It's undisputed: Having a high-converting website is key for your small business success. Yet a recent study found that more than half of all Australian small business owners don't have a website, and many entrepreneurs have said it's because they felt they didn't have the technical skills or didn't know where to even begin.
That's where a website-building and hosting solution like WordPress, Squarespace or Shopify can help. But it's hardly an equal comparison between these three popular platforms. Each has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. When comparing WordPress, Squarespace and Shopify, the best choice for you depends on your business, your goals and your own expertise.
What to Look For In Any E-Commerce Platform
Before we discuss the individual features of Shopify, WordPress and Squarespace, let's start by diving into the foundational best practices and core features that you should look for in any website builder and e-commerce platform.
Regardless of what option you end up choosing, these general best practices and key features will ensure your small business success no matter your niche, your target customer, or your personal expertise in building websites.
1. Who Owns and Hosts Your Website?
Let's get technical for a moment, because understanding the difference between a hosted site and a self-hosted site is key.
A hosted solution is when you build your site on a third-party platform, such as Shopify or Squarespace. They provide the software and templates to build your website, and even host it for you on their servers. But you're locked into a monthly or annual payment plan, and because they own the platform and server that your site is built on, they in a sense also own your site.
A self-hosted site, such as WordPress, is installed and built on your own servers and your own website domain. You have full ownership of everything.
The best analogy is thinking about it in terms of real estate.
A hosted website is like renting an apartment. You pay your landlord every month for access. Your landlord is responsible for any repairs and maintenance, but you own whatever is inside your apartment. It's convenient, it's often quicker to get set up, and it's low maintenance for you. But you're also locked into your landlord's rules, and you can't knock down any walls or do any extreme renovations.
A self-hosted website is like buying some land and building your own house. The start-up costs might be higher, and you're far more involved in the design, construction and maintenance of your new home. But you also have full control over everything and anything you do.
2. How Easy Is It To Use?
Many Australian small businesses want to focus on what they do best — serving their customers' needs — instead of spending all day and night running their websites. However, the pendulum swings in two directions.
The easier a website builder is to use (e.g. pre-built templates, dragging and dropping elements, etc.), the more restricted you often are in terms of customising the look and feel of your site.
With more coding and in-line editing/customisation abilities, you're better equipped to tailor your website experience to your brand. But it may also be a bit more complicated to build and maintain.
3. What SEO Features Are You Given?
As we've said before, deploying the right search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is essential for reaching your audience in the Australian market. It's competitive out there — the number of .au websites jumped by more than 30% in the first half of 2020 alone — and SEO is key for standing out in the crowd.
A good website builder offers you built-in SEO features to give you a jumpstart in the search rankings. Key features include:
Letting you customise the metadata and keywords for your entire site
Allowing you to add, and analyse, SEO for each page and every post
Equipping you with more advanced features, like alt tags on your images
Having good crawlability with Google and other search engines
4. Do They Provide Ample Customer Service?
Did you drag and drop an element onto your new homepage, but can't figure out how to move it? Are you having trouble logging into your backend? Are your customers complaining that they can't check out?
Pay attention to your customer support options.
Ideally, the platform you choose should offer a combination of both self-service help (e.g. a knowledge base you can use on your own) as well as a variety of ways to get help from a real human (e.g. live chat, email, phone support, etc.).
Hopefully, you'll never need to use such services, but when you do, you'll appreciate a platform that gives you prompt, efficient support.
Squarespace vs. Shopify vs. WordPress: A Website Builder Comparison for Choosing the Best Platform For Your Small Business
Best For Slick Designs and Ease of Use (Starts at $12/Month)
If you want to get your small business site built and launched today, Squarespace offers a design-heavy, template-driven solution that is simple and straightforward to use. It's aimed primarily at people who sell through visuals, making it especially appealing to artists, designers, wedding photographers, etc.
More technical businesses, or those who don't rely so heavily on visual presentations to communicate their brand, may find it difficult to shoehorn Squarespace's pre-made templates into their business objectives.
Note: Many other reviews that you may read online refer to Squarespace 7.0. In Fall 2020, the company rolled out Squarespace 7.1. This included many changes, such as less customisation on a page-by-page basis, a loss of the developer platform (an advanced tool that lets you access the backend code; it's currently not supported in version 7.1), and more.
- More than 60 responsive (i.e. mobile-friendly) templates that look polished and are ready for you to customise
- Perfect for beginners, with drag-and-drop elements and easy ways to re-arrange pages and navigation
- Squarespace's mobile app lets you design and edit your website on your phone (a unique feature that many other platforms don't offer)
- An optional, brand-new enterprise plan for Australian businesses that need a dedicated account manager, tailored design assistance, and scalable performance
- Free custom domain included
- Unlimited visitors, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited e-commerce products supported.
- Beautiful, design-focused templates with an eye for quality unmatched by many other platforms
- Extraordinarily simple to use with a very low learning curve
- Lots of support, including live chat on weekdays, 24/7 email support, and a community forum to solicit help from other users
- The cheapest e-commerce plan takes a cut of 3% of every sale you make
- Advanced e-commerce features, such as discounts, abandoned cart recovery, etc., are only available on its most expensive plan.
- Very limited ways to accept payments (Stripe, Paypal and Square) with no way to connect to local Australian payment gateways like SecurePay or eWay
- Limited plugins and integrations with third-party service providers (e.g. no way to connect with many popular email systems, such as ActiveCampaign) means Squarespace might not play well with whatever software you're currently using.
- Basic SEO features may leave more advanced marketers frustrated.
- Lack of extensive coding capabilities
Some quirks of the built-in editor annoy users, such as constantly being prompted to save your work after every little change (there's no autosave feature)
Best For E-Commerce Stores (Free 14-Day Trial, Then Starting at $29/Month)
If Squarespace was designed with ease-of-use and visuals as its main goal (with e-commerce functionality added on), Shopify does quite the reverse. Its main focus is e-commerce and revenue, with features that show it.
Whereas advanced marketing and checkout tools were only available in Squarespace's more advanced (and expensive) e-commerce plans, most of these are included by default in Shopify's starter plan. It's no wonder more than a million businesses use this platform, generating billions of dollars in sales every year.
What you gain in e-commerce support, you lose a bit in terms of visuals, content creation, etc.
- Everything you need to run a small or big online store is included by default, including advanced resources like inventory management.
- Nearly 200 store templates to choose from (paid/free)
- Integrates with in-store point-of-sale (POS), making it a perfect fit if you want to integrate your physical store and online web experience
- The Shopify App Store lets you add numerous plug-ins to expand your store's functionality.
- It's an all-in-one platform with domain hosting, payment gateways, unlimited bandwidth, no hidden fees etc.
- Even its basic plan includes helpful, advanced e-commerce tools that are built in, such as abandoned cart recovery, automated notifications, data segmentation, currency conversion etc.
- A lot of customers/business owners trust shopping on a Shopify site due to their strict payment gateway protocols
- Shopify can manage your domains (international and subdomains) and automatically provides SSL for your primary domain
- Unique sales channel support allows you to sell on social media, too
- Global sales supports 133 currencies, multiple languages, and even foreign exchange rates
- 24/7 support with Shopify
- There is an app for almost every task you can think of. However, these are run by free or paid third parties, which can mean separate support structures and monthly fees. (We suggest examining reviews before you install these apps).
- Site security is managed by Shopify. With double authentication and Shopify firewalls, you do not have to worry about someone from Russia 'hacking' your site
- URL structure can be rather long (especially in collections), which can affect your SEO, this needs to be accounted for in your SEO plan
- Shopify payment gateway transaction fees depend on your payment methods and plan
- Restrictive use of content that's not related to e-commerce (for example, it technically offers a blog, but its blogging features are rather basic)
- The basic plans are high-value with excellent inclusions – but if you require an Advanced Plan it can easily cost a few thousand dollars more a year than its competitors. We only recommend Advanced/Plus plans for stores with an annual turnover of $150K+
- It's a proprietary platform. You can easily export your customers, products and data through CSV files. But exporting your design and content can be difficult, meaning switching platforms can be a challenge. We recommend the added protection of a back up system, through a third party Shopify app
- You have a reliance on third party apps for added functionality (not included in the plans, such as cross promotions/pop up up-sells etc.)
Best For Custom Development and the Technically Savvy (Free, Comes With Maintenance Costs)
WordPress is not just a website builder but a full-fledged content management system (CMS). The key difference between WordPress and the other platforms we've discussed so far is its complexity:
- You can use pre-made templates, but you have to download them, install them, and customize them manually
- You can use e-commerce features (i.e. WooCommerce), but you need to buy them and add them to your WordPress installation
- You can integrate it with nearly every other third-party provider on the planet, but you have to install plugins or manual integrations
- But don't let that daunt you.
If you have the technical expertise (or the time to learn HTML and CSS), or the budget to hire a web developer or website management team, WordPress offers you unparalleled flexibility and scalability.
With custom coding, you can make your website look exactly as you want with zero limitations on customization.
When it comes to your store, you can control every aspect of the checkout process and product experience, and even design and build additional revenue streams (e.g. a subscription-based members-only area for gated content).
And in terms of SEO, you can use advanced tools like DeadlineFunnels or Google Analytics tagging to track your every marketing move.
Note: For this discussion, we're focusing on Wordpress.org. You can also use Wordpress.com, but the start-up prices hardly make sense for small businesses.
- It's less a website builder, and more a CMS with full flexibility
- You have complete control of everything, including content
- WordPress plays well with most third-party solutions, letting you plug and play with existing infrastructure and software you're already using
- It's free
- It's scalable and future-proof, and you're not locked in the way you are with Shopify or Squarespace where you're beholden to any changes or features they add or remove
- You choose your own web host for your own needs
- There are an endless array of templates, themes and done-for-you features from thousands of third parties
- WordPress is open source and supported by a global community of developers: If there's a specific tool or function you need, it's almost guaranteed to exist
- Anything beyond WordPress itself costs more (buying a domain, purchasing WooCommerce, and hiring a developer to set up your store for you can cost thousands)
- Security must be maintained, including updating WordPress and maintaining any plugins or third-party software you've installed (weekly/monthly)
- Little to no support from WordPress itself (support from IT providers or third parties varies)
Features to Consider
As you can see, the best website building platform and e-commerce solution depends on your Australian business' needs:
- Custom coding: Drag-and-drop is quick and effortless, but also restricts more advanced features and customisation. Often, the simpler the solution, the harder it is to find and do a workaround. If your business already uses a lot of third-party platforms, a more code-based solution like WordPress may be ideal, otherwise you will need to find work arounds through integrations.
- Marketing and SEO: All of the above platforms cover the basics. But if you're in a highly competitive market, or if your existing customer funnel uses advanced marketing strategies like ad retargeting, make sure your choice supports it.
- Product support: If your Australian business has a physical store, a warehouse that has specific fulfilment requirements, or other advanced e-commerce needs, make sure the platform (and the specific membership plan) you use satisfies those requirements.
- Costs: Don't just pay attention to the start-up monthly fee. Prices and add-on fees can quickly skyrocket based on your audience (e.g. Are they only in Australia or do you sell internationally?), the number of products you have, or how big your administrative team. Ask about transaction fees and other scenarios that you often encounter in your business. Don't just examine the start up costs, always consider the long term management and edits you may require on your website.
Conclusion: What is the Best Website Builder For You?
Each of the three platforms we've outlined above has their own unique approaches, and bring specific benefits based on the type of business or entrepreneurial endeavour you're on.
If you're just needing some basic capabilities and want to go live ASAP, try a solution like Squarespace.
If advanced e-commerce is your goal, or you need your website to support your physical store, an e-commerce solution like Shopify is your best bet.
And if you want a full-fledged site with the most advanced features possible (and aren't afraid of coding, maintenance or hiring a developer), nothing beats Wordpress.
Give each platform a trial run, playing around with their templates and their support. Make sure the features provided meet your business' needs and the most common customer scenarios you encounter.
Now is the best time to play with your options before investing time and money into a provider (especially if you'll be locked into a hosted solution that will control your data and content).
At Marketing Your Brand, we help businesses like yours attract their ideal customers through websites that convert. No one understands the needs of business owners better than us. Contact us for a free consultation. We'd love to discuss your marketing goals, your e-commerce needs, and help you find a platform that drives revenue.