If you’re wondering which platform to choose for your website, you are not alone. It’s one of the most common questions I hear among business owners and would-be bloggers.
Bottom Line: If your business is strictly product sales, choose Shopify. For (almost) all else, choose a self-hosted WordPress site.
Let me break down the reasons why by covering the pros, cons, and the lowest cost associated with each platform.
WordPress is an open-source content management system that’s been around since 2003. Not to be confused with WordPress.com which is a hosted blog platform. I don’t advise using WordPress.com because it’s very limited and really only for a basic website because it doesn’t allow for much customization. What I’ll be referring to is a self-hosted WordPress site.
- Free to use. Most hosting platforms have a one-click install or you can download from WordPress.org. You’ll only pay for hosting fees which do vary, but are less than any other platform listed here which often charge a premium for functions that would be free on WordPress, like e-commerce.
- Extremely customizable. There are loads of functions and plugins you can add on to a WordPress site or you can edit the code itself to build a completely custom site. The possibilities are almost limitless. You can sell products, add booking capabilities, chat forums, members-only areas, create courses, quizzes, pop-ups, landing pages, sales funnels – it does it all. Even if you just need something basic for now, think of the possibilities for your business or blog in 2-5 years from now.
- Easy to use. It is overwhelming at first, as I’ve noted in the cons section. But the reality is anything new has a learning curve. There are themes that have visual builders, like Theme.co Pro, which make it really easy to drag and drop content onto a page, and the new Gutenberg editor makes posting for your blog a cinch.
- Over 27% of websites use WordPress. That means it’s really easy to find help or tutorials. Plus other digital services like MailChimp or PayPal often tailor their products to work with WordPress. The other platforms make up less than 1% of all websites combined! That’s a huge difference in market share.
- You own your site. You can duplicate your site, keep a copy on your computer, move it to another host provider, take it off line for a year and then make it public again. With WordPress, you’re the owner of all the code that goes into making your site.
- Digital ads. WordPress is so easy to add Google AdManager and other ads to your site. Maybe you’re thinking “I don’t need ads on my site”, well let me tell you, if you ever get to the point where you have enough traffic to make a little extra cha-ching from a blog post, you will regret not being able to.
- Social media ads. Have you heard of Facebook pixels and event codes? They allow you do do custom advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Other networks have them too, like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. While the other non-WordPress platforms allow you to put on the basic Facebook pixel, they do not allow for the real juicy stuff like event codes and conversion pixels which will give you better results with your digital ads. Again, you may be thinking “I don’t need to use social media advertising”, but why limit yourself out the gate in case you need it in the future?
- Search engine optimization. There’s a lot to cover as to why WordPress is the best for SEO. I could probably write a whole post about just that. To save time I’ll highlight two main benefits. The first is microdata which, among other things, allows you to tag your business to a certain location to help you come up in a local search. The other is the ability to properly format your page and URL structure so content is easily understood by search bots. Just trust me when I say WordPress is way better for SEO.
- Security. Because it’s open source and there are a wide range of plugins you can add, WordPress is subject to security flaws once you start adding plugins and non-WordPress made themes. But don’t worry – you can keep your site secure with some of these tips: Only use plugins you can find on WordPress.org, choose plugins and themes from developers that do regular updates and provide some kind of support, use strong passwords and complex usernames (not “Admin”), use security features like iThemes Security and/or JetPack, keep regular back-ups of your site, and consider subscribing to a security plan from your host provider.
- Overwhelming at first. It is easy to use once you get the hang of it. But it is by far the most overwhelming because it’s so flexible, you have access to all the options right there on the dashboard.
- Longer to launch. Because of the ability to go deep into customization it can take a little longer to set up. But I launched my blog, Canada Burgers, in about an hour because I just used all the default settings. So it really depends on what you’re looking to do.
- No official support. Although there are millions of tutorials and help forums to get advice, there is no official customer support for WordPress. Many host providers offer support which could be free or paid, but for the most part you’re on your own. It helps to find a great web developer you can outsource or ask questions to if you’re going to be on WordPress.
Technically, it can be done for free
You could build your own server and host your site for free. But most people won’t do that because of the technical hurdle and maintenance nightmare, and instead will pay for hosting. Typically, people spend about $10/month for a reliable host and about $20 to register a domain name. For hosting, I recommend Websavers if you’re in Canada, and Bluehost if you’re elsewhere in North America. Those are affiliate links, but I also use both of them for my own websites and client sites and I can say they both have great customer service and up-time.
Shopify is an e-commerce platform with its own payment processor built in that launched in 2006. It’s incredibly easy to get started selling online. Because it was built for e-commerce, I recommend it if your business is exclusively product-based.
- Built for e-commerce. That means everything about it is thoughtfully designed to lead to a sale and you don’t have to worry about setting up the cart or checkout pages like you would with WordPress and some other platforms.
- Easy to design. Shopify has thousands of themes to choose from and because they’re designed to get you selling right away, once your products are loaded you really only have to lay out your home page using pre-made sections and you’re ready to go.
- Sell off-site. You can also use the platform as an inventory management system and sell from a brick and mortar store, or on the go at a pop-up market, as well as online. Your website product inventory will update automatically to reflect the sale off-site and mark a product as “out-of-stock”.
- Security. Because the hosting and payment is taken care of by Shopify, they’re taking security very seriously. You don’t have to do anything extra except make a strong password and keep your login info safe.
- 24/7 support. They have an amazing customer service team you can call, email, or online chat with any time of day.
- Trusted developers. There is a vetting program for web developers and designers that allow them to apply and be certified as Shopfiy Experts. They also keep a directory of them. This means you can find a web designer who is accredited vs. someone who just pretends they know what they’re doing.
- Not for regular websites. Shopify really is an e-commerce platform, so if your website doesn’t sell products or only sells a few products then you’re better off with WordPress.
- You don’t own your site. Your content lives on Shopify and realistically, you could be shut down without warning at any time. You don’t have the ability to keep a copy of your website, leaving you SOL if you want to move platforms or get blacklisted.
- Requires special developers. It uses a language called Liquid to build out some of their on-page dynamic content. It means that not any web designer can work on your website. You’ll need to find someone who is familiar with Liquid.
- Product organization can get… messy. This is less of a con and more of a warning. Product sorting and variants can get really complex with all the ways they can be associated with each other, including sizing, colours, materials, brands, etc. Before building your site, you’ll want to have a strong sense of how products will be organized and ordered otherwise your store will get confusing and frustrating for customers.
$348 per year
The Shopify basic plan is currently $29 per month plus a fee of $0.30 + 2.9% per transaction (which is the standard rate among all payment processors).
Squarespace also started in 2003 as a hosting company. It didn’t become the easy to use drag and drop builder it is today until a surge of venture capital in 2014. It’s known for beautiful, easy-to-make websites. The major drawback of Squarespace is that it has traded ease of use for flexibility and function.
- Really easy to use. They’ve paired down web design to its basic elements for those who would otherwise get flop sweat trying to set up their website.
- Beautiful themes. One thing I like about Squarespace is I’ve never seen an ugly theme. On WordPress, there are ugly themes. But Squarespace seems to have a magical ability to start off looking good. That’s not to say you can’t make it ugly (you can) but they start off beautiful.
- Limited. Because Squarespace has been simplified for the masses, it’s also very limited in what you have access to customize, layout choices, and integrating other services.
- No special code allowed. This means no digital ads, no special tracking pixels, no microdata, and very limited integration with other services and software.
- You don’t own your site. Your content lives on Squarespace and you don’t have the ability to keep a copy of your website. If you ever want to change platforms or take a break in paying the fees, you’ll be starting from scratch.
- Text-only customer support. The only options for customer support is email and live chat during certain day/times. Let’s face it, if you’re non-techy and you need help, it’s way easier to hop on the phone and talk to someone.
- Search engine optimization. Sure you can do the off-site SEO stuff like inbound link building and traffic generating. But any on-page SEO is where it falls apart. You can’t do microdata at all, which is of paramount importance with local SEO. Then weird things happen with permalinks and formatting that make good on-page SEO impossible on Squarespace. At Geek Unicorn, we won’t take an SEO client if their site is on Squarespace. It wouldn’t be worth their investment in the long-run.
$144 per year
Squarespace can be as little as $12 per month for their basic plan when you pay annually. It even comes with free registration of a non-premium domain name.
Wix is a funny little website builder that started in 2006. Originally the code that ran Wix wasn’t actually what real websites were made of. It was almost like a parlor trick of code to make the site go from design to live. You’ll need to be a tech geek to appreciate it, but just trust me when I say it wasn’t normal. It was the first drag and drop builder I ever encountered back in the day and a lot has changed since it first launched. For instance, it now uses normal website coding language to make a real website.
- Drag and drop. While all of the platforms have drag and drop builders, Wix is designed with drag and drop in mind and almost makes it feel fun.
- Free to use. You can set up a Wix site for free. They’ll even provide a domain name for you. If you want to choose your domain name, you’ll have to get one of their paid plans.
- Limited. It’s also very limited in what you have access to customize, and the layout can quickly get wonky. Forget about integrating other services because it won’t work.
- No special code allowed. Like Squarespace, this means no digital ads, no special tracking pixels, no microdata, and very limited integration with other services and software.
- You don’t own your site. Your content lives on Wix and you don’t have the ability to keep a copy of your website.
- Search engine optimization. The SEO ability is lacking. Anything beyond super basic stuff is not possible. A Wix site won’t do well in a search against any competition.
You can have a super basic free Wix website if you want. This makes Wix the ideal choice for non-business individuals or groups to create an informational site, or start-up businesses who need a simple site to test their market.
Other platforms include Weebly, or Joomla, etc. which typically suffer from flexibility, limited functions, and SEO issues, making WordPress a better choice as a website platform in the long-run.
Website builders made for a specific function, like Kajabi for online-courses or Infusionsoft for the customer management system are very expensive (at least $1,200 per year) and their web design capabilities are limited because the purpose is the service as a software, not as a flexible website builder. I only recommend those types of builders if your business relies on their services as your primary source of revenue.
For most small business owners and bloggers I recommend WordPress because of the flexibility. For businesses that are product-based and need a robust e-commerce site, I recommend Shopify. For digital businesses, like coaches and course creators, I recommend choosing a platform that will deliver the customer management system you need to run your business, like Kajabi.
I suggest you start where you’re comfortable and take a phased approach if you need. Phase one might be a free Wix site because that’s all you can afford. Or maybe it is using Squarespace because it’s quick to set up and you need something ready for an event this weekend. Phase two would be to move to a long-term solution like WordPress.
Whichever you choose, I encourage you to take your business and your online presence seriously. Your website is the calling-card for your brand online. Consider where you want your business or blog to be in the future, how you’ll market your site, how you want your clients to use your site, and which platform will serve you best in the long-run.
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