION:

Some people love WordPress, some people love Squarespace, some people love Shopify. It’s not about the platform itself, it’s about how to plan to use it. The BEST platform for you and your website is totally dependent on a number of factors.

Note: These aren’t the ONLY options out there, but in my professional opinion, they’re the best choices to pick from. Depending on the overall goal of your website, all of these platforms can help you get moving, build, create, sell, and grow.

If you’re considering Wix or Weebly, steer clear. I know that some people love them but they aren’t the best options out there. Their drag-and-drop editors and pricing may look enticing but the backend is where a lot of the problems lie. Their restrictions, frameworks, coding and functionality aren’t up to standards and typically end up causing more problems in the future because of it. You can get a far better bang for your buck with the options I’ve listed above.

All in all, creating a website and/or blog is SO exciting!

There are so many opportunities that a good online presence can open up for a blogger or business. Focus on what you want your website to help you achieve and pick the best platform for the job!

Need Help with Your Website?

Let’s chat about your business/blog goals and narrow down a solution that’s right for you.

Already using WordPress or Squarespace but need help tweaking something or figuring something out? I can help! I help web designers, bloggers, small business owners, and creatives tackle their website problems….so they don’t have to pull their hair out. (Because believe me, the internet can be one frustrating jumbled mess)

Whatever you need help with, you’re not alone.
The internet and website world is complicated.
There’s a lot to know, and a lot to keep track off.

The digital world is my playground, let me help you.

 

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