Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Jimdo Website Builder Review

Jimdo is known as an easy-to-use, all-inclusive website builder that is designed for people with no coding knowledge. They offer two options for website owners: a DIY builder that puts you in control of choosing a template and customizing it, or an AI website builder that uses artificial intelligence to build a template for you, then walks you through the various tweaks you can make.

See Jimdo’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Jimdo a try for a full Jimdo review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Jimdo review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Jimdo?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Jimdo lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately (ie, you buy a domain, hosting, and website software separately.).

Using Jimdo is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Jimdo, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Jimdo competes with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on using AI to create done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus on plugging in your content and getting up and running quickly.

They also offer a more traditional drag-and-drop builder for those who have more experience, making Jimdo appeal to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience) and those who have a bit of website knowledge and want more customization abilities.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Jimdo — not just in comparison to popular website builders like Weebly and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of Jimdo’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple process that involves creating an account, verifying your details through your email, and then choosing which website builder you’d like to use.

Jimdo Product Options

One thing to note here — if you’re looking for the easiest, most hands-off way to create your website, the AI web designer is probably your best option. It goes through a series of questions and then creates your website for you, but follows the process up with a detailed, step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your base template. It’s perfect for DIYers who are brand new to building a website.

Jimdo Tutorial

Simplicity

Jimdo is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template (or have one created for you with the AI builder), you’re pretty much locked in to the layout provided.

The DIY website builder is drag and drop, but it has it’s limitation — you can add new elements to the page, but only within the template structure you’re already given (and limited to the elements provided — but more on that in a bit).

Jimdo Editor

And if you’re using the AI builder, you’re given even more structure (with that comes limitations, but again — we’ll get there). With this option, you have less drag-and-drop and more choose from what they give you. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

AI Editor Jimdo

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

Website Builder Options

Part of what makes Jimdo unique is they offer two design routes — you can either use their AI website builder, which gathers information for you and creates a template based on your answers to questions like “what is your website for?” and “what is your preferred design style?”. From there, Jimdo walks you through a step-by-step tutorial for customizing your assigned website template.

Jimdo AI Set Up

Or, you can take the DIY-approach. In this approach, you select your industry and are provided with a selection of website templates to choose from. Then, you can customize the template with Jimdo’s drag and drop editor. This method is slightly more advanced, but still straightforward and controlled enough to keep newbies in check.

DIY Jimdo

One thing to note if you’re going the DIY route — I found that your industry selection doesn’t matter. I was given the same templates to choose from whether I chose business or healthcare or skipped the industry question all together.

*One additional note here. When using Jimdo for the purposes of this review, I created an additional Jimdo account through a new browser window to go through the sign up process again, and was automatically assigned to the AI website builder. Of course, there’s always a chance for user error, but as a brand new, inexperienced customer to the platform… it was confusing. It’s a potential con for using the platform, but not because of the actual user experience of the builder — it’s just a bit confusing and unclear when signing up.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Jimbdo is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Jimdo also offers ecommerce functionality with their paid plan (one thing to note — in order to get ecommerce functionality, you do need to choose between the two higher-priced tiers.)

Jimdo Ecommerce

We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

European Presence

For U.S. users, this isn’t really a pro or a con, but for those in the EU, Jimdo’s European presence makes it a strong competitor.

Jimdo is a German company and operates data centers in Europe. As a European company, this means that Jimdo’s data protection and privacy standards are much stronger thanks to the EU’s new laws on data and privacy.

Additionally, if you are a US company who needs an EU microsite for an EU audience, Jimdo makes GDPR a bit easier than some website builders focused on the US market.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Plans + Pricing

Jimdo’s pricing and plan structure is a bit confusing. When first signing up, You can see that paid plans start at $9/month paid annually, which includes your own domain, free hosting but only a 10 page limit.

Jimdo Pricing

However, if you choose a free plan and want to upgrade (which I did), the pricing options appear differently from inside your account.

Jimdo Pricing Part Two

Aside from the convoluted information, the actual competitiveness of the plans and pricing structure leaves something to be desired (err, actually a *lot* to be desired).

Compared to competitors like Wix, Gator, and Weebly, Jimdo is more expensive and has more restrictive limits.

Their free plan doesn’t even offer mobile-friendly site design (a pretty standard design feature in today’s world), and you can’t get basic Search Engine Optimization features until their mid-tier plans. Even the mid-tier Grow plans has hard limits on the number of pages and on bandwidth usage (which to me seems like a double-limit). And I’m all for over-delivering on low expectations, but the support options are seriously deficient.

Plus, there’s no option to may monthly, so you’re locked in for a year.

In short, using Jimdo is going to be more expensive than going with a competitor and more restrictive due to the design and technical limitations (more on that shortly), regardless of whether you’re using it for a year or just a few months.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS)

And you can really see this trade-off with the Jimbdo website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing at all. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template and adding additional elements within the template that may enhance your design / user experience.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with Jimdo. In the DIY website builder, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’ of the design. You can also choose from a few variations of the template, which essentially just have different navigation styles.

Jimdo Template Variations

With pages, you can delete and add sections and move them around, but you cannot add a page unless you add it to the navigation. You can alter the layout, but you certainly cannot edit the CSS, much less add any other design element outside of the pieces they give you.

And if you’re using the AI website builder, you’re limited even further. As I mentioned above, you can add sections and elements based on pre-built blocks, but that’s about it.

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up. It’s great to have the basics, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling.And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Jimdo website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Jimdo does give some integrations, like ecommerce and DNS/hosting services. However, there are a ton of technical features that Jimdo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Jimdo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title and description for individual pages, as well as assign noindex, nofollow, or noarchive settings. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have aside from editing the HTML in text sections on the page. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Jimdo SEO Options

Even the additional add-0n products are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics.

Jimdo Analtyics

Ultimately, Jimdo leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Jimdo Review Conclusion

Jimdo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization (just choose their AI website builder). They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor/customizer that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Jimdo’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Jimdo falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They’re severely limited when it comes to technical features and integrations, which means if you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over functionality and enhancements, Jimdo may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Jimdo fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Gator Website Builder

HostGator is one of the best known brands in the website & hosting industry. They’re especially known for their shared hosting, building their reputation on good pricing, fast servers, and great service compared to other brands. While I’ve long used HostGator for website hosting, I recently gave their website builder software, Gator Website Builder, a try.

View Gator Website Builder Current Plans & Pricing.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my Gator website builder review, let’s dive into an overview of website solutions.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc.

The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Gator Website Builder?

The Gator Website Builder is HostGator’s hosted website builder. HostGator has traditionally only provided domain names & hosting for other website software (like installing WordPress). Gator is their move into providing domain, hosting AND software in a single subscription.

So, on the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Gator Website Builder lives on the end that is hosted, all-inclusive, provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately (ie, buying your domain name, hosting & installing software).

Using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner.

That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control. You can read more about what a website builder is and how it contrasts to web hosting here.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like HostGator, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, HostGator competes directly with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy’s GoCentral and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and convenience by offering everything you need to get your website up and running in just a few minutes. HostGator appeals to the non-developer community here (think DIY-ers who need to create a website without having tons of website experience or time to maintain self-hosted software).

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Gator Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using HostGator’s Gator Website Builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors, but as an overall website solution.

Easy Onboarding Process

One of Gator’s best features is its onboarding process (AKA the process of getting up and running with Gator’s website software). There is typically a part of the onboarding process when you think, “okay… what do I do now?”

With Gator, onboarding is quick, simple, and straightforward. In just a few steps, you’ll have selected your plan, chosen your domain name, and picked a theme to create your website with — all without wondering, “Where the heck do I go now?”

Plus, Gator builds in education not only through email drip sequence, but through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your theme and add content to your website.

Gator Tutorial

All-in-One Solution

Again, HostGator’s Gator Website Builder is an all-in-one solution, which means everything you need — from hosting to domain registration to integrations (more on that shortly) is included in the platform.

That means everything just works — there’s no figuring out if this app or extension is compatible or is going to break your site. There’s no troubleshooting or support needs outside of what they already offer. Even things like analytics are built into the platform.

Analytics Integrations

Spending less time on research and troubleshooting means you can spend more time on stuff that matters – like content, design, and marketing your site.

Plus, since Gator is associated with HostGator — a well known, trusted hosting provider — the platform has the flexibility and resources to provide things like unlimited storage, DNS & domains support (AKA buying and mapping your domain name to your website), and support to migrate to a self-hosted product if or when that makes sense.

Template Design

When you set up your website with Gator, you have to choose a template to start your design. One of the pros of HostGator’s website builder is their pre-built templates. They have hundreds of options to choose from, and each option can be edited and customized in their drag-and-drop website builder.

You could custom build a website on HostGator with software & themes of your choosing (ie, WordPress + themes), but part of Gator’s appeal is that they have a huge selection of well-designed templates that you can tweak for your own needs by adding / removing sections and customizing the colors, photography, fonts, and content — all without worrying about their learning curve or costs of addons.

Site Building Process

Speaking of design… one advantage of an all-inclusive website builder is that you don’t have to write HTML or CSS code — instead, you can just drag and drop elements. What you see in the builder is what you get on the website.

Add Pages Gator

HostGator’s drag and drop builder is simultaneously detailed and simple. It gives you plenty of options for customization, such as adding new elements, change colors and fonts, adding entirely new pages to build from scratch, etc. But it also is extremely easy to use (it’s literally drag and drop). It makes it very simple for someone with no website experience to customize their theme or even give it a major overhaul.

Sections Website Builder Gator

Overall Pricing

While HostGator doesn’t have a free option for a subdomain (like Wix does), their overall pricing is competitive not only compared to other all-inclusive website builders, but also to buying your own hosting.

HostGator

Notice how everything is bundled and unlimited. There are no caps on pages or storage space. In fact, the only difference between the plans is support (priority is “faster” support) and ecommerce functionality.

Compared to building your own website on your host and especially other website builders, Gator’s pricing is very competitive. And while pricing isn’t everything, it’s certainly a factor, especially if you’re looking to bundle price and convenience.

Cons

But of course, no Gator website builder review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Apps, Extensions, and Advanced Marketing

While Gator’s all-in-one platform is a solid pro for the website builder, it does also give it a disadvantage in terms of lack of support and ability to add 3rd party apps, extensions, and advanced marketing tools.

Gator does offer some apps and extensions, like G suite integration and priority support on their platform, but they’re pretty limited.

apps and integrations gator website builder

And while Gator does allow you to edit the site HTML and insert HTML when designing a page, there isn’t a way to go in and edit specific sections of code. This, combined with not having 100% control over your site & server (ie, to FTP verification files), limits you to which marketing tools you can add to your website.

This tradeoff does ensure that everything works correctly (no WordPress white screen of death when adding Google Tag Manager), but the trade off is control and customization.

Pricing + Upsells

Yep — pricing is also a con. While Gator’s pricing options are extremely competitive, it’s worth noting that the 50% off promotion only applies for the payment period. For example, if you commit to the premium plan at the 2-year price, that price only lasts you two years.

pricing rules Gator

It’s also not clear from the initial pricing information that a free domain name is only included in the yearly billing. That information comes during the checkout process.

Yearly Billing

The overall upsell with the domain + the marketing apps is also a bit convoluted. When you’re checking out, it almost looks like you have to purchase a domain name if you don’t yet own one. In reality, you can use a subdomain and purchase a domain separately.

Gator domain registration

The domain add-on is one of a few upsells during the checkout process, which does clutter the onboarding slightly.

Blog Functionality

While Gator does have a blog integration that you can add on to your website, it doesn’t come as a part of your theme. It’s treated as more of an “add on”, and you can select how you want your blog to look. blog themes gator website builder

While it’s great to be able to customize the look and feel of your blog, having to choose a separate theme makes it a bit disjointed and seems like the blog is a secondary feature. If you’re looking to have a website for the sole purpose of blogging, this may not be the best fit for you*

*if you are primarily a blogger, but want the all-inclusiveness of a website builder, then you should check out WordPress.com – it’s powered by WordPress but is hosted and controlled so that the experience is better than self-hosting WordPress.

Review Conclusion

Gator has many of the tradeoffs inherent with all website builders while capitalizing on the potential strengths of a website builder (ie, usability & support).

Compared to other established website builder brands, it lacks many advanced options & templates (ie, especially compared to Wix), but Gator has better usability and pricing than most.

Gator is a really good fit for anyone looking for a well-built, well-priced, straightforward website builder and doesn’t need many extra templates or advanced marketing features (ie, CRO and Schema plugins).

Check out Gator’s current plans & pricing here.

Not sure Gator fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

Working on a long-term project and need more freedom and don’t mind a learning curve? Check out my posts on trying out and self-hosting WordPress.

The post Gator Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder

Site123 Review

Site123 is a fast-growing, independently-owned, website builder based in Israel focused exclusively on DIYers. They claim to be “the most intuitive and easy to use website builder on the market”.

Check out Site123’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Site 123 a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Site 23 review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Site123?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Site123 lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Site123 is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Site123, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Site123 competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease by providing done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus solely on content.

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Site123 has you pick your niche and then customize a curated template based on that niche, which appeals to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience).

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Site123 Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Site123 — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Signup Process

One of Site123’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple, three step process (hence the name Site123), and it’s straightforward, easy to understand, and efficient.

Site123 Set Up

Plus, Site123 builds in education through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your assigned theme and add content to your website, which is an excellent feature for users who haven’t customized / built a website before.

Site123 Tutorial

Simplicity

Site123 is also seriously simple to use. As I mentioned before, Site123 provides you with a template based on your selected industry and type of business/website within that industry.

Site123 Template Selection

While the website builder is not drag and drop, you can choose from a menu of page elements to change the design within your selected theme.

Site123 Select Page Elements

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

The site layout is mobile-friendly and maintains an acceptable look/design no matter what you do to the design options.

Product Integration

Another benefit of Site123 is their extensive list of product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Site123 also offers several plugins (software that you can “plug in” to your website to get additional functionality). From advertising software to analytics tools to marketing + support, their library is extensive.

Site123 Product Integration

Site123 also offers ecommerce functionality. One thing to note here though — to use the integrations, you have to have a paid plan.

And to get ecommerce functionality, you have have to choose between the two higher-priced tiers. We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Site123

Pricing

Site123’s paid plans start at $10.80/month, which includes a free domain for a year/the ability to connect your domain, 10 GB of storage, 5 GB of bandwidth, and the ability to send 100 email messages (side note – who counts email messages?) to your mailing list per month. It also removes the Site123 branding that comes with the free plan.

Site123 Pricing

But compared to their direct competitors like Wix and Weebly, Site123 is much more expensive and offers much less. At each stage, Site123 doesn’t even allow unlimited bandwidth or storage.

And compared to self-hosting (piecing domains, hosting, and email separately) – it’s not a good value at all.

If you’re using Site123 for more than a few months, it’s going to be more expensive than going with a competitor (and more restricting due to the design and technical limitations – more on that shortly).

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control.

And you can really see this trade-off with the Site123 website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template by generating a curated template for you.

But here’s the thing — if you don’t like the template you’re given, changing it up is a pain. If you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are very limited with Site123.

For your theme, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’/structure of the design.

Site123 Theme editing

With pages, you can choose certain layouts from pre-made choices.

Site123 Page Layout Editing

But you cannot change the layout. You cannot drag and drop. And you certainly cannot edit the HTML and CSS, much less add any other design element.

Site123 Page Editing Example 2

It’s even difficult and near impossible to edit the menu without changing other design elements on the website.

Site123 Menu

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up. It’s great to have the basics, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Site123 website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations. Technical limitations are features and functionality that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now as I mentioned above, Site123 does offer additional features through plugins and apps, but due to the control you give up with the website, you’re fairly limited in how much you can integrate, add on, or even edit within the tools provided.

For example, let’s look at simply editing SEO elements on a page. With the Site123, I can add in a meta description and site slogan, but that’s about all I can do aside from adding header tags inside the content editor. Even basic SEO needs more than that.

Think of it like the difference between cooking in your own kitchen and building your own burrito at a fast food restaurant.

With Site123, you can certainly choose the ingredients that go into your burrito, but your choice is really an illusion because you’re limited to the ingredients that are offered by the restaurant. Like the design, that can be a good thing if you need something simple, and will always need something simple. But if you ever need to upgrade or do something unique or custom, it can be very limiting.

Culture & Lock-in

After looking at a lot of companies across domains, hosting, VPNs, website builders, ecommerce, and more – I’ve noticed that company culture, structure, and policies can speak more about a customer’s long-term experience than a feature matrix.

A website builder is inherently a global business. Every Internet company has remote employees and worldwide data centers. But I’m never a fan of companies not sharing their story or what they are all about. Site123 is incredibly vague about their story, their policies and your relationship to them as a customer.

For example – here’s their about page.

Site123 About Page

It’s a sales page. Here’s a couple answers to FAQs –

Site123 Data Export

Site123 Moneyback

Now – I get that they are a free, hosted website builder. Most website builders have trouble with website export. But their messaging is quite stark with no offer of help scraping or downloading even image files and text.

And the cancellation policy is very odd because it conflicts directly with the purported difficulty of providing a website download. A hosted website builder service should be able to be cancelled at a click of a button. There should be no manual reviews of forms.

Again – this point isn’t meant to raise a potential non-issue for no reason. Site123 might provide a fantastic long-term experience. However, difficult cancellation policies and vague about pages tend to correlate with less than ideal long-term experiences.

Site123 Review Conclusion

Site123 certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization. They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Site123’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Site123 falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. If you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over design and functionality, Site123 may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Site123 fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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12+ Great Squarespace Website Examples for Inspiration

12+ Great Squarespace Website Examples for Inspiration

So you’re considering using Squarespace as your website builder, and you’re looking for Squarespace website examples for inspiration and confirmation that you’re making the right choice.

Squarespace is one of the most well-known brands in the website builder industry.

In terms of different types of website builders, Squarespace lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It makes a nicely designed website incredibly accessible for DIY-ers while leaving the heavy-lifting (AKA hosting, functionality, coding) to someone else. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Squarespace is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment. You’re in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. You have some flexibility, but you also give up some control for convenience.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

But before we dive into examples of what Squarespace websites look like in the Internet wild, there is one thing to keep in mind when you’re evaluating a website platform: it’s not just about how the websites look. The functionality matters too. I’ve written a full Squarespace review in addition to comparisons with other popular website builders, WordPress and Shopify.

But in short – think of it like buying a car. You have a make / model in mind, and you’re probably looking to see them drive by on the road to see how they actually look. However, you also care about how they operate. Does it accelerate well? Does it have the hauling capabilities you need? How is the gas mileage?

Looking at a website platform should be done in the same way. We collected the following Squarespace examples not just to show you how they look, but how Squarespace websites can function so you can be sure you have a website that fits both the style you want and the functionality you need.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgement as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

General Website Examples

Let’s start with a general round up of solid Squarespace website examples. We’ve pulled these examples based on functionality, design, and usability. Again, Squarespace works incredibly well for DIY-ers who want an easy-to-use website that they can throw up on their own without having to worry about the inner-workings. However, be aware that with this comes trade-offs (i.e. you give up some control, functionality, customization, etc.)

Active Schools

Active Schools squarespace website example

Active Schools’ site is a great example of how simple and clean a Squarespace website can be while still conveying all of the necessary information, showing creativity, and looking professional.  Not all websites need to be a design masterpiece. Instead, this site focuses on what matters: copy that describes what the company is all about, and a icons that educate visitors on their mission. If you’re looking for a basic website where you can throw up some text and basic images/video, this template should serve as a good example of what’s possible.

Beautiful Destinations

Beautiful Destinations

While not all websites need to be visual masterpieces, Squarespace is known for making it easy for DIYers to create beautiful sites. For brands that rely more heavily on visuals (like this travel brand), Squarespace allows you to do some pretty amazing things with design fairly easily (and without having to pay for a professional designer). We pulled this website to show how your site can still be simple but incredibly visual. Check out that video header!

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Wedding Website Example

Wedding websites are a great way to give guests information about the big day, show off your personality, and post updates / pictures / anything else you may want to share with those who are involved with your wedding. Given this website has a shorter lifespan than say, a business website, you’ll want something that’s easy to customize, edit, and manage. Here’s a great example of what you can do with a Squarespace wedding website:

Anya & Deven

Anya & Deven

Anya & Deven’s website is a great example of how a simple theme can be all you need to get the job done — without having to custom-build something complex. Their homepage has all of the crucial information: the date of the wedding, the location, and the link to the RSVP page. The site is polished, implements their style with their pictures and colors, but also makes it so you don’t have to spend money on a custom designed website that you’ll only update for a year or two.

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Photography Website Example

Photography websites are all about the portfolio of work. When looking for a Squarespace website example to serve as inspiration for your photography, pay special attention to the layout options for your work. You want to be sure you’re showing off your photos in a creative way without sacrificing the user experience (AKA fast photo load speed, easy to navigate, high quality images, etc). Here are a few examples of Squarespace photography websites we liked:

Erika El Photography

Erika El Photography

What stands out on Erika’s website is the combination of clear copy + great photos. Her homepage starts with a full image that immediately shows visitors what her work is all about. As you scroll down the site, Erika includes some text about her services paired with a carousel of photos that simultaneously showcases her work. If you’re looking for a way to not just show off your work, but also provide some additional context about your services + approach, this is a great website to use as inspiration.

Julie Harmsen

Julie Harmsen Photography

This Squarespace website takes a different approach, especially on the homepage. The entire front page is dedicated to showcasing Julie’s work. The use of the grid keeps the focus on the photography, and the navigation at the top gives an easy and clear way for visitors to navigate to more information.

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Ecommerce Website Example

Ecommerce websites are all about their products. A good ecommerce website should have high-quality product images, be easy to navigate, and keep the focus on what you have to offer your shoppers! You’ll also want to include strong product descriptions and an easy check out process. Here are a few of our favorite Squarespace ecommerce website examples:

Simple Shape

Simple Shape

A great ecommerce website comes down to a few main things: high quality product photos, easy navigation, and easy check out. This website from Simple Shape checks all of those boxes. What stood out to us especially was how straightforward the homepage is. The shop section is easy to navigate and breaks down the product categories intuitively. The collection page itself is also straightforward and clean:

Shoppers can jump to different product collections with the navigation at the top of the page, or use the main navigation to move to other areas of the site.

Little Clay Land

Little Clay Land

The Little Clay Land is another example of an ecommerce website that checks all of the boxes. The main header image is actually the products themselves, which pair nicely with the primary call to action of “Order Now” (which, on an ecommerce site, is the main action you want visitors to take!).

We also liked how the artist included a behind-the-scenes video further down the homepage with a button to learn more about her and her process.

Little Clay Land Video

For ecommerce companies that want to give visitors an inside look at production, this is a great way to do it!

Explore Similar Squarespace Templates!

Personal & Portfolio Website Examples

Personal and portfolio websites are exactly what they sound like… personal! Whether it’s a resume or portfolio website you use to get booked or a side project you created to pursue a passion, this type of site is all about getting your personal brand online and owning your space on the Internet. A personal website should be easy to edit, manage, and customize. Here are a few examples of Squarespace personal and portfolio websites to use for inspiration:

Darren Booth

Daren Booth

Sometimes, less is more… and that’s exactly what makes illustrator Darren Booth’s website so effective. The clean layout draws your eye right to his illustration, and the simple navigation at the top of the page makes it easy to find exactly what you need on his website. This is a great example of a Squarespace portfolio website that’s a good fit for a DIY-er who needs a place to showcase their work in an easily digestible format.

Susannah Rigg

Susannah Rigg

This Squarespace personal website stands out for a few reasons. First, the homepage. The clear navigation + simple header image (with a strong call to action button!) make it easy for visitors to find exactly what they need.

Next, the portfolio page is a great example of using a card layout with images and text to display your work.

Susannah Rigg Portfolio

If you’re wondering how to structure your personal website in a way that’s intuitive, clear, and polished, this site is a great place to start for inspiration.

Lawyer Website Example

A strong lawyer’s website is all about showcasing your practice areas, giving potential clients the opportunity to contact you, and building social proof. Visitors should be able to know exactly who you are and how you can help them when they land on their site, and should be able to easily navigate to what they’re looking for from your homepage. Here’s an example of a strong Squarespace lawyer website:

The Law Office of Christopher Duby LLC

Have you ever been on a website and been completely overwhelmed with the amount of information? This Squarespace lawyer’s website is an excellent example of providing just enough of the RIGHT information on the homepage, along with clear calls to action. The small about paragraph is a great way to introduce what you’re all about, with the option to either learn more, or contact with the contact information on the side.

Fitness Website Example

A strong fitness website boils down to a few important factors. Visitors should be able to know exactly who you are and what you do when they land on your site, and should be able to easily navigate to what they’re looking for from your homepage. They should also be able to contact you, book a session, or request more details. If you have a physical location, you’ll also want to provide information like hours, location, etc. Here is a str0ng example of a Squarespace fitness website:

Fitness By Design

Fitness By Design

A video is a great way to tell your audience about what you’re all about, and we particularly liked how this Squarespace site used video on the homepage and paired it with an irresistible offer to try their personal training session for free! It’s a unique way to engage potential customers, show them what you do and how you can help them, and give them a clear next step.

Blog Website Examples

A good blog website is all about showcasing your content. Keep in mind that your blog doesn’t need to be something super sophisticated. Your focus should be on good user experience (i.e. straightforward navigation, search functionality, etc.), and a site that allows you to easily and quickly upload new content.

The Style Transplant

The Style Transplant

If a good blog is all about the content, then this example from The Style Transplant is a great place to start for inspiration on how to showcase your content! The homepage is simple, easy to navigate, and clear. We especially liked how visitors could see most recent posts in the Stay Updated section on the homepage.

But a good blog website isn’t just about the homepage… it’s also about what you can do with the posts themselves. This Squarespace blog example uses photos and even a “shop the look” feature on the blog page, which adds two valuable elements to the post content.

The Style Transplant Blog

Next Steps

At the end of the day, choosing your website builder goes far beyond design. Why? Because all web pages are made of HTML & CSS with a few scripts thrown in. This means that any website template can exist on any good web platform.

What YOU want to focus on is the design elements and functionality that are available on the platform you’re choosing.

If you feel like Squarespace fits the design and functionality needs you have for your website, you can explore more Squarespace templates here.

Not sure if Squarespace is a right fit? Explore other Squarespace alternatives here.

The post 12+ Great Squarespace Website Examples for Inspiration appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business

When opening an online store, one of your most important tasks is finding the right website builder. In truth, selecting the proper software fit for your needs can make or break your whole operation. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway, because it’s our job) that a small online shop offering its own home-based inventory has different software requirements than a large network of websites offering thousands of products sourced from all over the world.

To assist in your search, we’ve rounded up the top ecommerce software contenders. Two of our recommendations (Wix and Squarespace) began as traditional website builders for business or personal use, but have since added ecommerce capability. The others are ecommerce shopping carts at their core but have also made advanced online storefront-building capacity a major feature of the service. These include Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

In recommending these particular sitebuilders, we should note that our focus is on the DIY end of the website-building spectrum. If, on the other hand, you are confident in your coding skills (or can hire a dedicated developer) and prefer the infinite flexibility of an open-source platform for frontend design and content creation, you might try a CMS like WordPress to use in conjunction with a shopping cart plugin, such as WooCommerce or Ecwid.

However, if you’re looking for an all-in-one, fully-hosted, and simpler-all-around system for online store-building, you’ve come to the right place. The great news for you is that the online storefront creation and editing capabilities of the all-inclusive platforms we’ll highlight in this roundup have only improved over time.

How To Choose An eCommerce Website Builder

If you haven’t shopped for an ecommerce platform before, the first step is to become oriented with this type of software so you know what you’ll be examining in the first place. Fortunately, each sitebuilder we’ll cover here offers some sort of free trial, so you’ll have the opportunity for hands-on experience with the software before making a final selection.

Here are the main things you should consider when choosing ecommerce software:

Cost

  • Monthly Subscription: Most DIY sitebuilders these days are SaaS (Software as a Service), so check for the monthly cost of each plan level, which features are included at each price point, and any plan limits such as number of products you can list, revenue caps, etc.
  • Per Sale Commission: Some ecommerce sitebuilders charge a percentage commission per sale under certain circumstances, so investigate if and when this extra fee might apply to your store.
  • Add-On Features: Many features may only come as add-ons from an app marketplace. While some add-ons are free, other apps you may want to integrate with your store (like shipping, marketing, or accounting software) are fully-fledged SaaS platforms with their own monthly subscriptions.
  • Payment Processing: You’ll need to connect an online payment gateway to your store — usually a third-party processor like Stripe or PayPal — to accept payments from customers, so check out the available options that work with the platform in your country, and the processing rates charged.
  • Design Template: Some website templates come free with the software, but premium themes typically have a one-time purchase cost.
  • Web Development: While most ecommerce sitebuilders are DIY when it comes to getting things up and running, you may still decide to hire a developer or designer to fine-tune your site at some point.

Website Design

  • Template/Theme Options: Browse the theme marketplace and get a feel for several templates you could see yourself using.
  • Customization Options: Go beyond admiring templates and work with a few yourself. In particular, explore the storefront editing tools that come with the software. Look to see if and how you can move elements within page layouts — there are varying degrees of flexibility in this area.

Features

  • Admin Features: Look at the options for configuring storewide settings such as shipping methods, currencies, languages, tax calculation, and sales channels. Also, consider the ways in which you’ll be able to manipulate the specifications for individual products (pricing, SEO data, discounts, product variants/attributes, etc).
  • Storefront Features: This includes how products are displayed, organized, and marketed to customers on your site, as well as all aspects of the checkout experience.
  • Quantity VS Quality: Just because a certain feature exists, doesn’t mean it’s very robust or will work well for your needs. Similarly, you don’t want to get bogged down with (nor pay for) a bunch of features you don’t need.
  • Fit: Do the available features cater well to your business type, size, location, etc?
  • Scalability: Online stores grow in different ways, so it helps to anticipate how your operation will most likely expand over time. Growth dimensions, like number of products and their variations, number of staff accounts, file storage, revenue, marketing needs, and traffic levels, are often handled differently by different platforms.

Ease Of Use

  • Onboarding & Store Setup: All the software apps we cover in this article falls under a larger umbrella of “easy to get started,” but pay attention in your free trials to exactly how self-explanatory each step is, and to any additional guiding resources that are available.
  • Dashboard Navigation & Feature Manipulation: Check your level of comfort with both finding and manipulating features like inventory and order management, discount creation, etc.
  • Simplicity VS Flexibility: User-friendliness is a good thing, but make sure that the tools you need aren’t so basic that they can’t accomplish precisely what you want them to.
  • Coding Skill Requirements:  In most cases, the basics of admin and storefront customization will be covered without coding, but advanced customization can require advanced knowledge. Do your best to push the limits of non-coding customizability during your trial.
  • Tech Support: Know what resources you’ll have if you get stuck or if something goes wrong with your site. Since online stores operate 24/7, you’ll probably want at least one support channel (email/web tickets, live chat, or phone) that’s open 24 hours.

Between your own testing experiences, perusing the software’s website, reading reviews (like ours!), and interacting with customer service to answer any lingering questions, you should have a very good handle on how a particular sitebuilder will work for your online store before coughing up a single cent in subscription fees.

Now, let’s take a look at some software! We can’t cover absolutely everything we’ve discussed above (check out our full reviews of the software for more info), but we’ll hit some key points to help guide your choice.

1. Shopify

Pricing & Payment Processing

While there is a $9/month Lite plan with Shopify, you’ll need to sign up for the Basic plan ($29/month) or higher to build a full ecommerce website using the software. As you continue upward in plan level, you’ll see a few added features and the option to increase your number of staff admin accounts. Here are the subscription options:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

You have over 100 gateway possibilities for accepting payments from your customers with Shopify, but note that if you don’t use the in-house option — Shopify Payments, powered by Stripe — you will be charged an extra Shopify commission per sale of up to 2% on top of the card processing fee from your payment gateway. On the flip side, if you do use Shopify Payments, you’ll receive a processing discount (i.e., pay less than the going rate for Stripe on its own) on the Shopify and Advanced Shopify plans.

We’ve put together a complete breakdown of Shopify Payments, and I’d definitely recommend reading that before you sign up for Shopify. For now, just remember that you’ll face an extra transaction fee from Shopify if you don’t use Shopify Payments.

Shopify also has one of the most extensive app stores you’ll find among SaaS ecommerce platforms. This can be a great resource for your store, but be careful to take the added cost of the apps you might need under consideration as you evaluate pricing.

Ease Of Use

Shopify users appreciate how easy it is to jump right in and start selling with the software. Once you open your free 14-day trial, your dashboard guides you toward a few steps to begin setting up your store:

Our tests of both admin navigation and individual feature manipulation have demonstrated that everything is easy to find and use. If you do run into problems, Shopify offers phone, email, and live chat support 24/7 at all subscription levels — a rare support trifecta amongst ecommerce website builders. The company has also curated an impressive library of self-help articles, videos, and even full online courses. All in all, Shopify earns an A+ for user-friendliness.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Choose from 10 free themes (made by Shopify) or 60 paid themes for $140-$180, most with multiple style variations. Even the free themes are good quality, and I’m always struck by the pleasant experience of shopping in the theme store. When a shopping cart platform is good at showcasing its own products, this gives me confidence in its ability to serve the needs of ecommerce sellers who are trying to accomplish this exact same task with their own products.

Editing Tools: 

To move elements around on your site’s pages, you’ll have access to a drag-and-drop tool called “Sections.” It’s not as flexible as the visual editors from traditional sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace, which allow more freedom of placement, but you can at least add, subtract, and change the order of elements. You can also change fonts and colors under “Theme Settings.”

If you wish to further customize your theme, you’ll need to learn Shopify’s own templating language called Liquid. This open-source language is written in Ruby and is the backbone of Shopify templates. Of course, you may not need to further code your Shopify theme at all — we just always like to include the heads up in case.

Features

While Shopify has a strong, highly-capable core feature set, advanced features often come as add-ons (even free ones) to keep the base platform streamlined and easy to use. Here are some of the Shopify features we like:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage on all plans
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Extensive sales channel & marketplace integrations (eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Google Shopping, etc.)
  • Mobile store management via Shopify App

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Expedited checkout with Shopify Pay

Along with the features we’ve highlighted above, check individual templates for special storefront features such as parallax scrolling, customer testimonials, social media feeds, and more.

Best Fit

From an overall software quality standpoint, it’s hard to go wrong with Shopify. This platform remains our default recommendation for the typical online seller who wants to quickly launch an attractive and functional store, but who also hopes for a scalable solution that easily accommodates growth in product listings and store revenue. As far as shopping cart software goes, it’s also one of the easiest platforms to use.

Shopify not-so-subtly guides you toward using Shopify Payments as your processor by rewarding you with reduced processing fees if you do and punishing you with an extra commission per sale if you don’t. If you’re not in one of the 10 locales currently supported by Shopify Payments or don’t qualify to use the processor for another reason (such as risk level or type of products sold), you should probably take a closer look at some of the competing ecommerce platforms as well.

2. BigCommerce

Pricing & Payment Processing

Each bump in subscription level with BigCommerce gives you added features, but also implements annual revenue caps. Meanwhile, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale, regardless of which payment processor you choose. You’ll have around 60 payment gateway options, one of which is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Here are the plans, all of which allow you to create a full ecommerce storefront:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

BigCommerce also offers an app store with hundreds of connections to ecommerce-related software and feature plugins. While this platform attempts to include a few more native features than Shopify, you should still be aware of the cost of additional integrations purchased through the app marketplace.

Ease Of Use

BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial (probably just to one-up Shopify by a day). The admin dashboard you’ll encounter upon signup is arranged in a standard ecommerce fashion — navigational menu on the left, tips to get started on the right:

I would qualify BigCommerce’s backend as quite intuitive to use, although you might find it slightly more complex and detailed than Shopify’s interface. Part of this comes down to personal preference and experience, though. If you happen to run into a snag, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels, as well as good documentation and community forums.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

With over 120 themes (and multiple style variations per theme) available at the BigCommerce theme marketplace, you’re bound to find a good match for your store. Seven of the themes are free, and the rest range from $145 to $235 each.

Editing Tools:

Theme editing with BigCommerce is more restricted than with Shopify. The visual editor (now called Store Design) lacks a drag-and-drop component, for example. In other words, you should carefully choose a template you really like, because you are stuck with its basic format. Alternatively, you can add a page builder app from the marketplace with drag-and-drop capability, but just be careful to factor in the added cost. You can also make customizations with HTML and CSS if you’re skilled in these areas.

Features

As always, check which features are included with each subscription level (and which come as apps), but take a look at a few of BigCommerce’s standout features:

Admin

  • Unlimited products, storage, & bandwidth
  • Unlimited staff accounts
  • Sell digital and service-based products without adding an app
  • Support for numerous product variations
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Square POS integration
  • Marketplace integrations (Amazon, eBay, etc)
  • Shipping label printing (USPS) and discounts
  • Complimentary Avalara AvaTax account
  • Customer segmentation with loyalty program capability
  • Multiple SSL certificate options (shared, dedicated, custom)

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping quotes
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Faceted/filtered product search
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Public & private wish lists
  • Recently viewed products
  • Akamai Image Manager & Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)  for mobile-friendliness
  • Integrate consumer financing options at checkout

Best Fit

BigCommerce strikes a good balance between ease-of-use and powerful out-of-the-box functionality, which we think a lot of online sellers will appreciate. Individual feature quality is also quite robust. Like Shopify, BigCommerce works for a wide variety or catalog sizes and scales well. However, if you have a nuanced catalog with a lot of product variations or custom fields, and like being really hands-on with your product SEO, you might be drawn to BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is also a great option to consider if you want or need the freedom to choose a payment processor without the “threat” of extra transaction fees if you don’t select an in-house option. If you’ve already looked at Shopify but need more flexibility when it comes to payments, definitely check out BigCommerce as an alternative.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

Pricing & Payment Processing

3dcart shares pricing structure components with both BigCommerce and Shopify. Like BigCommerce, 3dcart subscription packages have revenue caps. Another similarity is that 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale (and over 160 compatible payment gateways are available, some with discounted processing rates at higher subscription levels).

Like Shopify, you get more staff accounts at each 3dcart level. And, like both Shopify and BigCommerce, each step in plan offers a few additional features.

Do also note that the Startup plan with 3dcart has an item limit of 100 products. Here’s a quick pricing summary:

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr and list 100 products.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

For building a complete online storefront with the software, 3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than both BigCommerce and Shopify (at just $19/month). You’ll also note that the 3dcart $29 plan accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce. For these reasons, 3dcart is often considered a less expensive choice.

3dcart boasts a lot of built-in features, but watch out for the ongoing monthly cost of software integrations for shipping, accounting, and other services available in the 3dcart app store.

Ease Of Use

3dcart also comes with a free 15-day trial (and if you think everyone’s just copying each other on this, 3dcart has been around the longest!). The dashboard functions just like those of the other two ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far, but some advanced features are built-in modules you must find and turn on to use.

While 3dcart is easy to use, it is definitely more complex and layered than Shopify or BigCommerce. You may find, however, that you appreciate the flexibility and advanced capability of 3dcart’s features. Tech support is available 24/7 via phone, live chat, and email, but note that you must be on the $29/month plan to access phone support. The community forums are also helpful, and the knowledgebase provides step-by-step articles on most of the important features.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

3dcart offers just shy of 50 themes in its marketplace, and close to half are free. The rest are $150-$200.

Editing Tools: 

If you want to customize your theme, you can make color, content, and some typography changes in the visual editor, but more significant changes require tweaking HTML and CSS. In other words, there is no drag-and-drop capability. My overall hunch is that 3dcart expects most users to eventually tinker with the code if they really want to hone their designs.

Features

Below is just a sampling of 3dcart’s features — be sure to check the website for the full breakdown by plan:

Admin

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Inventory & order management
  • Dynamic, unlimited product categories
  • Return management
  • Manual order creation & editing (virtual terminal)
  • Advanced SEO tools
  • Create/print shipping labels from multiple carriers
  • Multichannel selling
  • Email marketing & drip campaigns
  • Unlimited email hosting
  • Built-in CRM
  • Built-in iPad POS software (or integrate with Square POS)
  • Built-in B2B selling features

Storefront & Checkout

  • Single-page checkout
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Gift certificates (on all plans)
  • Wide variety of discount/coupon types
  • Daily & group pricing deals
  • Make-an-offer pricing
  • Offer financing options
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Reviews & product Q&A
  • Waiting list & pre-orders
  • Gift wrap
  • Loyalty program & rewards points
  • Abandoned cart recovery

Best Fit

In some ways, we’ve been climbing up the ladder of built-in complexity as we’ve progressed through this software roundup so far. The tradeoff between simplicity and flexibility starts to lean more noticeably toward the flexibility side when we arrive at 3dcart. I think it’s safe to say that 3dcart works well for users who are perhaps not coding experts, but still fancy themselves on the generally tech-savvy end of the spectrum. While still easy to use in the grand scheme of things, this platform requires a bit of initiative on the part of the user to take full advantage of what it has to offer.

Starting at just $19/month, 3dcart is also a cost-effective option for sellers on a tight budget who still require workhorse-style ecommerce software underpinning their websites (versus a traditional website builder with added ecommerce capability). Speaking of budgets, 3dcart is also a great option for sellers who may feel Shopify’s software is a good fit, but are stuck with an extra transaction fee because they can’t use Shopify Payments. With well over 100 options at 3dcart, you’re bound to find a compatible processor that suits your needs.

4. Wix

Pricing & Payment Processing

To create an ecommerce website with Wix, you’ll need to sign up for one of the “Business” plans designed for online sellers. As is common with traditional website building software, Wix advertises a monthly price for plans when paid annually, rather than a true month-to-month price. We like to focus on with the month-to-month price, so you can better compare between platforms:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

If you decide to pay annually, the above prices drop to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. (To be fair, all the platforms in the article offer some type of discount for paying annually — it’s all a matter of advertising strategy). The package levels are defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included. 

Wix never charges an extra commission per sale, regardless of which of the close to 20 gateway options you select for accepting payments.

As we’ve mentioned with the other software platforms we’ve discussed so far, you may want to add some apps to expand what your site can do. Wix apps often have both free and premium versions, so just confirm which type will work for your store so you can accurately calculate your true monthly costs.

Ease Of Use

You can dive right in and start testing Wix for free as long as you’d like — you just can’t start accepting payments through your store until you sign up for a paid plan. At that point, you have 14 days to cancel and receive a full refund on your subscription fee if you change your mind.

There are two ways to get a site started with Wix. You either let Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) create a website for you by asking you a series of detailed questions about your business, or you select a pre-made template and go from there. Either way, the ecommerce portion of your site is built on the Wix Stores app, which seamlessly integrates into the rest of your dashboard:

The backend ecommerce features of Wix are very easy to use, if sometimes not quite as powerful or flexible overall as the features of the other shopping cart software we’ve discussed so far. Wix actually takes user-friendliness to a whole new level by incorporating several visually-engaging interfaces that carefully hold your hand through important processes such as setting up email campaigns, creating discounts, configuring SEO for your site, and more. On a personal note, I really enjoy using Wix for this reason.

If you still need extra help, phone support is available Monday-Friday from 5AM-5PM PT on all plans, or you can submit an email ticket 24/7. Online self-help resources are good quality, but not as extensive in the ecommerce department as those you’d find for a platform like Shopify.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Approximately 80 templates offered by Wix are built upon the Wix Stores app, but it’s easy to add the app to any of the 500 or so templates offered. Happily, all templates are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. And, as you might expect from a platform that specializes in frontend design, your options are very elegant and modern.

Editing Tools:

While you can’t switch templates midstream with Wix, you have loads of flexibility in customizing what you’ve chosen. The drag-and-drop capability of Sections in Shopify pales in comparison to the “place anything anywhere” possibilities with Wix. Use the gridlines as a guide to ensure your site is mobile-friendly, and away you go:

If, on the other hand, you decide to have your base website constructed for you using Wix ADI, you’ll have access to a theme editor that’s more in line with Shopify’s drag-and-drop system:

I think one common path to design customization with Wix is to have Wix ADI create a base site to begin with, and then shift over to the more flexible Wix Editor for fine-tuning. You just can’t go back to Wix ADI and its simpler editor once you’ve made the switch.

Features

Once again, we’re just including a sampling of key features here. Most of those listed below are available on all three Wix Business plans:

Admin

  • Unlimited products & bandwidth
  • Sell physical, digital and service-based goods
  • Up to 6 options and 300 variants per product
  • Inventory & order management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • SEO tools
  • Track traffic with Google Analytics
  • Personalized email address that matches your domain/brand
  • 20 email marketing campaigns (100,000 total emails/mo) included in subscription
  • Customizable, automated email & chat responses
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Free stock photo library

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your own domain
  • Offer discounts & coupons
  • Customizable product sorting & filtering
  • Customer login/member area
  • Multilingual storefronts
  • Multifunctional sites (including bookings, event management, restaurants, etc)
  • Live chat with customers
  • Advanced frontend design features

Best Fit

We love Wix as a solution for stores with aesthetically-nuanced products. as well as for brands that highly prioritize visual quality and uniqueness overall. Those who feel boxed in by the somewhat limited design customization options of ecommerce platforms like Shopify will appreciate the freedom to fine-tune everything about the look and feel of their online storefronts, as well as their communication and marketing materials — all without touching a line of code. And, for those who want a visually-unique site with minimum effort, Wix ADI can hold your hand every step of the way.

If you are thinking of scaling to offer a very large number of products, or wish to significantly expand your shipping and fulfillment needs over time, Wix probably isn’t your best choice. Meanwhile, we think a lot of multifunctional businesses (like hotels, restaurants, photographers, artists, musicians, bloggers, etc.) who also want to sell a few products online will love the seamless integration of a native ecommerce app into their dashboards.

5. Squarespace

squarespace

Pricing & Payment Processing

Similar to Wix, Squarespace leads with pricing figures that assume you’ll pay for a complete year at a time. Adjusted for true-month-to-month costs, here are the Squarespace plans with fully-integrated ecommerce functionality:

  • Business: $26/month
  • Commerce Basic: $30/month
  • Commerce Advanced: $46/month

There’s a pretty big jump in the number of features between the Business and Commerce Basic plan, and a smaller jump in available features to Commerce Advanced. Another difference between the Business Plan and the two Commerce plans is that the Business plan comes with a 3% Squarespace commission per sale. If you’re serious about creating an ecommerce website with Squarespace, it will likely be worth it to have a Commerce package for the additional ecommerce-specific features and the elimination of the extra transaction fee. Meanwhile, you only get two payment gateway options with Squarespace (Stripe and PayPal), which will also charge their own transaction fees.

Squarespace doesn’t have an app store — any third-party integrations come already connected to your store. However, when activating one of these connections, you should be aware that some of them do have premium versions with ongoing monthly costs. ShipStation and MailChimp are two good examples.

Ease Of Use

Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial. If your trial expires before you upgrade and you haven’t made up your mind yet, you can simply create another trial site under the same registration email.

Before you reach the dashboard, you’ll need to select a template (but you can change it later). You’ll see a few ecommerce-geared options first if you enter “to sell” something as your site’s purpose. Unlike any of the ecommerce sitebuilders we’ve discussed so far, your admin dashboard incorporates a frontend preview on the right:

I find it a little difficult to start adding products with Squarespace — you have to create a separate product page first, and the software doesn’t do a great job explaining this. Once you conquer this initial hurdle, however, the overall learning curve for ecommerce functions is relatively small.

I also like all the direct links to applicable support articles within the dashboard that guide you directly to the right knowledgebase article if you become stuck. Squarespace email support responds 24/7 and is quite effective, but the tradeoff is that there’s no phone support offered. Meanwhile, live chat is available Monday-Friday 4AM-8PM Eastern time.

Web Design & Editing

Theme Options:

Squarespace offers approximately 90 themes grouped into 21 families. Since you’ll eventually be adding some sort of product page no matter what, any of them can be used for ecommerce, even though some are specifically suggested for online stores.

As far as traditional website builders go, the sheer variety of templates is low, but the quality is high. We’re looking at a carefully-curated selection of polished, classy, streamlined designs offered by Squarespace:

Editing Tools:

Squarespace lands somewhere in between Wix and Shopify when it comes to the amount of freedom you have to drag-and-drop page elements. You can add and arrange large sections up and down each page, insert various types of “content blocks” (including spacers and lines), and adjust the alignment of pieces within those blocks to a certain extent. Fonts and colors are also adjustable, but often exist as site-wide style settings in order to maintain a unified look.

In summary: Squarespace offers more no-code design flexibility than Shopify and less than Wix. However, if you’re comfortable adding CSS to your site, there’s an easy CSS editor available.

Features

Below are some Squarespace features that caught my eye. A handful of these features (i.e., abandoned cart recovery, gift cards, and subscription payments) are only available on the Commerce Advanced plan. Always check the full and most complete breakdown by plan on the company website!

Admin

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Sell physical, digital, and service-based products out-of-the-box
  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Set store manager permissions
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Logo creation software
  • Commerce analytics & reports
  • Advanced image/photo management & editing

Storefront & Checkout

  • Checkout on your domain
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • Promotional banners & pop-ups
  • Offer gift cards
  • Offer subscriptions to products & services
  • Accept donations
  • Offer coupon codes and discounts
  • Real-time shipping rates from multiple carriers
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Express checkout for single-product stores

Best Fit

The target audience for Squarespace amongst ecommerce website owners overlaps significantly with Wix’s demographic. Both sitebuilders are great for smaller product catalogs with visual interest, but Squarespace is nice if you specifically want a posh, classy, or even minimalist vibe for your store. This sitebuilder is also great for those who enjoy the freedom to easily tweak a design but don’t feel hemmed in by a bit of built-in structure for ensuring a consistent style overall.

As far as standard ecommerce features go, it’s a tough call between Wix and Squarespace. The two platforms take a slightly different approach, so you’ll have to decide which features are a priority to you. For example, if you want an abandoned cart recovery tool and the ability to connect with popular third-party apps like accounting and shipping/fulfillment software, Squarespace will suit you better. I’d recommend skipping over the Business plan and going straight for one of the Commerce plans if you’re at all serious about selling.

Quick Pricing Comparison

Before I share my final thoughts on choosing the best ecommerce website builder for your store, here’s a quick rundown of the monthly subscription costs for each of the platforms we’ve discussed:

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Squarespace

Business: $26/mo.

Commerce Basic: $30/mo.

Commerce Advanced: $46/mo.

  • Available features
  • Squarespace’s commission per sale

Remember that traditional website builders like Wix and Squarespace typically lead with “when paid annually” pricing, so we’ve adjusted the figures to reflect the cost if you pay month-to-month. All five services offer some sort of discount if you pay for at least a year upfront.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re excited about test-driving one or more of these ecommerce website builders. My guess is that you’ll probably figure out if you’re in the Shopify/BigCommerce/3dcart or the Wix/Squarespace camp first, but there’s no reason you can’t check out both types of software.

That said, anyone planning to scale their product and sales numbers dramatically over time should probably stick with one of the three ecommerce workhorse platforms. There’s a reason sitebuilders like Wix and Squarespace cap their ecommerce plan subscriptions at under $50/month, while platforms like 3dcart, BigCommerce, and Shopify can charge upwards of $200 per month for their best ecommerce packages. You’re usually paying for a larger quantity and better quality of features that help you manage the complicated logistics of selling online.

It’s a safe bet, in this case, to use pricing as a general guideline for the ability to shore up and scale your backend functions as your store grows by various dimensions. Still, Wix and Squarespace would not be included here at all if they weren’t both excellent options for smaller stores.

The thing that’s hard to nail down in a summary article like this is the quality and usefulness of the features you’ll need for your store. By listing a few highlights for each sitebuilder, we’re just giving you a flavor of the software. While we can confidently say that all the platforms in this article cover the “basics” of running an online store, that assurance is no substitute for your own experience. If you’re still stuck or confused after your research and testing, turn to the platform’s customer service and sales support for clarification. You need a good excuse to put those support systems to work before signing up anyway, so go for it!

Happy software testing!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Wix Squarespace

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

$25 – $40

$26 – $46

eCom Features

Excellent

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post Find The Best eCommerce Website Builder For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Website Builders Explained

Website Builders Explained

Website builders are a type of software that turns visual design elements into HTML / CSS files that browsers can show as a website. Modern website builders are usually bundled in some form with hosting to provide storage & server abilities for those files.

As an analogy, imagine a website is like a physical home. Website builders are a bit like pre-built houses or condominiums with infrastructure & services provided. Usually the land (hosting), address (domain) and services are bundled with the home. There are usually costs & limitations, but also much more convenience compared to building a home from scratch.

That’s the short version. But there’s more to website builders than the definition. I’ll cover common questions like –

  • What Are Website Builders?
  • How Do Website Builders Work?
  • Are Website Builders Worth It?
  • Are Website Builders Good for SEO?
  • What Makes a Good Website Builder?
  • What Website Builders Are Best?
  • What Website Builder Should I Use? & Next Steps

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

What Are Website Builders?

Website builders are a type of software that turns design and content elements into valid HTML / CSS that can show up in an Internet browser. They have a long history, but have dramatically changed in recent years.

As long as the Web has been around, people have wanted to create websites without writing the underlying HTML & CSS programming languages. Back in the early days, website builders were actual desktop computer programs that you had to download and use (FrontPage FTW!!). They were called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software.

But as the Internet, software, and consumers developed, website builders started rapidly evolving and changing. Nowadays, very few people write HTML & CSS from scratch.

Everybody, including seasoned front end web developers, use some form of what used to be called a “website builder”. Everyone is looking to build websites faster with more features and better design elements. The “website builder” market has shifted so that now it’s much more common to hear people using templates, libraries, themes, theme frameworks, content management systems, scripts, etc to build faster and better.

Because of this shift, what we now call a “website builder” really refers to a web-based software that provides not only the actual HTML & CSS conversion but also the hosting, security, customer support, integrations, media storage, and marketing tools that most people want when they say “I want a website”. The technical term should be “hosted website builder.”

For an analogy, think about different housing types. Originally, a “website builder” was simply pre-cut construction material to help you build a house quickly. Nowadays, a “website builder” is more like a condominium or townhome development. You have way less say over what you want. But – you have a home that you can customize while simply paying a fee for garbage pickup, lawn care, maintenance, etc.

For the rest of these FAQs, we’ll be focused specifically on hosted website builders that not only build your website’s HTML & CSS but also bundle hosting, security, support, etc into a single subscription fee.

How Do Website Builders Work?

Website builders usually use proprietary software, so it’s hard to say *exactly* how they work, but they all work in broadly the same way.

When you sign up for an account, hosted website builders will carve out server space that runs proprietary software that provides both a “backend” where you can login and manage your design & content along with your actual website files that browsers will use to create the “frontend” that visitors will see.

Here’s a backend example from the Wix backend…

Wix MenuAnd what shows up on the front-end…

Double Arrow Vet

This setup is exactly the same as it would be if you bought your own hosting and installed your own software (ie, WordPress).

But – their software is built to have a drag and drop interface that allows you to literally drag and drop and edit your website. When you save your work, the software will convert your backend work into a combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript files that will render in an Internet browser. And – your hosting usage is automatically optimized and calibrated to their platform.

Are Website Builders Worth It?

It depends on your goals, need & knowledge.

If you are confident in your abilities to solve problems and you want to build a long-term project with lots of versatility, then I highly recommend that you stay away from hosted website builders, and learn how to set up a website on your own hosting account – that goes for a multitude of different types of websites.

If you value convenience and speed, have budget for the monthly fees, and want to DIY, then yes, website builders are absolutely worth it. They provide most everything you’d need in a single, predictable monthly price. They have tailored customer support and handle all the updates.

It really is like shopping for a house vs. a condominium. Homeowners may swear up and down about owning a home. But the thing about a house is that…like you are responsible. Even if you don’t cut the grass, you have to pay someone to. And you have figure out who to call. You can build a pool…but you have to maintain it.

Condo owners just cut a check to the Homeowners’ Association. But – they also have to abide by the HOA’s rules and are inherently limited to what they can do to their property,

Are Website Builders Good for SEO?

It depends on your goals, needs & knowledge. This question is a bit like asking whether a condo is good for hosting parties.

There’s a few variables to clear up – like, how hands-on are you with parties? Do you just want the place to look nice so that you can focus on the food or are you looking to build out the ultimate party pad over the course of a couple of years?

Website builders do have a bit of notoriety with SEO because of Flash. Back in the day, every website builder used Flash for their drag & drop functionality. They would also have some weird URL structures. Due to that the old school Googlebot had an impossible time crawling & indexing websites built with common web-based website builders.

SiteBuilder SEO Duplicate Content

Most of the big brand website builders do not have this issue any more, and Googlebot is much better than circa-2012. Some website builders do still have lingering issues, but general “SEO” is no longer the main purchasing concern in my opinion. The main concern should be what *you* want to do with SEO. Here’s some examples from past clients / readers of mine.

Client A wanted to build out a large presence in a sub-market of the senior housing industry. They wanted to rank for certain high-competitive terms and wanted to update & revise many pages with Schema markup and roll out a regular content strategy. They were using Wix. My first recommendation? Stop everything and leave Wix. Spend money to rebuild the entire site on self-hosted WordPress. Using a hosted website builder like Wix would simply not have the flexibility to run the type of content & integrations that we needed.

Client B wanted to build a website for a hyper-local deli & restaurant. They wanted to rank for specific local terms & brand names. They had no time or budget to keep the site updated – other than the menu, which they needed to edit every week via smartphone. They had used Wix in the past, and knew how to add food integrations. I told them to go with it – and they do very well with the SEO that they need (ie, Google Maps, local terms, and menu terms).

Client C launched a side-project on personal fitness. They didn’t have huge plans for it – and just wanted to get going. Due to time and simplicity, they just got going on Squarespace. It worked for a few years until all of the sudden, their blog took off. They need plugins & capabilities that you can only get with your own hosting account. So they bit the bullet and built their own site with WordPress on a self-hosted VPS account and migrated away from Squarespace. Organic traffic has since dramatically improved but mainly because they can easily manage the content – not because Squarespace’s SEO was “bad”.

As so on – see it depends on what “SEO” you need. Website builders are not “bad” for SEO. But they aren’t “good” for SEO unless they match what you want to do.

What Makes a Good Website Builder?

A good website builder is one that helps you succeed at your project. That’s all.

If the “BEST!” website builder has so many features or limitations or whatever that it keeps you from achieving your goals, then, well, it’s not the “BEST!”.

Sure, there are absolutely some website builders that are better than others. Some I wouldn’t touch with ANY project – no matter what.

But for yourself, write out some features that you want. Rank the features. Write out what your goals are. What you write is not as important as the fact that you are thinking through what you want.

For some people, drag and drop might not be as important as data export…which might not be as important as phone customer support.

A good website builder should, though, produce readable, crawlable, and indexable HTML & CSS that visitors can access. Beyond that – it’s up to you.

What Website Builders Are Best?

Again – the implied preposition here is “for you.” With that in mind, I created a little quiz and summary to help you find the best website builder for you.

I’ve reviewed some of the big name brands like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, GoDaddy and WordPress.com. But there are plenty of options out there – and even some hybrid options like BoldGrid which overlays a drag and drop functionality over a self-hosted WordPress install. There are brand new ones like GATOR and plenty of others. Read all my website builder reviews here.

What Website Builder Should I Use?

It depends! Go to these resources to figure out some ideas –

  • Best Overall Website Builder
  • Best Simple Website Builders
  • Best Online Store Builder
  • Best Wix Alternatives
  • Best WordPress Alternatives

Next Steps

Your next steps should be to go research based on your goals – and get started with your project! Most website builders offer a short free trial period. Take advantage of those to make a final call.

The post Website Builders Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Shopify VS Squarespace

Shopify VS Squarespace

Pricing

✓

Tie

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

✓

Ease Of Use

✓

Features

Web Design

✓

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Negative Reviews & Testimonials

✓

Tie

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Tie

✓

Security

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

Visit Site

Review

Compare

Right away, Shopify and Squarespace both score points in my book for their names. Shopify is all about helping you build an online store where customers can shop — “shop-ify-ing” a regular website, as it were. Squarespace, by comparison, is a more traditional website builder, allowing you to create a literal “square space” (or series of square spaces) where people can view your content and images on the internet.

Thank you, Shopify and Squarespace. Your names actually make sense.

Indeed, Shopify is a household name in the world of shopping cart software, whereas Squarespace is well-known for its attractive and modern site design capabilities. Squarespace is more than just a pretty face, though. In the last few years, this platform has added ecommerce functionality at a surprising level of sophistication.

If you’re here for an epic cage match between Squarespace and Shopify, I’m guessing you’re thinking about both of these platforms in terms of ecommerce. You’re in luck, because this is the precise focus of our comparison. How does Squarespace’s ecommerce functionality and design measure up to the ecommerce powerhouse that is Shopify? How do they compare in terms of pricing, customer service, and payment processing? Keep reading for our take on these and other key facets of Shopify and Squarespace.

Don’t have time to read an entire article? Take a look at our top-rated eCommerce solutions for a few quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer support, superb web templates, and easy-to-use software, all for a reasonable price.

 

Pricing

Winner: Squarespace

Both Shopify and Squarespace offer free 14-day trials with no credit card required, and neither charge setup or cancellation fees. From there, the two platforms begin to diverge. Here’s how the differences play out:

Shopify

  • Price Range: Choose from $29/month (Basic), $79/month (Shopify), or $299/month (Advanced) plans. There’s also a $9/month plan (Lite) for selling in-person, for embedding little “buy” buttons on other sites, and for selling on Facebook — but you don’t get an actual online store at all, so we’re leaving this plan out of our comparison for the most part.
  • Annual Subscription Discount: Save 10% when your subscription is paid annually upfront, or 20% if you pony up for two full years. For example, the Basic Plan becomes $26 or $23/month, and the Shopify Plan becomes $71 or $63/month.
  • Subscription Structure: All Basic ($29/month) plans and above include unlimited storage, products, and bandwidth. Higher subscription levels add a few features and additional staff accounts. Subscription levels also affect your Shopify transaction fees and your payment processing fees. Which leads us to…
  • Additional Transaction Fees: If you choose Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) as your payment gateway, you are not charged any separate transaction fees. As an added bonus, you also see a gradual decrease in your payment processing fees with Shopify Payments as you climb the subscription ladder. However, if you use an alternative payment processor and not Shopify Payments, Shopify does charge extra transaction fees, beginning at 2.0% on the Basic plan. Thankfully, these fees gradually decrease to 1.0% and 0.5% as you increase your subscription.

Squarespace

  • Price Range: For ecommerce capability, you must skip over the $16/month plan and start at the $26/month (Business) level. However, merchants who’d really want to take advantage of Squarespace’s ecommerce features in a manner that’s comparable to Shopify are likely opting for the $30/month (Commerce Basic) or $46/month (Commerce Advanced) plans.
  • Annual Subscription Discount: The Business plan drops to $18, Commerce Basic to $26, and Commerce Advanced to $40 per month when paid upfront in one annual lump sum. You also qualify for a free domain registration for one year when you pay your main subscription annually.
  • Subscription Structure: Similar to Shopify, features are added as you increase your Squarespace subscription level. Bumping up to Commerce Basic or Advanced will eliminate separate Squarespace transaction fees.
  • Additional Transaction Fees: A 3.0% fee (above your gateway fees) is incurred by Squarespace on every purchase if you’re on the Business Plan. This additional transaction fee is eliminated, however, on Commerce Basic and Advanced.

For a direct comparison with Shopify, use the smaller print, month-to-month figures for Squarespace (Commerce Basic $30 and Commerce Advanced $46). Shopify promotes month-to-month figures ($29, $79, or $299).

Confusing enough for you? With all these pricing components, you can’t actually perform a true apples-to-apples comparison of cost. In truth, both Shopify and Squarespace offer a fair market price for their services. I will say that the transaction fee issue is problematic with both companies, especially since many competing platforms have eliminated these extra charges altogether. The good news is that each platform at least offers some way out of these fees.

In the end, I’m primarily basing my pricing verdict on one key factor: Squarespace offers its complete arsenal of features for only $46/month ($40/month if paid annually). In contrast, Shopify reserves its premium features for sellers with much deeper pockets (six and a half times deeper, to be exact). The big question is: does Squarespace offer enough ecommerce features at that $46/month level? The answer will depend on your business needs, but you can keep reading to develop a clearer picture of each platform.

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Winner: Tie

Your Shopify or Squarespace store will be fully-hosted. No need to download and install either one locally.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Both platforms allow unlimited bandwidth and products, but Shopify is better at accommodating a wider range of business sizes and product catalogs. In addition, Shopify provides a natural growth option via Shopify Plus, whereas Squarespace offers no enterprise-level plan at this time. On the other hand, if you happen to sell a handful of very expensive products (and that’s what makes your business “big”), Squarespace could still work swimmingly for you.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

Since Squarespace and Shopify are both SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, you only need a computer, an internet connection, and an up-to-date browser to use either service. Both also provide Android and iOS apps for managing and editing your store.

Regarding supported browsers, Squarespace edges out Shopify by offering Chrome and Safari support on Linux operating systems, while Shopify only works with Windows and Mac. Meanwhile, Shopify stores are optimized for Samsung Internet in addition to Chrome and Safari browsers when viewed on mobile. Depending on your point of view, these finer points may or may not make a difference, so I’m still calling it a draw in this category.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Shopify

With both platforms specializing in general ease of use, we really need to examine Squarespace and Shopify in terms of usability for ecommerce.

Neither platform has a dedicated setup tutorial inside the dashboard, but both have documentation and instructional videos handy. If you’re accustomed to using or testing popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Squarespace will definitely have its own learning curve. Once I got the hang of it, though, I could operate the backend quite smoothly.

When you create a trial account with Shopify, you’re taken to the main admin panel. Shopify’s admin is structured like most ecommerce dashboards I’ve seen. Although you can preview your storefront at any time, your backend functions are kept separate from the storefront.

Shopify Dashboard:

With Squarespace, however, you must choose a theme (you can change it later) before you even get to see your admin panel. Once the admin opens, your dashboard is actually a combination of your backend control panel on the left, and your storefront preview on the right.

Squarespace Dashboard:

Although I can vouch that both platforms are very easy to use in the grand scheme, I find navigation of Squarespace’s backend to be slightly trickier than Shopify’s. The Squarespace UI is structured so that there are more dashboard layers to dig through — and then dig back out of again. Additionally, the left control panel menu changes (or even disappears) depending on what layer you happen to be in at the moment, which can be disorienting. This is in contrast to Shopify’s menu, which remains a fixed anchor point for admin navigation.

Take a quick look at the following screens from each platform to see what I mean:

Add A Product — Shopify:

You can see above that my main menu remains fixed on the left side of the dashboard as I enter my product details.

Add A Product — Squarespace:

With Squarespace, I’m already a couple of dashboard layers in, my left sidebar is gone, and I must dive one more screen deep from here to even enter my price. Also, what is not shown above is that you can’t just jump right in and start adding products with Squarespace like you can with Shopify and other online store builders. Even with Squarespace’s ecommerce-friendly templates, you must create a separate product page for your website first. I admit I had to resort to Squarespace’s documentation to figure this out, since I’m accustomed to ecommerce dashboards that make adding your first product a completely frictionless process.

Adding and managing inventory is just one piece of running an online store, but it remains a reliable ease of use test case. While you can list unlimited products with Squarespace, I think the backend interface is better designed for sellers offering a relatively small number of aesthetically-oriented products. Merchants with a large inventory will appreciate Shopify’s clear menus, efficient navigation, and the way in which product data is ultimately organized.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Shopify is the deserving winner in the features category. With solid out-of-the-box functionality and a rich add-on ecosystem, the blunt truth is that Shopify has spent much more time and resources cultivating features specifically for online sellers.

That said, there are a few features Squarespace offers that even Shopify lacks. Another thing to keep in mind is that Squarespace’s comparatively small feature set may still be just right for certain sizes and types of companies.

Key features of both platforms include:

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Free SSL certificate
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Offer gift cards
  • Create discounts and coupons
  • Checkout on your domain
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Real-time, carrier-calculated shipping
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools

I’d say the Shopify versions of some of the above features are stronger or more versatile than the Squarespace versions. For example, the discount engine is much more flexible with Shopify.

Now, here are a few features that differentiate the two platforms:

Shopify

  • App store with thousands of integrations
  • Point of sale integration (Shopify POS or third-party POS)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Proprietary shipping platform (Shopify Shipping) for carrier discounts and label printing
  • Extensive dropshipping capability
  • Enterprise expansion available via Shopify Plus
  • Abandoned cart recovery at cheaper plan level

Squarespace

  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • $100 Google AdWords voucher
  • Free domain for a year if you pay annually
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • In-dashboard product image editing
  • Third-party calculated shipping rates at cheaper plan level

Web Design

Winner: Squarespace

Both platforms offer elegant, modern templates that are fully mobile responsive. Here’s a quick comparison of template stats:

Shopify Themes

  • 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
  • 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
  • Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180

Squarespace Themes

  • 90 templates organized into 21 template families
  • All templates are free and supported by Squarespace developers

Within these themes, both platforms facilitate the adjustment of fonts, colors, and layouts without any coding experience. In fact, I’d say both services offer more flexibility in this area than the average ecommerce store builder. If you still run into design limitations or simply want to alter the code, each site builder makes it relatively easy to customize your store with HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

The overall web design winner is a tough one to call, because that decision really depends on the type and number of products you intend to sell, with Squarespace catering to smaller catalogs with visual interest. If we were deciding strictly based on the variety of pre-made templates designed for stores selling lots of stuff, Shopify would snag the win.

That said, here are some ways Squarespace stands out when it comes to design:

  • All templates are free, and all are created and supported by Squarespace.
  • Offers a more versatile drag-and-drop editor for page layout customization.
  • Allows you to edit your product images from within your dashboard.
  • Uses a common templating language (JSON), versus Shopify’s own invented language (Liquid).

Was this category too close to call? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Shopify has an impressive app store with around 2500 integrations — more than the vast majority of SaaS ecommerce platforms at large. While add-ons can certainly increase your monthly expenditure with Shopify, there’s no denying that your choices are plentiful. Plus, since a huge community of developers and merchants interact with Shopify apps, you also have access to thousands upon thousands of detailed user reviews.

Squarespace takes a completely different approach to integrations. No app store is offered, but Squarespace spins this as an advantage. Any pre-built integrations (about 70 in total) are already incorporated into your dashboard and fully tech-supported by Squarespace. Aside from payment providers (Stripe, PayPal, Apple Pay) and shipping carriers (UPS, USPS, and FedEx), there are just a small handful of official Squarespace integrations specifically related to ecommerce. Here are a few key add-ons:

  • ShipStation: Order fulfillment
  • Xero: Accounting
  • MailChimp: Email marketing
  • Zapier: Workflow automation, multi-app connector

Just like many Shopify apps, several Squarespace apps have monthly subscription fees of their own. And, just like with Shopify, you can always build custom integrations if you have those skills or can hire someone who does. To put things in quick perspective, however, Squarespace has one official shipping/fulfillment app in ShipStation. Shopify has over 280 choices in its “Orders & Shipping” category, and over 600 results pop up if I simply type “shipping” in the app store’s search bar.

The win in this category goes to Shopify, the reigning monarch of ecommerce integrations. Besides keeping decision-making overload at bay, the trick with Shopify add-ons is to always check the quality (including quality of developer support) and ongoing cost of each integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Shopify wins at payment processing for one primary reason: flexibility. Consider the sheer number of gateway options with Shopify — over 100. With Squarespace, Stripe and PayPal are your only choices. More gateway options means availability in more countries and currencies, more ways for your customers to pay, better odds of finding the perfect processor for your specific needs, and even the opportunity to customize your own pricing model and rates in some cases. With Shopify, you can also accept cryptocurrencies or set up manual payment methods like cash on delivery, money orders, and bank transfers.

This is not the end of the story, however. Factor in the additional transaction fees that may be charged by either platform depending on your situation, as well as Shopify’s payment processing discounts with Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe), and the comparison becomes more nuanced.

As we examine these complications further, keep in mind that the going rate to process ecommerce transactions with most gateways these days is 2.9% + $0.30.

Here’s how your processing will work with Squarespace according to your subscription level:

Squarespace + PayPal and/or Stripe

  • Business ($26/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30, + 3.0% Squarespace fee = 5.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Commerce Basic ($30/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30
  • Commerce Advanced ($46/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30

Those are the only potential processing costs you’re looking at with Squarespace. That additional 3.0% Squarespace fee on the Business plan is pretty brutal, but as soon as you upgrade to Commerce Basic for an extra $4/month, it disappears. For this reason, I don’t think the Business plan is a sustainable option for most ecommerce stores.

Now, let’s take a quick look at Shopify, remembering that using Shopify Payments as your gateway provides two perks: 1) no extra Shopify transaction fee on any plan, and 2) decreased payment processing fees as you upgrade your overall Shopify subscription.

Shopify + Shopify Payments

  • Basic ($29/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30
  • Shopify ($79/mo.): 2.6% + $0.30
  • Advanced ($299/mo.): 2.4% + $0.30

Shopify + Alternative Gateway (Generic Example)

  • Basic ($29/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30, + 2.0% Shopify fee = 4.9% + $0.30
  • Shopify ($79/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30, + 1.0% Shopify fee = 3.9% + $0.30
  • Advanced ($299/mo.): 2.9% + 0.30, + 0.5% Shopify fee = 3.4% + $0.30

Another twist is that Shopify Payments is currently only available for businesses located in 10 countries, so you’re stuck with an alternative gateway and that pesky Shopify transaction fee if your country isn’t included. (Squarespace at least doesn’t punish you for something you can’t control — your location.) On the flip side, if you are in one of the supported countries, you could opt to use Shopify Payments in addition to any of the other gateways Shopify offers to increase your customers’ payment options.

In a perfect world, both platforms would let you pick your own processor from among many, and never penalize you with extra transaction fees for any reason! Both Shopify and Squarespace have their own flaws in this regard.

So, what does this all mean for your business? The short answer is math. To determine the real winner in this category for your own company, you must consider your monthly subscription cost to either platform, your average number of transactions per month, and your average transaction size — not to mention the countries and currencies involved. Because the best platform and subscription level for your business depends on these and other factors, I award Shopify the payment processing win for at least making things interesting!

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

In terms of overall quality of customer support, both Shopify and Squarespace receive mixed user reviews. That said, Merchant Maverick’s own experiences with customer service and technical support would award Shopify the victory in this category. We’ve had better luck contacting the Shopify support team through the available channels — even when they’ve been unaware that we are software reviewers on the prowl.

Shopify also has more available support channels and more open-hours. Take a look:

Shopify

  • Phone: 24/7
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: 24/7

Squarespace

  • Phone: None
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: Monday-Friday, 4AM-8PM

Squarespace publishes a whole manifesto on its website explaining why no phone support is offered if you’d like to read it for yourself. Although they don’t come right out and say it, the bottom line is that this helps keep overall costs down. Meanwhile, not being able to contact a live person (even via live chat) after 5pm Pacific time is pretty brutal if you’re running an online store. Squarespace should know better — ecommerce never sleeps:

One final note in this category: both platforms provide several self-help resources — community forums, blogs, video tutorials, webinars, knowledgebase articles, and the like. However, note that Shopify resources are 100% geared toward ecommerce, whereas you’ll have to wade through other topics to find ecommerce resources at the Squarespace site.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Squarespace

When comparing user reviews for these platforms, it’s important to keep in mind the difficulty in teasing out feedback on Squarespace that is specifically related to ecommerce. Despite its growing ecommerce capability, Squarespace typically ends up in the generic website builder category on most review sites, with users discussing traditional website building issues.

Those caveats aside, here are some of the most common issues that come up for each platform:

Shopify

  • Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
  • Costly add-ons
  • Poor customer support
  • Frustration with Shopify Payments

Squarespace

  • Glitches & bugs
  • Poor/limited customer support
  • Limited theme customization

Of course, traditional website builders tend to get raked over the coals for the slightest theme customization limitations. We’ve already said Squarespace’s design capability is quite good overall, particularly when compared to a lot of shopping cart builders. When customers do criticize Squarespace specifically on ecommerce, there are no consistent patterns emerging so far. For this reason, I award this category to Squarespace based on a “no news is good news” argument. We’ll keep checking back for patterns.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

Both Shopify and Squarespace tend to rate highly for overall customer satisfaction on user review websites. On top of that, both platforms are known for their ease of use and elegant templates. And, along with all the negative review of customer support both software programs have received, users of both platforms have been known to also sing praises for customer support. The combination of these factors led me to call this one a draw.

Once again, we’re faced with the dilemma that there’s not a whole lot of feedback about Squarespace’s ecommerce offerings. I have definitely seen several generic comments, such as “good for ecommerce!” Honestly, I think people are mostly pleased (and perhaps a bit surprised) that there’s some solid ecommerce capability available with Squarespace at all. I haven’t come across many users directly comparing their experiences with the two platforms.

Security

Winner: Shopify

Our combatants are quite close in this category. Both offer PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance, a free SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate for your site, two-factor authentication for logging in to your account, a CDN (Content Delivery Network), and even provide methods for complying with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws implemented by the EU in 2018.

The main difference I can see is that Shopify’s checkout pages are covered by an industry-standard, 256-bit shared SSL certificate. Squarespace’s checkout pages are covered by a less-robust, 128-bit certificate. My understanding is that while 128-bit encryption may end up working slightly faster, it’s technically less secure.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

Squarespace put up a good fight in several categories, but Shopify emerges victorious as the better ecommerce website builder. Shopify’s pricing, core feature set, and vast app store can serve budding sellers on the Lite plan, all the way up to enterprise clients using Shopify Plus. Meanwhile, ecommerce was quite literally an afterthought for Squarespace. The platform’s developers have done an admirable job adding features for online selling, but they just can’t compete with Shopify’s dominance here.

As we’ve said time and again in this comparison, Squarespace still provides an interesting option for sellers who’d like to feature a small number of products with aesthetic appeal. Especially if you’ve already been using Squarespace to develop your company story and brand, I’d definitely recommend fully exploring the ecommerce feature set — perhaps by bumping up your subscription for just month or two — before completely abandoning ship for Shopify or another dedicated shopping cart builder.

I’ll offer one more interesting twist before you head off to test Shopify and/or Squarespace for yourself. Some users have actually used the two services in combination. How? By integrating those “buy now” buttons from a $9/month Shopify Lite plan into an existing Squarespace website. It’s a roundabout option, to be sure, but it also gives you access to in-person selling with the Shopify POS app. At any rate, take that as some final food for thought, and best of luck in your search for the perfect ecommerce platform.

The post Shopify VS Squarespace appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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When Should Someone Not Use WordPress?

When Should Someone Not Use WordPress

You’re probably here because you’ve heard the buzz about WordPress (Alignable’s SMB Index says WordPress is the most trusted software for small business), but are wondering if there are situations in which someone should not use WordPress for their business website.

WordPress is an incredibly versatile website platform — I won’t hide my enthusiasm for it. But there is no such thing as a “best website platform”. There’s only the best choice based on your goals, resources and preferences.

Most website platforms promote with features and price. But like buying a house – price and features don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell you if this platform is a good choice for your website.

When evaluating whether or not to use WordPress, you need to think about your needs for a website. Do you need flexibility? Support? A mixture of both?

Here’s how to figure out if/when someone should not use WordPress for their business website:

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgements as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Understanding Tradeoffs: What to Know Before Choosing a Website Platform

Before we dive into the no-WordPress scenarios, it’s important to understand how we’re approaching deciding on a website platform.

Think of it like shopping for a house. You should be evaluating your website provider based on what you want, what you need, and what tradeoffs you are willing to make.

When it comes to your website platform, the main trade-off is between maximum convenience and maximum control. Think of it this like buying somewhere to live.

The absolute most convenient place is a hotel room. It’s safe and furnished with room service. But can you repaint the room? Nope.

On the other extreme is raw land. You have unlimited control to do whatever you want. But is it convenient? Nope.

And in the middle, you have a mix. An apartment has some freedom – but you have landlord. A condo has even more freedom… but you have a HOA and shared property.

A house has even more freedom… but you have more responsibility and you have to deal with an existing building.

Here’s a graphic from my post on ecommerce software (that also applies to website software) to illustrate —

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Using this analogy, WordPress is like owning a house. You don’t have as much control as you would if you just bought raw land and built something yourself, but you have way more control than say, an apartment or condo.

Which means a situation is which you wouldn’t want to use WordPress most likely involves more control (AKA raw land) or more convenience (AKA an apartment/condo/hotel room). Let’s break that down further:

Reasons/Situations Where You Wouldn’t Choose WP:

You Need a Fully-Customized Solution

WordPress’s primary structure is pages, posts, and comments. While the platform does use Plugins (where you can download and “plug-in” third-party pieces of software to make your site look, act, and feel exactly the way you want) that allow the CMS to be turned into literally anything, you should still be operating within the realm of pages/posts/comments if you want to use WordPress.

If you’re looking to build a non-CMS website (think Software as a Service or mega-robust ecommerce platform), then you’re better off building a custom solution. Why?

Because something ultra-specific like the examples above typically require 100% control. Loading up your WordPress site with hundreds of Plugins just to make it close to what you want is just going to slow it down.

This is your raw land example — it’d be easier to build your dream home from scratch than try to manipulate the house you already have or add on a bunch of attachments (Plugins) that may mess with the wiring/airflow/other elements of the home.

You Want Customization But Don’t Want to Handle the Technical

If you’re looking for some customization abilities on your website but don’t want to deal with the more “technical” aspects of managing a website such as self hosting, check out customizations for ecommerce, server management, etc. then a self-hosted WordPress isn’t the best option.

There are two different routes you could go if you want more customization without having to handle controlling the technical aspects of your site.

The first is what I’ll call the 70% Convenience // 30% Control group. These are providers that allow for more control than a totally done-for-you platform (like Amazon, where you have zero customization), but you’re still using their space and rules (in our house analogy, these are the apartments).

These are usually “website builders” like Wix (I reviewed Wix here and you can check out Squarespace here) and Weebly (I reviewed Weebly here. You can check out Weebly here…). They allow you to customize your website and have a custom domain, but the remaining technical elements (like ecommerce integration) are handled for you.

The second group is 50% Convenience // 50% Control. They’re known as hosted platforms and provide as much control as you can have before you have to have your own server.

The biggest advantage here is that you have customer support, seamless “onboarding” and advanced tools. Building a website with these providers is like owning a condominium or leasing a storefront in a mall. The plumbing and “big stuff” is taken care of. You can pretty much do what you want since you do fully own your property. However, you’re going to run into condo association rules and fees.

This would be a provider like WordPress.com which is a hosted version of WordPress or a self-hosted WordPress page builder like BoldGrid. They limit some of what you can and can’t do. For example, you don’t have FTP access to a server, but you can access your HTML/CSS editing and use 3rd party plugins with their business plan.

You can also export your data and migrate it to self-hosted WordPress or another platform with relative ease, making it a good in-between if you want to start with more convenience and migrate to more control in the future.

You Don’t Have Time or Resources

WordPress comes with a learning curve. But given the platform owns 50-60% of the global CMS market share, there are thousands and thousands of pre-made templates, plus designers and developers who know WordPress and are ready to help your firm.

That being said, the trade-off here is time and/or resources. Either you have to take the time to learn the basics of WordPress and keep the software updated like you do the apps on your phone, or you have to know enough to vet these support roles to make sure you’re getting the results you need at a reasonable price.

Not all projects justify this trade-off. A simple website that doesn’t need any advanced functionality or the ability to scale would work perfectly fine as a simple HTML site and may cost you less in time/resources than learning WordPress or hiring a designer and developer to build your WordPress site.

You Have Plenty of Resources

The flip side of having no time and resources is having all the time and/or resources.

This goes back to our first scenario… if you have a team of people and the funds to build and maintain your website for you, you can build whatever you want, including a totally custom website that’s unique to your business and the functionality you need.

With that said, this scenario comes with one big caveat: you’re putting your website in someone else’s control.

Let’s say you have a developer build a totally custom website that only he/she can manage — that takes you out of the driver’s seat and puts that developer in total control. The same applies to a website that only works on one specific platform. A change in mission statement, privacy policy, billing practices, or even simple incompetence can put your business in an insecure position.

If you’re comfortable with putting your website 100% in the hands of someone else, go for it. If not, then you may want to rethink a custom build and brush up on your website management knowledge.

Takeaways

WordPress is like the mid-size SUV of the website building world. It doesn’t fit everyone by any means, but there also good reason that a large plurality has one.

I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to try WordPress before making any decisions here.

If you don’t have time to run software updates and learn a bit of WordPress jargon, then you should go ahead and pay the extra money for an all-inclusive website builder. Sure, you’re trading control for convenience, but that’s fine.

On the flip side, if you’re very adept at working with developers or have the money to pay for custom builds and don’t mind putting your site into someone else’s hands, then you’d want to research more – especially in regards to ecommerce. WordPress may not be the right fit for you. You can check out some interesting WordPress alternatives here.

Finally, if you’re building something super, super simple, then WordPress may simply be too complex for what you’re looking for. You might just need some cheap hosting or even a simple profile on an existing platform.

The post When Should Someone Not Use WordPress? appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Hover Domains Review: Pros & Cons of Hover Domains as Domain Registrar

Hover Domains Review

Hover Domains is a domain registrar founded in 2009 as an offshoot of Tucows Inc. (the second largest ICANN accredited domain registrar online). Hover’s M.O. is that they stick to what they know, and that’s domains.

But let’s be honest, you probably only know them from their podcast ads on shows like Hello Internet and 99% Invisible. While Grey and Roman might plug them – you want to know how they actually stack up.

Well – this domain registrar deals solely with buying, managing, and transferring domains on their platform. They do offer email services, but do not offer other complementary products such as hosting, website builders, etc.

Check out Hover’s products & pricing here.

It’s important to remember that a domain is not a website. It’s not an email, an app, or any other service. It’s simply your online address. It helps people locate where you are. If you want to setup a website, you’ll still need to get hosting or a website builder / ecommerce provider that provides hosting (which Hover does not provide).

I’ll dive deeper into this in the pros and cons, but it’s an important distinction to make up front, because it helps us understand what Hover’s goal is. They’re not about being an all-in-one solution — quite the opposite, actually. Their focus is on on simplicity. They’re all about getting you your domain and letting you use it wherever you need it through app integrations.

How does Hover stack up against other domain registrars? Here’s our review of Hover Domains as a domain registrar with pros and cons.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Hover Domains

Interface

Hover’s interface is about as user-friendly as it gets. It’s clean, simple, and easy to navigate. The domain search is the most prominent thing on the homepage, making it clear exactly where to go to get started.

Hover Interface

Once you search for a domain, you’re given a clean list with an exact match and other recommendations. Hover offers a ton of top level domain options (more on that in a minute), and gives an easy way to navigate through them with different filter categories.

Hover Domain Search Results
The checkout process itself is simple as well. It took me four easy steps to get my domain from my cart to my dashboard. For a domain registrar that prides itself on simplicity, Hover definitely delivers.

Variety of TLDs

Now that ICANN allows more TLDs outside of generic .com/.net/.org, website owners have to make sure their domain registrar has all the ones they want (especially if you’re buying in bulk). Hover has a ton of TLD options that go beyond generic domains, which are broken down by categories to make finding the perfect match easier.

Hover TLDs categorized

Hover also offers a ton of country-specific domains for international use, making it a great choice if you need to buy up domains for various countries/regions or even cities.

Hover TLDs Countries
Transparent Pricing

Domain registrars use a whole host of pricing types, from cheap upfront pricing with high renewal rates to expensive with cheap renewals.

Hover is fairly straightforward with their pricing. Their table breaks down pricing for purchase, renewal, and transfer for all of their TLD types. Their rates include WHOIS privacy protection, which means that your personal details like name, address, and contact information are protected from spammers, marketers, and others who may do a WHOIS lookup. The prices do not include ICANN fees however, which means you’ll need to add an additional $0.18 on to your purchase (more on that in the cons).

Hover Pricing
Hover also offers discounts on renewal rates when you have 10 or more domains registered with them. You can see how the pricing breaks down for the domain ranges in their pricing table.

Hover Pricing Bulk Savings

“Real Person” Support

While I haven’t had to contact support, Hover is well known for their excellent customer service. They claim to be fellow haters of the phone tree, and as such, don’t use automated systems. Whether you’re calling in, emailing, or live chatting, you’re connected to a person.

Hover Support Mentality

In terms of coverage, Hover offers a pretty robust schedule. You can contact them weekdays (8:00 AM – 11:00 PM ET) and weekends (8:00 AM – 8:00 PM ET) via email, phone, or live chat.

Their “Need Help” tab also follows you throughout the site and offers frequently asked questions and answers, as well as a link to their live chat and additional support information.

Hover Support Options

Integrations

Although Hover focuses solely on domain registering and managing (and email), it does offer a plethora off apps you can easily integrate your domain with, from website builders like Squarespace to ecommerce platforms like Shopify.

Hover Integrations
Aside from the integration options, the actual process of integrating your domain is fairly straightforward. Hover provides step-by-step instructions for each app, making it easy for even the least tech-experienced website owners. They’ll even handle some of the work for you (like adding your DNS records to connect your domain with your website platform).

Hover App Integration Instructions

Data Protection

One of the main things that stood out to me while registering a domain with Hover was how far they went to protect my data. There’s nothing worse than registering a domain and getting tons of spam emails immediately afterward (or getting retargeted by ads left and right). WHOIS privacy protects this somewhat, but Hover goes a step beyond during the checkout process by allowing you to select how your data is shared. I also received an email after purchasing my domain prompting me to set my data use consent preferences.

Hover Data Use Email

Cons of Hover Domains

Lacking Complementary Products

Hover’s focus on only domains is a pro, but it’s also a con.

There are several products that almost always go with a domain. If you want to make your site secure with SSL, you’ll need an SSL certificate associated with the domain. You can buy it separately from a third party, but from my experience, managing it with your domain is simpler.

When it comes to hosting, I like to separate my domains and hosting, but many owners prefer that their hosting and domains get bundled into one (even if it’s not ideal from a performance perspective).

NameCheap has competitive hosting; GoDaddy offers affordable managed WordPress hosting with domains. And most hosting companies offer domain registration (or even free domains) with hosting purchase (such as InMotion or Bluehost).

Those kind of products simply aren’t available with Hover. You can purchase domain email (AKA match your domain name to an email address (or several), but if you’re looking for the convenience of having your hosting and website builder all in one platform, you’re out of luck.

Pricing

While Hover offers straightforward pricing (which is a pro), the con is that they tend to be pricier than other registrars — and this is the largest con going against them as a domain registrar.

If you want to compare prices, let’s look at NameCheap vs. Hover. You can get a .com domain on NameCheap for $10.98 (plus the $0.18 ICANN fee), which then renews at $12.98. With Hover, that same .com domain will cost you $12.99 and renews at $14.99.

The pricing discrepancy gets even larger when you get into other specialty TLDs. See the comparison for this .condos domain between Hover and NameCheap.

If you’re looking to save money on a domain purchase or renewal and don’t mind the upselling/cross selling that typically comes with those registrars, there are better choices out there for you than Hover.

If you don’t mind spending a bit more for a domain registrar that’s straightforward and keeps their cross selling and upselling out of it, Hover isn’t a bad choice – but you need to fully factor in your costs.

Next Steps

If you…

  • Want a very simple domain buying and integration experience
  • Need a registrar that offers plenty of support
  • Want to keep your email and your domain with the same provider
  • Don’t need complementary products (besides email)

… Hover Domains could be a good fit for you.

However, if you’re…

  • More experienced in getting online
  • Looking to save on domains (especially specialty TLDs)
  • Want to keep your hosting and domains in the same place

… there are better options out there for you (I mostly use NameCheap). You can take my domain registrar quiz to help you narrow down which might be best for your needs.

Hover Domains

Hover Domains is a domain registrar founded in 2009 as an offshoot of Tucows Inc. (the second largest ICANN accredited domain registrar online). This domain registrar deals solely with buying, managing, and transferring domains on their platform (they also offer email services, but no other complementary products).
Hover Domains Review
Date Published: 08/08/2018
Simple, straightforward domain purchasing process with solid support and easy integration with a wide variety of apps. Pricier than other registrars and no complementary products aside from email.
3 / 5 stars

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