Whether you are just starting out or growing to the next phase, it's that dreaded time in your business lifecycle -- you must build a website. You start researching what the requirements are for a modern website and you come across all sorts of fancy terms like responsive, canvas animations, CDNs and the list goes on. There is, however, one question that is often times given far too little attention and that is: what platform do you build your new website on?
There are many variables that go into answering this question like understanding what you want the shelf-life of your website to be. You need to know whether you are having one person maintain the site, a team, the whole company or even an outside agency. You also need to understand the scope of the functionality for your site because a basic informational website is very different than a forum that customers can post in or even a blog.
Even with all of these questions, in recent months, there are two major platforms that we recommend for 99% of the situations we run across: Wordpress and Webflow.
These are two very different platforms for different needs and, truthfully, they are not even mutually exclusive. WordPress is extremely powerful and flexible and can be used to make basic webapps. On the other hand, Webflow is extraordinarily fast and efficient and can make beautiful, highly semantic sites in the blink of an eye. To truly understand which is best for your needs, you should talk to your developer, but we will lay out the basics for you below.
WordPress is flexible enough to power anything from the New York Times’ website to a mom and pop shop. The CMS is open-source which makes it completely free (although you still have to pay for hosting) and has a large selection of plugins which can add very advanced functionality. Many plugins can make the interface more drag-and-drop oriented or house fairly complex relationships between post types. You can even build out team management type features which allows you to give different departments access to different parts of the website.
The down side of WordPress is that it is extremely difficult to maintain because of the frequent updates, the user interface is not intuitive and it is much slower to render than other solutions, which can greatly impact conversions and organic search ranking. After just a few months, nearly all of your plugins and the WordPress core code will need updates which isn’t very complicated on its own. But you need to make a backup before you update and afterwards you need to go through every page on your site to make sure that the new updates did not break any of your functionality. Inevitably, one of the updates will break something and a developer must investigate what the problem is and fix it.
Webflow is a fantastic alternative to WordPress because the interface is very intuitive, it renders at lightning speed and their hosting is extremely fast. You have probably heard of Squarespace and these two platforms share some similarities in their approach but Webflow blows them away in their actual implementation. It is not glitchy, the code is extremely semantic and there is much more customizability than Squarespace offers. Squarespace is designed to allow non-techy people to make websites. Webflow is built to allow techy people to build websites faster and more beautifully.
It is a paid platform, which means they are making money from their product and are not likely to disappear overnight. Your money is going towards hosting and phenomenal support although you can choose to export your site once it is complete and host wherever you like should you ever choose to do that. But why would you ever want to do that, when their servers are blazing fast and their support is so supportive that they have helped us to build new functionality into their platform when we needed it.
The downside is that you must pay for extra content editor accounts. One account and hosting is included in the basic package, but any more than that will require additional monthly fees. This isn’t a problem for most clients as they are happy to just share an account amongst themselves, but if you have a large team of people that will constantly be updating the site, this can be a huge deterrent.
Both of these platforms, among hundreds of others, are fantastic choices to build a website on. There really is no wrong choice as long as the platform fits your needs. It is only when it starts constraining your ability to grow that you will run into major problems. Our advice, ultimately, is to consult with your web developer thoroughly before deciding on a platform, but if you go with either one of these options, you won’t likely regret it.