Perhaps you’ve started a new business, want to start a blog to cover your travels or want to start a community website for your neighborhood. There are two major steps: choosing your brand and registering your domain name and selecting a publishing platform. In this tutorial, we’ll discuss your platform options.
For many years, there have been a wide variety of equally useful options but lately, I believe more in just two for the average individual or business.
SquareSpace has done an impressive job of creating beautiful, easy to use, end to end publishing tools.One of the things I like about SquareSpace is that it handles many of the common challenges running a website presents — so you don’t have to. The downside is that it’s a proprietary system that once you begin using and expanding, it will be difficult to migrate to another solution. Its costs are reasonable from $96 – $312 annually for most users.
For many people running a personal or small business site, SquareSpace may be a perfect fit. Wix is a common alternative to SquareSpace but I don’t have experience with it.
My favorite platform these days is WordPress, which may be the best solution for most people’s needs. It fits all sizes, works affordably and can be learned quickly and easily.
It’s become the de-facto free, open source blog publishing system but it’s also widely used to run small to medium-sized websites – and even popular blogs such as BoingBoing.
Some of the advantages of WordPress include its nearly unlimited array of themes and plugin extensions to customize your site. It’s important when choosing a theme to use a Responsive theme. Responsive themes make it easy to publish mobile and tablet versions of your site without extra work.
WordPress isn’t only a blogging tool anymore as it allows you to publish a fairly sophisticated website with its dropdown menus, static pages and custom extensions such as forums, calendars and e-commerce. Another hot item are drag and drop themes and plugins that make it easier to layout pages in WordPress e.g. MotoPress.
While WordPress is not the most elegant technology, it’s improved a lot in recent years and is well established. Automattic, the company behind WordPress, recently raised $160 million in new capital and is now valued at more than a billion dollars. So, WordPress will be around for a long time.
WordPress.com is the free to paid branded-hosting service for WordPress. To use your own custom domain and theme, you’re looking at about $100+ annually. And, you can always export your site to another WordPress provider. If you have a high traffic site, there’s WordPress VIP.
Managed Hosting or Self-Hosting WordPress
Many people host WordPress with other specialized providers or on their own servers. They choose to do this to get the best service, price-point and/or flexibility. For example, WordPress.com does not allow you to use any custom theme – just a selection of their preferred themes.
Most likely, hosting with a sophisticated WordPress provider will cost you about $250 per year or more. e.g. WPEngine. However, there are lower cost hosting plans. I offer a streamlined, scalable installation of WordPress for less than $5 per month with Digital Ocean. You can also visit our complete do it yourself tutorial, Installing WordPress at Digital Ocean.
If you’re just looking for a simple, nice looking blogging site, Tumblr may actually meet your needs. It’s virtually free unless you purchase a custom theme, of which there are many options to choose from. I wouldn’t recommend it for a serious business or professional website.
If you’re just looking for a personal landing page on the Web, check out About.Me. It does a nice job of presenting your photo and basic contact information. Think of it as your business card on the web.
Other Content Management Systems
There are a variety of other content management systems such as Drupal, Plone, Joomla and more. At this point, I just believe that WordPress is a better, more modern, cost-efficient solution for most needs. One emerging upstart is Craft CMS but it’s mostly appropriate for larger companies with significant development budgets.
Building from Scratch
You can also hire developers to build your website technology from scratch. However, I don’t recommend this approach anymore for most needs.
WordPress Designer Darin Reid says, “Building from scratch is a common pitfall: custom code can be harder to maintain, or harder for another developer to modify or extend.”
If you do choose to go this route, I highly recommend that your developer start with an established coding framework such as Ruby on Rails, or for PHP: the Yii Framework, Laravel or Zend. They should also seriously consider using Bootstrap 3.0, a responsive web design platform for HTML & CSS designed by Twitter.