Bryns Blog: Web development and design recommendations

An experienced coder and designer, Bryn runs his own freelance web business from Nelson, New Zealand.
Visit his folio:   
www.brynheveldt.co.nz

The differences between the platforms, Shopify, SilverStripe, SquareSpace, Wordpress, Wix.

In this post I explore the pros and cons on a handfull of well known website platforms. They all have their place and I will shed some light on making the decision on which one to use.

Introduction to web platforms:

Whether you are selling products, showcasing your business or publishing content online you will need to choose the appropriate web platform to manage all the content and display it online. I have been fortunate to have used many varied platforms over the years and know their differences well. It certainly is a decision that needs to be well considered and will have a long lasting impact on your business.

Intended use:

Usually the main factor in making the decision is whether you are selling products or services online or not. If you are then Shopify would be well worth investigating, more on this soon. If you are simply showcasing products or services then there's no need for all that shopping functionality and therefore another platform like SilverStripe, SquareSpace, WordPress or Wix would be the most appropriate.

If you need to publish a lot of content like radio13.co.nz and you want a quality custom website that performs well then SilverStripe is by far the best choice. You can use WordPress and that's ok but if you need ultimate flexibility and security really matters then SilverStripe is an excellent fit.

If you need to showcase your business, want to easily be able to edit your content yourself and don't need the backend features SilverStripe offers then something like SquareSpace is a great cost effect and usable product.

Managed Hosting vs Self Hosted.

Another variable to consider is the server the website is hosted on. If you use something like SquareSpace, Shopify or Wix then all server requirements are taken care of for you. You'll pay a little more per month for this service but it certainly is a huge benefit to using these all in one cloud services. No server downtime, no developer hours required to manage and secure the server. Less logins and contact points.

eCommerce specific vs generic platforms.

If you are selling online that narrows down the choices somewhat. If you need to track inventory, deal in multiple currencies and organise products into categories then Shopify is a great choice. You can also now use SquareSpace to sell products. If your inventory is very small then SquareSpace is great. blueplanetmarine.com whom I designed and built their SquareSpace site have research trips for sale on their site. They predominantly needed to showcase their services and have deeper rich content on the site but they also needed a way to sell research trips. We could have used Shopify but what SquareSpace lacks in eCommerce functionality it makes up for in custom layouts and self updating ease.

The cost of each platform, initial and on-going.

The all important factor in making the decision on platform is surely cost? Well yes and no. I think the decision is so important that the differences in the initial build cost are often given too much weight. A custom WordPress or SilverStripe website will cost more to build but you can customise the design more and generally have a faster website, important for SEO rankings. The difference might be only a few thousand dollars. Really the overall long term strategy and technical requirements should steer the decision of which platform to use. On-going costs for all in one packages like SquareSpace and Shopify can range between $16 - $100 per month depending on the complexity of your setup but typically cost $30/month for most single sites. Custom made SilverStripe sites can cost as little as $10/month to run or maybe $40/month for a large database and ability to store large files.

Overall quality of the final website.

If high ranking on google searches is a big part of the success of the website then it must be fast, well designed and precision built. Products like SquareSpace and Wix fall short in this regard as they tend to have a lot of unnecessary code and lack the ability to control every aspect of the website, right down to the server setup and loading order. These things can have a drastic effect on the load time. Some businesses don't always need this high ranking for their web visitors to use their websites and thus don't require the precision code that is needed. A school for instance is something most visitors will already know about and will go directly to in a browser. 

Website platform conclusion.

There are many factors to consider but in the end your overall strategy, user base and business goals should drive the decision. A website tends to have a long shelf life. The initial investment will seem irrelevant years down the track when you look back at the pain you've saved with a well considered website.

The pros and cons of some common platforms:

Shopify

Great for selling products online and tracking inventory / shipping. Shopify deals with all the transactional nuances, currency and money collection tasks well. Ability to customise templates and present your brand well and get a good SEO ranking. Managed hosting takes away the need to manage a server. Not so great for custom layouts if your site is content heavy or you want a heavily custom experience. Highly recommended for an online shop. Check out a Shopify site I maintain:  lujoliving.com


SilverStripe

Great for custom design websites that need to perform well and look sharp. If you have the need for backend functionality like multiple editors with different permissions or a database of users; to managing large format images then SilverStripe is a great choice. The downside is the initial build cost may be higher. A server needs to be managed, although this is not that difficult and rarely needs intervention. All functionality is bespoke and will require some initial coding by a skilled developer using the open source tools available through:  SilverStripe.org.


SquareSpace

Great for a quick turnaround, cost effective initial build that looks fantastic and professional. Easy to maintain and update yourself or even build on your own if you had the time and patience. Has eCommerce functionality that is easy to setup and manage on their all in one managed hosting. Downsides are the limited customisation options and bloated code base that hinders SEO optimisation. Checkout a SquareSpace site I built:  blueplanetmarine.com


Wordpress

Great in-between option for a relatively quick turnaround for a bespoke custom design website. Great selection of plugins for backend functionality off the shelf saving some initial cost. Down sides are these plugins can behave erratically and cost money to fix and maintain. Wordpress also has a reputation for not being very secure from hackers. Time needs to be spent maintaining a secure up to date configuration.


Wix

You may have seen this platform in many online Ads. It is similar to SquareSpace in some ways with perhaps more features. It allows wider customisation for layouts and bespoke designs and custom code. It seems to focus more heavily on layout ease rather than ease to update content. Definitely worth a look if you are looking at the all in one hosted packages. This would be great if you were a designer with limited coding skills. Down sides are it can be a bit daunting when updating content and the end result is a relatively heavy page and slow download speeds. Checkout a Wix site I work on:  shuttlerock.com

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