If you’re thinking about a new website for your business, there are a couple of different options out there and choosing the right one isn't as simple as you'd think – so here are the three main candidates and what to look out for.

But before we get into the detail, a little word about what we’re going to be looking at here – this isn’t about whether you need an ecommerce website or whether it should be responsive or whether you need a social media feed. This is about how it’s going to be built, rather than what is going to be built - we’re going to look at the three main types of website technology, including their main benefits and drawbacks.

So let’s look at your options:

Static (hard coded) website:

This, in theory, is the simplest type of website – there’s no other software required, no complicated databases and no real security issues.  The problem is that it’s only simple if you know how to write in the languages (html and css) that your web browser (Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc) can read. So while someone who can write the code can build a basic website fairly quickly, in all likelihood the business that owns the website is never going to be able to update it.

In practical terms, this type of website is all but extinct these days – in theory, it’s possible to build a fairly complicated website this way and it can look however the designer wants it to, but as you start to get more complicated, the time it takes to write it all ‘from scratch’ just doesn’t make sense. Add to this the fact that you can’t really have a proper ecommerce website or anything ‘interactive’ (people logging in and doing things) and you can see why what was once the only type of website is now almost obsolete.

The fact is, unless what you want is literally one page with your business name, contact details and a logo on (and why would you), this type of website just won’t cut it, but one of the other options probably will.

Website builder sites:

A few years ago, there were new websites launching that offered a middle ground between the static website (above) and the true Content Managed website (below). These websites allowed someone with no coding experience to make a website that looked reasonably professional and could include some of the functionality (ecommerce, etc) that was beyond someone with no coding skills – they typically only costed somewhere around £15-£20 per month too.  The sites used ‘drag and drop’ templates that allowed some customisation of colours, images, text size, etc – but ultimately, they all looked very similar and provided somewhat restricted functionality.  As a starting point, they were just about ok, but no good for someone needing a serious web-presence.

Fast forward to late 2018 and there are now quite a few of these types of website where someone with no coding skills and only modest design skills can produce a website that most professional web designers/developers would be fairly happy with.

Ok, a professional developer will know it’s built using a template (and there are some limitations on their functionality), but your clients probably won’t - if you need a simple, good looking, reliable business website with social media integrations, newsletter signups and the like and you want to build it yourself (and you have no technical skills), it can be done – and they’re still only around £20 per month.  You can even have a fully functioning ecommerce website for only a little bit more per month.

You’ll need to do some research to see which is best for you, but Squarespace and Shopify are both good starting points, depending on what you need.

Content Management System (CMS) website:

The last of our three options, a CMS, is where most professional developers are going to start with a website.  It’s a very complicated piece of software that’s been developed specifically to form the ‘behind the scenes’ bit of a website – it’s the platform for building a completely custom website using templates, modules and plugins to do literally anything you want – and I do mean anything. The clever bit is that as the owner, once the developer has done their work, you have complete control over the content of the website and you can add to or change it as often as you like from a user friendly interface.

There are already tens of thousands of off the shelf templates and plugins available that can reduce the cost of having one of these sites built, but the big benefit of a CMS is that a developer can get a specification from you and make you exactly what you want – there are no restrictions at all, other than your budget, which for a small business site probably needs to be somewhere between £1500 and £15,000 depending on what you need it to do!

In theory, it’s possible for anyone to build their own CMS based website if they’re willing to learn some new skills – in practice though, you’re probably going to be paying someone to do the work for you.

Which CMS to choose and the wider discussion around ‘closed’ vs ‘open-source’ software (another whole article in itself) is way too complicated to go into here – your best bet is to find a designer/developer you want to work with and ask their advice.

In summary:

Hopefully that’s given you some idea about the direction you need to go for your business website – in reality, discounting the static website (because it’s 2018, and why would you), it boils down to three options:

A ‘website builder’ site that you can set up yourself - for some very small businesses, those that are just starting out or those that just have no need for any extra functionality, this is an option worth looking at. There’s typically no upfront cost, but monthly costs can mount up, especially if you need full ecommerce built in.

A professionally built CMS website - if you need specific business related functions on your website, or want complete control over the style and layout, this is really the only choice. Those limitless functional and design choices will carry a significant upfront cost, but lower monthly hosting costs than a ‘site builder’ website. 

A self-built CMS website - you potentially get all of the benefits of a professional CMS site, without the upfront cost – there are some hosting providers who can set up the basic site for you, and there are plenty of off the peg templates, but it’s still going to be a very steep learning curve and only for the already technically minded!

NBSL LogoThis article is brought to you by NBSL's North East Business Support Fund which funds the costs of business improvement projects such as website development, marketing strategies, external consultancy – click here to find out more

The North East Business Support Fund  has hundreds of registered providers offering a wide range of business support. NBSL has used its best efforts to post on this web site the most accurate and reliable information given to us by our providers but does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and are licensed to NBSL for publication on this website.

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