I am Stefani Lefler, the owner and designer behind Stefani Jessica: a Michigan based design studio that serves business owners worldwide. Through design, strategy, and content creation, I create a confident branded voice that speaks to your audience.
I share business, design, and copywriting tips with a bit of resources that I use and brand reveals mixed in.
When it comes to websites, the options seem endless. I know what you’re thinking…”Another blog post about why this platform is better than this other one” and I promise you, today’s post takes a different approach.
As someone who taught themselves HTML and CSS during the age of dial-up and being a 12 year old, I’ve seen the evolution of website design and development for the last 15 years. I have to say, content management systems (or CMS) were the best thing in my design world since sliced bread. And as they all were released, I made sure to try them all. While some stood out for their ease of use, others fell flat with overcomplicated dashboards.
Two website platforms have come out on top, although a newer contender has become one of my favorites as well. The number one importance to me when it comes to designing a website for my clients comes down to one question, “Can my client easily maintain and grow their website?”
Being able to make changes to your site without re-hiring your designer is important because business changes quickly and information being up to date is so important when a new viewer lands on your website. So let’s take a look at the platforms that I have worked with the most.
Let’s start with the not-so-great (of course solely in my opinion). WordPress offers a lot of freedom in design with thousands of templates available. WordPress is also one of the most popular blogging and website management platforms out there. My biggest issues with WordPress are the plugins, the necessity of being comfortable with code, and the need to update the various settings or your site could break.
I love the fact that WordPress plugins provide a way to make your website anything you need it to be. And if there is a function you want for your frontend or backend, there’s an app/plugin for that! The issue comes from the fact that each and every plugin works differently with no rule of consistency. Some sliders are available within the left side menu on your dashboard. Some are widgets that you have to have space on your homepage for. Others use use shortcode to inject an element onto your page. The list goes on. You never know what you’re getting until it’s installed and if it doesn’t end up working the way you’d hoped, it’s back to the search bar finding another plugin that does that same thing but in a totally different way. That causes a lot of compatibility issues (also known as a broken website).
WordPress.org sites run on a type of code called PHP. If that sounds like an infection to you, you’re not alone. I still have trouble sometimes grasping PHP when I see a wall of code. So the fact that design changes to your site pretty much requires a developer, I’m not a fan of the inability to grow and expand your business and brand online, where it’s most important to present yourself in the best light (more on that later).
Finally, WordPress requires a lot of updating. Even though WordPress doesn’t release a new version too often, those plugins you’ve installed need to be updated sometimes daily or your site can be vulnerable to hacking. No one likes to be hacked and lose all of their hard work. But when your business is thriving and you’re managing multiple to-do lists, agendas, and opportunities, sometimes you forget to log into your website for a couple of days…or a week. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But it can cause huge issues on this platform.
The often website platform being compared to WordPress is Squarespace. This website platform is quite a bit newer than WordPress but quickly growing thanks to genius marketing (like the above “Build it beautiful” campaign and the hilarious new commercials with John Malkovich) and how easy it is to use their website builder right out of the box. But Squarespace isn’t perfect.
My biggest concern when using Squarespace for my clients is making sure their website looks unique and stands above other websites built on the platform. While the platform gives you the ability to create a clean, professional looking website, you don’t want to fall into the dreaded category I’ll call “Squarespace Bland”. Without some CSS tweaks and a bit of creative thinking on how to utilize the available blocks, you start seeing a bunch of websites that look exactly the same. You wanna make sure you stand out and someone doesn’t land on your site thinking, “Wasn’t I just looking at this photographer’s site a while ago?” No one wants to blend in when it comes to business!
The newest kid on the block (especially their new online app) is Showit. I had heard about them before when I first began my business but between the flash based sites and the platform only really being utilized by photographers, I didn’t see enough potential to really dive in and learn it. Then a few months ago they released Showit5 which not only utilizes HTML5 in the designs, but you can have a WordPress blog that can be designed just like the other pages on your site with drag and drop elements and less headache of setting up an account on WordPress yourself (yep, they do it for you!).
Showit5 is what I’ve used for the very site you’re on just so you understand how much I love it. I do have my shop and personal blog on Squarespace, but I knew I needed the freedom to really push the boundaries of layers and alignment on my own site. That’s one of the features I love the most. One major downfall of Showit can be that very freedom however. You can use transitions, hover effects, all the bells and whistles you can imagine. But adding them all onto one site can be a bit much. Ok, a lot much. So Showit requires a designer’s eye and some restraint more so than the other platforms.
After working with all 3 platforms for my own websites and for my clients, I chose to focus on Squarespace and Showit5. It all came back to that question of my client maintaining and growing their business with the least amount of hassle.
Once I knew which ones I wanted to focus on, I saw I definite benefit for certain types of business owners to use one website platform over another. When I work with my clients, we go in depth into their business to figure out which one will work the absolute best for their unique situation. But there are some patterns that apply across most industries that I’ve seen emerge that make the decision a bit easier.
First and foremost, newer business owners or ones launching their first ever website and brand will flourish on Squarespace. When you’re just getting established, having some limitations isn’t a bad thing! And the fact that it includes an all-in-one business model keeps this simple. Other instances Squarespace works best is for shop owners (they have great ecommerce functionality), artists wanting to really feature their work, business needing password protection on certain pages, and when you need one or more cover pages for landing pages or sales pages.
Showit gives established businesses with a clear message and brand a chance to branch out on what is expected of a business website, which can help them stand out in their industry. When using Showit, you have the ability to share your story in such a fun and unexpected way. It’s also ideal for blog-focused businesses because of the use of WordPress which many people prefer over Squarespace for large, lifestyle blogs and for creators who offer services and work with clients one-on-one.
Hiring a designer to set you up for success on either platform is extremely important. As I mentioned, Squarespace can be made to look unique and still retain its ability for simple updates and a designer well-seasoned with CSS and how Squarespace works will be able to bring out the potential of your website. The limitless power that Showit has also can be daunting when just beginning a site so a designer will have a solid plan going in so that your website shines and shows your best attributes to the online world.
Websites are one of the only spots of your business where every corner of your brand is represented. Your voice, heart, and design are all present and telling a story to the viewer. To find out more about getting your own beautiful brand and website, contact me! I’d be happy to help make your dreams a reality and I have spots open for the spring.