Battle of the Website platforms

Oct 7, 2023 | Marketing

“Show Notes”

In this episode Marcus and Sam discuss the different platforms available for
building a website. Sam grouped into three different broad groups.

  1. The self build platforms Wix, SquareSpace, Shopify and others
  2. Content management system platforms. This is dominated by WordPress, but
    there are other platforms here like Joomla
  3. Custom coding. This means someone builds a site for you
    using code.

Self Build websites

These are easy to use drag and drop website platforms. These make it very easy to
get a website online. With some use of templates, dragging and dropping you can
make something that looks quite good, quite quickly. They are easy to use and
deal with maintenance, security and hosting for you. This means it’s one simple
monthly or annual payment and it covers everything. Once you chose one of these
platforms you are locked into it. So if they dramatically increase your prices your
only choice is to give up

on that website, or pay the higher price. The speed and SEO for these platforms
has improved dramatically in the last ten years, however they are behind the other
types of website in these areas. Speed effects visitors experience and can also
push you down the Google rankings. These platforms also have limits as to what
they can do. They have quite a good range of functionality. But if you want to go
beyond the functionality they provide, you have to start again with a different

Sam explains there is a lot more to building a website than adding some text and
ages and making it look pretty. Take a listen to our back catalogue to get some
ideas about this.

WordPress and other CMS platforms

They talk about WordPress here as it’s the dominant force. Sam explains that
WordPress is quite a basic platform (a bit like a new phone) but you can then add
plugins (like apps on your phone) that can do all sorts of things. Some are free,
some premium, some freemium. There are different ways to build a WordPress
website, but many now use a visual editor so you can see what you are

doing. But they are not drag and drop builders like Wix.

When using WordPress you do need to think about your own security and updates.
This isn’t that complicated, but does need thinking about. The most important

thing is to keep all the software up to date. WordPress websites can move
between website hosting. So if you have a problem with one web hosting service,
you can move it to a different one.

The number of plugins for websites is huge so there is a wide range of flexibility in
what WordPress can do. Because these plugins are used by a wide range of users
the cost of writing them is shared across hundreds or thousands of users, which
keeps the cost down.

Custom coded website

This means that a site is built just for you. There is no excess

code here. Its a way to get a very fast efficient website. It can do a huge range of
things. But tis very expensive as a coder writes it just for you. For a simple five
page photography website, this would be very over the top. But if you want to do.
something more complex and you have the budget, it’s a great way to go.

Moving between platforms
Think carefully before committing to a website platform as to leave you have to
abandon the website and start again. But also don’t be afraid to let an old website
go. For example maybe you built a Website on SquareSpace two years ago and
you want to greatly improve it. Think carefully about whether you would

be better to over onto another platform and start again, rather than stick to what
you have.

Image sizes
As a sideline Sam and Marcus started chatting about photographers getting
images onto their websites. Sam explained it’s important that photographers don’t
add huge images to their websites as they slow the site down. 2000 pixels across
is plenty big enough for any website image.

“Show Transcription”

Marcus: Hello Sam.

Sam:  Hi, Marcus. How you doing?

Marcus: I’m really well, thank you, and yourself?

Sam:  Yeah, very good.

Marcus: Great. I know we’ve already discussed this show a little while ago and I’m really looking forward to it because it’s something that I think about quite a lot and I know it comes up in forums and I’ve seen debates about it. So Sam, let’s hand it over to you and tell us what you’re going to be talking about.

Sam:  So we’re going to do website platforms, so we’re going to do the battle of the platforms. Why would you use the different website platforms that are out there? The good, the bad, the ugly, the advantages, the disadvantages and all of those. So I  mean we can’t cover them all, so we’re going to have to group them together. So I’m going to kind of put them into three distinct groups. Okay, there’s the self build website platform. So that’s like wix, GoDaddy, squarespace, shopify, and then most of the hosts have their own version. There’s a lot of versions weebly it kind of goes on and on. Kind of the big ones in there really are wix, square space and shopify. I’d avoid GoDaddy value. They’re kind of the kind of self build, do it yourself type of platforms that the build has kind of the next level up or the next kind of group is dominated massively by WordPress. But there are others in there like Joomla and stuff and that’s a different level that’s using a content management system that’s kind of the next level up. It’s quite different. I’ll explain how that works in a bit, but it’s got a lot of pre written code in there and stuff already. So there’s a lot of software that lots of people use. And then there’s the final version, which is custom coded, which is somebody sits down and writes basic code for your website from scratch. And they’re the kind of three different classifications. So I think the key is we go through each one, kind of talk about what they do and all sorts of different stuff. So yes, so the self build ones to start with, the wix, the squarespace, the shopify. So the reason person like them is they’re what they’re called, as we said, self build. They’re easy to use. You can go in there, you can drag, you can drop, you’ve got a website. The adverts on TV are constantly showing you how easy it is. Aren’t know there’s quite a lot of them, aren’t they? The GoDaddy, the wix adverts look drag, drop, oh, you’ve got a shop, you’re now selling your bread online. Isn’t that amazing? And it’s amazing how good they make the websites look. So they give the illusion of making that it’s easy to make a website and in some ways they make it easy to make a website of some sort. You can with typing a bit of text, popping in some pictures, you have a presence online straight away, and functionally, it works. Yeah. So they are really easy to use. They deal with all the background stuff for you. So maintenance, security, all of that stuff is just in the background. You don’t need to worry about it. It’s all done.

Marcus: Hosting as well. That’s all done. That’s done.

Sam: You basically pay for a package, you pay X amount a year and you pay for your wix website, which is just everything. So the advantage of that, it’s one payment and you know how much it is. The disadvantage of that is you can’t move it. So if you build a wix website and two years later they shoot their prices up, you can’t go, oh, I’m going to move my wix website to square space. It’s locked in wix or its locked in square space. So there are kind of advantages and disadvantages to that. They’re kind of in one place. So, yeah, the cost, they’re generally relatively cheap, but because they tie you in, they can start to put those prices up and will often tempt you in with a really nice starting price. But kind of you go, Well, I’ve put all this working, so I’m going to have to stick with it. As their prices rise, which can happen? The ease of use does have a bit of an effect on speed and SEO. This is something a lot of them are worked on and kind of 1015 years ago. Yeah, they were awful for website speed and website SEO. We got podcasts on SEO that’s about being found on Google and they’ve improved a lot in the last ten years. They have made massive improvements. But there are still issues with the way that they work in terms of indexing on Google and in terms of the speed, because they can’t be built that efficiently because they’ve got to have some sort of quite complicated drag and drop builder as part of the website, which then makes the loading of the website quite slow.

Marcus: Affects the brakes on the vehicle. It sort of slows it down.

Sam: Yeah, effectively, because it’s more complicated than it being built in a different way. It’s to do with the software in the background and how that works. And the key is, with speed, there’s two sides to your website speed. One is if it’s too slow, users get annoyed. The second is Google monitors your speed and if it thinks your speed is too slow, and then it will push you down the rankings and ask you to sort the bloody thing out. And that’s a problem a lot of photographers have, actually, across all the website platforms, is they go, My photography must look the best, I’ll upload this 14 megabyte picture onto the website donk. And then this huge file arrives when actually they’re only displaying a file basically is the same quality as one that’s like 200K because it’s automatically shrunk down to fit on the screen. But the way websites work generally is they will transfer this 14 megabyte file over to the receiver, over to the person looking at your website, but they’ll only see a tiny picture. So you kind of make it really slow. So, definite tip for photographers when you’re making a website, look how big your pictures are. Don’t put huge pictures on there because it just slows everything down.

Marcus: Can you give us a guide? Sam? Can you give us some figures on that? What do you mean?

Sam:  Yeah, usually, so I usually working pixels because that’s the simplest way to do it. So kind of 1500 pixels across your longest length is fine, make it a JPEG, whatever, that’s fine. Doesn’t need to be maybe 2000, but certainly no bigger than that.

Marcus: And compress down to any particular scale. Sam, I know that’s going to be tricky, but.

 Sam: JPEG beyond JPEG you’re getting beyond my understanding of image compression. But yeah, or there are also now there’s WebP, there’s some new formats that are able to compress it more specifically for the web. Able to compress it more while keeping the quality. It’s kind of just a nice simple standard. But yeah, there’s all sorts on there but yes, lots for that. So back to the actual topic, which was the no problem. That’s kind of what we’re doing. So yeah, they’re kind of the self builds, they’re easy to use. They give the impression that you’re going to get a website quickly and easily and you will get a website of some sort quickly and easily. They take away all the worry about security and all of that. You’ve got issues that they may not index as well as normal sites and they may be a bit slower. And you’ve got the issue of locked, you being locked in and then there’s functionality. So all of these are kind of their own software and so their own software can do certain things. And you can expand these websites quite a lot within wix. You can have a blog, you can have a shop, and you can do all sorts of things. But if you suddenly want to do something that’s not in there, what you can do, you’re stuck. You’ve gone out their box and there’s nothing you can do at that point. You cannot still work with them if you want to do your new crazy idea. So they’ve kind of got good functionality within their box, but if you want to move outside, that can be an issue. And different other platforms have different functionality. Wix and Square space are definitely kind of the leaders by a fair margin to be honest. And the others are quite a long way behind apart from shopify for the e-commerce, that’s a little bit different because it’s got a slight specialist one. So yeah, the key is what we’ve talked about a lot with websites is actually there’s a lot to making a website because normally you get one of these and you go, okay, I’ll pop in some text, I’ll pop in some images. Great, I’ve got a website. But from all the shows we’ve done, there’s a lot more to building a website than popping in text and images and hoping for the best. And if you look through our back catalog, we got all sorts about the design and the call to actions and all sorts of things. So I think that can be an issue is people build a website without understanding what a website needs to do because they make it seem simple. right? And so kind of the next level up of website from that is kind of WordPress joomla and there are other things. WordPress kind of massively dominates the markets. I think like a third of the world’s websites are made with WordPress. About that. I think that’s a rough thing. Don’t quote me on that, but I think it’s about that. And so WordPress is open source, so it’s free. So it’s just done free by a team of people around the world. And it’s a system for building a website on. And the idea, if you think of it a bit like your phone, you know, on your phone, when you get it without the apps, it’s got all sorts of potential, but it doesn’t do a lot. It’s when you add those apps and photos and functionality do all sorts. So WordPress is a bit like that. You kind of got the basic box, which can do a couple of things, but it’s got the potential to be expanded with what are called plugins, which effectively you need phone like apps, an app to be a shop, an app to make a pretty picture gallery. You can add effectively all sorts of apps to your website that do all sorts of crazy things. And some are free, some are paid for, some these freemium, where some of it’s free and some of it’s paid for. There are all sorts of a mix. But the key is the website structured in quite a different way to on the wix and Weebly. So it’s not a drag and drop builder. You can just bung everything where you want and off you go. But it is something that most people can use. The way it’s made now, the builder, it used to be a bit complicated where you just got a little box and you typed and what you typed in, you’d go, where the hell is this going to appear and what it’s going to look like? And there’s been a lot of improvements now, so it now has, what is it, a WYSIWYG front end. So what you see is what you get as you’re editing. Pretty much what you see is what you get, but it’s not quite like wix and squarespace. You can literally drop a piece of text anywhere. It’s more you have a structure, so you have like columns or you have a table and kind of stuff moves structurally within that block structure. But what that means is it loads very quickly. It’s much simpler for Google to read and understands what you’re doing. So it should be, if it’s built right, a much quicker site, a site that works better on SEO now with anything, you could fluff that up, but if it’s built well, it can do that. There’s some of the things that are more complicated than if you’re using wix and WordPressand stuff, wix and Weebly and things. So you do have to think a bit about your own security and your own updates and stuff. It is not rocket science, but it is something you have to think about. That’s the issue with it being so popular is that crooks know that lots of websites use it and can kind of guess that you’re using it and try and attack your site. That doesn’t mean don’t use it. With some basic precautions in place, it’s fine. Largely keeping all the software they’re up to date. That is the biggest thing with security, a bit like on your laptop, you need to do the updates or you’re at risk. It’s just the same, do the updates. There’s other stuff you can do, but that’s really the big key thing is do your updates. But WordPress is what a lot of professionals use and some people build on their themselves and some people do a bit of a mix. So I work some clients who built it themselves and some of them I’ve then helped them expanded it or some of them I help when they get a bit stuck. But yeah, it’s got advantages and disadvantages like you say and unlike the sort of the squarespace and stuff where you’re locked with them. WordPress, although it’s a piece of software, you can host it anywhere you like. So there’s probably 100 different website providers you can use, probably more web hosts and you can put it onto one hosting and if you get fed up with them and the prices go up, you can pick up your website and move it somewhere else. So it’s got that flexibility of where it is and if you go somewhere else and go my God, this is so slow, I’ll go to somewhere where it’s a bit of a higher quality hosting and I’ll pay a bit more whatever. So yeah, it’s able to move, which is nice, and it’s expandable. So the amount of we were talking about these apps, these plugins, there’s literally tens of thousands of them. So the software and for most anything you could possibly think of and if you find something that really nobody’s done before, you can also get somebody to write a piece of software for you that works in it. So it’s massively expandable. So if your business goes in a direction you haven’t thought of before, you can pretty much deal with it within WordPress. It’s got that flexibility. And the way people use the apps is great because the plugins, because you’re sharing the cost. We’re talking next about a custom coded site where one person writes all the code for your site. If you use like on your phone, if you use an app, you’ve not got one person writing that app for you. That one person has written the app for 2 million people and all 2 million of you are sharing the cost. So it costs you 599 a month. Whereas if you’re paying for somebody to write, it might cost you 1000 pounds. You’re sharing the cost with lots of people. So that’s one of the big advantages of WordPress. But basic system is free and then the plug-in, some of them are free and the ones you do pay for, you’re sharing the cost with lots of other people, which is great.

Marcus:  That’s fantastic. Sorry, carry on, please.

Sam: And then the final version is custom coded. Now, that basically means the website is written specifically for you. So that means it’s mega fast, it’s mega efficient, because there’s no spare bits of code you don’t need, which with pre written software, if you can afford it and if it’s what you need, it’s great. If you’re doing a five page website and you’re a small business, it’s way over the top, it’s going to cost you a fortune. It’s not really needed, but if you’ve got some complex idea and you want it to do all sort of unique things just for you, it’s brilliant for it, but you pay the cost because you’re paying one person or a team of people to write the website from scratch just for you. Yeah. Which means it’s fast, it’s efficient, but it’s very expensive.

Marcus: So for photographers?

Sam:  For photographers, I can’t see many need for custom coded websites. It’s more if you’re doing something quite maybe if they were setting up a really complicated community of photographers or whatever it is, and doing all sorts of fancy stuff, but it’s probably not what any photographer needs.

Marcus: Great. Sam, that’s absolutely fantastic. I mean, there’s so much choices and information that you’ve given us there, and it is something that I know that once you’ve committed to it, it’s very difficult to leave the platform, isn’t it?

Sam: Yeah, no, it is, definitely it is. Making the decision first is a good one, but also, I think, being willing to leave the platform, realizing that, say, it was a mistake, but I built my website initially on squarespace that was great. It served me well for you allow it to I’m going to let go and move on to a different platform. I sometimes that with people with web sites, and it’s five years old, six years old, and I say, we can edit this website if you want, but actually going to be cheaper to start again because all we’re doing is kind of unpicking what’s there. But some people won’t let go. And they will pay more to hang on to their website because they’ve paid for it already. And they’ve put the time and blood and sweat and tears in, when actually, I think sometimes it’s a case of be willing to let go and say, I did put a lot into that. It’s time to move on. Actually. It’s a lot more efficient at this stage, know, do something different.

Marcus: That’s fantastic. Sam, can you sum up with some salient points?

Sam: Yeah, I think so. You’ve got three types of website builder. Effectively, you’ve got self builds, which are really easy to use, deal with all the security and things for you. You can quickly put together a website, but they lock you in and you need to understand really how websites works and how they should be designed if you’re going to make an effective website, which most people self building don’t. But obviously, if they’re regular podcast listener here, they’ll be an expert at that. The kind of next level up is WordPress, where it’s a piece of software that you can add all sorts of apps to or plug-in to and make it work. It’s much more flexible. You can move it so you’re not tied into one particular company like you would be with Wix or Squarespace. But it is you do have to think about your own security a bit more, your own maintenance of the website a bit more. It is harder to use, but that comes with the advantages. Then the final one is custom coded, where somebody writes a website for you from basic code, which means it’s fast, it’s efficient, but it’s expensive.

Marcus:  Fantastic, Sam. Fantastic. Well, I hope our listeners have enjoyed this show and if you have, please like and subscribe. And if you really want to get involved, why not sign up to our newsletter where you get an extra bonus point as well. You get extra bonus information. Yeah. And you can find us on website4photographers.UK/podcast and that’s website Four photographers with a number four. Thank you very much and tune in for our next show next week.