web building platformsBack when I was a kid, there were many ways to build stuff – you could use an Erector Set, Tinker Toys, Legos, Lincoln Logs, etc. or  you could just go out and find raw materials and start cutting and pounding.

You’ll find a similar situation with website building choices with a variety of “kit” choices, which we call Content Management Systems (CMS) and frameworks. A quick look at some of the most popular with estimated usage (in millions) and my opinions of them –

  • WordPress (26m)
  • Joomla (3m)
  • Drupal (1m)
  • Magento (1m)
  • Other CMS’s (*)
  • Custom-built (42m?)

Sources showing percentages seemed to be more credible than those with numbers, so I took the estimated total number of websites (1 billion) and applied the percentages.  Places like Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy, etc. exaggerate their numbers making it difficult to get an estimate, so I lumped them into “Other CMS’s”.  Though these (Wix, etc.) may work for those who merely need a “business card” website, they still don’t really offer an advantage over a WordPress site, IMHO.

In this example, “custom-built” includes framework systems like Ruby, CodeIgniter, Zend, Yii and Laravel, as well as raw-coding in PHP, Dot-Net, Java, etc. Due to the number of different framework types, I chose not to spend the time to try and put an actual number to this and just tossed a dart!

Even if you were hiring a web developer, I would advise against the raw-coding choice, even though that is how I did all my websites up until ten years ago and still did some until just a few years ago.  CMS makes web building quicker and simpler.  Security, maintenance and future changes can be a nightmare on raw-coded projects.

Assuming that you want to spend most of your time running your business, not working on websites, I’m going to recommend WordPress, even though my CMS of choice was Joomla until recently.

WordPress has solved its security issues, with automated updates, and has grown into the most supported, feature-filled, best-documented, flexible web building system you’ll find.

The biggest valid argument against WordPress?  That WordPress sites look too similar.  While it is true that many WordPress themes look similar, this is not a limitation of WordPress, but more of an issue that many theme developers are web “design” people and not “developers”, therefore they are not comfortable modifying the underlying PHP code that dictates layout, and so they merely copy code from other themes.

If you check theme providers like RocketTheme, Web-Dorado and the free themes provided by wordpress.org, I’m sure you’ll find designs that cover the gamut.

If you prefer not to pay, you should take a good look at the free Customizr theme.  Note, though, that commercial themes – especially those by the bigger names – tend to be easier to work with, better supported and more frequent updates.

When it comes to choices, features, ease of use, cost, support, security and a host of other issues, WordPress comes out on top – and I’ve used all the ones listed here and others.

Using my twenty years of web building experience and my experience in dealing with small business owners, (and being one!) I can safely say that, for over 90% of you, WordPress is the right choice and for that remaining fraction – WordPress will still let you do what you want, though other choices  might be worth a look.

We’ll have a look at WordPress eCommerce plugins in other articles.

What will WordPress cost you?  WordPress, (like Joomla and Drupal and most frameworks) is totally free.  Your design (called “theme” in WP, “template” for Joomla) can also be free – there are certainly hundreds, if not thousands of free designs for WordPress available for download and several come with WordPress.

You may prefer a commercial theme though, as these generally are among the nicer-looking designs and often come with cool features.  Most commercial WordPress themes cost well under $100 – Just try to hire a web designer to make you a custom design for that amount!

We’ll do an entire article on choosing your web design (theme), so let’s stick to the topic of what tool we’ll be using to build your website, and we’ve chosen that tool:  WordPress

WordPress allows you to add custom features through specialized themes and though plugins. Like themes, there are tons of free and quite useful plugins available.  Most small business websites won’t need to pay for commercial plugins.

If you need a full-featured online store, then you’ll want to look at plugins like WooCommerce which is available as a “Storefront” theme or as a stand-alone plugin, though options like Magento and Joomla’s VirtueMart are credible choices.