New Year Website Checkup: Platform

The traffic at your website is probably at its lowest point of the year between Christmas and New Year, so this is an excellent time to give your website a check up. Before you look at the things you might need to change for the sake of your visitors and your site’s performance, though, think about a big question that’s about you and your business: is it time to change the platform on which your site is built?

You might have built your site in a way that no longer works well. For example, all-Flash sites are a mistake from the point of view of search, and you might regret yours now. Or you might have had a traditional HTML/CSS site and now you want to be able to update it yourself. You might have a website built with a DIY system or a free blogging platform, but be ready to move up to a professional website.

If you think you might want to rebuild from the ground up (so to speak), ask yourself a couple of big questions first.

Do you need a CMS?

The first big question is this: do you want to be able to update your website yourself? If so, you’ll need a content management system, or CMS. Read our Fast Guide to Content Management Systems for a quick overview of your options.

Pros to having a CMS:

  • You can update your site on your own, or have your web pros do it more quickly, which usually means less cost and less lead time.
  • You will therefore be more likely to keep it up to date.
  • Search engines love fresh content, so you’re likely to get better results if you keep your site up to date.

Cons to having a CMS:

  • You can mess up your website. Most clients who have a CMS do mess up their websites at some point. It can cost you more to get it fixed than to have your web pros update it.
  • If you have a CMS, you may feel that you ought to use it, so you put those updates on your to-do list and never get to them, instead of having your web pros do it for you in a timely manner.
  • Content management systems aren’t as easy to use as people who use them all the time think they are. If you only update once a month or so, the amount of time involved in figuring out everything you f0rget in between times is probably not worth it.

Our one final note about using a CMS is this: be very wary about using a designer’s house brand. We put all of our new websites (including this one) on WordPress these days. We’re openminded, though, and use in-house CMS for our clients just as cheerfully as WP or Joomla. We can’t help but notice, though, that  a solution with a large developer community, like WordPress, is way more likely to have problems and limitations identified and solved than one that relies on a single developer to keep it up to date. If the house brand gets abandoned, you have no choice but to start over or limp along without updates.

Are you doing e-commerce?

E-Commerce solutions range from things like Magento which are all about ecommerce and only secondarily happen to be useful for creating websites, to stock catalogs with all the shopping and fulfillment taken care of behind your home page which is sort of Scotch taped to the front of the store, to WordPress plugins. The number of SKUs you plan to stock and how often you plan to update them should be the driving factor in your platform choice.

We’ve worked with companies that are stuck with their ecommerce solution, no matter how much they hate it (and most people do hate their ecommerce solutions), just because the idea of migrating 3,750 items is overwhelming, or because their business depends on having access to an ever-changing database of currently fashionable items. That’s a good reason to stick with a particular platform.

If that’s your situation, then the question becomes not what’s the best platform for your business, but how best can you make your current platform work?

If you’re planning ecommerce for the future or you’re at the end of your rope and ready to change, however complicated it may be, then focus on the shopping cart and choose the best one for your business. Then get a good developer, designer, and copywriter to make the site look the way you want it to. It’s easier to hire people to work with the platform than to try to force a platform to do things it really isn’t suited to.

Final note on this point: there are other things besides ecommerce that may call for this kind of thinking. If you use a particular type of real estate listing that requires a certain type of back end structure, for example, or have a franchise site that has to be on the parent company’s platform, you will have to work with what you’ve got.

Once you have these big questions answered, you’re ready to talk with your developers and designers about which platform would best meet your needs. We think the most important question at this point is, “Why do you recommend that platform?” If your designer believes that a completely custom static site would make it possible to create exactly the unusual effect you want, and you don’t need a CMS or a shopping cart, go for it. If your designer wants to use Squarespace because he can’t make sites in any other way, get a second opinion.

At Haden Interactive, we’re comfortable with multiple content management systems, so we can always think in terms of what’s best for you rather than just what we know how to do.  We’ll be happy to talk with you about your options. Call Julianne at 479.966.9761 to start the discussion.







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