The Best Way to Build a Website – WordPress, Shopify and Others
There are a plethora of options out there and each choice has many more options. I’ve narrowed it down to the 3 options that will suit most beginners, the best one will depend on your needs:
The three best ways to build a website:
- Shopify: If you are planning to build an eCommerce site, Shopify is a great option. Shopify provides a platform for building your website and for operating your eCommerce store. There are other eCommerce platforms, such as: BigCommerce and Volusion, however, Shopify seems to be the preferred alternative in most reviews.
- WordPress: WordPress is by far the most widely used website building platform and for good reason. WordPress is: free, has thousands of plugins, is reasonably easy to learn, is good for blogging, good for eCommerce, good for search engine optimization (SEO) and has many other advantages.
- Google Apps for Work (also called Google Sites): Google has created a web design platform that is free (or very inexpensive). It only takes a few minutes to build a website with Google sites, then you can spend as much time as you want customizing it. Google sites has a number of limitations including: it can’t be highly customized (or can, but with a lot of difficulty), poor mobile responsive functionality, limited eCommerce capability, only a few plugins are available. If you just want a plain looking website without a lot of functionality, this is a good option. Here is an example of a Google sites website that I threw together in an hour or so.
The Web Design Platforms that I don’t recommend:
First, it’s worth noting that you’ll need to use a web design platform to build your website, because the alternative is to learn to code and build the website yourself from scratch.
Everything else that I don’t recommend: There are a plethora of other website building platforms out there. While I’ve only experimented with a couple of them (see below), I’ve found them to be cumbersome and frustrating, despite their promises. To get a website to look the way you want, you’re going to have to spend time tinkering with your platform of choice and you might as well invest that effort in learning WordPress, or Shopify. I’m all for supporting the little guy in a lot of contexts, but for a web design platform, you should be cautious of learning to use something that has a small user base and that could fade from existence in a few years. I don’t recommend:
- CMS Made Simple
- Expresssion Engine
The top options that remain are: Shopify, WordPress and Google Sites. Which one is best for you? See below:
- $30 per month, $360 per year
Who’s it good for
- Someone planning to build an eCommerce store. If you are not planning to do eCommerce, you could in theory still use Shopify to build your website, but this is not often done because there are cheaper alternatives.
What are the benefits
- With Shopify you can create a good looking website quickly and easily and that is fully customizable. Your eCommerce store will be:
- Secure: your site will be hosted on Shopify servers and they take care of a lot of stuff
- Attractive: Shopify has lots of nice themes
- Easy to use, easy to maintain and easy to track you your stats.
- You’ll always have support if something goes wrong, this is important. If you use the free WooCommerce theme, you won’t have support. If you choose to use a paid WooCommerce theme, then you’ll have support, but you’ll also be spending roughly as much as you would with Shopify, when you factor in web hosting.
What are the drawbacks
- Cost: At $30 per month, this is a more expensive option than WordPress (you can build a WordPress eCommerce website for as little as about $4 per month because all you really need to purchase is web hosting).
- Blog: If you are planning to include a blog on your website, the Shopify blogging system is not quite as good as WordPress’s (for example, as the administrator, you can’t create comments on the comments that customers leave). However, the blogging platform is decent and will likely improve over time.
What are the alternatives
- BigCommerce, Volusion and others. These all have similar ratings and do similar things, but Shopify seems to have the edge in most of the reviews I’ve read.
- You can also create an eCommerce website using:
- WordPress + Shopify Lite
- WordPress + WooCommerce
- WordPress + eCommerce platforms other than WooCommerce, but to keep it simple I haven’t mentioned this option because WooCommerce is the most popular and seems to be the best rated.
- Shopify is a great choice if you are doing eCommerce and have enough sufficient sales to justify the cost. If not, you’ll probably want to go with WordPress and the WooCommerce plugin. Alternatively, if you areonly planning to sell a few different items, you could build your website with WordPress and use the Shopify plugin with the Shopify Lite plan (see my recommendations section below).
- There are three possibilities: Free, $5 per month, or $10 per month. Explained more on Google’s pricing section for Google Apps for Work.
- Note: for most users, the free option will be sufficient.
Who’s it good for
- Someone who wants to use the simplest system possible, with minimal investment of time to learn and maintain the website
- A small business owner who doesn’t need an attractive website
- A club
- An event organizer who needs a temporary website (ex. a wedding)
- Note: there are ways to customize a Google site beyond the basics, but this takes a lot more learning and if you’re willing to do this, you might as well learn WordPress
What are the benefits
- Your website is going to load fast from everywhere in the world
- Generally free, or very inexpensive
- It’s very easy to create a website with Google sites
- Requires essentially zero maintenance
- Very stable and secure
- It can do eCommerce (but in a limited way)
- It’s free with no advertising, except for a small notice at the bottom of the page saying: “Powered by Google Sites”.
- You can create a blog
What are the drawbacks
- Limited customizability and functionality
- Lacks full eCommerce capability
- Lacks high bandwidth delivery and apparently can’t handle a lot of traffic. This shouldn’t be an issue for most people if they are have a small website that is not visited by many people.
- It has responsive capability, but it apparently isn’t very good and some users choose to just shut it off. Note: this is a pretty big drawback
What are the alternatives
- WordPress provides a free alternative, but there are a lot of differences between WordPress and Google sites. Relative to other platforms, WordPress is fairly easy to use, but compared to Google Sites, WordPress will take far more learning. You can make a Google Sites website in minutes
- Google Sites (or Google Apps for Work) is marketed by Google as a platform for existing businesses who want to set up an internal network (called an intranet as opposed to the internet).
- Apparently, you can use any domain name for your website’s URL. You can also get a free domain name of your choice, but it will look like this: https://sites.google.com/site/YourWebsiteNameHere/
- I recall reading that Google sites can be integrated with Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace, but for most people, I’d suggest sticking with the Google interface
- Google sites apparently has blogging capability, but I’m not sure how good it is
- It has several “gadgets” that are equivalent to plugins in WordPress. These look like they’ll be really easy to set up and some of them are very powerful, such as: “PayPal Simple Storefront” and “slideshow maker”, among others. They are very limited in number though, especially compared to the thousands available from WordPress.
- Overall this appears to be a really good option for people who aren’t as concerned about appearance
- Anywhere from free to about $300 per year. Most people will get all the functionality they need for about $100 per year (for web hosting). There’s lots of different options that you can choose that will cost more, or less, but this gives you a general idea of what it’ll cost to build and maintain a WordPress website.
- WordPress.com has a free option. For more information see my post: pre-build considerations for building a WordPress website, scroll down to the section 4 where I talk about pricing.
Who’s it good for
- Almost everyone. WordPress can do anything: blogging, eCommerce, advanced functionality, or just simple websites.
What are the benefits
- Great for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Relatively easy to learn, but there is a fair bit to know
- Inexpensive (the platform itself is open source and free, all you really need is web hosting)
- Thousands of plugins to add functionality
- Pretty easy to maintain (just log on and click ok to do the updates, the same way as you update your computer’s operating system).
- Support: WordPress is widely used, so you can usually find answers to your questions on forums or through a Google search. If you buy a premium theme, you can usually get dedicated support from them
What are the drawbacks
- Requires some learning
- Has many settings and options which take time to learn and understand
- Takes a little more effort to maintain (keeping WordPress, the theme and the plugins updated)
What are the alternatives
- WordPress is referred to as a content management system (CMS) because it acts as a database that can tailor the delivery of content to the website and its users, depending on your settings. For example: As soon as I publish this blog post, it will automatically appear in my list of blog posts, along with the picture that I uploaded and the date and time the post was published. This is in contrast a system that creates only “static” web pages. Static web pages load the same way every time, for every person, nothing changes, unless you change the content. If I was using a platform that created only static web pages and if I wanted this post to appear on my blog page, I would have to manually type in the title of this blog post, add a photo and write the date and time. The main CMS competitors to WordPress are: Joomula, Drupal and Blogger, but there are others.
- If you decide to build a website using Shopify, or Google sites, there are a few options, but they are pretty straight forward and you can decide on them as you come across them. If you decide to build a website using WordPress, you’ll discover that you still have to choose between 3 main options and a ton of sub-options. The 3 main options are:
- Choose between WordPress.com and WordPress.org
- Select a theme
- Select a page builder (possibly)
WordPress.com versus WordPress.org
I’ve already discussed this to some extent in my post on what to consider before building a WordPress website, so I’ll cut to the chase: In my opinion, WordPress.com offers very little benefit as compared to WordPress.org. I see WordPress.com as an expensive web hosting service that limits your access to plugins. Yes, if you use WordPress.com, the initial setup is slightly easier and you won’t have to put as much effort into security, but with my step by step instructions for building a WordPress.org website and good security practices, these benefits are of really limited value. With WordPress.com, you literally save only a few mouse clicks during the initial set up stage, but you continue to pay for expensive web hosting for as long as you have your website. Again, my step by step instructions will guide you through the set up, it’s really easy to do, so there is almost no benefit to using WordPress.com. My advice to almost everyone would be to use the free WordPress option (WordPress.org) and purchase your own web hosting. Be aware that your choice of web hosting company is critical. If you chose poorly, you will have headaches. My recommendations for web hosting and everything else you need to know are provided in my step by step instructions. The only time I would suggest using WordPress.com is if you don’t care about price at all and you’re sure that you’ll never want to add much functionality with plugins. In this case, the added security you get from WordPress.com might be worthwhile. Better security is really the only thing that WordPress.com has to offer.
Selecting a Theme
The next thing to decide on is what theme you will use. A theme is a template for your website, it creates a layout and colors for your website, among other things. Each theme will have its own unique look, which can be customized to varying extents depending on the theme. For this discussion, I’m going to divide the various types of themes into 3 categories:
- Themes created by the WordPress team: The WordPress team (the company is called Automatic) creates one theme a year and names it accordingly: Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, etc. currently up to Twenty Sixteen. These themes are in some sense the safest choice because they are created by the WordPress team. The code will be well written and supported for life. Unfortunately, they are also the least customizable and only a few basic things like the color scheme and the widgets can be easily changed. These themes are free and accessible in your WordPress dashboard.
- Other themes made available by the WordPress team: Like the themes mentioned above, these are free and accessible in the WordPress dashboard (which you can access once you install WordPress) but they have not been created by the WordPress team. They have however been carefully vetted by the team and have passed certain quality assurance tests. Some of these themes have a paid upgrade option so you can include additional features if you are willing to pay more
- Freelance themes: There are many other WordPress themes, both free and paid versions. These are created by freelancers and have not been vetted by WordPress. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are not good, you just need to be careful to read the reviews when selecting one and choose wisely. There’s are many thousands of these themes available, but 2 major options worth mentioning are:
- The most popular premium theme is Avada. You might also wish to consider one of the top ten themes.
- The WooCommerce theme is a good choice if you’re planning to do eCommerce
You can find these freelance themes on Theme forest and similar websites, there are a huge number of choices.
Here are the things to consider when choosing a theme:
- Cost: free to about $300. (many are around $60)
- Code bloat (many themes do tend to add some bloat, but it’s not the problem that some people make it out to be)
- Technical Support
- Theme updates for life
- eCommerce compatibility
My Recommendations for Building a Website – Summary
Everyone will have different requirements for their website, here are the major options:
If you want to build a website using the simplest platform possible and you don’t have a lot of design requirements, look into Google Sites, also known as Google Apps for Work.
If you want to build an eCommerce website, consider using Shopify, one of the WordPress options below, or a combination of WordPress and Shopify Lite. In a nutshell, Shopify will make life a little easier for you, but it is a little more expensive.
WordPress is very versatile and one of the options below will probably be suitable for most people. To add content, I recommend using Beaver Builder which is a free page builder that’s easy to use and very well reviewed. Just install it as a plugin and you’ll be able to build your pages using a drag and drop interface without writing any code. Alternatively, if you’ve purchased a premium theme like Avada, it’ll probably come with its own page builder and you should probably use that.
If you want an eCommerce Site that sells a lot of different products:
Use the WooCommerce Theme: If you decide not to use Shopify, I suggest looking into using a WooCommerce theme. There is a free WooCommerce theme option, with optional paid upgrades to enhance the functionality of your eCommerce store. Alternatively, you can use almost any other theme and install the free WooCommerce plugin. I’d suggest going with the WooCommerce theme, because you can run into problems if you don’t, here’s an example: This website uses Avada + the WooCommerce plugin, but if you look at my product pages, the formatting for the PayPal button is messed up. What am I supposed to do? There’s no support from WooCommerce because I’m using their free plugin and Avada doesn’t provide support for issues involving plugins that aren’t theirs (nor should they). I could hire a freelancer to sort it out, or spend hours figuring out some custom CSS by myself (I’m not proficient with CSS), but it’s a hassle. The bottom line is, that if I had used the WooCommerce theme, I probably wouldn’t be having this problem.
If you are planning to build an eCommerce Site that sells only a few products
Use any Theme of your choosing + Beaver Builder + Shopify Lite: If you’re only planning on having a small number of products, then consider using Shopify Lite. This option allows you to build your website with WordPress and use the Shopify plugin to create your eCommerce checkout system. It’s is a very good option if you have a small number of products. It is $9 per month, and you get all the advantages of WordPress and all the advantages of the Shopify platform for keeping track of your orders. You could use Shopify Lite for a store that sold lots of products, but you’d probably end up losing out on functionality. For example: let’s say you had a clothing store that sold lots of different kinds of socks and you wanted your users to be able to click on a button to display only wool socks. If you had a Shopify store, that would be easy to set up. If you had a basic WordPress site with Shopify Lite, it would be difficult to set this up.
For non-eCommerce Sites
- Twenty Sixteen Theme + Beaver Builder: The Twenty Sixteen theme is the latest theme created by the WordPress team, they come out with a new one each year and name it accordingly. These themes are always free. Since these themes are made by the WordPress team, you can be sure that they are stable and will be supported for life. You can install the theme from the WordPress dashboard. The Twenty Sixteen and Seventeen, etc. themes are not premium themes so you’ll have very limited customization options for the basic layout of your website. On the plus side, your website won’t have code bloat, it will load fast and be stable. You can add content using Beaver Builder. If you do end up wanting to customize the look beyond what is possible with the basic settings, you can hire a web design company to make the changes. They should be able to easily work with one of these themes.
- Avada Theme + Built in Page Builder (Fusion Builder): This is what the website you’re looking at was built with. The Avada theme is the most popular premium WordPress theme and has many advantages: you can create just about any look you want, it is well supported and is relatively easy to use. It will take some time to learn to use all the customization options, but you won’t have to learn any code, so that makes it less intimidating for most people. You can basically do anything you want with the Avada Theme and like most themes, it is compatible with the WooCommerce plugin for eCommerce. It is only $59, so very affordable for most people.
- If you decide to use Shopify, the next step is to read up on it a bit more on it to make sure it’s right for you. Then sign up for an account and get started building your website.
- If you decide to use Google Sites, you can sign up for free and start building right away
- If you decide to use WordPress, you’ll want to read my blog post: How to build a WordPress Website – Pre-Build Considerations. Then, to get started building your website, just follow my step by step instructions on how to build a WordPress website.