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What can I say, you get what you pay for.

Choices you have when starting a Web site

The technical choices you have when starting a Web site can be overwhelming. The situation isn’t helped by shady characters trying to rip you off and well-meaning but ignorant Web designers who don’t know as much as they let you think they do. Both types will take advantage of your lack of knowledge. One tries to deceive on purpose, and the other tries to give you help that I wouldn’t wish on my competition.
(well, okay, maybe I would).

Below is an easy-to-understand list of choices, but first, a little vocabulary to help you out:

Platform is a word we use to describe the base underlying technology or software that allows us to create and manage a Web site. For example, this site runs on Joomla, but others run on Drupal or WordPress (among others). Creating a Web site out of HTML pages and uploading those files to a Web server is not a platform. Software like Dreamweaver or Expression Web is not anything like the WordPress software. Dreamweaver runs on your computer. WordPress runs on your Web server.


CMS is a Content Management System, a way to store Web site content and visual design information that lets you create and modify site content yourself, without paying someone else to do it for you, and usually without requiring you to know complex code. CMSs store all the information about a Web site in a database on the web server. The platforms I describe above are all CMSs.

Web server is the computer that stores your Web site files. It runs software just like your computer does, but for letting the public access your site’s pages on the Web. You pay for this as a service from a Web hosting company, just like a store would pay rent for its retail space. Your choice here is important because different hosting plans will let you do different things with your Web site. To confuse things, this is often referred to as a platform, too! For example, you may have a Windows platform or a Linux platform. Windows may sound comfortingly familiar, but most CMSs run on Linux. When in doubt, choose Linux for your Web server.

Web Site Platform Choices

The DIY software Web site

This is the “homemade” Web site done in FrontPage, Expression Web, or Dreamweaver.

  • Total control over content and appearance
  • Self-reliance
  • Don’t have to pay anyone to do it for you
  • You have to take expensive classes or read books to know how to use the software
  • The learning curve can be a bit steep, because you’re essentially becoming a Web designer, when what you wanted to was just have nice Web site for your business
  • You are NOT a Web designer, and chances are your site will look like it
  • Popular software choices for which training exists are expensive (original purchase plus any future upgrades)
  • Extremely time-consuming to create and update site

Page Creator Web Services

These are becoming more popular as the technology behind them advances to make them easier for the layperson to use. How they work is you build a Web site through an online interface that is supposed to be easy to use. They are a combination site builder and CMS. Often, these are available from your Web hosting company. They are starting to be available as third-party services. Some of them have ecommerce capability.

  • Fairly easy to use
  • Inexpensive
  • The service upgrades for you
  • Better than you could do yourself
  • Limited choices and options
  • Limited templates (creates the visual look and content structure) means your site will look exactly like many others
  • You don’t control your own data or design

Web Designer/Developer

This is the classic “pay someone to design your website” scenario. It has a good chance of giving you what you need, but also a decent chance of you getting relieved of a lot of money in return for a lot of frustration. Make sure you read some articles about how to choose a good Web designer before you give anybody your money! I am not saying that they’re all crooks or ignoramuses, but some of them certainly are! You need to know the difference, and that means you need to educate yourself. Part of that education includes this article you’re reading now.

  • Custom work can give you exactly what you need
  • Smart designers/developers will use a CMS
  • If a CMS is used it's features are expandable with added software
  • If a CMS is used you can start with the basics and add features as time and budget allow
  • Smart/good designers will use XHTML/CSS
  • You have control over all aspects
  • May have a blogging component to it
  • Everything depends on who you choose
  • Often can be overkill if a large-scale CMS is used
  • Not specialists in blogging, social media, may have a dated approach
  • If no CMS -- possibly outdated design and SEO (search engine optimization) practices
  • if no CMS -- expensive and tedious work to update, edit, or change the site
  • If no XHTML/CSS, then the code and the design are outdated and will fail a validation test
  • Static or CMS's can be expensive (especially for ecommerce or large sites over 25 pages)

Final Thoughts

Only you can decide what’s right for yourself. Having a trusted advisor is extraordinarily valuable in preventing you from making mistakes and wasting huge amounts of time and money, but it’s still up to you in the end. And of course, sometimes it isn’t what kind of site you have at all, it’s what kind of business you have and how you run it. But that’s a post for another day.

Additional Info

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