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When it comes to selecting the technology to build the website for your business there is just too many choices which is rather confusing to say the least; it also isn’t obvious which option is better. This essay explores different ways to create a web app for your company.

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Different Ways of Creating a Business Website

Different Ways of Creating a Business Website | awezzom Blog Post

What are my Options for Creating a Business Website?

To put it simply — any website is a bunch of folders with a bunch of files that contain a bunch of code that is interpreted by the browser. In order to get a functional website you’d need to have that code and deploy it on the server so that anyone could get access to it through the Internet connection. There are different ways how you can obtain those files.


Free DIY Open-Source Software

Open-source software is distributed “as is” and is free of charge. Anyone can download and use it. Some software is easier to install and operate, some have great documentation, some have a large community of contributors and some have better-designed admin dashboards — all of them are different in many ways.

A few good examples of free open-source software: Drupal, Joomla, Magento, WordPress. You can download any of these systems for free but most likely you’d need some assistance with installing and setting them up, because you’d have to deploy the files onto the server and tinker with them a bit.

Pros:

  • The software is free and it has been implemented on hundreds of thousands of projects.
  • It works and there is a large pool of developers who can install and alter it.
  • The functionality is limited only to the skill of the web developer.
  • Most of these open-source tools are developed as content management systems (CMS); this allows for a user-friendly way to manage files, text and settings.
Cons:

  • Because of the nature of the software it is extremely vulnerable to anyone with malicious intent; choose your web developers carefully.
  • You’d need to update and upgrade the software and its constituent parts about 3-4 times a year which can result in conflicts with dependencies such as libraries or plugins.
  • Beware of installing third-party plugins as any add-on has the potential to access all data stored in the application and could transfer the information to perpetrators.

Free DIY Online Website Builders

These are sometimes referred to as “drag-and-drop” website builders. They cater to non-tech-savvy people who would like to create a website without any knowledge of the code: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP etc. The key idea behind these web app builders is to allow users to create pages and drag and drop certain elements to fill those pages with.

There is no need to download anything — all of the files are located on the servers of the respective provider (owner of the software). In order to use these tools you’d have to create an account and spend, frankly, quite some time trying to figure out how to use them. The learning curve could be a bit steeper for one over the other. Some online web builders that come to mind: Weebly, Wix.

What you might not be aware of is that even when these are advertised as “free” some of them would make money by placing extrinsic ads on your web pages, some would start charging your card after certain conditions are met (e.g. monthly traffic, storage quota), some would require a payment to remove their own logos and links. A lot of the crucial so-called “premium” features are deliberately held behind the paywall.

The hosting fees for these websites are usually higher than you’d be able to get elsewhere but it isn’t that big of a deal compared to the real problem. It will eventually dawn on you that you’re unable to download the code of your web application to use elsewhere except on the initially chosen platform. This could become a huge pain in the not-so-remote, well-known place sooner then you might’ve expected.

This option is like living in a rental apartment for 10 years and not being allowed to move your personal stuff out when you’d have to vacate the premises.

Pros:

  • It’s DIY and it’s free, so depending on your goals it might be more than enough to begin with.
  • You don’t need to have any knowledge of the code and you can drag and drop elements like images, icons and text boxes.
  • An inquisitive web designer who doesn’t know how to code would still be able to create a good-looking website using this tool.
Cons:

  • The learning curve is rather steep and each website builder has a different interface.
  • You would become stuck with the platform; if you’d want to move on to a different one, you’d have to abandon the work you’d done.
  • Limited functionality since you would not have access to the source code.
  • Basic SEO customization features.
  • Might not allow adding external scripts like third-party analytics or chat bots other than the ones approved by the platform.
  • If the platform seizes to exist so does your website.

Subscription-based Website Builders

This essentially is the same concept as the free DIY online builders with an exception that these are upfront about what costs are going to be involved. These platforms usually have better documentation, friendlier user interface and a broader range of easier-to-use tools. For a monthly fee you’d be getting an up-to-date online website builder, some free templates, hosting and SSL certificates. Some examples: Shopify, Squarespace, Webflow.

Both Squarespace and Webflow have a limited functionality that allows you to export some of the files like CSS, JavaScript and HTML but neither would allow you to download all of the code meaning — you can’t fully migrate your website to a different hosting. You’d be able to move some of your work but you won’t be able to use the content management system, database tables and other features native to the platform.

Pros:

  • A sophisticated but rather easy-to-use tool.
  • Good tutorials and documentation.
  • Sometimes you might get a trial period of 90 days to see if the platform is worth it.
  • No need to make updates or upgrades — it’s either done automatically or with a push of a button.
Cons:

  • Monthly costs regardless of whether your business has any revenue or not.
  • You will not have access to the source code which means that the functionality will have its limits.
  • Due to inability to tweak the application the way you want the performance might take a serious hit if you decide to include the wrong amount of the wrong add-ons or plugins.

Low-cost Fixed-price Websites

This type of website could be made either with free DIY open-source software, a framework or an online web builder. The differentiating characteristic is that this option implies installation and setup of a theme making sure the core functionality of the website works. In other words — you will be paying for the work of launching your website.

Most of the time companies that offer a website with a fixed, low price would install WordPress with a free theme on the server of the hosting provider of your choosing. They might offer their own hosting and SSL certificates, they might offer monthly maintenance or support — the idea here is that when the minimum fixed fee is low they’re ought to try and get you “hooked” on other services; it’s not always the case but I think you should be aware of the possibility.

Some companies have a proprietary CMS similar to WordPress that they had developed some time ago for a client and now shipped to everyone at a fixed price. They would usually have both free and “premium” themes with extra features that you would soon find inevitable.

Watch out for (e.g.) 250 USD “unique website” offers that will install (a free) WordPress website using a free template (theme) and claim as if it had been “developed exclusively” for your business.

Pros:

  • A fixed price — you know (hopefully) what you are paying for in advance.
  • No need to search for a web developer.
  • Fast turnaround.
Cons:

  • Depending on the platform chosen to create the website, refer to the disadvantages listed above.
  • If you’ve encountered ads promoting a “unique website” for a 250 USD or similar, know that the only thing that’s going be unique is the domain name of your website.
  • Higher risk of having some kind of a malicious code concealed in the application.

Custom-Made Websites

There are multiple ways to create a custom website: using a framework, an existing website builder or CMS like WordPress or even the online website builder. The key characteristic is that the back-end and/or front-end code would be heavily customized to create business logic, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) tailored to the specific needs of your company.

While it might seem like the custom website option should include a website created from scratch, today no website is created like that — every web developer uses a framework and field-tested code libraries that allows them to create web apps faster and with fewer bugs.

If you ever find yourself receiving an offer for a custom website which includes a template (free or fee) and a list of plugins that will be installed, know this — that is not a custom website. A custom website implies to have modifications to the code both on the front-end and back-end; it is never a Plug’n’Play product.

Pros:

  • No limits.
  • Full control.
  • Most value.
  • Unique solution tailored to specific business objectives.
Cons:

  • The custom website option is the most expensive one as it requires significantly more time to think through and design the whole experience for specific target audiences.

In-house-built Websites

Yet another option would be to hire an employee who would design and develop the website for your business. This could turn out to be more expensive but totally justifiable in case your company requires the services of the web developer on a regular basis.

Usually web designer and web developer are two separate roles as each one has a different skill set; so if your company does not have a budget for both specialists, consider hiring a full-stack developer — someone who is able to produce a good back-end and front-end code while having an eye for visual hierarchy, contrast and aesthetics.

Pros:

  • Full control of the process.
  • Unlimited revisions and changes.
Cons:

  • All the troubles of having an employee, e.g. insurances, benefits, sick leaves, retirement plans, management.
  • You might have to employ two people with different skill sets — a web designer and a web developer — which would make this option even more expensive.

AI-built Websites

This is a rather new option which is yet to prove its viability. At the moment it looks more of a buzzword rather than a good, reliable solution.

The problem with these “AI” web builders is that they disregard the content. The results are based on too few parameters like industry, name, and style of design. One of the so-called “AI website builders” promises to scrape the Internet in 60 seconds (which is totally impossible) in search of a unique solution based on your request. As it stands today, to me, it looks like they provide a random template from their collection based on your input criteria which is far from being an Artificial Intelligence.

There is some utility in taking this route, though, as for a newcomer this approach might lift the heavy burden of going through thousands of design templates trying to figure out which looks best for the business.

Some AI web builders have free plans, some are more flexible but whatever the initial entry cost get ready to start paying for it eventually: either through higher hosting costs, removal of default branding and foreign ads, premium features or for the use of the service.

Pros:

  • Fast turnaround.
  • Less choice — less time spent.
Cons:

  • Unpredictable results.
  • More buzz than value.

Pros & Cons of Different Ways to Build a Website

This table should come in handy when you’d want to quickly refer to the most prominent pros and cons of each website creation option. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list but rather a quick guide.

Option
Pros
Cons
Open-source DIY software
Free. Large pool of developers.
Safety and security. Learning curve.
Online DIY website builder
Free.
Steep learning curve. Is “free” to a degree. Cannot download or migrate the website.
Subscription-based online builder
Ready-to-use, sophisticated tools. Easier to maintain.
Monthly costs regardless of revenue. Cannot migrate website to a different platform.
Low-cost fixed-price website
A set price. Fast turnaround.
Not a unique custom-made website as it might be advertised.
Custom-made website
Unique solution that caters to the specific needs of the business.
The most expensive option but usually the most valuable too. Longer to implement. Requires professional services.
Employee
In-house person. Unlimited revisions. Full control of the process.
Insurance, liabilities, management, benefits, tools. Might be required to hire two employees with different skill sets: front-end and back-end.
AI-generated website
Cheap. Fast turnaround.
Unpredictable results. Little value.

While some solutions for building a website are advertised as “free” we should make a distinction between having a free access to the software and being able to actually use it which often times involve paying for professional services of web DDs (designers and developers). No one had cancelled the costs of a domain name, email provider, SSL and hosting services either. So-called FREE websites do not necessarily mean that there are no fees or costs involved.

Another way of looking at pros and cons of any website building option is through the criteria of control. You could divide all websites into 2 groups.

Website builders like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and Magento; frameworks like Laravel, React and Vue fall into the category of maximum control — you have all the web app’s files in your possession and your abilities to manipulate the code are limited only by the skill level of the web developer.

The second one is a limited control group with platforms like Webflow, Shopify and Squarespace as its constituents. It is distinctive of the former group by the access to the web app’s files — your web developers would not be able to alter most of the back-end source code which implies limitations on what can be achieved.

There are many website building solutions that have adopted the freemium model; it totally makes sense — try out our product and then decide. Do you like it? Pay for it. If you want some extra features — ka-ching. The key issue that I think you should be fully aware of is that the longer you get to work on your website the more attached you become to it; all the work you’d put in — you wouldn’t want it to go to waste. To keep your hard work safe from harm you’ll pay, since there are no ways to export your website to a different platform.

There is nothing wrong with paying for a sophisticated piece of software that allows you to create a digital tool that would help your business make money. My main concern is the inability to possess that which you had invested your resources in. Some online website builders allow you to export your style sheets and scripts that you had developed for the app, but your website wouldn’t work if you’d try to just drop these exported files onto a server — you’d still have to have the back-end code which in case of online builders you cannot download.

Use Cases

Now that we’ve untangled this web knot of options let’s look into several real world examples to give us an idea about how we would go about selecting the one that best fits our needs.

Boiling things down to the bare bones — it’s all about the business goals. Any company will have different business objectives and capabilities for each stage of development. Early stage, bootstrapped companies that are struggling to find first customers would have very limited funds while large, established business entities would have a steady cash flow and will be able to dedicate a hefty budget. Thus, the most appropriate web development options will be different.

Bootstrapped Startup Testing the Market

The business goal for a website could be to test waters and acquire first customers while keeping expenses at minimum. A one-page WordPress (any free DIY) website will be all you need. You can find a developer who’d set it up for 100-200 USD; the amount of time required to get it up and running shouldn’t take more than 2-4 hours. The design and content aren’t taken into account of course.

The ideal scenario would be to hire a web developer you can trust to pick a free WP theme for you, deploy the software on the server and show you how to enter your private, sensitive data yourself. I would recommend refraining from hiring 5-dollar “gurus” on freelance platforms and classifieds as it would most likely end in a catastrophe. You can read more about the reasons in my concise book: “Business Website 1.01”.

If you would like to support this work, consider purchasing this book for bootstrapped startups and small businesses on Amazon for your Kindle device; I will appreciate it, thank-you-very-much-indeed.

New E-commerce Store

When your business goal is to sell products online, your budget is super tight but you think that your business will be fine with the most “basic” functionality for your online store, you could choose WordPress with WooCommerce plugin. When your business needs a more complicated solution and you have some coin jingling in your pockets you could go with Magento or OpenCart.

If you are OK with monthly fees for using a software, aren’t planning to migrate the store in the near (1 year) future and you’re not too concerned with limitations and less control over your app’s files, you could go with subscription-based platforms like Shopify or Webflow.

If your inventory consists of thousands SKUs, you want to have the full control of the application, you are concerned about the security of the app and don’t want to have any constraints — a custom e-commerce website based on a framework such as Laravel is your ticket to success.

Multi-purpose Web Portal

Most of the plugins and add-ons that are available for platforms and systems like Shopify and WordPress are very generic, hence not tailored to specific business needs but rather aimed at satisfying most common requests in a most generic way possible. Average solutions for average businesses. Chances are your business problems are unique to your business, thus common Plug’n’Play products won’t do you any good.

I wouldn’t recommend building a complicated system using third-party plugins but this is a separate topic in and of itself, so I will not be covering it in detail here.

When your organization has multiple divisions, business directions and objectives; when you are targeting different audiences through various channels a custom, framework-based website is the best choice because it can provide you with the highest level of flexibility that is essential to multi-purpose web hubs. As the company grows so does the amount of processes, relationships and dependencies; a web hub capable of catering to the needs of different stakeholders is a must when your job is to make the company efficient and more competitive.

Reality Check

While these few use cases are great, they are meant to be used as a point of reference; often times you will find yourself not having to contend with the problem of choosing the best platform or tool but with the absence of the right partner to work with.

A good web designer can create a great piece of work on any platform using either of the available tools; a great web developer can build a solid website using any programming language, framework or open-source software. So when you find the right person or the best web design agency from NYC (product placement) to work with it will be up to them to recommend and even insist on using one tool over the other based on your business needs.

When you have access to a trustworthy web developer who knows how to build websites in Shopify and is good at it, there is no reason why not to go with this option. If the person or agency only works in PHP using Laravel framework — that’s great, there is no reason why this option wouldn’t work for you either.

What is the optimal solution for creating a professional website for the company? There is no undisputable, one-and-only, perfect tool. But there is a method.

The secret recipe requires you to identify your business goals, to put a number to tangible results, to set parameters that measure the success rate, devote a budget, a timeframe and test your hypothesis.

For example, if your business relies on selling goods over the Internet and by means of online advertising you want to spend 15 000 USD in 3 months on ads in order to get additional revenue of at least 60 000 USD, your business goal could be to create compelling marketing messages that will help in driving traffic to your e-commerce website where you would AB test two landing pages to figure out which messaging, images and layout result in better conversion rates. Based on your margins and business model you can easily calculate whether your company would be able to afford those landing pages and then make adjustments to variables if necessary.

Summary

Which of the 7 options is the best solution for making a professional website for the company? That depends on three things: your business goals, your budget and access to talent. At the early stages of the company growth you would probably be fine with having the cheapest, DIY option. As the company matures the amount of features and complexity of business relationships will require you to have more a sophisticated web application.

What is the optimal solution for creating a professional website for the company? There is no undisputable, one-and-only, perfect tool. But there is a method.

The secret recipe requires you to identify your business goals, to put a number to tangible results, to set parameters that measure the success rate, devote a budget, a timeframe and test your hypothesis.

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