Table of Contents – click a link to jump to a section:
- 7 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Web Solution
- 5 Web Solutions Pros & Cons
- The Grid of All Grids
- But How Do I Choose?
- What’ll It Cost Me?
Squarespace, WordPress, Drupal…how do you decide which platform to choose for your website? Unfortunately, no web platform is perfect – there are trade offs no matter what you pick! But with some careful consideration and planning, you should be able to choose the ideal platform for your organization’s website. Here are 7 crucial factors to consider:
- Speed – Speed determines engagement. No one has patience to wait more than a few seconds for a page load – they will more than likely exit your site and move on. While most platforms can be optimized for speed, it is still a factor to consider. When testing speed, make sure to check your site on mobile as well. Less processing power on phones means slower load times, but with 50% of Google queries coming from smartphones your speed has to be snappy across devices.
- Security – If your site is going to handle sensitive data, this is a top concern. The least pernicious security breaches may bring your site down for a few hours, but some breaches result in stolen data or replaced or lost content. Hackers no longer target specific sites, but instead have bots crawling and targeting thousands of sites searching for vulnerabilities. Even small sites can be targeted!
- Content Updating – Unless you have the budget to outsource all web updates, your team will need to update content on your site while keeping visual integrity of the site and brand. Administrative tools should include a text and image editor at the bare minimum, but more advanced solutions may have full visual page builders to assemble large amounts of content without using code. Before deciding on a web solution, make sure that the administrative tools are simple and intuitive for your staff to use.
- Maintenance – Some web solutions take care of maintenance for you. Others you’ll need to keep on top of the maintenance by running updates yourself or engaging a developer every 3 – 6 months to run updates. Keep in mind that every website has ongoing costs and factor web maintenance into your budget.
- Dynamic content – “Dynamic content” refers to your site’s ability to update content in multiple places with one database change. For example, let’s say you have an event coming up, and the event date appears on the homepage, the calendar, and on a page specific to that event. Something comes up, though, and the date changes! With dynamic content, you only need to update that information in one central location and everywhere it appears will update automatically. This can be a huge timesaver and keep your site content consistent. Some web solutions support dynamic content, and some don’t!
- Layout Customization – The first thing most people think about when overhauling their site is what it will look like. You should consider to what extent your site needs to be visually distinct, or have custom layout or branding. Some websites allow for this flexibility, and others use templates that make customizations much more difficult.
- Custom functionality – Social media feeds, eCommerce stores, event calendars, and the ability to process donations online are a few examples of fairly standard web functionality. However, some intrepid sites need to DO something that no other site has done before. Custom functionality is much easier to implement with some web solutions than others – it is important to consider when choosing the platform or solution for you and your organization.
You might be thinking, “ok, cool…but how do specific web solutions perform on these seven criteria??” I’m so glad you asked!
- Static HTML – Static HTML sites were all the rage in the early 1990’s and are returning to popularity for their snappy load time and minimalistic design tendencies. That said, this is NOT a great web solution for the average small to mid-size business or nonprofit.
- Pros: Speed! Pages load instantly. Also these sites are very difficult to hack. They have no database which means no sensitive information is stored.
- Cons: All changes to content are made directly in the code. There is zero content management system. This means only a person with coding expertise can update the site. This is the primary reason we recommend against this type of site in most cases. Another disadvantage is that without a database, advanced features like dynamic content, eCommerce or user generated content are impossible to achieve.
- Do-It-Yourself Hosted Site – With this option, we mean sites hosted on platforms like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly. All of your site data lives in “the cloud” meaning you don’t have to manage a server. Generally you pay a monthly or annual subscription fee to the host (meaning Squarespace, Wix, Weebly), and if you stop paying your site goes offline.
- Pros: The major plus side is that it is very easy to get a good looking, simple website very quickly! You don’t even need to pay a developer to get your site up (hence Do-It-Yourself). There may be add-ons to allow for advanced features like simple eCommerce or a calendar of events. DIY Hosted sites are also extremely secure – your monthly subscription means you are paying someone else to handle security and updates for you. This is generally a great, affordable option for smaller organizations with simple websites.
- Cons – The look and feel is limited to pre-built layouts (unless you pony up and hire a developer). Specific customizations in functionality will be very difficult for a developer if you hire one – ie these sites are not easily extensible. Also, the terms of service or subscription fees can change at any time and are out of your control.
- Self-Hosted CMS with a Pre-Built Theme – This type of site is built on a standard content management system like WordPress or Drupal, but you also need to purchase space on a server, such as GoDaddy or Digital Ocean, and host the site yourself. The site would use a pre-built theme (like a template) that you purchase.
- Pros – These sites can be quick to set up for a developer, probably in the range of 1 – 2 months if there are relatively few customizations. There are generally more theme options than you might find with a DIY Hosted provider. The biggest advantage is that these sites are very extensible. A rich array of existing plugins and extensions can be added to your site, and customizations are generally achievable.
- Cons – Sometimes plugins do not play nicely together, causing conflicts and errors. Plugins and platforms must be manually updated. Popular CMS platforms are often targeted for hacking, so you’ll need to be extra vigilant about security. You will probably want to hire a developer, so the initial cash output to get the site up and running will be greater.
- Self-Hosted CMS with a Custom Theme – Everything you just read about the Self-Hosted CMS option above is also true here. However with this option, you’d be implementing a custom theme rather than purchasing a pre-built theme.
- Pros – Hiring a designer and developer to create a completely custom theme for your organization’s site will set you apart. Your designer and developer will be able to help you tailor the user experience to lead to desired actions from site visitors.
- Cons – There is a much longer design and build time, 4 – 8 months is typical. You will also be paying about twice as much up front for the site to have the custom theme designed and implemented.
- Custom Web Application – If the primary functioning of your business IS your website, you may consider a custom web application. This is a good choice if you need special functionality not typically found in a pre-built solution. If you’re saying, “We need it to DO this, but no one else is doing it yet!” this may be your solution!
- Pros – Custom web applications can provide a huge, unique value to stakeholders. Ultimately, you could also spin your web application into a product line that you own, reselling the platform to other similar organizations. Custom web applications can also help you automate existing processes and reduce labor required at your organization.
- Cons – It is difficult from the outset to estimate costs and time required. These would be very case-by-case depending on your specific application. Another common problem with custom web applications is their propensity towards scope creep. If your scope is growing during your project, your ultimate outlay could be much more than estimated. It is also difficult to prove your return on investment up front. Basically, web applications are a bigger risk than other types of sites because you are creating something new and the cost is much higher!
This grid can help to synthesize the pros, cons, factors to consider, and site types available. You’re welcome.
So maybe you understand ALL the things, but still don’t know which solution is the best fit for you. Below, we’ve created a decision tool to help you determine the best type of site for your needs. (Pssst…for now, we’ve removed Static HTML. Static HTML is generally not a good choice for most businesses.)
Here are the deets:
- DIY Hosted –
- $0 development cost if you create the site yourself
- $16 – $46 per month subscription
- Self-Hosted CMS with a Pre-Built Theme –
- $2,000 – $6,000 development fee
- $50 – $200 for the theme
- $5 – $15 per month for hosting
- Self-Hosted CMS with a Custom Theme –
- $8,000 – $15,000 design & development fee
- $5 – $15 per month for hosting
- Custom Web Application
- Upwards of $25,000 fo custom design and development
What do you think about all of this? Cool? Clear? Questions? We are completely open to discussing your needs and helping you choose the right type of site, even if that means working without a developer or with a different development team! Reach us at: