These days, a website is critical to the success of a small business. With social media continuing it’s movement to a pay-to-play model and the geocentricity of a smartphone-powered world enabling users to find local businesses that can address their needs in real time, a good quality website is more important than ever.
While everyone knows what a website is, when it comes to choosing a path forward in the creation of a new website or the replacement of an outdated website for a small business, things can get confusing very quickly. To further complicate things, we have to be honest – there is no one perfect website solution that works for everyone. The good news is that with a little knowledge, you can make an educated decision about what is the best website option for your business.
The biggest considerations when choosing a new website service or hosting platform are:
- Ownership – Who owns your website files, database, and domain name?
- Access – Do you have access to all aspects of your website backend and hosting?
- Portability – Can you take your website files and database away from one hosting company or web provider and install it on another?
- Scalability – Will your website continue to serve your needs as your business grows?
- Functionality – If you need eCommerce, eTicketing for events, or other features, does the service or platform offer it?
- Updates, security, and backups – Who is keeping your website safe and healthy?
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – Who will do the necessary work to make sure your website will be easily found by both search engines and potential clients?
- Monthly fees vs long term expense – Will saving money now cost you more in the long run?
- Support – If you have a problem, who do you call?
- Cost and budget – Simply put, can you afford it?
A disclaimer: throughout this article, know that we are doing our best to put things in layman’s terms to help clear up confusion. From a technical standpoint, some of the terminology we define could be argued, but generally only by those wishing to cloud the differences that set these services apart. Hopefully this will make sense as you read on.
What is the difference between a website designer and a website developer?
Since the early days of the internet, web technologies and security concerns have become increasingly more complex. Because of this, the meaning of the term “web designer” has changed quite a bit. Originally, a web designer would have been a person who built a website from scratch, and who not only acted in a creative capacity, but who was also the technical expert behind the coding and functionality of the website. That has all changed. You can read all about it here in one of our previous blogs, or view the following definitions:
A Web Designer – These days, a web designer is someone whose talents lie in creating the look and feel of a website, and who works with the content of a website. He or she usually focuses their talents on one or two web platforms or web builders (we’ll explain more about this below) and generally, a web designer doesn’t have advanced coding skills or deeper knowledge about web servers, web security, and the very technical world of web hosting.
A Web Developer – A web developer may be a very competent and creative web designer, but he or she will also have substantial experience in coding, server administration, security, and most importantly, troubleshooting.
Some web tech firms like Blink;Tech have both web designers and web developers working hand in hand with other web technology experts to help save you, the client, money and provide excellent service by bringing in the right person from the team for the job at hand.
What is the difference between web hosting, a web platform, and a web builder?
We get different versions of the above question all the time, and while the terms are related, they are actually like comparing apples, oranges, and bananas. This confusion leads to a lot of costly mistakes by small businesses seeking help with a website, so let’s clear up any misconceptions you may have about these three terms.
No matter who builds your website or how it is built, you need web hosting. Web hosting is where your website files and database live. It is the service that “hosts” your files and is responsible for the very technical, server-related side of keeping your website live, accessible, and up-to-date with modern technologies. Different web hosts offer different levels of access for their clients, as well as different levels of security and functionality. Of prime importance is that your web host should always be accessible and responsive (meaning you can talk to a human being) should you have a problem. A problem in this case usually means your website is down.
A Web Platform
A web platform is basically the program that makes your website work. This program is often the lion’s share of the files and database that make up a modern website. If you have ever heard the term “content management system”, this is another way of referring to this program that assembles all the words, images, video, design elements, and functionality into what someone sees and interacts with when he or she visits your website.
From our standpoint, one of the key elements that defines a web platform is portability – meaning the platform can live at any hosting company who has the technology to support it. Examples of popular web platforms include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. If a web platform can only live at the hosting company that created it, we at Blink;Tech would rather refer to this as a “web builder”. And this is where all the confusion starts…
A Web Builder
As we laid out above, we feel that any “web platform” that can only live at the hosting company that created it should really be called a “web builder”. A web builder is a proprietary website platform built to only function at one hosting company – usually with the goal of locking the website “owner” into a long-term dependency. We’re putting the term “owner” in quotations because, generally speaking, the owner of a website built with a web builder does not have access to the background files of the program that runs the website – which means that if that website owner wishes to move the website to another web service or hosting provider, he or she may have to start from scratch with an all new website.
Some of these services offer downloadable html backups of the website files, but be aware that for a sizable website with lots of functionality and content, there still can be a tremendous amount of work and expense to rebuild the site at a different hosting company on a different platform.
Examples of what we call web builders are Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly. The look and functionality of a website built with these companies can be extremely good and sometimes even rival well-built sites on WordPress or Joomla, but the big distinction here is whether you can hand over a backup of your website to a new hosting company and have a perfectly functioning website up quickly – without an extensive and costly rebuild. An upside to many web builders is that the monthly service fee usually does include all updates, security, and backups should your website go down.
How Do I Know if a Website Service is Right for My Business?
Remember that laundry list of questions we started with? If you can talk to a human being at the web service provider you are considering, ask them these questions directly. If you can’t talk to a human being, then move on – that’s already a huge red flag!
Web Platforms vs Web Builders
You may have concluded that we here at Blink;Tech are not big fans of what we refer to as web builders, but that is only partly correct. In many cases, business owners simply don’t have the means to have a website professionally built on a web platform like WordPress. In these cases, web builders like Wix and Squarespace offer affordable solutions to at least get your business off the ground. If it came down to using a web builder or not having a website at all, we would always encourage you to get a website. Not many businesses can function without one these days.
If your goal, however, is to grow your business over time and you foresee a big expansion of products, services, or web traffic in your future, the advantages offered by a web platform like WordPress can really pay off in the end. If you plan on your website having a lot of content (maybe you are a blogger or a web influencer), then utilizing a more portable web platform will ensure you have control over that content and can save you considerable money in the long run should you need to move that content to another platform. That can easily be worth the higher cost in both building and maintaining a website built on a web platform like WordPress or Joomla.
Hiring a Web Designer or Web Developer
Keep in mind that because of their coding limitations, many modern web designers build their clients’ websites with the aforementioned web builders. A web developer on the other hand will always utilize a web platform that has both accessible and portable code and therefore could be worked on by other knowledgeable web developers and be moved to different hosting environments. In some instances, a web developer may even hand code a website for a larger client to provide functionality or security above and beyond what available web platforms offer.
When hiring anyone to build a website for you, always ask what platform it will be built on, where it will be hosted, and whether or not you can move it to another server should you wish.
Getting the Best of Both Worlds
As mentioned above, here at Blink;Tech, we have a team of web professionals who specialize in all aspects of web technologies including web design, web development, hosting, SEO, content creation, digital marketing, and more! What this means is that we bring in the right expert or experts to tackle the client’s specific need, keeping costs to a minimum and providing excellent service. It also means that we are on hand to advise and help our client’s grow their online presence and make educated decisions about implementing new functionalities and utilizing emerging web technologies. We are more of a tech partner than a simple web provider.
If you have questions about any of the above or need help creating a web presence for your business, give us a call or fill out the webform below!