Every business needs a website to act as the hub of their online existence. A report back in 2012 reported that 60% of small business in the UK had no web presence, despite the obvious advancement of the internet through public wifi, social media and mobile devices. Some businesses still believe that their organisation is an offline entity, but in reality, having a website gives you an array of benefits.
- Provide an opportunity to connect with audiences – A website is a public-facing platform to illustrate your business and brand.
- Improves accessibility – potential customers can learn more about your business, your brand, product and services 24/7.
- Highlights you to a global and local audience – Potential customers from all over the world can view your website, but more importantly, having a website will boost your local profile and is more likely to attract business from a local/regional audience.
Today, most websites are built integrating content management systems which allow those with a moderate technical understanding to upload content on a regular basis. We liken this to the same learning curve as using a standard desktop word processing application. The ability to edit your own website gives you freedom to broadcast your business’ message, giving you a voice over your competitors within your industry.
What is a content management system?
A content management system, or CMS as it is usually abbreviated to, is essentially software that enables users to change the content, images and look and feel of a website with very little technical understanding of code.
Typically content management systems come in two flavours; paid-for premium services & platforms, and open source code bases which can be installed to any web server free of charge.
No matter which solution you are considering, once installed the full power will be realised. Many CMS’ also come with additional ‘plugins’ or ‘modules’ that offer additional functionality, such as social media posting, organising contact forms and email lists or taking bookings.
Bespoke versus off the shelf
Either your website is built specifically to your requirements from the ground up as a bespoke solution, or you customise existing software towards your requirements. Bespoke software will require more time to build and is usually associated with a significant cost. It can be useful, if you have a unique method or process attached to the way in which your customers interact with your business online. Bespoke development is usually the domain of larger organisations who have the resources to either outsource development to an agency or have the ability to manage it completely in-house. For small business, you will almost certainly require assistance from an agency. They will be tied to the website and will be needed if any future enhancements are needed to make, it can be difficult to hand over to another company.
By contrast, off the shelf software is designed to be readily usable and adaptable from day one. Consequently, it is often the more cost effective solution. In terms of off the shelf software there are many platforms that can provide you with a professional looking website. We have provided a rundown of the 5 most popular content management systems.
WordPress is the most popular CMS on the market, and is the foundation of over 60 million websites including our own. Originally, WordPress started as a blogging platform but gradually evolved into a full CMS package. The main reason behind its popularity is its large user base and its open source nature, meaning that anybody can help advance the core code or additional code bases. In addition it is free to use, but if you want access to additional premium templates or to host your own domain, you will have some small costs to calculate. A premium account on WordPress.com – an ideal way to circumvent using a web developer – costs only £25 per year.
There is a thriving community behind WordPress and a large library of plugins that have been developed specifically for the platform to introduce brand new functions to your website, whether that is higher quality image galleries or SEO monitoring tools. In the hands of an experienced developer, WordPress is extremely flexible for creating functional aesthetically impressive websites. Going to the WordPress showcase WordPress showcase gives you a sense of just what is possible with the platform.
To make the most out of all the plugins, you will have to know what you are looking for. This isn’t too difficult to find, as there is a very wide skill base is out there.
Drupal is often favoured for more complex websites, since it allows for a greater deal of customisation and integration. Whilst WordPress would require the installation of additional plugins, quite often Drupal has it from the beginning. Websites that require the integration of large datasets are often built in Drupal.
Sometimes the very uttering of the word ‘Drupal’ causes many a developer to groan due to its inherent difficulties in developing. Drupal isn’t very user-friendly and will require advanced PHP and coding knowledge that greatly extends understanding associated with WordPress. Some will argue that Drupal is less efficient and stable as other platforms. As a general rule, the bigger the website, the more likely the script with generate a large server load.
Joomla is usually placed in between WordPress and Drupal in terms of easiness of use and capabilities of development. If your website is going to be more complex than your standard WordPress site, but you don’t want to bother with the complexities of Drupal, go for Joomla!
The main disadvantages with Joomla come in the form of limitations in its adjustment options, not as limited as WordPress but less comprehensive than Drupal. For the most part, Joomla is free to develop on and comes with over 100 plugins. Other more dedicated plugins will require purchasing however, sometimes developers will have to spend time looking for a free alternative.
Google has a host of free apps that are all extremely valuable for small businesses. Among the most popular apps are Gmail, Drive, Google Docs and Google Sites, which allows you to build your own website for free. Google sites is extremely easy to use, requiring no programming experience to use. You simply pick the name of your website and a basic layout. From there, it operates similarly to google docs, allowing you to add and update your pages through a word processor.
The main problems, however, is that Google sites isn’t capable of producing a truly professional website that leaves an impression with the user. It may be better served as a blog, but there are even better solutions for this basic purpose. Each site url must begin with sites.google.com/site/ before the name of your own domain, which is too long and extremely seo unfriendly.
There are numerous Website builder tools out there, which allow you to create a website without knowledge in programming. Traditionally they fall under two categories: online proprietary tools provided by web hosting companies and offline tools that allow you to upload pages to your host. Examples date back to Dreamweaver but today, Web.com, Weebly, GoDaddy and Squarespace all come recommended. These platforms allow you to construct a homepage and all other pages through an array of templates that allow for a degree of customisation.
Again, this software is very limited, but it is possible for a one man startup to create something fairly presentable without contracting a web developer. Web builders will usually require a monthly fee to unlock additional features and maintain websites.
As far as off the shelf systems for small businesses go, our pick would always be WordPress. This is because of its large user base and community coupled with its general ease of use. It is entirely possible to create a decent looking responsive website that provides a high level of user experience for a reasonable cost.