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There are any number of companies on the internet making their money as platforms for small businesses. When you’re looking over the options, there are a few aspects of each platform you should keep in mind.
The fact is, most small business owners aren’t coders and simply don’t have time to learn the intricacies of building a professional-looking website from scratch. That’s why ease of use is a hugely important part of any great website platform.
The best website builders include features like drag-and-drop mechanisms to make personalization a breeze, website templates to give entrepreneurs a solid starting ground, and tutorials to help beginners as they build their sites. Many platforms also function as many things at once for simplicity’s sake: you can use the same service for your e-commerce platform, your content management system, and your analytic tracking.
These websites also need to look good. You don’t want customers to reach a landing page and then immediately leave for a competitor. The templates mentioned earlier need to be aesthetically pleasing, but also come with plenty of customization options in fonts, photos, and templates, and a user-friendly interface. There’s no point in having a website if your customers think it looks terrible and they aren’t able to find your products, contact information, or hours (if you’ve got a brick-and-mortar liquor store, bike shop, restaurant, or other physical space.
Your website should have an easily-searchable, sensible domain name. Many website platforms come with a free domain name if you pay for some of the high-dollar pricing plans. Other options within website platforms might offer a domain for a fee.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the act of making your website more appealing to search engines. After all, if you own a guitar shop in Albuquerque, you want your shop to show up on the front page of Google for anyone who searches for “guitar shop Albuquerque.” SEO is a topic unto itself, but suffice it to say that your website should be written and structured in particular ways to make it appealing to search engines. Many small business website platforms help design the site with SEO in mind from the get-go. Others offer additional tools and resources to help your business get the online attention it needs.
Your website platform should also have the capability to show you some advanced data to help build your website. You should be able to tell at a glance how visitors have found your website. Is there a blog post that’s driving traffic, or a social media post that’s generating the clicks? You should also know where the traffic is coming from. If you’re running a retail shop in Michigan, you’ll want to do some further investigation if much of your traffic is coming out of Portugal.
In addition, these analytics can tell you exactly what people are doing once they arrive on your site. Are they reading multiple blog posts? Are they going directly to a list of your products? Do they leave immediately or stick around? Understanding your site’s visitors and their behaviors can help you hone your site, which will drive additional traffic (and sales). Many platforms use Google Analytics for this purpose, but there are other options as well.
Many of the most popular website hosting platforms offer a number of integrations designed to make your life easier and your customers’ lives easier. These integrations can be as simple as a photo-hosting website that allows you to show your best photography, or they can include things like Amazon Affiliate Hosting. You might want to integrate Instagram Shopping with certain pages, or MailChimp to ensure that your email lists are consistent with your web content. Have a long look at the available integrations, consider what you’re already using (and what you need), and make sure that your needs are met.
Your website will probably need a way to make money. There are a number of eCommerce Platforms available, and choosing one that works well with (or even integrates with) your new website will help create a secure, intuitive online store.
Finally, there’s the cost. Most website platforms offer a free version of their services, but also more expensive website builder plans. Free plans often lack the advanced features and helpful tools that come with paying a bit more. How much are you willing to spend? Dropping a bit more on your website platform can mean fewer headaches – a ready-made domain, SEO tools, advanced analytics, and beautiful templates – but if you’re already facing a cash flow crunch you may want to consider what you can do without.
What Are The Best Small Business Website Platforms?
Now that you know what you’re looking for, have a look at the ten most popular small business website platforms. Each platform has benefits and drawbacks, strengths and weaknesses. Your industry, company size, necessary functions, and personal preferences will guide you to the right provider. Listed alphabetically:
There are two big draws to the IONOS Website Builder. The first is that it’s very cheap. The second is that it has some of the best multi-lingual features in the industry. On top of that, it also carries many of the same features you’re going to find elsewhere, including the ability to create professional email addresses, the ability to adapt to mobile devices, and basic SEO features.
Despite being very cheap, there are no free options. The templates also look a bit dated compared to some of the other options.
Prices depend on what services you’re looking to get from IONOS. They’ve got plans from $1, $5, $25, and $35 per month for hosting your online store, with features like Amazon integration and multilingual features being added as the price increases. Websites cost $1, $5, or $10 a month without an associated store.
Duda offers some of the best-looking designs in the industry. That makes sense, given that the company was originally intended to serve website designers specifically. It’s got very easy-to-use design tools, a drag-and-drop interface, and some strong SEO functions. Because it was designed for designers, Duda also boasts some helpful collaborative features that make building a website with partners very easy.
Duda offers no free options for website hosting, and their cheapest option is a bit pricier than other basic plans.
Duda costs $14 per month for a plan offering email support and a single website, $22 for more robust customer support options and additional team features, $33 for up to four websites and deeper customer data, and they also offer a custom plan with a variable price.
When you absolutely must spend the minimum on your website, GoDaddy is where you should look. The GoDaddy website builder contains very basic web design templates and some simple SEO and e-commerce features. Once you pay monthly, additional features are added, like online stores, social selling integrations, and the ability to do promotional features and email marketing.
The site templates are a bit simple, so if you’re looking for an intensely personalized site, GoDaddy may not be the right move. With GoDaddy, you’re effectively trading simplicity for personalization. Few platforms make it easier, but most have more options for website building.
The most basic plans are free, and every pricing tier thereafter comes with valuable add-ons. Tiers sit at 6.99, 13.99, 14.99, and 29.99 depending on the features you’re looking for. Rising in the tiers adds additional outgoing marketing emails, pre-populated tax forms, and other features.
HostGator, also known as the Gator Website Builder, or sometimes just Gator, is one of the most simple ways to build an online presence for beginners. When creating a website on Gator, you’ll simply answer a few questions about your company and what you’re selling. Then Gator’s AI-driven website builder creates the site for you, allowing you to make design edits as desired. While again not as fully personalizable as other platforms, Gator does come with a free domain, free hosting, and has a relatively low up-front cost.
Gator’s biggest draws are the simplicity of its site builder and low up-front costs. However, those prices go up pretty quickly. You’ll receive a very low introductory rate, but will be required to pay for several years’ worth, and rates go way up upon renewal. There’s also no free trial on any of their plans.
Introductory rates start at $3.84 per month for a simple site that allows up to three items in the online store and other basic features. The $5.99 per month plan allows for appointment setting and additional items in your online store, while the most expensive $9.22 per month plan takes no transaction fee and 1,000 more emails every month than the basic plan.
Shopify earned its bones as an e-commerce platform first and foremost. And that’s exactly where its website building platform shines brightest. It’s easily the best e-commerce website builder out there. Shopify’s sites make adding products, managing shipping, abandoned shopping cart emails, and other e-commerce functionalities simple and standard. There are also fairly extensive analytics tools. If you’re going to be doing a lot of selling, Shopify might be the one for you.
If Shopify were less expensive, it’d be the clear-cut answer. However, in addition to the fact that it comes with the most expensive monthly cost of any website building platform, it only comes with a few free templates. For additional templates, you might need to drop as much as several hundred additional dollars.
Even the most basic paid plan from Shopify is $29 per month. For steeper shipping discounts and more advanced analytics reporting, you’ll need to spring for $79 per month, and a $299 per month tier allows for additional staff accounts, larger discounts on credit card transactions and shipping, and more options for inventory storage.
Squarespace is arguably the strongest platform available for small business websites. It’s got options. It comes with hundreds of design templates and options, but also allows entrepreneurs with coding know-how to make edits that way as well. On top of that optionality, Squarespace’s templates are among the best-looking in the industry. You’ll get a custom domain (or transfer your company’s existing domain), and web hosting with every plan.
There aren’t a ton of drawbacks with Squarespace – it’s firmly one of the leaders in the industry. Some features available in basic plans from other website hosting services aren’t available without paying more on Squarespace (abandoned cart recovery, for example).
Squarespace comes in four different tiers, which can be paid monthly or annually at a discount. The basic $14 per month plan allows for building your own website and access to simple SEO tools, plugins, and simple marketing tools. Tiers for additional features like Instagram sales, deeper analytics, and subscription sales cost $23 per month, $27 per month, or even $49 for the widest access.
Weebly, purchased by Square in 2018, is a fantastic option if you‘re looking for the best possible free experience. Their websites look modern and appealing, and the robust set of features with their free website builder is arguably the best in the industry. The fact that it’s owned by Square means that it’s a great option for e-commerce businesses, and even its premium plans are low-price but function-heavy.
Weebly is at its best when you’re not paying for it. You’ll still get excellent e-commerce features and a good-looking website with a simple learning curve. However, the price of that simplicity is that you’re not going to get the most easily-edited website and some of the pricier tiers aren’t as robust as other companies’ paid tiers. The long story short is that if you’re going to try to keep your small business website builder and host free, Weebly is a great option. But if you’re planning to upgrade, you might be better off with a different company.
Free, then $6 a month, $12 a month, and $26 per month as you add features like popup ads, advanced analytics, and PayPal compatibility.
Whether you’re a blogger or a photography studio or a restaurant, Wix is the platform to go to when you want something a bit better looking than a simple website. A Wix website will likely be the most customizable of all the small business website hosts. It‘s even got its own app store, the Wix App Market, where you can add SEO tools, marketing functions, or visual additions.
Really the only drawback to Wix is that it’s a bit more expensive than other hosts and that its apps also frequently cost additional money.
Tiers start at $16 per month and range up to $22, $27, and $45 per month as additional tools and features are added. All tiers come with a money-back guarantee and an SSL certificate to ensure data security as well. Lower tiers feature minimal amounts of storage and video capabilities, while upper tiers allow for unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited products for sale. There are additional tiers for e-commerce plans if you want to sell through Wix as well.
WordPress is a juggernaut. According to Hubspot, over 43% of all websites on the internet are run on WordPress, and that number reportedly grows year after year. If you’re planning to use a blog for your website, WordPress is even more powerful: over 63% of websites with a CMS (content management system) use WordPress. That level of ubiquity allows WordPress to offer website plans inspired by businesses in your industry, domain hosting, email services, SEO tools, and more.
WordPress is also open-source, so there are thousands upon thousands of plug-ins available to make your website into exactly what you need it to be. There are plug-ins for creating contact forms, SEO reports, pop-up notifications, email marketing, and nearly anything else.
Designing on WordPress is simple (and there are plug-ins to help make it even easier), whether you’re looking to build on one of their many templates, or build something of your own. This is another reason WordPress’s popularity works in its favor: there are designers everywhere who have experience working with WordPress.
WordPress’s open-source nature is also one of its larger drawbacks. That’s because to get the most out of your website, you’ll probably need to have some degree of technical skill or hire someone who does. That doesn’t just go for designing the site’s look – you may also need to do some programming on the back end.
Tiers start at $4 per month for a simple personal site. If you’re a freelancer, there’s a tier at $8 per month with payment collection, chat support, video upload, and additional themes. To access advanced SEO tools, international payments, premium designs, and more, you’ll want to go with the $25 per month Business tier or the $45 per month eCommerce tier.
So Which Platform Is Best?
As with so many questions in small business, the answer is: it depends. If you’re looking to absolutely minimize up-front cost, you’re going to have different needs than a company with a brick-and-mortar location already generating considerable revenue.
Have a long look around not only the platform websites themselves, but investigate companies hosting their websites through each platform and decide which you’d like to emulate. The right website with the right marketing and SEO principles can be a terrific boon to your company’s bottom line.