Article by Pierre Zarokian.
With so many popular web design software and online tools, it is tough for a beginner to know what platform is best. Sometimes you may not care and your web designer will decide what to use. However, it is important to know some basics and pros and cons of each platform to make a decision that would probably last you 5 to 10 years before you do another new site. If you make the wrong choice, you may need to start over and have additional development costs.
Subscription Based vs Non-Subscription Based
Let’s look at a few of the most popular platforms and consider the pros and cons. These include WordPress, Wix, Shopify, Squarespace, Weebly, Magento, Drupal, Joomla and Adobe Dreamweaver.
These platforms fall into 2 categories, which I would call Subscription Based or Non-Subscription Based. Non-Subscription Based platforms are those that you would run on your own server and you are not leasing the platform. These include WordPress, Magento, Drupal , Joomla and Dreamweaver. Some are free, but may have additional fees for plugins, themes and additional functionality. In case of Dreamweaver, the latest version is SAAS with a monthly fee, but once make your website, you can cancel the subscription or you may not be the one paying for it, your web designer would. But some designers might have an older version that was desktop based. Dreamweaver used to be one of the most widely used web design software before the Content Management Systems (CMS) systems took over. WordPress, Magento, Drupal and Joomla are considered to be CMS platforms.
Most web designers do not use Dreamweaver anymore. In the early days web design was coded by hand in HTML and then software like Dreamwaver and Microsoft Frontpage made it easier to code websites visually, which would then provide you with an HTML code that you uploaded to your server. But these days popularity has faded in favor of the CMS platforms, which allow you to code the website direct on the server and make changes on the fly. You can even provide login info to your clients for them to make simple updates or post blogs.
Dreamweaver is still a pretty strong platform and offers a lot of customization. If you are looking for a custom build website, that may require a lot of backend programming such as PHP coding, then Dreamweaver might be the platform for you. If you have a pretty good idea of the design you want, you may want to have a graphic designer do a mockup in Photoshop first and then use Dreamweaver to cut up parts and create HTML code of it.
The Subscription Based platforms are Wix, Shopify, Squarespace and Weebly. There are many more. For example Godaddy also offers an online web builder. The Subscription Based platforms usually charge you a monthly fee and in case of Shopify which is an ecommerce platform, they also charge you a per transaction fee.
The most popular of the Non-Subscription Based platforms is WordPress. WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform, but people soon started using it for Web Design, due to its ease of use and availability of so many 3rd party templates and plugins. It is an open source and free platform, that is one reason of its success. You can do the most complex web design, just by buying templates that are usually in the $30 to $60 range. If your template does not have certain functionality that you would like, you can also usually download a free plugin or buy a plugin that does what you want. For example, there are several SEO plugins that make SEO of your site much easier, such as YOAST and All in One SEO Pack. This is why WordPress is my most favorite web design platform.
Ecommerce Platforms: WooCommerce, Magento, Shopify
If you would like ecommerce functionality, then you can use WooCommerce plugin, which is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress. WooCommerce would work well if you do not have too many items or inventory. In my opinion it is great for less than 100 items or maybe even less than 1000 items. But if you are going to have thousands of items, then Magento platform is more robust and it is also the preferred platform by most major etailers. Sites like Coca Cola, Nike and Christian Louboutin use Magento.
Magento offers 2 versions, Community Edition and Enterprise Edition. The first version is free and comes with no support, while the second version costs money, comes with support and premium features. The paid version would cost you $20K to $125k a year. So unless you are running a big company and have such a high budget, this is not the best option. You can read more details about the difference here.
The next most popular ecommerce platform choice is Shopify. As mentioned earlier Shopify will charge a monthly fee, plus a per transaction fee. But the transaction fees are something you would be paying with other platforms as well, because you would need a payment processor. Shopify simply becomes your payment processor when you use them. If you decide to use a different or additional payment processor with Shopify they will then charge you from 0.5% to 2% additional, depending on which version you choose. See more details here. Shopify is an easy to use platform and most people can even build their own websites by following online steps and tutorials. However, be advised that a professional web designer can usually create a much better looking site than if you do it on your own. But if budget is an issue and you don’t mind spending some time to learn, then you may want to choose this platform or one of the other Subscription Based platforms like Wix and Weebly.
Subscription Based Platforms and Online Web Builders : Wix, Weebly, Squarespace
So let’s talk about the other Subscription Based platforms like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace. Some like Weebly have free versions and some cost money. These platforms are usually easy to work with and provide online website builders. They all also offer ecommerce capabilities to sell items online. In general, I do not recommend any Subscription Based platforms, because you are stuck using that platform and if one day you decide to use a different platform, you need to start from scratch. You are also limited to the functionalities of these platforms and their 3rd party templates and plugins are not nearly as much as what WordPress has. SEO wise they may be harder to work with as they may not have as many functionalities that that WordPress plugins offers.
Other CMS Platforms : Joomla and Drupal
Finally, let’s talk about 2 other platforms that are Non-Subscription Based, which are Drupal and Joomla. Just like WordPress they are both open source CMS platforms. I personally have very limited experience with these, but they are both pretty popular and powerful platforms. However, because WordPress is more widely used and has the most 3rd party templates and plugins, I always recommend WordPress as the first choice to use to everyone.
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