...by Gwen Millius and Julia Sylla
Becky Graham of Graham Group LLC, came to Parachute Strategies looking for a new website. Her goals for the site will look familiar to many small business owners:
It had to look and function like something developed in 2014, not 1998. Also, she wanted it to feature custom graphics that represented the concepts behind her financial consulting business in a fresh and interesting way.
With a hundred other priorities taking precedent over her website, Becky needed a website that was nimble, user-friendly and that, potentially, she could edit herself. (That’s code for “no code.”)
WordPress has been our platform of choice for most of our client’s websites. We’ve also had some forays into Drupal and good old-fashioned HTML 5, but Wordpress has been our default platform. For those not in the know, WordPress is a free, open-source, content management system (CMS) and blogging tool. With an eleven year track record (which is something like 77 in online years), it’s well established and widely adopted. Using Wordpress, people with moderate computer know-how can choose from thousands of customizable templates and plug-ins to build “free,” customizable, good-looking blogs and websites.
With Becky, we were prepared to roll out another Wordpress website, but she came at us with something we hadn’t tried yet: Wix. Wix is a cloud-based web development platform that lets you build a website using, miracle of miracles, drag and drop tools. Wix also offers website software for free, though there is a catch...more on that in a bit. Unlike Wordpress, however, Wix is not open source, is a closed system, and has fewer templates and plug-ins to chose from.
Becky didn’t know if she wanted a Wix site, but a friend told her she did. She asked if we could settle the question for her: Wordpress or Wix?
We did some research and, here’s what we know:
1. Your "free" website will probably not actually be free.
We love all the open source work that’s on offer on the Internet, including Wordpress. Who doesn’t love free website software? Hooray!
In our experience, however, Wordpress and other open source systems are “free” like puppies are “free.” These lovable, new additions to your life will cost you money from the first day forward.
Here’s what keeps Wordpress from being truly free of cost:
Many of the free themes aren’t great looking and many of the free plug-ins don’t function all that well. There are plenty of premium themes and plug-ins available at relatively low cost, but that makes them, well, not free.
Unless you can code for yourself, you will likely need to find a Wordpress developer to make your template do exactly what you want it to do, and good Wordpress developers aren’t cheap. We know from experience that a good, trustworthy, responsive developer is worth their weight in gold, actually. ...So, definitely not free.
Meanwhile, you can actually get a free site using Wix. Here's the catch, though: Wix will populate your site with advertising in exchange for the use of their free services. Not many businesses are that excited about having other people’s ads cluttering up their branded space. Luckily, for a relatively modest sum, you can upgrade your site so that your brand is front and center.
2. There's easy...and there's easy.
Everyone wants to be able to edit their own website. They may not have time to do it, they may never touch the thing, but they want some assurance that they control at least the site’s content.
When it came to making site edits, Wix’s learning curve is akin to a walk in the park, while learning to manipulate Wordpress sites is more like a climb up a mountain.
Wordpress does not offer what is known as a “WISYWIG” (What You See Is What You Get) editor. As a result, making your pages look just right tends to involve a fair amount of trial and error. Having a rudimentary grasp of HTML is a real time saver even when making small tweaks to your site’s content - for example, editing text or adding photos. If you really want to make big changes – changes to your site’s overall structure - you’re likely to find yourself heading back to your web developer for help once again.
With Wix, what you see is what you get. You lay out your website, press “save” and “publish,” and the result is exactly what you expected. And you don’t have to deal with any code. Not even a little bit of code. None.
To be fair, Wix isn’t perfect. You may not have to mess around with any code, but building and populating a Wix site still requires a fair amount of time and diligence. Sorting out the drag and drop system does take some doing, and even after you’ve figured it out, it can feel a little clunky and less-than-intuitive. Once you’ve mastered the system, though, you’re free to edit every element of the site to your heart’s content.
3. Change can be difficult...
Wordpress does a good job of keeping their base code secure and up to date. Updates come along a few times a year, and someone will need to install them…could be you; could be that web developer you’ve hired. Things get hinky, however, with plug-ins and customized themes that may or may not be updated along with the base code. When you have an issue with a plug-in, the original developer of the plug-in may help you fix the issue – or they may not, especially if it was offered for “free.” Your plug-ins can rapidly go out of date, cause slow-downs, conflicts, and crashes, and may trigger the need for a partial rebuild of your site.
Wix is not open source; only their programmers can modify their code. There are fewer themes and plug-ins to choose from, which you may find limiting when you're designing your site. However, you have the assurance the template and plug-ins you choose will work and they will work well as an ensemble. If they don't, there’s a team of Wix developers who will definitely fix the problem.
4. A little help?
With Wordpress, help is plentiful, and comes from that enormous field of developers who write helpful articles in response to queries from users. The downside is that the articles are numerous and complex and you may find yourself wading through a lot of less-than-useful material before you find the information you need.
Wix, on the other hand, has a dedicated support team to help you with their products – a team you can actually exchange emails with or speak with on the phone…an increasingly rare service in this age.
For Becky, we went with Wix.
When we laid out the case for each platform, Wix was Becky’s choice. Although she could have built the site herself, the prospect seemed time-consuming enough that she chose to contract the work out to Parachute Strategies. And we have to eat, so that wasn’t free. HOWEVER, because Becky chose to use Wix, her site was, on the whole, far cheaper than it would have been had she needed to hire a coder.
There will always be a place for WordPress in web design. Wix, though, really met Becky's needs, offering economy, ease of use, and the potential for aesthetic quality. In fact, our experience using Wix to build Becky's site was so positive that we actually went on to use Wix to rebuild the Parachute Strategies website. That’s right. THIS website. And, from now on, when clients come to us looking for small-business-friendly websites, we will definitely present Wix as an option.