It can be so overwhelming, can't it? You know you need a website but then it's trying to sift through tons of conflicting data as to which platform to choose! So frustrating. And it can be brainwashing too. Your friend has a gorgeous website and you want one just like it, but then you find out it cost $35k and you don't have $35k. Now what?!
NOTE: If you don't feel like reading this and just want to contact me, we can probably chat for 10-15 minutes and determine the platform that would be best for you.
There are a few different types of website platforms. Based on popularity and ease of understanding, we'll focus on two types.
1. Self-Hosted Content Management Systems (CMS) like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress.
- These sites are installed on your own server.
- Each has their strengths and weaknesses.
- The software itself is free.
- Hiring someone to build it out is not free.
- Many third-party extensions/plugins/components are not free.
- It's not build it and forget it; ongoing maintenance is required.
2. Software as a Service (SaaS) Sites like Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, and Weebly.
- These sites are proprietary software that the company hosts in exchange for a monthly fee.
- Typically you own the content and images and they own the template.
- There are pros and cons to each of these platforms.
- You might be able to build these yourself. You might want to pay a designer to do so for you.
- There are not plugins that are optional on these platforms. It either comes with what you need or it doesn't. I think you may be able to do some development with some of these to extend the functionality, but for the most part, it's what it comes with is what you get.
- There isn't ongoing maintenance required. Because the company maintains the servers, they do the updates and take care of security.
- You could build it and forget it. (A website is never "done.")
Let's start with money
This is the easiest determining factor. Ask yourself:
Q: Do you have a budget for ongoing maintenance for software and security updates? This can be anywhere from $25-$100/mo or more for a complex configuration.
A: If the answer is yes, then you have more choices. If the answer is no, then go with a SaaS solution. You can always move to a self-hosted CMS when you grow and have the budget for them.
Q: Do you have an IT staff?
A: If yes, then you can have Drupal if you want it. If you don't, and you don't have a massive budget, I would advise against Drupal. It's massive. Boy can it do some cool stuff, but you really need to have a programmer or an IT staff to really maintain it well, or a large budget to pay a developer.
Q: Do you have the budget to pay someone to build your site?
A: If yes, you have more options. If no, then I suggest you go with a SaaS solution so that you can give a go to building it yourself. Some say you can build a WordPress site by yourself with no experience. Believe me, you'll get frustrated. You'll spend hours trying to learn what you need to and then it won't even look that great. Save yourself some headaches and go with Squarespace (I think they have the nicest templates).
Next, think funtionality
Q: Do you need an ecommerce store/shopping cart?
A: If yes, I'd suggest Spotify or Squarespace. The reason I say this is because hosting a store without having the proper security measures in place on your server environment could be devastating. Shopify and Squarespace have their firewalls in place to protect your visitors account information. They have what it takes to be PCI-compliant already established on their servers. If you use some lame shared host and load a WP or Joomla site in there and take credit card numbers, well, it just scares the hell out of me. Best have a PayPal option or you'll lose security savvy people as soon as they get to the checkout. I'd rather spend more on the product and get it through Amazon than put my credit card number into some shared hosting account's store. Shopify and Squarespace are the right tools for the job. Then you can do what you need to for your business instead of dealing with your server environment and always being scared.
NOTE: I do not build ecommerce websites.
Q: Do you need custom components?
A custom component/plugin/extension is when you need functionality not available in what comes in core (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress). Perhaps you need to pull data from a different database or display something in a completely different way. Maybe you found a plugin/component/extension that comes close but now you need to change it rather a lot. That's what a custom component is.
A: If you need a custom component, I'd stick with Drupal or Joomla...or WordPress. These types of sites lend themselves to being able to customise and use the API to build custom components to do exactly what you need them to do. Personally, I'm partial to Joomla. Drupal is too hard for most users to manage. WordPress just does so little out of the box, you'd be having to write a lot (WordPress people will say this isn't so). In an effort to be fair, I'd suggest Joomla or WordPress. I just think Joomla's code base is cleaner and better suited for writing custom extensions (and I think, more secure).
Q: Do you need custom User Groups or Access Control Lists?
What this means is that you have User Groups who are only allowed to DO certain actions/tasks on the site. ACLs can only SEE certain things on the site. For example, if you have a school and the Athletics Dept is allowed to add/edit content only for the Athletic Category. Or you have Athletic STUDENTS who once logged in can SEE certain content only that group can see.
A: Go with Joomla. Out of the box Joomla has incredible User Group Management and Access Control Lists. It's so flippin' cool. I understand WordPress has a plugin for this...but now you've got yet another plugin to maintain. Joomla comes with this robust User Management in core. Drupal will have it too - it's just not many can afford to maintain Drupal long term.
Q: Do you need a multilingual site?
A: Go with Joomla. Yes, WP does it too with yet another plugin. But Joomla does it out of the box. I don't actually know how Drupal handles it. Apologies.
Q: Do you just need a basic site with social media integration, a mailing list, gallery/slideshow, maybe an events/calendar?
A: Pretty much any of the sites will work for you. It's really all about your site goals, along with budget, and your ability to keep your site up to date.