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10 Interactive Website Platforms For 6 Business Scenarios
By Bart De Pelsmaeker
One of the hardest things when conceiving a new (and interactive) website is which platform or technology you should use. I get questions from people daily who are looking for an easy and effective way to design and create interactive websites. Very often, people are somewhat confused by the similar-sounding marketing messages of the different platform vendors, and they are not sure of the budget implications of their choice. So, I’m going to share with you my walkthrough of how you can decide which platform is likely going to be a good fit for your needs or business. I hope you will find it helpful!
Contrary to what you might expect, I am not going to suggest platforms based on exhaustive feature comparisons. Instead, I will use some scenarios that I often encounter, which are based on your overall business situation and, as such, better as a guideline than a specific feature. Of course, it can always be that one of the platforms offers a specific feature that you simply must have. Here is the bad news though: it is likely that you will have to go through several platforms as your business grows over the years. So at some point, you will be looking at migration projects. This may sound more scary than it actually is, because at some point in the life of your business you are bound to want to redesign your site, and that is a migration anyway. Here are different scenarios you can choose from. Feel free to click through to the section that interests you most:
- The ‘Solopreneur / Very Small Business’ Scenario
- The ‘Growth / Medium Size Business’ Scenario
- The ‘Enterprise’ Scenario
- The eCommerce Scenario
- The ‘Content Marketing and Creative Agency’ Scenario
- The ‘Creative Award Winning Showcase’ Scenario
Wix is likely the best known DIY website builder, and it is indeed a great tool. The interface looks good and is rather straightforward. Wix does offer a good amount of possible changes to a theme and as long as you don’t start to make too deep a change in the themes or examples, you should get a site out rather fast. Given that Wix offers several hundred templates to start from, that should not be a problem. Sites running on Wix perform well in speed tests and their website themes offer a mobile version. Wix will try to upsell (aggressively) you on more expensive add-ons, such as email, etc. Apart from that, it is an excellent website platform to get started with. Sitebuilder
If you are running your own business or just starting up and you are looking to create a great interactive website, it is time to roll up your sleeves. Unless, of course, you can already afford to outsource the whole website project to an external designer or agency. But most solopreneurs and small businesses (writers, restaurants, wedding planners, photographers, artists) that I talk with seem to be more inclined to try to save some money and go for a DIY approach. Luckily, since a couple of years, there are great platforms on the market that allow you to do just that! Most of these platforms offer a visual, non-coding interface and allow you to get started without going through an in-depth study of HTML and CSS. The biggest caveat is that all these platforms are based on themes, which allows you to get a quick and easy start, but which also imposes a lot of restrictions on you. In terms of design, and often even functionality, you will have to live within the boundaries of the template. Nevertheless, this is a good place to start, especially if you are not generating revenue or have funding.
Budgeting and Building Your Website
You can start with platforms that are as low as around $10 USD monthly. If you don’t count your hours (but you should) and you write your own copy and find free images that could be your only cost. At parties, people will always boast that they used tool X or Y and built a website in an hour. If you know exactly what you will write, which images you will choose and what your layouts and color schemes will be, that might be feasible. Might. Realistically though, you should count 1-2 days or more to complete your website. The end result will depend on how much time you will spend on building the website, and how close you stay to the template. In any case, you should have a nice-looking website which can serve as your 'business card' online.
- Low cost
- Fast start
- Likely less performant (speed & distribution)
- Best to stick to selected templates
- You are likely to grow out of these platforms as your business grows
‘The Solopreneur / Very Small Business’ Scenario
Recommended Interactive Website Builders (for Solopreneurs and Smaller Businesses) WIX
Sitebuilder offers tons of templates (not all of them are great) but you likely will find something that suits your taste. The interface is simple enough, and offers good customization options. They are also one of the cheaper options in this shortlist and offer solid loading speeds. So you might want to try them out as well. Squarespace.com
Squarespace is sort of the stylish version of Wix. The Squarespace templates look extremely crisp, and if you select one of their templates, you should get a good-looking end result as well. The customization of the templates is somewhat more limited than Wix, so be careful in the selection of your template. The editor does offer somewhat of a learning curve (although it has improved a lot since the first time I tried it 4 years ago), and selected fonts and images are a big part of what makes the templates look good – you will want to spend some time looking for great images.
At $18 USD monthly, Squarespace is on the higher end in this category, but good design has no price, right?
More Custom Design-Oriented Website Builders for Solopreneurs and Smaller Businesses If you want more freedom—or a customized look—and you have some design skills or a small budget to spend on design:
Muse is Adobe’s freeform tool for web development. It allows designers to create responsive sites in a visual interface without coding. Muse is oriented towards designers, it offers no fully developed themes, only ready-made widgets, which speed up creation of your website. The intended audience is still very small companies - as exemplified in their cool “designer matchup,” where designers are competing to create a food truck’s best website.
Webflow is a visually oriented design tool that allows you to build responsive websites without coding. It is oriented towards designers, and the user interface tends to be on the complex side for people new to design. For experienced designers, the interface should not present too much of a challenge. Webflow does offer you the option to have your site hosted as well in case you would not want more than CSS/HTML as output. Pricing for Webflow is slightly confusing, but you should be able to create and host a single site starting at $32 USD monthly. Somewhat recommended:
The reason I recommend Wordpress less despite its enormous presence and historic popularity, is that in my experience with Wordpress, the maintenance of the platform is higher than with some of the newer platforms available today. I also found that extending the platform with plugins can cause issues, and sometimes uptime can be an issue. “Buggy” is what comes to mind, so you will need more expensive hosting and quality control.
The Growth / Medium-Size Business Scenario
You have a running business and you are also in a better place to decide what marketing tactics are working for you. Likely, you have a good budget to hire an external agency or designer and/or you have a designer in your marketing team (however small that ‘team’ may still be). So, it is time to take control over the marketing and content-design aspect of your site and to tune your site to those specific tactics rather than sticking with general templates that look great but are not tailored to your business. “Why?” You might ask. “The template-driven website has worked well for me so far.” Here is why I want you to kiss those templates goodbye and switch to a 'continuous-improvement' model: By now, you will have been getting business through your website, in the form of leads and/or direct sales.
The goal is to drastically increase that inflow of leads and revenue.
To achieve this, you can just go ahead and try to increase the amount of traffic or visits to your site by buying ads or banners. That might work, but likely you have already been doing that to get to this point with your business. The time is here to do more, but especially to do it better. Two tactics you absolutely need to get (more) into at this stage are conversion optimization and search engine optimization.
Conversion optimization, or conversion rate optimization (CRO), is increasing the percentage of visitors to your site that convert into customers. Or, more general, any type of desired action, such as subscribing to a newsletter, request a demo, etc.
In other words: get more business out of your website even if everything else (advertising, traffic, visits, etc) stays the same. In the discipline of CRO (conversion-rate-optimization), you will be changing some parts of your communication and marketing on your website. That might be changing some wordings, changing colors, changing images, or even changing the actual marketing call-to-action. People engaged in this can see increases in conversions (or in plain words, leads and sales) of double digits by changing subtle wordings and colors. Now imagine if you can change more than just a color. Imagine that the whole page, the whole experience will be tailored and optimized. You are then talking about some serious results. Here are some of the results people are seeing from website optimization (and that does mean a custom-website experience):
In short, conversion optimization gives you a tailored, business-driven, custom experience which has proven to offer solid ROIs over and over again.
- Simplisafe reports a 5-times increase in revenue.
- TruckersReport has seen conversions increase by 79.3%.
- Mobal (international cell phones) tripled revenue to $9.1M USD.
- Vodafone reports an increase in conversion rate of 300%.
- CrazyEgg saw their conversions increase by 21% in 30 days.
- Voices.com saw an increase in conversions from <5% to 20-25%.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization is used to increase the amount of visitors by having your content and pages show up high (preferably first result or page) on Google and other search engine results. Or simply put, you will be getting free traffic from people who are interested in what you write about. Assuming you write content related to your business, this traffic can be a good source of leads if you apply the right conversion optimization (see above). Good search engine optimization requires also that you regularly re-visit content and further optimize it. It is very unlikely that you create Page 1 rankings with your first shot. SEO is often a process of small adaptations after the initial publication. The benefits of SEO are obvious: once your content ranks high, you get interested visitors to your site for free, so the ROI on this is usually solid. IF it is done right.
To be able to make your site double or triple its current value to you, and support conversion optimization and SEO, and the continuous improvement cycle they require, it is vital to look at more marketing-oriented aspects of your next interactive website platform. You will want a platform that handles the SEO aspects of your content, and for CRO, that allows you to make any change quickly and easily (including headers, footers, etc) and add different marketing tactics easily, such as (at a minimum) forms and call-to-actions. And lastly, you will need a platform that gives you insight and feedback into how your website is performing from a business viewpoint. It used to be that this was the point where you would have to bring on some IT staff to manage not only your website, but also your email servers, etc. With today’s Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) platforms, this is no longer necessary, as there are several newer and solid options available on the market for you. The budget impact is significant — and you will be able to spend your money on marketing actions and campaigns instead of IT support.
Budgeting and Building Your Website At this stage, you will be able to get an interactive site that is designed to fit your branding and optimized to fit how you market your business. In short, you should have an amazing looking interactive experience that acts like a marketing machine. You should expect to spend more budget on both the technology and the work invested. For design and, very likely, for advice and support on the conversion and search engine optimization aspects of your website, you should either work with an external agency on a retainer, or get qualified and experienced in-house staff. As far as technology goes, I really recommend only two platforms here. They are both at different price levels and have a different approach, you can select which one fits your budget and specific situation best. But of course, the price ticket of these platforms will be higher. In return, these platforms come with more features, and especially more (live) support for you as a client, which is what you also need at this stage.
- The needed tools to grow your business
- Reasonable cost
- Fast start
- You need a good designer to add a personal touch to your interactive website
- Map out the pricing not only for today but a year or two years from now when your traffic and leads have grown
Recommended Interactive Website Builders (for Growth and Medium-Size Businesses)
Readz helps marketers and media companies create an interactive website with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop platform and integrated marketing stack — no coding or templates necessary. Readz offers a drag-and-drop visual editor, with pre-made modules and a wide variety of animations. Design-wise, you get a lot of freedom on Readz. It is hard to find the boundaries of what the system will offer. For brands, they offer a powerful marketing stack so marketers and advertisers can drive their content goals: forms, CTAs, a strong focus on technical SEO and SEO rankings, as well as integrated analytics about actual conversions on your content. Starting at $125 USD monthly for unlimited publications, Readz is an obvious choice for companies looking for a solid ROI.
Hubspot has been around for a while now, and is undoubtedly the 800-pound gorilla in the inbound marketing space. The Hubspot solution is an 'all-in' solution including email, and even a CRM. So, if you have other solutions in place for email, you may need to look at a possible migration. Design-wise you will be limited, however - there are limited customizations possible to the template-based concept that Hubspot still adheres to. The strength and popularity of Hubspot lies in its integrated SEO, email and analytics features. The website-only solution (with its limited design possibilities) from Hubspot starts at $200 USD monthly and, if you want to use the 'marketing' features, prices are ramping up very quickly (defined by the amount of 'leads' or subscribers in your email). Hubspot is definitely a solution to consider if you have experience in inbound, if you are planning to focus your content efforts around a straightforward-looking blog and if you are ready to spend serious budget.
The Enterprise Scenario
You have hundreds, or maybe even thousands of webpages, and these are likely managed by IT through a content management system (CMS). I assume that you are looking for a smaller, nimble solution to complement your existing CMS, and with the additional benefit of not having to rely on IT for every small change so you can reduce the workload you are giving to IT.
The goal is to allow you to nimbly create interactive websites for specific purposes or marketing campaigns. Also, you want to make sure that you are selecting a platform which offers more than DIY-support. You have a full-time job, you will not have the time to go through a long learning period of self-study and experimentation. Benefits:
- Reasonable cost
- Flexibility and independence
Ion Interactive is a great solution for (larger) companies looking to add quizzes, interactive infographics, assessments or ratings onto their content. Ion offers ‘quick starts,’ which allow you to develop these types of content reasonably quickly and get them ready for publishing. Ion’s users do report that there is a solid learning curve and some complexity (even coding sometimes).
At the medium- to higher-end of the price range, Ion is a solution mostly used by larger enterprises.
The eCommerce Scenario
You are doing eCommerce, and you will already have an eCommerce platform in place and you are using it to promote and sell your products.
Fact is though, your eCommerce platform is built to be an (advanced) listing of product and category pages that can be added to an online shopping cart, and then processed through payment and shipping channels. If you are looking to increase your customer experience by adding interactive websites to the mix, that is honestly an excellent idea. You can read more of why content will add more sales in this article here. With regards to the platform to build that interactive website, likely you are in a growth or enterprise-like scenario. But a vital requirement, no matter what content or site you create, is that an integration has to exist with your eCommerce platform like Magento or Shopify.
Recommended Interactive Website Builders (for eCommerce Businesses)
Read the Readz Review
Zmags has concentrated its efforts completely on the retail sector. Like Readz, they offer integrations with eCommerce platforms that allow brands to create shoppable content. If you are not a retail customer, you will not fall in Zmags’ ideal customer profile.
If you are in retail though, then Zmags can offer you embeddable, responsive (mobile & desktop) shoppable content, allowing you to get sales directly from your content. On the min side, speedtests reveal that Zmags’ content is rather slow (even when surfing the Zmags website, a spinner regularly pops up) and the quality of the technical SEO is doubtful.
Zmags pricing model places them in the mid to high range.
The Content Marketing and Creative Agency Scenario
You are running an agency or working at one and your business is selling the creation of interactive website projects for other businesses. Some of the challenges you are facing is the growing price pressure on web development and the difficulty in getting clients to commit to a recurring (retainer) business model. You might have in-house designers, even developers, and maybe your team has strong expertise in hand-coding or development on a platform like Wordpress. If you have a team with a strong expertise in an existing platform, there will be a natural resistance from the team to adopt new technologies. I often see the case where the CEO asks his team to 'test' a new platform, and the team replies with a load of specific scenarios where the new technology would not work, rather than investigating a general-use case, which often would highlight the possibility of saving considerable resources (and increasing the bottom line) for 80% of the mainstream projects. If on the other hand, you are focusing in-house on content creation and/or design, and you have no desire to build out a coding team, then I strongly recommend that you investigate these platforms. Some of them even offer limited services, which you could use as a sub-contractor.
Recommend Interactive Website Builders (for Agencies) My recommendation here is straightforward and likely makes sense to you. Ask yourself what type of customers you serve. The tools that I recommend for that group (solopreneur, growth, enterprise, eCommerce) should be the tools you adopt.
The ‘Creative Award-Winning Showcase’ Scenario
Ok, they exist, those projects where budget seems to be limitless. When you are launching a new interactive microsite for the next Apple Watch, the budget of interactive-website development is likely insignificant in the grand scheme of things. If I were in this situation, I would get a crazy-good concept, so good that it is almost more art than marketing and hand-code it. For examples of these kinds of uber-interactive sites, check out some of the winners at awwwards. Or, honestly, the new Apple Watch website is strong because of its focus on simple, solid design, beautiful images and fonts. It could be easily made with the tools I mentioned in the growth scenario.
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Decision Criteria For Selecting The Best Interactive Website Platform
Bart De Pelsmaeker Bart is a digital marketing veteran and the founder of Readz, a platform used by brands of all sizes to create superior content experiences. His writing has been featured in Sparksheet, Business2Community, Skyword and other martech publications. He speaks regularly about tech and marketing, most recently at the World e-Reading Congress, American Business Media, and the Integrated Marketing Summit. Connect with Bart on Twitter @BartDP.
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