Online Website Builders Explained
There are hundreds of online website builders to choose from and most of them aren't worth the hosting space they were built on.
They all claim to be “the best solution” but there is no best solution just as there is no best car. A Ferrari would be great to commute to work in but for taking the family on an extended camping holiday it would sadly come up short. The fun factor would soon disappear when you fill it up with sand on a trip to the beach.
Some solutions are better than others depending on what you are going to use it for. Always go for the simpler solution and start making money rather than start building something complex that won't have all of its features used and turns into a time and money pit.
Magento, OScommerce, Virtuemart and other open source shopping carts are extremely time consuming to set up and configure. My eCommerce website builder reviews will give you a solid understanding of the basic strengths and weaknesses of each product and point you in the right direction.
Online Website Builder Comparison
The problem with “bolting on” third party eCommerce solutions to a CMS like Wordpress or Joomla is that the CSS files all need work to make the plug in or add on look and feel the same as the original content template. The result is wasted hours making everything look uniform.
Joomla partnered with Virtuemart needs extensive surgery to make it worthy for your shoppers to part with their cash.
Wordpress and Woo Commerce are the same. Magento is very expensive to develop.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could buy an “Off The Shelf” eCommerce package that would allow you to get started with a minimum of fuss? Well you can. And I show you how.
I've made a comparison chart for you of the top rated eCommerce solution providers which you can find here “Website Builder Comparison Table” - it's a handy guide to help you choose a provider and make sense of all the different features.
Shopify is a Canadian company whose goal is to help you do exactly that – build an online retail store that allows you to concentrate on what really matters – promotion and selling product. They are the biggest provider of eCommerce website builder software and that's my recommended choice if you were to go down this route. Read my Shopify Review
Bigcommerce are excellent as well and their pricing plans incorporate more features than Shopify at lower price points. For example at the $29 level Bigcommerce gives you gift cards functionality and abandoned shopping cart reports the latter of which I'd consider to be pretty indispensable for anyone serious about selling in quantity. Read my Bigcommerce Review
However Bigcommerce don't compare as well in theme design with Shopify streets ahead with their free mobile responsive templates and Point Of Sale (POS) is a feature that Shopify lords it over all competition.
Choosing The Right Website Builder
Weebly Website Builder
A cake shop owner who simply wants to display some of her best creations with a simple contact form would be best served by choosing Weebly because of its simplicity and ease of use.
The drag and drop interface is ideal for those with no technical knowledge or desire to start working out how menus work in Wordpress. It's good but it's not as good as Wix.
See my Weebly Review
Wix Website Builder
A professional photographer would be well served choosing Wix for it's comparative good looks and stunning templates. Beautiful designs can be created, again with little technical expertise.
Wix is growing its eCommerce solution and for selling in limited quantities it is a good choice for a small retailer.
See my Wix Review
Shopify eCommerce Website Builder
Shopify is rapidly becoming the eCommerce solution of choice for all types of business. The degree to which templates can be modified and the ease with which it can be set up make it a great choice for new eCommerce start-ups and established retailers.
Watch out for the transaction charges if you decide to use a payment gateway other than Shopify payments because they can add up quickly if you have a high turnover.
See my Shopify Review
BigCommerce eCommerce Website Builder
BigCommerce has offices in Sydney (Australia), San Francisco (California) and Austin (Texas) and powers thousands of stores in over 150 countries. They recently added a swathe of responsive templates to their collection which are the equal of Shopify.
BigCommerce recently completed a $30 million funding round in the USA which will enable them to further improve and refine their product. BigCommerce has partnered with Ebay to make it easier for small to medium sized businesses to sell on Ebay.
See my BigCommerce Review
Lemonstand eCommerce Website Builder
Lemonstand is the choice for those retailers who want to customise the entire shopping experience and give it a visual brand identity. A developer can make something truly outstanding using open source tools that make rapid development and deployment of your eCommerce solution a reality.
Lemonstand templates can be customised so that the whole customer journey through to purchase is completely seamless.
See my Lemonstand Review
Why Not Use Joomla Or Wordpress?
Joomla was designed as a platform to enable multiple authors to contribute to a project and Wordpress was designed as a blog.
Neither platform was designed to sell products from the ground up.
If you want to build an enterprise level support system for the NHS then use Joomla.
If you want to create an award winning blog use Wordpress.
People have used these software platforms to do eCommerce because there was broadly nothing else available at a reasonable cost.
The Benefits Of Online Website Builders
The new breed of cloud based software solutions are so much easier to use than server based software and when you factor in the cost of maintaining a server and paying a developer or an agency to support your open source solution then the monthly outlay is easily justified.
In addition to the cost factor the new REST API features that both Shopify and Lemonstand are developing mean that integration with third party tools is becoming easier than ever. Integrations with other Saas platforms like Kashflow mean that you get “best of breed” solutions every time and not an underwritten lightweight afterthought.
Saas (Software as a service) solutions can take advantage of the latest hosting technology without you having to worry about backup solutions and bandwidth. Because the data load is distributed across multiple CDN's (content delivery networks) you get blazingly fast speed for your website.
Of course there are a hundred other eCommerce solutions out there but to try and compare them all would take a year to do. At some point you have to take the plunge and if you are going to make something worthwhile you have to stop analysing and start doing.
Choosing something that looks like a good fit only to find out a year later that your company evolved into something completely different is completely natural and for that reason cart2cart exists to import and export your data painlessly from one eCommerce solution to another.
Don't be afraid of being saddled with your first choice software because you can move from one eCommerce platform to another if you need to.
The biggest advantage of choosing Saas eCommerce is the time saving and rapid deployment.
Bigcommerce, Shopify and Lemonstand can all be set up in a day, hours even and with their template system it will look great right out of the box.
Come closer. I want to whisper in your ear. I’m going to tell you a secret:
Building a basic website is really very easy. Building a website presence though, now that is a mountain of hard work.
Before you go and spend your valuable time building something you might never use, answer the following questions to get a better idea of what you might need:
Let’s begin with the site itself:
What Is Your Intended Target Market?
Defining your target market is the absolute best use of your time. If you can discover who your users are going to be then it is going to be a lot easier to sell to them. Build up a picture of your audience and then build your site around them.
And the best way of finding out this information? Ask them!
If you’ve ever watched “The Apprentice” then you’ll know that one of the most common mistakes rookie entrepreneurs make is to do market research and then completely ignore what they discovered.
Because the research didn’t fit in with the overall vision of what their company is going to be or what they wanted to make, the customer research just got discarded.
“You bluddy fool, what were you finking?”
Don’t create products and then try to sell them. Ask what your customer wants and then give it to them. Credit goes to Seth Godin for teaching me that little gem and now, I pass it on to you, like the gold watch in Pulp Fiction.
How Will You Make Your Product Different?
If you are in a crowded marketplace think about how you are going to differentiate your product offering from all of the other players in your space. If you are going to offer a superior service how are you going to communicate that? Will you be integrating live chat, twitter feeds or a helpdesk service?
If it’s a better product then photo galleries or slideshows may show it off better. Look at the existing sites in your market and see how you can improve on what is already there.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’ve built a website people will begin battering on your IP address. That doesn’t happen unless you have something totally unique to offer.
Do You Have Existing Content?
If you are an established company then you will likely have magazines or brochures that you can lift the content from, however writing for the web can be challenging. If you are planning a site of say 20 pages then you will need pre prepared content for every page.
The most common reason for sites being delayed is the lack of content.
When producing content try to write in a conversational style. Corporate gobbledegook speak really does not go down well with a visitor who can simply press the back button and go somewhere else that speaks everyday language. You may have to get a lot of content rewritten so be prepared for that.
If you have product guides and documentation then these will need to be made into downloadable files. Perhaps in PDF format or plain Word documents.
How Are You Going To Promote Your Website?
“Build it and they will come” is not a great mantra for success these days. With thousands of new websites being launched every day you have to have a marketing plan.
Blogging and or Content Marketing are a slow but sure way to increase traffic. You’ll need to be good at it and be consistent. Utilising social media marketing to help spread the word will speed up the process. You’ll have to be in it for the long haul though as it can take several years to establish a business this way.
Pay Per Click can bring immediate results depending on how competitive your target market is. Trying to muscle your way into a market where people have had a long time to hone and evaluate their strategy can be an expensive business. There is a lot of trial and error involved in PPC.
The flip side of the coin is that if a PPC campaign works well then you can run it endlessly without stopping. For as long as it is profitable you can keep it going.
The big mistake beginners at PPC make is sending all their traffic to the home page. You need specifically designed landing pages depending on the search term being targeted.
Because a generic page doesn’t always have enough star attraction to “pull in” the visitor from the search term they entered. Building specific landing pages for targeted keywords is how you do it.
Tracking and Analysis
Set up Google analytics for your site to be able to measure the amount of traffic you are receiving. Goal funnel reports and analysing metrics like time spent on page will give you an idea of where you can more profitably spend your time improving the website.
Is the bounce rate overly high (above 60%) or is it above average because of the amount of spam bots that plague your website? Filtering these bots out in your reports can make the difference between what you think is a successful campaign but in reality is a poorly performing one.
This also works the other way round in that by artificially inflating your visitor count, spam bots will make your conversion rate lower which is not a good thing.
Graphic Design Elements
A picture speaks a thousand words?
If only that were the case – it would save me a lot of blogging!
A pleasing logo design can go a long way towards making your website a success. You don’t have to spend a fortune; we charge £49 for a new logo design. You get unlimited revisions but in most instances the first design is the one that people stick with.
Sometimes you’ll want custom graphics to support your content. Perhaps the Valentines Day promotion, Mothers Day or a Christmas campaign needs a little more oomph. These are the details that make the difference between success and failure.
So there you have it. Building a website is very easy. Much like publishing was easy using Pagemaker.
The trouble was that Pagemaker put publishing in the hands of people that didn't know what a font was, never mind what typeface to use or the difference between a sans serif and the one that doesn't have the curly bits around it.