How to Choose a Platform for Your Online Business

When starting a new business online, or creating the web presence for your existing business, owners tend to make small mistakes that begin a chain of problems for both their marketing efforts and their web platform in general. This is usually a result of taking uninformed shortcuts and choosing platforms based on limited knowledge.

Selecting an Appropriate Platform

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The first opportunity for mistakes comes when a company must select the platform for their website. There is no right answer to which platform you should use, but there are definitely wrong answers.

Case 1: A Service Business

For example, consider a business that specializes in providing accounting services to startups. Their goals are to:

  1. Direct traffic to their site
  2. Earn new clients
  3. Allow clients to contact them
  4. Explain what sets their services apart from their competitors

For this business, we’ll call “Acme Accounting,” they must select a web platform that allows them to accomplish these goals in the most cost-effective way and gets them online as quickly as possible. Acme Accounting should understand what their goals are before meeting with a web consultancy, or they run the risk of being oversold on a platform that is going to cost them more time and money than necessary.

For a site like this, Acme could choose WordPress, Squarespace, or many other simple content management system (CMS) platforms. The best CMS for Acme is the CMS that they can find an affordable partner to assist them in developing. If a WordPress developer approached them with a statement of work that included a theme, hosting, selecting and installing plugins, and training for use of the platform — that may be the best use of their business’s resources. Conversely, building on a custom platform like PHP’s Laravel, or Ruby on Rails would be a mistake for Acme. They could use these platforms to build a very custom site with many features, but the initial cost and time-to-market for this site would be much higher for Acme, and would not help them achieve their goals any more than a site built on a simple CMS.

Case 2: An E-commerce Business

Consider another example, “Joe’s Widgets.” Joe’s Widgets needs to create a site that can be used to market and sell their products. When deciding upon a platform, they should keep in mind these goals for their selection:

  1. Driving traffic from their marketing efforts to applicable landing pages
  2. Making the conversion process through checkout as simple as possible
  3. Manage the customer service experience (questions, shipping, returns, etc.)
  4. Explain what differentiates their products from competitors

For a site that sells products, an ecommerce platform is the natural choice. If Joe’s Widgets intends to sell a large amount of SKUs (greater than 100), then a dedicated ecommerce platform is most likely the best choice. Magento, Shopify, PrestaShop, and many other platforms exist to make getting online as easy as possible. When selecting from these platforms, cost and availability of developers is a driving factor. For a simple site that will leverage out-of-the-box features with very little customization, Shopify is the easiest route for Joe’s Widgets. It could be set up in just a couple of weeks, and they could immediately begin selling products with very little work from outside developers. However, if Joe’s Widgets needs to integrate with an ERP or fulfillment system, they should consider Magento or other platforms. With Magento, a developer could build a connection between their existing services to Magento and integrate them in a way that reduces the ongoing costs and maintenance of Joe’s Widgets’ online store.

Responsive Design and the Mobile Web

Regardless of the selected platform for an online business, all websites should strive to be user-friendly regardless of the user’s device. According to Google, over 50% of online searches occur on mobile devices.

For many websites, mobile traffic is seen as an afterthought. Some opt to use a “mobile.example.com” subdomain to host a completely different experience for their mobile users. This is almost always a mistake, as it overcomplicates the maintenance of your site. A well thought out responsive design can allow your site to gracefully alter itself to fit the size, shape, and features of the user’s device, all from one code base.

Many stores make the mistake of starting with a web design that they then alter to fit mobile screens. Your company should instead work with a designer who can create a mobile-first design for your website. A mobile-first design will allow all of the most used features of your site (like navigation, search, checkout, customer service) to be accessed quickly from a smart phone, and less used features to take up less of the valuable screen real estate that a mobile user has.

Do Your Research and Due Diligence

Now that we’ve broken this down into a handful of key considerations, the task of choosing your CMS is hopefully less daunting. Make sure that you plan out every online business goal first. Then, find the simplest platform that will accomplish all of your goals. Finally, start this build with a mobile focus.

You’re ready to get started.

About the author

Bobby is a Software Developer focusing on web technology and ecommerce. In his free time, he runs amateur radio experiments (W1BRB), or spends time with his wife and three cats.

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