There are thousands of good website platforms available, with more and more being released and improved upon as we hurtle through 2017. But which is the best content management system (CMS) for a small business? How can you decide which will work best for you?
While this area can certainly be daunting for anyone new to it, this guide aims to take the wealth of knowledge we have at Impression and cut it back into essential, digestible chunks that weigh up the pros and cons to help you decide which is the best platform for your business.
When operating as a small business, there are several key factors to consider and outline before constructing your website, including, and not limited to, design specification, budget and long term business aspirations. With the mass of CMS’s available, there will undoubtedly be one suited to your business.
Here are our 2017 favourites, picked to suit all pockets, whether you’re working in ecommerce, blogging or the service industry:
Once just a favoured tool of bloggers, WordPress is now widely adopted across the board – 75 million sites to be precise – equating to 27.5% of all websites worldwide, according to DMR. Used by large FTSE companies and startups alike, it’s the CMS of choice for our site here at Impression.
WordPress offers four different price plans, Business (£20.83 per month) being the premium boasts unlimited business theme templates, Google Analytics support and unlimited storage. For small businesses starting out there is a free to use, WordPress which in itself provides a good variety of themes and ready-made templates to choose from which cut costs and time taken to manually build a website.
Easy to Operate
Easy to learn how to use without the need for extensive programming knowledge, WordPress can easily create customized, media-rich sites. It also allows website changes to be made without HTML coding skills, making it easier to add pages, blog posts, media, products and change current content.
Additionally, WordPress has helpful guides and support for each area of their platform if you do find yourself stuck.
Plugins & Templates
Continual development of plugins means there is already a high probability that if you want to add additional features to your site, there is a plugin ready and available to do it for you. Add this to the fact WordPress offers more paid and unpaid themes than most other CMS’s around and its wide ranging use, you have a content management system that is well equipped to move with changes and trends in the web design industry.
Finally, regardless of who manages your website, due to the popularity and reach it’s highly unlikely they won’t be familiar with WordPress.
Search Engine Optimisation
SEO is of huge importance to small business in a densely populated and highly competitive online world. Good SEO principles need to be adopted by small businesses to be visible to their clients and drive traffic to the site, WordPress makes this area easier for users if SEO isn’t an area of expertise.
As previously touched on, many reliable plugins are available to download with WordPress to aid website optimisation, but Yoast is by far the most popular tool for SEO out there, making it easier for users to optimise their website for search.
These software updates are essential to protect your site from virus attacks and keep your website up to date for current browsers. It is advisable to take a backup copy of your website before updating your WordPress version, to protect against any problems in the unlikely event the update negatively affects your website.
Unfortunately these frequent updates do make it difficult for some plugins to cope with changes made to the WordPress software. Some will not operate the way they are intended to after said update.
If HTML or PHP isn’t a strength, then trying to get text and images to appear the way you want in the browser can be frustrating when making changes in the backend of WordPress.
WordPress offers many different templates and themes which is a great plus for this CMS. However, every theme is programmed differently, which can cost both time and money if it’s decided you want to make major changes to it.
It would take time for a developer to understand how the individual theme was made before being able to make accurate changes, running up a considerable cost.
If major changes to the theme in the future are foreseen, we would advise comparing the costs of building a new site from scratch to meet your specific requirements.
WordPress use at Impression
Although WordPress as standard is easy to use ‘out-of-the-box’, we at Impression take it a step further. But before we go into the finer details, less-experienced readers may wish to skip to the next CMS below as this may come across quite technical.
The Enterprise WordPress solution harnesses the ready-made software solution, backed by the largest Content Management System (CMS) community in the world, combined with a modern approach to web application development.
This approach allows us to build on WordPress as a scalable application framework, capable of anything from lead generation websites through to large multi-lingual ecommerce stores hosting 10,000’s of products.
We choose WordPress as our platform of choice, as it allows our clients to avoid vendor-specific lock-in and a lower total cost of ownership due to the non-existent licensing fees.
In addition to the industry standard features that makes WordPress our CMS of choice, our development team is able to rapidly extend the application’s feature set, providing a bespoke solution to meet your objectives.
The key aspect of our Enterprise WordPress development is that core WordPress is refactored as a web application. The entire codebase is version controlled and all extensions, plugins and third party software development kits (SDKs) are included as code dependencies. This approach is widely considered best practice for large development teams and plays well with additional code build processes and web services.
Due to the nature of this methodology, Impression produces applications that can be scalable across multiple servers and regions and also utilises best practice software deployment, such as continuous deployment with integrated testing.
We abstract the core WordPress feature set with the ability to create bespoke modular pages and extend site settings to handle complex content management requirements. This allows for a fully bespoke and flexible experience for both the content manager and the end user.
Search Engine Optimisation
As an award winning digital marketing agency, we fully understand any standard WordPress search engine optimisation limitations and have overcome these with our enterprise solutions. We install best-in-class optimisation software as well as configuring browser caching, file minification, 404 monitoring, URL redirection and the ability to mass edit page meta data.
WordPress, like all other popular software packages, has experienced security issues in the past. Impression’s approach to Enterprise WordPress removes and obfuscates elements of WordPress which may be deemed vulnerable to attack through the build process and extends core features through more robust security modules.
Almost all WordPress security issues are down to user permissions errors, issues in the server on which the site is hosted, or through the use of unaudited third party plugins. We use Wordfence as standard and our approach ensures that passwords are encrypted via more thorough code modules and we only include additional code libraries which we have audited extensively.
We offer a wide variety of extensions for our clients. These include, but are not limited to;
Multisite network installations, whereby a business may own a number of websites that can operate from a common codebase;
Multilingual installations, where a business may operate in a variety of regions, and need to server specific content to regional audiences;
Ecommerce installations, hosting 10,000’s of products and integrated with logistics solutions;
CRM (customer relationship management) installations, whether simply pushing data, or more complex two-way integrations;
And bespoke installations, where we work together to define a solution for a specific objective.
Businesses using WordPress
Savvy Woman has effectively used WordPress to build a website that offers smart money saving advice to women in a clear, easy to use fashion. The website is easily navigable and is aesthetically pleasing.
When deciding on the best CMS for your small business, Shopify might not be the first thought. It may even be confusing to mention Shopify in the same discussion as these other platforms. However, if your small business is fundamentally just products and sales then Shopify is a potential winner.
Seen by many as an add-on, you can use Shopify for just the cart experience and then connect to any of the other platforms discussed with plugins and modules.
Interestingly though, Shopify can do a lot more. Like WordPress, you can choose from themes with some customisation options or even have a custom theme of your own made by a developer. Moreover, it offers all the tools you need as a business owner built in: order fulfilment, reimbursements, payment processing in addition to optimised shopping cart experience.
For larger sites with more custom functionality, it wouldn’t be recommended. But for a small business site which is just products, categories, and a few one-off pages, then it can more than cope.
Shopify makes almost constant improvements and, because their platform is Software as a Service (SaaS), updates are pushed to your site as soon as they’re available.
Occasional updates to the Shopping Cart experience over-write any custom styles you may have put in place. This can cause headaches, but overall the changes are heavily researched in order to provide the optimal cart experience.
As a SaaS, Shopify is responsible for keeping your site going and currently reports an impressive 99.99% uptime.
Shopify is a great platform for a small eCommerce site, but if you want to expand and add unique content then it can get messy searching for a plugin that suits your needs, which may or may not exist.
Additionally, although many worthwhile themes are available, your chosen theme will dictate what content displays on a page. There are few customisation options available to administrators to add or remove sections of your pages.
Unlike the other options discusses, Shopify is a SaaS and charges a monthly fee. The monthly price varies but requires at least the Basic $29 per month plan, running up to the Advanced $299 per month package, that comes with advanced report builder, shipping discounts and third-party calculated shipping rates.
It is worth noting that the Basic plan includes hosting fees and support, which is often not included with the other platforms.
Initially, it can be relatively easy to set up a Shopify website if an existing theme takes your fancy. Once you get into custom themes, working with a front-end developer will come in handy.
Further, when it comes to ecommerce there can be a lot going on, such as processing payments and updating inventor. It won’t be easy to get to grips with all the features from the get go.
Businesses using Shopify
Plumen uses Shopify to sell its designer low energy lighting products effectively using a reliable CMS. The business opted for Shopify when building the Plumen website due to the stability it provides for an ecommerce business.
Craft CMS is the new kid on the block that continues to go from strength to strength, offering a powerful and flexible platform to rival both WordPress and Drupal, but with less code to support. Boasting strong reviews from designers, developers and clients that have found the CMS easy to learn and use, it’s a great option for new websites.
As a newer platform, Craft has already ironed out a lot of the challenges it was faced with in its infancy. Their burgeoning reputation is helped, in no small part, by the fact that Craft comes with a large dedicated team of professionals continually working to update the product.
The Craft Updates page offers an insightful look at the new features, bug fixes, and refinements the team has already achieved.
Continued progression is achievable through outsourcing underlying foundation code development. The PHP framework, for example, was written by Yii, a modern, robust and expertly maintained by an independent team in its own right. By avoiding the overhead of developing all underlying code themselves, Craft’s developers can concentrate on really improving their own product.
Along with continually improving the product, Craft also has a wealth of places to get information, learn, ask for help or find an answer. They have official documentation, an official support forum, Friday Craft live chat and independant tutorials, such as that by Mijingo’s, all readily available.
As well all this, you can you can reach out on twitter with the #craftcms hashtag to ask questions and follow the latest updates from a very responsive social team.
Craft incorporates a load of great features for no added charge that would normally cost a considerable amount in 3rd-party add-ons. A few of the most useful and powerful include:
- Matrix, which allows for almost unlimited flexibility in laying out complex web views.
- Redactor, rich text editor is best-in-class and easy to extend and customize.
- Live Preview, no more need for two tabs open to edit, save, switch, refresh, repeat.
Unlike WordPress, Drupal and Joomla!, Craft is not free. Although a Personal License is free this is limited to only one user account. More realistically a Pro License is a one-off cost of $299 that covers you for life.
Although there is an undeniable following of people who are excited about making plugins for Craft, it does fall a fair way short of the developer community surrounding other, more established, CMS’s. A good community is essential for supplementing a platform’s core features and makes the original more valuable (likened to Apple’s App Store).
While there’s not an official plugin store yet, there are some that are pretty close and for such a new CMS, there are still some high-quality, useful plugins available. Notable mentions include the SEO plugin, Amazon S3, Contact Form and Admin bar. The scale of available plugins just doesn’t yet compare to that of major rival platforms.
Businesses using Craft
VIA are the largest hosted Skype for Business provider in the UK and use Craft CMS as their platform, to create an effective and informative website. It is simple to understand and clearly communicates what they offer as a business. They have incorporated a range of media across their site including video and images using a template provided by Craft CMS.
Drupal is a content management framework written in PHP. PHP being the most popular scripting language for web development, this is open sourced and server-sided, meaning the code is executed on the server. Drupal’s continued development has seen it rise to one of the most popular and complex open-source CMS’s on the market.
Although Drupal can be navigated with no programming experience for basic use, it is best known as a developing platform than as a simple CMS tool, which means it’s predominantly used by more advanced developers because of its very sophisticated programming interface.
Functionality and Flexibility
The customisable and powerful platform that Drupal offers is undoubtedly a major advantage, making simple or more advanced websites possible, including blogs, social networking pages, discussion boards and more. The use of tools including advanced menu management, polls management, graphics modification tool and users management give wide choices of added features to users.
As well as enhanced functionality over other CMS’s, Drupal also offers a great amount of flexibility and can handle many content types such a videos, polls, user management, podcasts, statistics as well as text.
Plugins & Customisation
Drupal, like all good CMS’s, has thousands of plugins at your disposal and, being an open source platform, it has the ability for you to create your own plugins to use on your website. The script includes graphics management, allowing you to make simple or more complex page configurations.
Drupal offers a good network of support to users, with documentation and mailing lists available and a homepage filled with discussions boards.
Search Engine Optimisation
Regarded as one of the most SEO-friendly CMS’s available, Drupal has a module designed specifically for this purpose. The SEO tools integrate keyword research, management and extraction, architectural enhancements, content optimization, reports and tagging, link management and more.
Free to use.
Not for Beginners
There is a steeper learning curve with Drupal over other CMS’s, so those starting out may be overwhelmed by its complexity, especially if they don’t have a background in web development.
Difficult Installation & Modification
Drupal has been criticised for the user interface being more difficult than Joomla! or WordPress, with the need for advanced knowledge for installation and modification.
Scalability & Efficiency
When it comes to scalability and efficiency, Drupal falls behind other scripts again, such as WordPress. Large websites will generate a bigger server load but this can be decreased using plugins that load a website to the server’s cache.
Businesses using Drupal
Harvey Water Softeners is the UK’s number one water softener and uses Drupal as its CMS. The business has chosen Drupal to visually demonstrate what their product does and the purpose of the product is very clear on their website.
At one point, Joomla! was the fastest growing and most widely used CMS around, but in recent years has seen a plateau in the percentage of websites choosing to use it, compared to the likes of WordPress. That being said, Joomla! is still used by 3.3% of all websites (6.8% of sites where CMS can be determined) according to W3Techs, offering an easy-to-use, powerful content management system.
Combining some of Drupal and WordPress’ traits already discussed, Joomla! provides some incredible benefits for small businesses who need a CMS, and can be relied upon as their business grows. Although, like any content management platform, it’s not without its disadvantages.
Joomla’s framework is written entirely in PHP, the most common scripting language there is, meaning pages should have few compatibility issues and display well. As well as this, the handy preview mode allows you to check the display of your website beforehand.
Ready to Use
Like with WordPress, Joomla! is ready to use right ‘out-of-the-box’ and can be installed in a matter of minutes. However, although anyone can download and use Joomla! from the internet, the installation process is significantly more difficult than WordPress. Additionally, although the admin interface is advanced, it’s still relatively user-friendly.
An added bonus with Joomla! Is the URL structures do not use query strings. This means that sites have much neater, simpler URLs that are SEO crawler friendly. For example, looking like ‘/dresses’ rather than a more complex URL such as ‘/index.php?title=Main_page=action-raw-PND_Dress’. As well as aesthetically preferable, it’s an important SEO consideration. These simpler URLs are crawled more easily by search engines bots and allow for quicker identification of the page and its content. They also prevent duplicate content as a result of the lack of query strings.
Features, Templates & Extensions
Where Joomla! falls short on modules and templates in comparison to Drupal, with significantly more plugins it allows for more personalised modification. WordPress is undoubtedly the CMS with the most plugins, however there’s definitely functionality built straight into Joomla!, meaning fewer plugins are required.
Another great feature; Joomla! can support more than two-level hierarchies using a more complex navigation pattern. Compare this to WordPress, which is simply not designed with hierarchies in mind, Joomla! can provide more in-depth sites with the opportunity to grow further.
Free to use.
Joomla! was designed for those with limited website building knowledge to use with simple websites and blogs, but it still presents a steep learning curve – More so than WordPress, though less than Drupal. Additionally, for those with more knowledge that are looking to build a truly bespoke website with complex infrastructures, this isn’t the best option.
This CMS relies heavily on using a large amount of server resources when compared to rivals. Although this means a couple of sites can be successfully run together, slow loading times may be a problem because of the resources used.
Search Engine Optimisation
The use of SEO-friendly URLs does not make up for the fact that Joomla! doesn’t cater for SEO overall like WordPress and Drupal when it comes to optimising your site for search engines. Out-of-the-box Joomla! isn’t very SEO friendly but this can be changed using the JoomSEF plugin installed. Be warned though, some of the plugins cost, unlike competitors.
Businesses using Joomla!
Boxtopia, a popular bespoke cardboard box supplier, used Joomla! when creating the website for the easy, ready to use aspect of the CMS.
Big Cartel is an eCommerce platform specifically targeted at artists and small businesses looking for an easy way to sell their products online. Currently, 250,000 stores are hosted by Big Cartel, with artists and small businesses from around the world running most of these.
Big Cartel doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other platforms but it’s is as easy as possible to use. The features remain pretty basic whilst still providing everything you need to run an online store.
The small number of features offered by Big Cartel, while limited in comparison to other options, makes it much easier to use. Whether you have years of coding experience or you’re a novice creating your first site, Big Cartel is extremely easy to use; there is something for everyone.
After the initial basic steps of your site are set up, even with no coding experience you can easily delve into customisation and quite quickly create a great online store. Following that you can progress to modifying the HTML and CSS codes to your personal liking.
Big Cartel offers some of the most competitive prices for an eCommerce platform, with four different pricing plans. The cheapest plan is free, while priciest plan still costs less than $30 per month.
Of course, you get what you pay for. In this case, the free plan has limitations, only allowing you to sell five products, comes with the most basic customisation options and instead of your own domain you are forced to use a bigcartel.com URL.
The second cheapest plan ($9.99 per month) however, is a realistic option for small business, enabling the sale of up to 25 products with full customisation options when designing your site. It also comes with inventory tracking as well as your own personal domain.
Plugins & Templates
Big Cartel offers a limited number of different themes in comparison to competitors. As unique branding is a huge part of selling online, this is a considerable drawback.
Alternatively, it is possible to search for Big Cartel themes through Google to find some solutions from third-party sellers. This process works similar to that of WordPress where you buy the themes separate to the platform. It’s certainly not the simplest and easiest process for finding themes, but at least it provides more options.
As with Craft CMS, the number of associated plugins is limited due to the smaller following and community associated with Big Cartel.
You can almost rule out the Big Cartel free plan as it comes with no inventory management, but all other plans inventory tracking is included as a standard feature. However, a real issue for users is once you have listed a product name and the URL is subsequently created, there is no changing it.
This means that no editing or optimisation of the URLs post-conception is possible, which is an obvious inconvenience long term but also places a greater importance on selecting the right product names from the get go before creating a page.
Big Cartel provides access to their help site, which is informative and helpful full of well-written content and FAQs, as well as several videos to help make the site creation process easier.
However, they are the only CMS company that does not offer phone or chat support. Instead, they are only contactable directly by email, and only between Monday – Friday 9 am to 6 pm.