You can get a free web site and make it yourself, or you can pay a design firm hundreds of thousands of dollars, or there are a ton of options in between!
I’ll lay out the main choices for you. I’m biased but I’ll try to keep it factual…
Free or Paid?
There are some free options, Google Sites for example. (Technically Google Sites is only free for personal use, but you might be able to swing it.)
If you just want a quick business card/flyer style site this could be a good option.
Get Help or DIY?
DIY is free, I get it.
Whether it’s an efficient use of your time or not is another question.
Consider some pros and cons of DIY:
- You’ll save money.
- It feels good to create and publish something yourself.
- You’ve got to pick the right platform to use.
- You’ve got to pick an appropriate template/theme.
- The site builders can be tricky if you’re not used to them.
- You’ve got to work out what info to put up, and how to organise it.
- You’ve got to do all the content entry yourself.
- Your site may not reflect your brand.
- Your site may not be able to do everything you want it to.
- Ultimately your site may not boost your business like you hoped.
Right, well that got a bit lopsided. You probably wouldn’t be here if you aren’t looking for help!
All-in-One or Self Hosted?
All-in-One services provide premade themes and usually visual site building tools, and they host your site on their servers and take care of all the maintenance. EGs: Wix, Squarespace, Shopify.
Self Hosted means you (or someone like me) sets up your site on a server that you’re paying for separately, and you (or someone like me) are responsible for maintaining the site and keeping the software up to date.
- Site’s can be created quickly.
- You rarely have to worry about technical stuff.
- All the available features should work well together.
- For simple sites the price is comparable to self hosting, but if you want extra features it gets more expensive. For example Squarespace charge about $200/yr for their basic plan, but over $600/yr to get all the ecommerce features.
- You’re limited to the available themes. You can customise them but you may not end up with an exact match for your goals and visual identity.
- You’re limited to the available features. Generally they offer a good range, but you may have to compromise.
Self Hosted Pros
- Generally cheaper. I charge $120/yr, but if you’re happy to organise it yourself it would be less. (To be fair though, certain features may require premium plugins so the cost can grow for self hosted sites too.)
- Very flexible. If there’s a feature you want it’s almost certainly possible. If there’s a look you want it can be created.
Self Hosted Cons
- Some prior knowledge helps. Non-technical people will generally need some help.
- If something breaks your site you (or someone like me helping you) have to fix it.
This one is pretty even.
If your site will be fairly basic and you’re hoping to do all the management and updating yourself, an all-in-one service can be a good choice. Webflow is a fairly new one that I’ve heard good things about, maybe check them out first.
If your site will be complex or you want a specific look, and you’re happy to get some ongoing help, I suggest self hosted.
Generally the sites I make for clients are self hosted, and usually I manage the hosting and help with the upkeep. But I’ve also helped set up some all-in-one sites and the clients are happy with them.
CMS or Static?
CMSs – Content Management Systems – are software applications that create website pages dynamically, and can change content depending on how each visitor is using the site. For example a shopping cart page shows different products according to what each visitor is buying. WordPress is a common CMS and the one I usually use for clients.
The pages of static sites don’t change, everyone sees the same thing.
You only have to make this decision for self hosted sites – all-in-one services generally have their own CMS built in.
- You can log in to a CMS and update and add content yourself.
- Content updates are quicker for developers too (so cheaper!)
- They enable dynamic content like online shops and payments, memberships, comments, etc.
- They’re easy to extend – you can start simple and add features later.
- The software is constantly being improved (which is good), but it means some semi-regular maintenance is required to keep it up to date and secure.
- Much less maintenance. Much less to go wrong.
- Fewer security risks (there’s usually nothing important to be stolen).
- Can set and forget.
- Very difficult for non-technical people to update or add to.
This one is pretty simple – for all but the simplest of sites go with a CMS.
Custom or Premade?
The design of a site can be custom built from scratch, or you can start with an existing premade template or theme.
- The goals of your site determine the design.
- Your site’s appearance can closely match your brand.
- Extra plugins can be customised to closely match your brand.
- Fast and streamlined – only includes what you need.
- Major and minor changes are much easier/faster for the developer.
- More expensive initially.
- Design changes may be difficult for you (and possibly for other developers, depending on the tools they use).
- Cheaper than a custom theme.
- Initial development time is shorter.
- There are some beautiful themes available.
- The goals of your site must be ‘shoehorned’ into an existing design. This may or may not be problematic.
- Major design changes can be difficult/impossible for you or me.
- Your site’s appearance may not exactly reflect your brand.
- It can be difficult to style extra third party page templates, from plugins for example.
- Many have lots of superfluous functionality and code that isn’t required.
- If the chosen theme or template requires future updates or security fixes you’re dependent on the original author releasing a new version, and if they don’t you may have to transfer the whole site to a new theme or template. (This is true of custom themes too though, but to a much lesser extent as custom themes don’t have nearly as much that can go wrong.)
This can be hard to decide.
I’m strongly biased towards custom themes, because:
- I hate trying to hack another person’s design and coding to fit a client’s needs.
- When clients come back with new ideas and request new features for their site it’s so much quicker and easier and cheaper for me to implement them.
- I prefer things just right, without compromise!
But if you (or we) find a theme that you like the look of and will meet your forseeable needs, then by all means go for it.
This one is your call.