Looking to build your own website or have a professional web team bring your website vision to life? Choosing the right website platform can seem daunting, so to save you the work our team has put together a breakdown of the top website platforms to help make the process easier. The platforms are not listed in any particular order or ranking as each platform has it’s own unique set of features that may make it a good or bad fit based on the type of site you’re building.
Some terms you’ll see in this blog post:
Hosting: This is a service that makes your website available on the web. Think of it as your site’s home, and your domain is it’s address
Plugins: These are apps either created by the website building platform or by a third party that adds additional functions to your site
Themes/Templates: This is the overall look and feel of a site, developers create themes or templates to help put you in the right direction so that you don’t have to build your site from scratch!
CMS: Content management system
In this blog post:
Note: There are two versions of Wordpress, Wordpress.com (Wordpress hosted sites with less customization options and freedom) and Wordpress.org (self hosted Wordpress sites), in this blog post we’ll be discussing wordpress.org. Here is a link to ThemeIsle’s blog post about the difference between the two.
We’ll start off with Wordpress, one of the world’s most popular site building platforms (over 41% of websites online are built with Wordpress!) Wordpress started out as a blog platform but has grown into much more, it can be used for a wide range of website types including e-commerce, blogs, service based websites among others. Wordpress allows for the most customization options because you have complete control over your website’s function and where it lives. This includes:
Themes: being able to install your own Themes allows for complete customization of your site without code (our favourites are Elementor and Avada to build custom sites from scratch, but there are 1000s of others to choose from),
Plugins: Install your own plugins to add additional functions to your site. There is a plugin for almost any feature you can think of, built by developers around the web and offered for free or premium rates.
Pricing (CAD): So what does this mean for the bottom line?
The freedom to choose from a wide range of options for Wordpress themes, plugins and hosting can mean you can save a lot of money, or go crazy and blow the budget with fancy upgrades. Generally speaking, Wordpress sites are the most cost effective longterm, with hosting ranging from $5-$10 a month, a wide range of free or low cost plugins available, and a good quality theme costing around $50-100 (Most are one time fees, though platforms like Elementor work on a subscription basis. When working with most web design agencies, the cost of your theme will be built into your website design price already.)
Unlimited customization opportunity with themes and plugins
Steep learning curve as each Theme works differently
Requires a more hands on approach to maintaining your site once it is built, as plugins and themes are built by third parties, updates to Wordpress itself may cause issues (plugins no longer working/requiring manual update)
You can install page builders that make it easy to edit your site
Analysis paralysis from too many options or requiring research time in choosing the right plugins
I’m talkin’ Squarespace to ya baby! (That was a Teena Marie reference)
Squarespace is a newer website builder platform but it is taking the web by storm. Like Wordpress, you can build a multitude of website types, though Squarespace manages their own themes, plugins and hosting. Squarespace allows you to build beautiful websites on your own (our website is built on Squarespace!) Though there are some limits to customization as there are few interactive options built into the platform (for example, hover effects or interactive banners) . You can push the limits of Squarespace with some nifty code. Squarespace has some great features and add ons like Scheduling and Memberships allow you to take bookings directly on your site, or add a private membership portal, as well as a robust e-commerce and marketing platform.
Pricing (USD): Squarespace works on a subscription basis, with plans ranging from $16-$54 USD/mo. Each plan offers different features, we recommend Business for sites that are service based or sell a few products and Commerce for sites that are e-commerce focused to take advantage of 0% transaction fees. As Squarespace partners, UNSGND clients can take advantage of a %20 discount on annual plans.
For a full breakdown of Squarespace plans click here.
All in one platform — hosting, website builder, analytics and marketing tools are provided
Themes created by Squarespace — this means Squarespace is in charge of keeping these up to date and the editing interface is always the same. But there are less options than Wordpress themes made by third parties (But there are still over 100 Squarespace themes to choose from!)
Finding third party plugins takes a bit of extra work as there isn’t a marketplace to find them through Squarespace’s platform
Easy editing interface allows for quick updates
Squarespace add-ons add an additional cost to your monthly subscription fee
Built in add-ons like Scheduling and Membership add additional functionality to your site that work seamlessly with the platform
High monthly fee
You’ve probably heard a lot about Shopify by now. The company benefited greatly from the e-commerce boom caused by the pandemic, and for good reason. Shopify is an e-commerce forward website building platform trusted by companies like Tesla, Unilever and GymShark and it’s a Canadian company! Shopify’s features one of the most robust e-commerce management and analytics dashboard compared to other website builders. It is also an all in one platform that includes hosting, but it can be thought of as a combination of both Squarespace and Wordpress because it features both it’s own site builder, themes and apps, but it also allows for the integration of third party apps and themes through the Shopify App Store and Theme Store that opens the door to unlimited customization options with little to no code.
Pricing (USD): Shopify plans work on a simple subscription basis, with Basic Shopify at $29, Shopify at $79 and Advanced at $299 each plan has features based on the anticipated volume of your store, the biggest differences will be in transaction fees, shipping discounts and the number of staff accounts. For a full price breakdown of pricing options click here.
Great for e-commerce businesses — analytics, inventory management and marketing built in
Not as effective for sites that do not focus on selling products
All in one platform - no need to worry about hosting!
Costs can add up with additional plugins or themes
Easy to use free themes available but Shopify App and Theme store are available for many more options
High monthly fee
Generally the lesser mentioned amongst the top website builders, Wix is actually another great all in one platform. If you’re familiar with creating designs in Canva, you’d feel comfortable with the Wix builder interface as it is a drag and drop platform. The Wix builder gives you complete control over the design of your site, which can be a blessing and a curse, without the right design knowledge in creating a functional user interface, you could end up creating a site that frustrates customers and doesn’t keep them scrolling for long. There is a bit of a learning curve as the Wix builder works differently than most due to this complete flexibility, but with the right design team you can create a beautiful site that is easy to maintain afterwards. Here’s an example of a Wix website build by the UNSGND team that has been updated by our client after hand off. Like Wordpress and Shopify, Wix includes a variety of templates on their platform as well as a plugin marketplace to add additional functionality to your site. Wix also has powerful e-commerce features to explore, as well as the ability to create forums and member areas without an additional fee. Wix also has a feature called Wix ADI that builds a website for you with the power of AI (great for very basic sites right now as the feature is new and still learning).
Pricing (CAD): Wix has a range of subscription plans from $12-$44. For a full breakdown of Wix pricing click here.
Complete freedom in design
Complete freedom in design
Additional features like scheduling and memberships at no additional cost
Steeper learning curve in understanding the platform due to the complexity
All in one platform - hosting included
Overall, each website platform has their strong-suit and caveat. In our opinion, Wordpress is the most affordable but requires the most attention to detail in terms of maintenance, security and hosting, Squarespace has the easiest user interface but limits creativity in some cases, Shopify is the best for e-commerce management but may not be the most effective for service based sites and Wix allows for complete creative control on a budget, but has a steeper learning curve to understanding the platform. Choosing the best website platform depends on what your goals are for your site, your budget and your anticipated level of involvement with your site once it’s built. With a great web design team, you can receive assistance in choosing what platform is best for you based on your vision for your site, and you can be provided with the tools needed to maintain your site afterward, or receive support in updating your site in the future.
Our team has experience building and customizing with each of the above site platforms as well as developing completely custom sites or web applications if you have an idea that does not fit the scope of a website builder. If you’d like to learn more about our process or see some of our previous projects, click here. Want to start a website project with us? Click the button below. Thanks for reading!