You’re ready to build a beautiful website for yourself, your business/online store, blog, or organization. You know there are a lot of web platform options out there, but you don’t exactly know where to start.
Which platform is the best/easiest? How will I set it up? How do I make it pretty? How do I make sure my visitors find exactly what they’re looking for? Do I need to hire a developer?
These may be some of the questions you’re asking yourself. Luckily, I’ve been attached to my laptop for long enough to know which tools are the best for beginners. The best part? You don’t have to know how to code to create a well designed, profitable/professional website that accomplishes your goals.
It doesn’t have to be expensive, difficult to learn, or too time consuming. Create a well-designed, thriving website that stands out from the crowded online space, even as a non-coder, non-designer, or a complete newbie.
Now, I’m going to be honest and let you know that creating and optimizing a unique website with the right copy (written text), graphics, and a layout that’s going to capture attention does take some time, thought, and a good eye for aesthetics. But, if you simply dedicate a few solid hours per week to get familiar with your platform of choice, you’ll have your website created within a few weeks — or less.
Before focusing on your actual website set up, though, make sure you’ve got your primary goals established and your site copy & content planned out. What purpose is your website going to serve? What value will it offer to the world, to your audience? Who IS your audience?
Your foundation is key — this should be all laid out before you worry about the technical aspects of creating a website.
“Got it, Kristen! I know who my website is for, what it will accomplish, and how…I’ve got it all mapped out!”
Excellent! Now it’s time to sign up with a website provider. Let’s decide which of these bad boys is going to be the lucky winner.
Why WordPress, Shopify, or Squarespace?
WordPress, Shopify, and Squarespace are three of the most popular and arguably the best platforms out there for anyone who is just getting started. They are straightforward, search engine friendly, and developed with security in mind (especially important for payment processes and for keeping login information safe).
Let’s take a look at each one a little more in depth:
WordPress (for Bloggers, Professionals, Creatives, and Businesses)
WordPress powers 25% of the world wide web. This ONE tool is responsible for over 60 million websites. It’s like the Grandfather of the Internet. It’s used by huge Fortune 500 companies and small mom and pop shops, worldwide celebrities and local stars, both famous bloggers and beginner bloggers alike.
There’s a reason for its popularity. WordPress is the most comprehensive website & blog management tool out of these three platforms. It allows you to build any kind of site your heart desires. It has a ton of features built in and thousands of optional add-ons that you can add as you grow and get to know more about WordPress. If you like the option of having options, WordPress is the way to go.
With thousands of great themes to choose from (themes determine your layout and customization process), the possibilities are literally endless. There are two paths you can take if you choose to work with WordPress — WordPress.com (free but limited in options) and WordPress.org (paid but incredibly unlimited).
You can set up an absolutely free site on WordPress.com, however I would only recommend this to people who don’t plan on ever investing much into their website. For instance, if you just want a basic free site to act as an online resume, or for a one-off project, WordPress.com without the bells and whistles could be all that you need. Here’s a look at the free themes they offer. There are a few that are decent, but in general, there isn’t much sophistication when it comes to using WordPress.com.
I would highly recommend WordPress.org for creating an online empire. For a website that can serve your needs both as a beginner and as you grow to achieve thousands of visitors per month (if that’s your goal), there are plenty of reasons why WordPress.org will work for you at any stage. Let’s get you familiar.
WordPress.org is mind-bogglingly flexible — whatever you want to accomplish with your website, you can pretty much do it all with WordPress. There are over 2,600 themes that WordPress offers, or you can choose from a variety of free and premium themes (templates) offered by 3rd party developers. (My favorite place to find great WordPress themes are on Themeforest, CodeCanyon, and MojoMarketplace.)
There are over 31,000 plugins that you can install to your WordPress site that help you customize it and achieve your business/blog goals.
WordPress.org is the self-hosted version of WordPress, meaning you will have to purchase a hosting plan through another provider (such as Bluehost) and then install the WordPress software to your account with that host.
Don’t worry, this is all super easy to do with the click of a few buttons.
Shopify (for Online Stores)
Shopify is an amazing user-friendly platform designed entirely around eCommerce, or selling merchandise online. If you want to start or expand your online store and eventually generate 5- and 6-figure per month revenues, Shopify’s system is a powerful tool where thousands of online sellers are doing just that.
Again, you don’t have to be a web- nor a business-pro to build an online store with Shopify. It’s quick to set up and you can learn as you go.
Shopify is an all-in-one fully hosted Ecommerce solution. This means you don’t purchase any third party plans as with Bluehost and WordPress. On WordPress, you must install a special plugin, such as Woocommerce, in order to sell products on your site. Your Shopify account, however, already comes with these features as selling items is its primary purpose.
While I love the freedom of WordPress, it is much easier to set up shop on Shopify. Its user interface is very direct and perfect for novice online sellers. It’s important to note, however, that its blogging features are not as advanced as WordPress.
Shopify provides wonderful support, speed, and an account dashboard that’s simple to use. If offers top notch free and paid themes with mobile responsive, aesthetically pleasing store designs. Click here to check out its theme store.
Shopify offers a free 14-day trial (which you can get extended up to a month), so you risk nothing for trying it out! Your store and dashboard can be further customized by installing Apps that can help you with logistics, invoicing, live chat with your customers, product reviews, and more.
Squarespace (for Bloggers, Professionals, Creatives, Businesses)
If the idea of building your own website still seems like daunting foreign language, but you’re willing to try it out anyway, enter Squarespace. This is the newest of the three options, also a popular choice for a range of large and small companies and types of websites — portfolios, boutiques, musicians, special occasions, etc.
Squarespace is straightforward enough for a kid to use and figure out how to create an expensive looking website. Its templates are clean and visually appealing, and its drag-and-drop model makes beautiful website building way simple. If you’re leaning towards a minimal look for your site — Squarespace would likely be a great match for you.
I recommend checking out these example Squarespace sites to get an idea of what yours could look like with your own spicing it up. Design options, up front, seem more limited with Squarespace. While Shopify and WordPress, each offer a multitude of themes/layout options, there are just 37 Squarespace templates.
I enjoy using Squarespace and I think it’s the easiest for complete beginners, but I highly suggest learning how to customize your site beyond the basics. I say this because many Squarespace websites and blogs I see all have a similar generic look to them.
If it’s too minimal, you risk having a boring and forgettable website. It only takes a bit of extra effort to make your Squarespace site stand out with some color, great graphics, and easy design modifications.
Squarespace also offers a free 14-day-trial for you to take advantage of and see if you like before you buy.
“I’m still unsure which platform to choose! What’s the final verdict, Kristen?”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each of the options detailed above can work for anyone who puts in a few weeks of using and learning them. With that being said, you will only know what’s best for you by actually getting your hands dirty. Pick one, jump in, and go!
Review your options, choose one, and take some time to watch their tutorial videos – they all provide super simple set up guides!
In most cases, I recommend going with WordPress.org (+ Bluehost to host) as its the most sophisticated, versatile, and widely-used option. WordPress will take the longest to truly master, however, spending time to get familiar with it can be a great investment, especially if you think you’ll build/manage multiple websites in the future.
Shopify is a great choice for those who want to build a store, keep it simple for now, and have the option of growing massively in the future. You can create a feature-rich, highly functional store on Shopify without having to learn quite as many behind-thescenes features as you would with WordPress.
Squarespace is best for those on the non-techy-at-all end of the spectrum. If you want to Work Your Website in the simplest (but also effective) way possible, sign up with Squarespace! Just promise me you’ll put in the effort to add a bit of pizzazz to your site so that you will stand out.