How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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When Should Someone Not Use WordPress?

When Should Someone Not Use WordPress

You’re probably here because you’ve heard the buzz about WordPress (Alignable’s SMB Index says WordPress is the most trusted software for small business), but are wondering if there are situations in which someone should not use WordPress for their business website.

WordPress is an incredibly versatile website platform — I won’t hide my enthusiasm for it. But there is no such thing as a “best website platform”. There’s only the best choice based on your goals, resources and preferences.

Most website platforms promote with features and price. But like buying a house – price and features don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell you if this platform is a good choice for your website.

When evaluating whether or not to use WordPress, you need to think about your needs for a website. Do you need flexibility? Support? A mixture of both?

Here’s how to figure out if/when someone should not use WordPress for their business website:

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgements as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Understanding Tradeoffs: What to Know Before Choosing a Website Platform

Before we dive into the no-WordPress scenarios, it’s important to understand how we’re approaching deciding on a website platform.

Think of it like shopping for a house. You should be evaluating your website provider based on what you want, what you need, and what tradeoffs you are willing to make.

When it comes to your website platform, the main trade-off is between maximum convenience and maximum control. Think of it this like buying somewhere to live.

The absolute most convenient place is a hotel room. It’s safe and furnished with room service. But can you repaint the room? Nope.

On the other extreme is raw land. You have unlimited control to do whatever you want. But is it convenient? Nope.

And in the middle, you have a mix. An apartment has some freedom – but you have landlord. A condo has even more freedom… but you have a HOA and shared property.

A house has even more freedom… but you have more responsibility and you have to deal with an existing building.

Here’s a graphic from my post on ecommerce software (that also applies to website software) to illustrate —

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Using this analogy, WordPress is like owning a house. You don’t have as much control as you would if you just bought raw land and built something yourself, but you have way more control than say, an apartment or condo.

Which means a situation is which you wouldn’t want to use WordPress most likely involves more control (AKA raw land) or more convenience (AKA an apartment/condo/hotel room). Let’s break that down further:

Reasons/Situations Where You Wouldn’t Choose WP:

You Need a Fully-Customized Solution

WordPress’s primary structure is pages, posts, and comments. While the platform does use Plugins (where you can download and “plug-in” third-party pieces of software to make your site look, act, and feel exactly the way you want) that allow the CMS to be turned into literally anything, you should still be operating within the realm of pages/posts/comments if you want to use WordPress.

If you’re looking to build a non-CMS website (think Software as a Service or mega-robust ecommerce platform), then you’re better off building a custom solution. Why?

Because something ultra-specific like the examples above typically require 100% control. Loading up your WordPress site with hundreds of Plugins just to make it close to what you want is just going to slow it down.

This is your raw land example — it’d be easier to build your dream home from scratch than try to manipulate the house you already have or add on a bunch of attachments (Plugins) that may mess with the wiring/airflow/other elements of the home.

You Want Customization But Don’t Want to Handle the Technical

If you’re looking for some customization abilities on your website but don’t want to deal with the more “technical” aspects of managing a website such as self hosting, check out customizations for ecommerce, server management, etc. then a self-hosted WordPress isn’t the best option.

There are two different routes you could go if you want more customization without having to handle controlling the technical aspects of your site.

The first is what I’ll call the 70% Convenience // 30% Control group. These are providers that allow for more control than a totally done-for-you platform (like Amazon, where you have zero customization), but you’re still using their space and rules (in our house analogy, these are the apartments).

These are usually “website builders” like Wix (I reviewed Wix here and you can check out Squarespace here) and Weebly (I reviewed Weebly here. You can check out Weebly here…). They allow you to customize your website and have a custom domain, but the remaining technical elements (like ecommerce integration) are handled for you.

The second group is 50% Convenience // 50% Control. They’re known as hosted platforms and provide as much control as you can have before you have to have your own server.

The biggest advantage here is that you have customer support, seamless “onboarding” and advanced tools. Building a website with these providers is like owning a condominium or leasing a storefront in a mall. The plumbing and “big stuff” is taken care of. You can pretty much do what you want since you do fully own your property. However, you’re going to run into condo association rules and fees.

This would be a provider like WordPress.com which is a hosted version of WordPress or a self-hosted WordPress page builder like BoldGrid. They limit some of what you can and can’t do. For example, you don’t have FTP access to a server, but you can access your HTML/CSS editing and use 3rd party plugins with their business plan.

You can also export your data and migrate it to self-hosted WordPress or another platform with relative ease, making it a good in-between if you want to start with more convenience and migrate to more control in the future.

You Don’t Have Time or Resources

WordPress comes with a learning curve. But given the platform owns 50-60% of the global CMS market share, there are thousands and thousands of pre-made templates, plus designers and developers who know WordPress and are ready to help your firm.

That being said, the trade-off here is time and/or resources. Either you have to take the time to learn the basics of WordPress and keep the software updated like you do the apps on your phone, or you have to know enough to vet these support roles to make sure you’re getting the results you need at a reasonable price.

Not all projects justify this trade-off. A simple website that doesn’t need any advanced functionality or the ability to scale would work perfectly fine as a simple HTML site and may cost you less in time/resources than learning WordPress or hiring a designer and developer to build your WordPress site.

You Have Plenty of Resources

The flip side of having no time and resources is having all the time and/or resources.

This goes back to our first scenario… if you have a team of people and the funds to build and maintain your website for you, you can build whatever you want, including a totally custom website that’s unique to your business and the functionality you need.

With that said, this scenario comes with one big caveat: you’re putting your website in someone else’s control.

Let’s say you have a developer build a totally custom website that only he/she can manage — that takes you out of the driver’s seat and puts that developer in total control. The same applies to a website that only works on one specific platform. A change in mission statement, privacy policy, billing practices, or even simple incompetence can put your business in an insecure position.

If you’re comfortable with putting your website 100% in the hands of someone else, go for it. If not, then you may want to rethink a custom build and brush up on your website management knowledge.

Takeaways

WordPress is like the mid-size SUV of the website building world. It doesn’t fit everyone by any means, but there also good reason that a large plurality has one.

I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to try WordPress before making any decisions here.

If you don’t have time to run software updates and learn a bit of WordPress jargon, then you should go ahead and pay the extra money for an all-inclusive website builder. Sure, you’re trading control for convenience, but that’s fine.

On the flip side, if you’re very adept at working with developers or have the money to pay for custom builds and don’t mind putting your site into someone else’s hands, then you’d want to research more – especially in regards to ecommerce. WordPress may not be the right fit for you. You can check out some interesting WordPress alternatives here.

Finally, if you’re building something super, super simple, then WordPress may simply be too complex for what you’re looking for. You might just need some cheap hosting or even a simple profile on an existing platform.

The post When Should Someone Not Use WordPress? appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Hover Domains Review: Pros & Cons of Hover Domains as Domain Registrar

Hover Domains Review

Hover Domains is a domain registrar founded in 2009 as an offshoot of Tucows Inc. (the second largest ICANN accredited domain registrar online). Hover’s M.O. is that they stick to what they know, and that’s domains.

But let’s be honest, you probably only know them from their podcast ads on shows like Hello Internet and 99% Invisible. While Grey and Roman might plug them – you want to know how they actually stack up.

Well – this domain registrar deals solely with buying, managing, and transferring domains on their platform. They do offer email services, but do not offer other complementary products such as hosting, website builders, etc.

Check out Hover’s products & pricing here.

It’s important to remember that a domain is not a website. It’s not an email, an app, or any other service. It’s simply your online address. It helps people locate where you are. If you want to setup a website, you’ll still need to get hosting or a website builder / ecommerce provider that provides hosting (which Hover does not provide).

I’ll dive deeper into this in the pros and cons, but it’s an important distinction to make up front, because it helps us understand what Hover’s goal is. They’re not about being an all-in-one solution — quite the opposite, actually. Their focus is on on simplicity. They’re all about getting you your domain and letting you use it wherever you need it through app integrations.

How does Hover stack up against other domain registrars? Here’s our review of Hover Domains as a domain registrar with pros and cons.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Hover Domains

Interface

Hover’s interface is about as user-friendly as it gets. It’s clean, simple, and easy to navigate. The domain search is the most prominent thing on the homepage, making it clear exactly where to go to get started.

Hover Interface

Once you search for a domain, you’re given a clean list with an exact match and other recommendations. Hover offers a ton of top level domain options (more on that in a minute), and gives an easy way to navigate through them with different filter categories.

Hover Domain Search Results
The checkout process itself is simple as well. It took me four easy steps to get my domain from my cart to my dashboard. For a domain registrar that prides itself on simplicity, Hover definitely delivers.

Variety of TLDs

Now that ICANN allows more TLDs outside of generic .com/.net/.org, website owners have to make sure their domain registrar has all the ones they want (especially if you’re buying in bulk). Hover has a ton of TLD options that go beyond generic domains, which are broken down by categories to make finding the perfect match easier.

Hover TLDs categorized

Hover also offers a ton of country-specific domains for international use, making it a great choice if you need to buy up domains for various countries/regions or even cities.

Hover TLDs Countries
Transparent Pricing

Domain registrars use a whole host of pricing types, from cheap upfront pricing with high renewal rates to expensive with cheap renewals.

Hover is fairly straightforward with their pricing. Their table breaks down pricing for purchase, renewal, and transfer for all of their TLD types. Their rates include WHOIS privacy protection, which means that your personal details like name, address, and contact information are protected from spammers, marketers, and others who may do a WHOIS lookup. The prices do not include ICANN fees however, which means you’ll need to add an additional $0.18 on to your purchase (more on that in the cons).

Hover Pricing
Hover also offers discounts on renewal rates when you have 10 or more domains registered with them. You can see how the pricing breaks down for the domain ranges in their pricing table.

Hover Pricing Bulk Savings

“Real Person” Support

While I haven’t had to contact support, Hover is well known for their excellent customer service. They claim to be fellow haters of the phone tree, and as such, don’t use automated systems. Whether you’re calling in, emailing, or live chatting, you’re connected to a person.

Hover Support Mentality

In terms of coverage, Hover offers a pretty robust schedule. You can contact them weekdays (8:00 AM – 11:00 PM ET) and weekends (8:00 AM – 8:00 PM ET) via email, phone, or live chat.

Their “Need Help” tab also follows you throughout the site and offers frequently asked questions and answers, as well as a link to their live chat and additional support information.

Hover Support Options

Integrations

Although Hover focuses solely on domain registering and managing (and email), it does offer a plethora off apps you can easily integrate your domain with, from website builders like Squarespace to ecommerce platforms like Shopify.

Hover Integrations
Aside from the integration options, the actual process of integrating your domain is fairly straightforward. Hover provides step-by-step instructions for each app, making it easy for even the least tech-experienced website owners. They’ll even handle some of the work for you (like adding your DNS records to connect your domain with your website platform).

Hover App Integration Instructions

Data Protection

One of the main things that stood out to me while registering a domain with Hover was how far they went to protect my data. There’s nothing worse than registering a domain and getting tons of spam emails immediately afterward (or getting retargeted by ads left and right). WHOIS privacy protects this somewhat, but Hover goes a step beyond during the checkout process by allowing you to select how your data is shared. I also received an email after purchasing my domain prompting me to set my data use consent preferences.

Hover Data Use Email

Cons of Hover Domains

Lacking Complementary Products

Hover’s focus on only domains is a pro, but it’s also a con.

There are several products that almost always go with a domain. If you want to make your site secure with SSL, you’ll need an SSL certificate associated with the domain. You can buy it separately from a third party, but from my experience, managing it with your domain is simpler.

When it comes to hosting, I like to separate my domains and hosting, but many owners prefer that their hosting and domains get bundled into one (even if it’s not ideal from a performance perspective).

NameCheap has competitive hosting; GoDaddy offers affordable managed WordPress hosting with domains. And most hosting companies offer domain registration (or even free domains) with hosting purchase (such as InMotion or Bluehost).

Those kind of products simply aren’t available with Hover. You can purchase domain email (AKA match your domain name to an email address (or several), but if you’re looking for the convenience of having your hosting and website builder all in one platform, you’re out of luck.

Pricing

While Hover offers straightforward pricing (which is a pro), the con is that they tend to be pricier than other registrars — and this is the largest con going against them as a domain registrar.

If you want to compare prices, let’s look at NameCheap vs. Hover. You can get a .com domain on NameCheap for $10.98 (plus the $0.18 ICANN fee), which then renews at $12.98. With Hover, that same .com domain will cost you $12.99 and renews at $14.99.

The pricing discrepancy gets even larger when you get into other specialty TLDs. See the comparison for this .condos domain between Hover and NameCheap.

If you’re looking to save money on a domain purchase or renewal and don’t mind the upselling/cross selling that typically comes with those registrars, there are better choices out there for you than Hover.

If you don’t mind spending a bit more for a domain registrar that’s straightforward and keeps their cross selling and upselling out of it, Hover isn’t a bad choice – but you need to fully factor in your costs.

Next Steps

If you…

  • Want a very simple domain buying and integration experience
  • Need a registrar that offers plenty of support
  • Want to keep your email and your domain with the same provider
  • Don’t need complementary products (besides email)

… Hover Domains could be a good fit for you.

However, if you’re…

  • More experienced in getting online
  • Looking to save on domains (especially specialty TLDs)
  • Want to keep your hosting and domains in the same place

… there are better options out there for you (I mostly use NameCheap). You can take my domain registrar quiz to help you narrow down which might be best for your needs.

Hover Domains

Hover Domains is a domain registrar founded in 2009 as an offshoot of Tucows Inc. (the second largest ICANN accredited domain registrar online). This domain registrar deals solely with buying, managing, and transferring domains on their platform (they also offer email services, but no other complementary products).
Hover Domains Review
Date Published: 08/08/2018
Simple, straightforward domain purchasing process with solid support and easy integration with a wide variety of apps. Pricier than other registrars and no complementary products aside from email.
3 / 5 stars

The post Hover Domains Review: Pros & Cons of Hover Domains as Domain Registrar appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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iwantmyname Review: Pros & Cons of iwantmyname as Domain Registrar

iwantmyname Review

iwantmyname is a New Zealand-based domain registrar company focused solely on domain registration and management. The company, which was founded by employees from several ICANN accredited domain registrars, has been around since 2008 and prides itself on its simplicity, transparency, and ethics.

iwantmyname believes in making the domain buying, managing, and transferring process transparent and simple. They’re big on company values (like transparency) and give off the “good guy” of domain registrars vibe.

Check out iwantmyname’s plans & pricing.

So, how does this domain registrar stack up against the rest? Here’s my experience so far and my full iwantmyname review with pros & cons…

Before we dive too far into the pros and cons, there are a few things to keep in mind:

First, iwantmyname is strictly a domain registrar. They allow you to buy, register, and manage domain names. They do not offer complementary services such as hosting. We’ll dive deeper into this in the pros and cons, but it’s an important distinction to make upfront, because it helps us understand iwantmyname’s goal. They’re solely focused on “getting online” easy for small and/or less tech-y businesses — and the first step to getting online is getting a domain name.

Second, it’s important to remember that a domain is not a website. It’s not an email, an app, or any other service. It’s simply your online address. It helps people locate where you are. If you want to setup a website, you’ll still need to get hosting or a website builder / ecommerce provider that provides hosting.

Third, a disclosure that ShivarWeb receives customer referral fees from many companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on experiences as a paying customer and professional judgement.

All that said – let’s look at the pros & cons of using iwantmyname as your domain registrar.

Pros of iwantmyname

Interface/Backend

iwantmyname promises simplicity, and simplicity is what you get. You’ll notice as soon as you go to their website that it’s so plain, it’s almost bland — which for a domain registrar, is fine.

I don’t need the design to be pretty… I need it to be functional. It should be easy to find exactly what I’m looking for, and iwantmyname’s interface accomplishes that. It’s basic and directs me right to where I need to go.

iwantmyname interface

The design has no upsells, cross sells, or visual clutter. In fact, iwantmyname prides themselves on no upselling and/or cross selling. It’s refreshing when compared to the typical onslaught of direct response offers from most domain and hosting companies. To buy your domain, you’ll follow a simple three-step checkout process that requires absolutely no “online savviness” to complete.

Transparent pricing

iwantmyname gives standard pricing per domain extension. And while their pricing is on the more expensive side (more on that in the cons), there are no setup costs, ICANN fees, or any other hidden chargers. Your domain renews automatically at the same rate every year, and you won’t be bombarded by upsells or cross sells upon checking out.

In short, what you see is what you get.

Tons of TLDs

Given iwantmyname is a global domain registrar, the company offers a plethora of top level domains (TLDs). If you’re looking for a unique domain like .kitchen or .academy, iwantmyname’s got you covered.

iwantmyname tld options

What’s great about this registrar’s selection of TLDs though is the country specific domains. Not all domain registrars offer TLDs outside of the US-only generic options. If you want to build an international presence, you’ll have a lot of availability and options with iwantmyname.

iwantmyname tld uk

Integrations

Although iwantmyname focuses solely on domain registering and managing, it does offer a plethora off apps you can easily integrate your domain with, from website builders like Squarespace to ecommerce platforms like Shopify to email providers like G Suite.

iwantmyname integrations

Not only are there are ton of integration options, but the actual integration process is incredibly simple. You don’t need any tech experience to connect your domain to these apps and services. In fact, to connect a domain to G Suite, it takes just a few clicks.

iwantmyname G Suite integration

Transfer process

Despite the ICANN process being standardized, some domain registrars make transferring your domain hell. This isn’t the case with iwantmyname.

iwantmyname transfer process

I haven’t personally transferred a domain with them, but the process looks incredibly straightforward. All you’ll need to do is unlock your domain and note the authorization code, then follow the steps your new registrar provides

Simplicity

All of iwantmyname’s pros can really be summed up in one major pro: simplicity. From the domain search to the process for updating nameserves (it’s one click), everything is straightfoward and tailored to those who need to get up and running quickly without a ton of technical experience.

It helps that iwantmyname takes such a strong interest in transparency, too. Their values definitely translate to how they do business and have designed their platform, making it a refreshingly transparent process with little confusion or convulsion.

Cons of iwantmyname

Support

iwantmyname’s interface and model is focused on eliminating any possible need for customer support. It’s simple, straightforward, and tailored toward individuals who need no tech experience to get a domain. That said — things happen. And when things happen, you need support.

I’ve never had to use iwantmyname’s support, however, their options are pretty limited. They only offer email support (they explain why here… small organization + flat rate salary + being people-centric). They do claim to have 23 of the 24 hours of the day covered Tuesday-Friday and acknowledge the holes their working on, but when you’re in a bind, it’s nice to know you have immediate access to someone… and that might not always be the case here.

Pricing

While iwantmyname’s transparent pricing structure is great (no fees, no upsells, and no change in rate upon annual renewal), the con is that their domains get pricey — especially for TLDs outside of the basics (like .com, .org, etc.).

iwantmyname pricing

There also aren’t any discounts for bundling domains, so if you’re looking to buy in bulk, you may want to look elsewhere.

No Complementary Products

iwantmyname’s focus on only domains is a pro, but it’s also a con.

There are several products that almost always go with a domain. If you want to make your site secure with SSL, you’ll need an SSL certificate associated with the domain. You can buy it separately from a third party, but from my experience, managing it with your domain is simpler.

When it comes to hosting, I like to separate my domains and hosting, but many owners prefer that their hosting and domains get bundled into one (even if it’s not ideal from a performance perspective).

NameCheap has competitive hosting; GoDaddy offers alright WordPress hosting with domains. And most hosting companies offer domain registration (or even free domains) with hosting purchase (such as InMotion or Bluehost).

Those kind of products simply aren’t available with iwantmyname. They make recommendations, but if you’re looking for the convenience of having it all in one place and not having to figure it out for yourself, you’re out of luck.

Next Steps

If you’re looking to….

  • Registrar for generic domains
  • Get up and running online ASAP without needing a ton of tech experience
  • Buy from or transfer your domain to a company who values transparency
  • Don’t need to buy a bunch of domains in bulk

…. then iwantmyname is an excellent choice for you. If that doesn’t sound like you, you can use this quiz to help you find which domain registrar would be the right fit for your business needs.

iwantmyname

iwantmyname is a New Zealand-based domain registrar company focused solely on purchasing and managing domains. It promises simplicity and transparency for global customers.
iwantmyname Review
Date Published: 08/08/2018
A bit pricier than rivals, but a solid product for those who want an easy domain-buying experience. Clean, simple, and zero tech experience necessary, but lacks complementary products.
4 / 5 stars

 

The post iwantmyname Review: Pros & Cons of iwantmyname as Domain Registrar appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Are HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Services Right For You?

If you are a marketing guru with loads of experience in the trade, you probably know all about inbound and outbound marketing. And the world absolutely needs people like you. But if you are like the rest of us, just trying to get your product noticed and understood by the teeming masses, these terms are just more industry jargon gibberish.

Fortunately, Merchant Maverick is here to provide definitions and cut through the jargon. Basically, an inbound marketing methodology requires you to market yourself in such a way that customers naturally find their way to you, rather than employing more aggressive marketing efforts and strategies (like cold calls).

What Is Hubspot?

Apps like HubSpot are designed to be the backbone of your inbound system. Visit the HubSpot website and you will see multiple references to the company’s commitment to inbound marketing. Specifically, HubSpot offers three separate products that each address a distinct aspect of a business’s inbound marketing strategy. The first is HubSpot’s “free-forever” customer relations management (CRM) system; the second is HubSpot Marketing. Finally, HubSpot offers a Sales tool. But what exactly do these products offer subscribers? And are HubSpot’s inbound marketing services right for you? Join us as we dive into the deep end of inbound marketing. We’ll cover HubSpot pricing, support, and more.

HubSpot CRM Tool

As mentioned above, HubSpot’s CRM tool is free forever. Now, I have been writing and reviewing tech products for a while now, and I have come to expect a few things when I see the “free forever” label. Usually, that just means there is a free version of a software, but with most useful features removed. HubSpot’s CRM is not like that. There are no other subscription tiers, no other fees. HubSpot CRM is 100% free.

But what does it do?

Basically, this tool is designed to help you manage your interactions with customers. When adding a new contact into your database (that can hold up to 1,000,000 people), the CRM begins cataloging every interaction. As you communicate with prospective customers, you retain access to your entire history with them. No more losing emails in the depths of your inbox. All the details are saved and easy to access. In addition to the microscopic view of each contact, the CRM also provides you a broad perspective on what HubSpot calls your “sales funnel.” Using the dashboard, you can quickly identify which customers are locked in on the road to closing a deal and which ones might need more assistance. You can use this tool to automate those communications as well, ensuring no customer falls through the cracks.

So do you need HubSpot’s CRM? Basically, if you are attempting to sell any sort of customizable product where different customers will receive individually tailored products, then you definitely want some kind of CRM service. And HubSpot’s is free. Not only that, but it works, and works well. So yes, you probably want to at least try it out.

But what about HubSpot’s other products? Let’s take a look.

HubSpot Inbound Marketing

You may have a way to manage your relationships with all your customers, but how do you get those customers in the first place? The obvious answer is that you need to market yourself somehow. Fortunately, HubSpot also offers an inbound marketing service that works seamlessly with their CRM product. You can use the free-forever version of this product, but really you will want to start at the $200/month “Starter” level, which includes such crucial features as Calls To Action pages for your website and email marketing. HubSpot pricing for larger subscriptions (which run into the $2,400/month range) includes marketing automation, A/B testing, and custom event triggers.

This is where HubSpot’s “inbound marketing” philosophy really starts to show through: Most of the marketing that you will do with this product involves creating content that draws prospective customers to you. Inbound methodology could entail content marketing, like writing blogs, or optimizing your website to bring in customers rather than investing in outbound marketing through social media sites Facebook, Google, or other advertising platforms. It is organic lead generation, in other words. Keep in mind that you will need a website already in order for this to work. If you’re using a hosting service like Squarespace or Wix, you will need to add a few lines of code (provided by HubSpot) to the source in order to integrate with HubSpot. If you use WordPress, on the other hand, you can simply install the HubSpot plug-in. So far so good.

But what do you actually get from there?

Like I mentioned above, the idea of HubSpot’s marketing service is to attract customers organically to your own content by optimizing your website. HubSpot provides blog and email templates designed to look great across devices, then allow you to insert the all-important ‘Call to Action’ boxes that encourage people to enter their information to your email list and start that customer relationship. The more money you spend per month, the more automated this process becomes.

So do you need inbound marketing services through HubSpot? In my opinion, yes. This service is worth at least the $200/month subscription. From there you will have to decide how much you want to spend on increased automation.

HubSpot Sales

So now you have a way to attract potential customers and manage your relationship with them. But really the whole point is to convert those leads and prospects into sales. Once again, HubSpot offers a product to fill that gap. HubSpot Sales Hub is all about communicating with customers, lead nurturing, and centralizing the process of negotiation so that you can focus on the warmest leads without sacrificing the others. The free version of this product is relatively viable, including meetings, calls, task tracking, and more. However, by paying for the $50/month subscription, you also gain features like live chat, prospects, and dedicated customer support. For a whopping $400/month, you can automate your sales process, as well as unlock HubSpot’s excellent Salesforce integration.

Like all of HubSpot’s products, the Sales Hub is built with centralization in mind. All your leads are kept in the same place, organized to keep them from getting mixed up or lost. The focus in sales, though, is on communication with clients. All subscribers gain access to HubSpot’s calls feature, which simplifies the process of scheduling phone meetings with customers. You also get access to powerful email marketing tools, allowing you to track which customers read your messages or downloaded your attachments.

So do you need it? I think the free version of the software is definitely worth a try. If you find you like your experience with the free version, you might consider paying a higher price for some more advanced features.

HubSpot Service Hub

Offered at $400/month, HubSpot’s Service Hub is the final square in the grand customer management quilt that HubSpot has created. As with all their other products, the key to understanding the Service Hub is organization. The goal is that you will be able to keep all your customer interactions organized and arranged so that no one gets left out.

The Service Hub comes with several communication tools, including a live chat and enhanced email inbox to ensure your customers never feel ignored. Additionally, you can create a “knowledge base” of self-service articles to allow your more independent customers a chance to figure out their problems on their own. There is even a feature allowing you to create chatbots to increase the efficiency of your customer service interactions. Finally, use comprehensive data insights to make sure you are getting optimal interactions every time.

So do you need the sales hub? Really, it will only be useful if you have a lot of customers every month. Of all the HubSpot products I have reviewed in this post, this is the one I would recommend skipping out on, at least at first. Having said that, if your products require extensive customer service, this might be a great option for you.

Why Go Hubspot?

HubSpot provides products that cover every facet of customer interaction, from marketing to sales to leads to customer service. Supporting all other products is the Hubspot CRM, which serves as the bedrock product that makes the others work smoothly.

But do you need HubSpot? Frankly, I think you do. If you are trying to market or sell a product on the internet today, you will want to use these kinds of products in some way, even if you use low-level or free subscriptions for some of them. The only possible exception would be the customer service hub, depending on the level of service required by your product.

Fortunately, most of HubSpot’s products have a free-forever option, so you can try before you buy. I recommend signing up and putting the different apps through their paces before committing to paying a monthly subscription.

The post Are HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Services Right For You? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Webbased.com: An Alternative To Website Builders

webbased

As a reviewer of website builders, you might say I have a vested interest in promoting the main idea undergirding the DIY website builder: The notion that anybody, given access to inexpensive online editing tools, can create a perfectly functional website for their business or for themselves. However, there are plenty of reasons why a prospective website owner might seek to go another route. Perhaps you want more functionality out of your website than Squarespace or Wix can provide. Or maybe you simply have more pressing business or personal priorities than personally creating the website you want.

An obvious alternative to using a website builder is to hire a web designer to create your site. Sadly, this option is out of the reach of anybody who doesn’t have thousands of dollars (or more) on hand to spend on a website. That’s where intermediary web companies like Webbased.com come in. Webbased.com is a company that offers a variety of web services, including web design, SEO, support, and marketing. It’s meant to be kind of a one-stop shop for getting your website created, marketed, and monetized. Let’s take a closer look at what they have to offer.

Webbased.com: Services Offered

Here are the service packages webbased.com has to offer:

  • Web design services
    • 5 to 15 unique page designs
    • $99/month to $249/month
  • Local search engine optimization
    • Get found by local clients
    • $299/month to $999/month
  • National search engine optimization
    • Boost your search rankings in Google, Yahoo, and Bing
    • Get a marketing dashboard with stats
    • $698/month to $2978/month
  • Pay-per-click management (eCommerce)
    • ECommerce PPC management — best for businesses with products with SKUs
    • $158/month to $298/month
  • Pay-per-click management (local)
    • Increase brand exposure in a specific geographic area
    • $218/month to $1480/month
  • Pay-per-click management (national)
    • PPC management services
    • $478/month to $3198/month
  • Pay-per-click management (retargeting)
    • Boost your ROI by re-engaging previous users
    • $158/month to $398/month
  • Animated video explainer
    • Boost your conversion rates with explainer videos
    • $199/month to $529/month
  • Video production services
    • Get videos made for any marketing purpose
    • $249/month to $625/month
  • Social media management
    • Social media team manages your social media presence
    • Detailed auditing and reporting
    • $199/month to $999/month
  • Logo design services
    • $299 (one-time charge)
  • Landing page design
    • $229/month
  • WordPress maintenance and hosting
    • Get maintenance, security, and updates for your WordPress site
    • $44.99/month to $99.99/month
  • WordPress optimization and performance tuning
    • $99/month to $369/month
  • WordPress support and help
    • Get updates and maintenance on your WordPress website
    • $59 (one-time charge)
  • Merchant services
    •  Better rates than PayPal and Square
    • Fully integrated into your site
    • $20/month

Additionally, if you have an existing business website, webbased.com will analyse your site, free of charge, and send you a report assessing your site based on a number of metrics: speed, security, page views, conversion rate, mobile-compatibility, and SEO.

Here’s webbased’s full list of services, detailing everything that’s included in their product packages along with pricing.

Customer Service & Support

Webbased.com provides a plethora of ways to get in touch with a company rep. In addition to the standard email contact form, there’s a phone support line and live chat. There’s even a chat room you can join between the hours of 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM Pacific in which you can chat with Webbased’s developers about any issues you might have with your website.

Reviews Of Webbased.com

On its website, webbased.com actually directs users to review their services on both Google and Yelp — a sign of confidence in its products. The reviews posted by customers on these two sites are almost entirely complimentary, with users praising both the services offered and the customer support they received. One user’s opinion is fairly representative:

They provided creativity, valuable feedback, analysis and guidance in designing our logo, website, SEO optimization and producing our live company video.

The users with complaints get replies from the company — it’s always good to see companies responding in good faith to the complaints of their users.

Final Thoughts

Not everybody has the time and/or patience to build a website on their own, and it’s not easy for the layperson to personally negotiate with individual web designers over the particulars of services and pricing. Services like webbased.com help give aspiring webmasters the ability to select from a menu of services to get exactly what it is they need in a website. If you feel like passing on the heavy cyber-lifting to a team of experts, webbased.com is worth investigating.

The post Webbased.com: An Alternative To Website Builders appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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7 Ways To Make Your Business Website Better

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As a reviewer of small business software and services — and a human who lives in the modern era — I’ve seen my share of business websites. Many of them are so basic that they serve only to confirm that the business in question, be it a bowling alley or an accountancy firm, is not merely a front for backroom bookie Big Sal and his associates (Fingers, Lefty, and Slippery Joe). What is dodgier than a business without a URL, after all?

(Read this article if you’re wondering whether your small business even needs a website. Spoiler alert: it does.)

Few websites are anything other than forgettable, and the ones that stand out usually owe their memorability to monumentally funny errors rather than to craftsman-level design.

Your website can be — and should be — more than just an online throwback to the yellow pages, a mere repository for basic information about hours and addresses and contact emails. Your website was destined for greatness. And I’m going to help you take it there. Here are several steps you can take to make sure your website stands out for all the right reasons:

Table of Contents

Join The 21st Century (Be Mobile Responsive)

When I say, “join the 21st century,” I am not being snarky in the manner of a 90s sitcom character. (If I were, I would have said: Welcome to the Oughts, holmes!)

I am trying to stress the importance of having a modern, mobile-responsive site. There’s a word for businesses with websites that don’t work well on smartphones. And that word is defunct.

Consumers are addicted to their mobile devices. And according to this article by Marketing Land, mobile devices now drive an estimated 56% of web traffic. That’s right — chances are that more than half of your customers will find your website on their mobile browser. If your site isn’t mobile responsive, I guarantee they will exit your page as quickly as they enter.

When viewed on a smartphone, non-responsive sites appear either too large or too small, requiring the reader to manually adjust the screen. Responsive sites, on the other hand, automatically adjust to accommodate each device, be it an iPhone, a Kindle, or a Galaxy Note8. Mobile sites are often simpler and/or allow the visitor to scroll down for more information, rather than navigating from one page to another.

Effective mobile sites are sleek, minimalistic repositories of information. They should be reminiscent of your full site and good ambassadors for your brand. They should not make people throw their phones in anger.

Happily, most do-it-yourself website builders allow for mobile responsive design; if yours doesn’t, it’s time to look for a new platform. And it goes without saying that if you’re paying a developer to design your site, you should insist that they make it responsive. If you want more information about this topic or tips about how to make it work for you, read our articles What Is Responsive Design? and Creating Websites For The Smartphone Generation.

Update, Update, Update

To stay competitive, your site has to look current. People are only becoming more attuned to (and judgemental about) the aesthetics of their technology. Older designs simply won’t cut it. You must update, and update frequently, to stay alive.

To be clear, we’re not just talking about upgrading from something like this…

If your site looks like that, you either went out of business in 1996, or you are using the design ironically. If it’s the former, and you’re now trying to get back into the game, good for you. Burn the site and start over. Burn it. If it’s the latter, you are invariably a hipster and I don’t want to talk to you or your handlebar mustache.

This is the horrible truth: your pages don’t have to be neon and underlined to look hopelessly dated.  Sites built as recently as 2012 now appear sad and outre. First impressions matter, and the average consumer will ditch your site without blinking an eye if it looks sketchy or old.

To stay in the game, you must update the design of your site every few years. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it will cost you time, money, or both. But what you gain in street cred will be worth every dime.

Updating actually isn’t so bad if you’re using a modern website building platform, like Wix (read our review) or Squarespace (read our review). New, intuitive site editors make it easy to switch layouts, change templates and forms, and alter color schemes — without paying an hourly rate to a spendy developer.

Provide Accurate & Complete Information

I know I spent a good part of the introduction talking about how business websites need to be more than just storehouses of basic information. That is 100% true, and I stand by every word. But…and this is a big but…it is vitally important to put basic information about your business on your website, front and center, or everything else in this article is pointless. Highlight your operating hours, address, phone number, and digital contact information, and put that information in more than one place. If your business occupies a physical space, your address and phone number should be above the fold. In other words, website visitors should not have to scroll down or navigate to another page to see this information.

You also need to give potential customers and new visitors at least a hint of what your company is all about on your home page. Don’t write a novel at this point. As you’ll see in the screenshot of Merchant Maverick’s home page below, a simple summary phrase — Unbiased Reviews That Save You Time And Money — is enough to convey the purpose of our site.

An “About Us” page is a great place to go more in-depth about exactly what your business does, and why you do it. It can also be a good vehicle to introduce yourself or your staff. Include mini-bios and pictures if you can. People are social animals. We’re evolutionarily wired for relationships, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The exchange of goods and services is occurring less and less in the meatspace, but we still like to know who we’re dealing with.

Avoid Grammar Mistakes

You don’t have dig deep to realize that American public schools are sadly failing when it comes to even basic writing competency. Just log in to Twitter for 10 seconds and yOull sea that Im rite. (There’s a little editor humor for you.)

You can get away with shocking grammar in Tweets, texts, and even over email (alas). But your website is not the place to be slipshod and careless. Save that devil-may-care attitude for Facebook or Christmas cards, where only some of your acquaintance will be judging you. If your website is riddled with typos and syntax goofs, you will lose customers, period. Error-laden copy connotes one of two things to your client base: you are illiterate or you are lazy. Ponder this riddle: What’s more off-putting to a consumer — an uneducated merchant or an indifferent one? The answer, of course, is moot. Neither one is going to survive.

This may all seem terrifying if grammar isn’t exactly your thing. But don’t worry! There’s no need to hastily enroll in a community college course. Simply running your site through spellcheck should catch most spelling errors, though you’d be surprised how many merchants neglect to do so. For higher level syntax and grammar issues, try using a service like Grammarly. It’s not perfect for higher level writing, but it catches almost 100% of basic errors (there/they’re/their, etc.), and it’s free. You can also enlist help from friends and family. The more eyes on your website copy before you publish, the better.

Write Engaging Copy About Your Products/Services

It’s not enough for your content to be grammatically perfect. It must also be useful and interesting. And there’s the rub.

How does one write captivating copy? Especially if one is trying to sell items as unsexy as, say, lawnmower parts or plumbing services? The key is to know your audience. Your stuff doesn’t have to be Dostoevsky-good. It doesn’t even have to be Reader’s Digest-good. Excellent website copy is defined by only three characteristics:

  • Detail
  • Utility
  • Appeal

Let’s take them one by one.

Detail

Presumably, you understand your business and your products or services well. Take the time to describe them, providing as much or more of the minutia as is reasonably warranted. Color; size; shape; weight; feel; smell; taste. Go further into the aesthetic sensibility of your items if you want. The more your customer knows about the product or service, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their purchase.

Utility

The overall helpfulness of your copy will depend in part on how wisely you’ve used detail in your descriptions. But you must go even a step further. It’s not enough to state that a scarf is hand-knit, blue, and made of angora wool. It’s not even enough to say that it is 60-inches-long and machine-washable. For optimal impact, you’ve got to paint a word picture for your potential customers. Give suggestions about various ways to wear the scarf. Talk about occasions or events the scarf is appropriate for. If a customer can imagine your product as a useful part of their daily life, you’re far more likely to make the sale.

Appeal

This one’s not so straightforward. The line between interesting copy and content that is mind-meltingly dull is thinner than you’d expect. When in doubt, go back to the advice above: know your audience. If you’re hawking lawnmower parts, it’s best not to be cutesy or make attempts at humor. You’re likely to simply irritate people. For utilitarian products and services, appealing equals factual and descriptive. But if bespoke spa treatments or patchwork quilts are your daily bread, be as whimsical as you want. Go nuts. Employ first-person language. Break out the charm. And if you don’t feel up to the task, hire someone who is. There are plenty of freelancers out there who write website copy for a living. Sites like Upwork are teeming with writers who would fist-fight each other for the privilege of generating your web content. (I know because I used to be one of them.)

Use Original Images

On the internet, as in life, it often pays to be unique. And not in an after-school-special, every-snowflake-is-beautiful kind of way. Search engines like original content. They give preference to it, in fact.

That said, unless your name is Dorothea Lange or Ansel Adams, you’re much better off using BigStock or Getty Images for your graphic content than simply uploading pictures from your digital camera or smartphone. Unique isn’t always equivalent to good. My iPhone pictures, for example, are invariably blurry and too dark, invoking what I’m sure are merely pity-likes on Instagram. Yours may be better (and likely are), but I can say with near certainty that they aren’t good enough to be featured on your website.

Website-quality photographs and images should be:

  • High-resolution
  • Well-lit
  • Sharply focused
  • Artistically blocked, posed or designed
  • Minimally cluttered

Images like this don’t grow on trees. They come from professional photographers and graphic designers who use professional equipment. In other words, you’ll have to pay for them. Craigslist is a good place to find relatively cheap freelancers in your area, or you can solicit help from sites like Upwork and Guru.

Maintain A Blog

Blogs aren’t just for bloggers. Used wisely, a blog can be an excellent marketing tool for your retail, restaurant, or service business.

For starters (to reiterate my point in the section above), search engines give preference to original content. They gobble it up, in the manner of hungry hippos. To be clear, Google is an equal opportunity tool in that, if you have a URL, you’ll show up in an appropriate keyword search…eventually. But if you want to rank a little higher than the two-millionth results page, you’ll need to put it a bit more effort. Creating unique, high-quality content for your site increases your visibility to potential customers online. The key phrase here is high-quality, by the way. Search engines employ highly trained digital bloodhounds that can sniff out BS filler-content a mile away. You can try to cover redundant or pointless copy with metaphorical coffee grounds, but Google algorithms just keep getting smarter.

If you equate blogs solely with hot-button social issues like politics, the Mommy Wars, religion, and the like, it may be difficult to see how having one could benefit — or even apply to — your business. There are only so many edgy articles you can write about lawnmower parts.

Blogs don’t have to be hilarious rants or incisive social commentaries. In fact, if you want them to work well for your site, you should avoid controversy and/or high-art altogether. Instead, think about what kinds of things your customers are interested in, and provide content that caters to those interests. Do you sell custom clothing? Write a few how-to posts about accessorizing or blog about fashion trends. Run a pet shop? Talk about what pet owners can do to keep their dogs healthy. Rank cat toys from worst to most purrr-fect. Cat owners in your area who search for toy ideas may just stumble on your article and become loyal customers. Blogs exist to provide helpful information for your current clients, but they serve to draw in new customers as well.

Here are some articles types that work well for business blogs:

  • Top 10 Lists
  • How-To Articles
  • Dos & Don’ts
  • Product Comparisons
  • Guides
  • Best Of/Worst Of Lists
  • Industry News
  • Trends & Fads
  • Interviews

If you don’t feel up to creating the content yourself, hire someone who is.

Final Thoughts

In our increasingly digital society, your website is the most visible face of your business. It behooves you to make that face as clean and attractive as possible. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to create a professional, effective site.

Consider the tips above and take action where you can. With just a little TLC (and a little cash), your website can go from bland and forgettable to sleek and profitable.

Further Reading

We’ve talked about seven ways that you can create a better website for your business. Here are some other resources to help you get started.

Starting From Scratch?

Check out our large selection of do-it-yourself website builder reviews or compare top website building software vendors. If your website needs to incorporate an online store, you’ll want to peruse our eCommerce software reviews and compare some of the top shopping carts.

Read these articles if you need help deciding on a platform:

Looking To Improve Your Current Site?

If you already have a site, but need some tips on how to take it to the next level, these articles should help:

Want Tips On eCommerce?

We’ve written a comprehensive ebook on starting an online store. It’s free and well worth a read. If you’re operating an online store already or are thinking about adding one to your website, check out these articles:

Need Help With Social Media For Your Business Website?

Social media is a huge part of good business marketing, and it’s helpful to integrate your social media channels with your website. Check out these articles for more information:

Julie Titterington

Julie Titterington is a writer, editor, and native Oregonian who lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley with her husband and two small children. When she’s not writing or testing software, she spends her time reading early 20th century mystery novels, staring blankly at her iPhone, and attempting to keep her kids fed, clothed, and relatively uninjured.

Julie Titterington
Julie Titterington

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10 Weebly Alternatives

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weebly alternatives

I like Weebly (see our review).

There, I said it.

Weebly isn’t the most exciting or buzz-worthy website builder around, and it is generally not the choice of web designers who design high-end websites for their clientele. However, Weebly occupies a special place — in my heart, at least — for its supreme familiarity and ease-of-use. There isn’t a service out there that makes the website building process easier. Throw in the 300+ feature add-ons available through the Weebly App Center and you’ve got yourself quite a handsome little package.

However, there are plenty of reasons you might want to go with a different website builder. Maybe Weebly’s just too basic for you. Maybe its templates just don’t do it for you. Regardless of the reason, there are plenty of alternatives to Weebly out there just begging for your attention and money. Let’s explore 10 of them!

Table of Contents

wix pricing

Wix (see our review) is undeniably the colossus of the website builder industry. A publicly-traded company with 110 million users in 190 countries, Wix is one of the few website builders with the resources to be able to advertise on the radio, on the sides of buses, and at the Super Bowl.

Like Weebly, Wix offers a limited free plan — one that, of course, requires users to use Wix advertising and a Wix-branded URL — while paid plans run from $5 to $25 per month.

wix

Wix’s website editor is more advanced than that of Weebly, allowing for greater precision in designing your pages. However, if you want an editor that guides you along and holds your hand the way Weebly’s does, just use Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) — Wix will take your content and color/font choices and create a website for you, which you can then edit using a simplified Weebly-like editor. Essentially, Wix is two website builders in one.

Wix’s App Market is an expansive repository of in-house and third-party add-ons that rivals that of Weebly, and its eCommerce system — more advanced than Wix’s — doesn’t take a platform transaction fee from your sales.

There’s a reason why Wix is the world’s most popular website builder, and it’s not just marketing!

squarespace

Squarespace (see our review) is the fancypants of the website builder industry, technically-speaking. Their templates are widely regarded as being the class of the field. It can’t compete with Wix or Weebly in terms of sheer number of users, but that’s due to the fact that Squarespace has no free plan (though you can try it for free for 14 days). Squarespace’s subscription plans are a bit more expensive than those of most of the competition, with plans ranging from $12 to $40/month.

photography websites

Squarespace’s emphasis on style means that people might assume your DIY site is the work of a professional web designer. And with Squarespace’s excellent eCommerce and blogging capabilities, you get a lot for your money. You’ll have to spring for one of the two pricier plans if you want eCommerce without a 3% Squarespace transaction fee, though.

duda

I enjoy Duda (see our review), and not just because Duda’s creators named their company after The Dude from The Big Lebowski (true story).

Duda’s free subscription plan includes a 10-item online store, and I’m always partial to website builders that offer some degree of eCommerce for free. Their two paid plans go for $14.25 and $22.50 per month, respectively.

[embedded content]

Duda’s photography templates are particularly appealing and make Duda a great choice if you’re looking to set up a photography portfolio or blog. But what really sets Duda apart is their use of what they call “personalization rules.” These rules allow you to create elements which appear only when certain conditions are met. You could create a message that displays only to repeat visitors to your site. You could set up a contact page that displays different contact info depending on the time of day — a “click-to-call” button could appear during business hours while a contact form displays during non-business hours. It’s a versatile and innovative feature — one that makes Duda worth looking into for any small business.

From the Russian & Ukranian makers of the old-school code-based website builder uCoz, uKit (see our review) is a website builder that really punches above its weight in terms of quality vs. the amount of attention it gets.

ukit

Sadly, uKit doesn’t offer a free plan. Their four subscription plans start at $4/month and go to $12/month.

uKit’s editor is fantastic, combining depth with supreme ease-of-use. You can build your website piece-by-piece, or you can stack and re-arrange preformatted content blocks. Their template selection is both vast (over 250 at last count) and high-quality. Their blogging tool is top-notch, and they are fully integrated with Ecwid’s online store. All in all, uKit might be the most underrated website builder out there.

Webflow (see our review) is a unique website builder. While Weebly and Wix focus on making website building as accessible as possible, Webflow is a precision web design tool geared towards professional web designers who build websites for their clients. The platform certainly isn’t restricted to web designers, though — just don’t expect a simplified experience!

Remarkably for such a sophisticated site builder, Webflow has a free subscription plan. Their paid plans are categorized into “hosting” plans and “designer” plans, with “team” plans available for teams of designers working on projects together.webflowWebflow’s blogging system is backed by the full weight of a CMS, thus making Webflow a possible alternative to WordPress for bloggers. The one major feature Webflow lacks is built-in eCommerce.

strikinglyThere has recently been a spate of new website builders dedicated to creating single-page websites designed for easy scrolling on mobile devices, and Strikingly (see our review) is probably the best of the bunch. Forbes even put out an article that described the company’s creation.

strikingly

Strikingly offers a free plan that includes eCommerce, though you’re limited to selling one solitary item. Their two paid plans go for $8 and $16 per month respectively.

As I said, Strikingly’s specialty is single-page websites. Businesses whose customers find them largely through mobile devices may find this kind of website appealing — people surfing the web via smartphones often just scroll through a business’s homepage without clicking on any other pages. And with blogging, eCommerce (with a Pro subscription), and a third-party app store, and you’ve got an impressive package for the right kind of business.

pixpa

Pixpa (see our review) is a stylish, attractive website builder with a singular focus: the creation of photography portfolio websites.

Unfortunately, Pixpa has no free plan. Their four free plans run from $5 to $20/month.

What’s cool about Pixpa is that not only are their photo galleries an ideal way to showcase your work, but you’re also given the tools to monetize your images.photography websites

Pixpa’s integration with Fotomoto (an eCommerce service through which you can sell your images as prints or downloads) means that you can take those pictures that are just sitting there uselessly on your SIM card and turn them into cash.

I approve.

zoho sites

Zoho Sites (see our review) has some unique advantages as a website builder. It isn’t the most visually spectacular builder and the templates aren’t the freshest, but since the Zoho Corporation (sounds like a villainous outfit from a comic book) puts out a wide array of highly-rated SaaS business packages, you get a lot of top-notch features lacking in much of the competition.

Zoho Sites has a free plan, but it lacks many of the features that make Zoho Sites the cool product it is. Their three paid plans cost $5, $10 and $15 per month.

The main thing Zoho Sites brings to the table is integration with their advanced business services. Their form builder is so formidable that it could easily stand alone as a piece of software. It’s the most advanced form builder in a website builder I’ve come across.

zohosites

One feature that businesses that handle large amounts of data will benefit from is Dynamic Content. With this feature, you can link to a Zoho Creator database where you can edit your content, which then automatically updates to your Zoho website (along with any other Zoho SaaS product you have linked).

There aren’t many website builders that cater to data-heavy businesses, so Zoho Sites has this niche nearly all to themselves.

jimdo

Jimdo (see our review) was once considered one of the top website builders out there, and while they may have lost a step, they still boast a formidable user base of 15 million. Let’s explore further.

You can use Jimdo for free and get the basic features, but if you want more — like the eCommerce — you’ll have to spring for one of the two paid plans ($7.50 and $20/month).

ecommerce

Jimdo doesn’t really stand out in any particular way, but everything they do, they do well. With solid blogging, eCommerce, and a nifty mobile editor (more website builders need to allow for editing from a mobile device — it’s 2018, folks!), Jimdo is a good, steady choice for individuals and small business owners.

xprs

From the makers of IM Creator, XPRS (see our review) is a nifty mobile-responsive website builder that gets less attention than it should.

XPRS has three subscription plans: a free plan, a Premium plan ($7.95/month), and a plan that allows you, for $350 a year, to white-label the website builder. That means that a web designer can build sites for their clients and then let their clients edit their sites on their own using XPRS.

XPRS’s templates lend themselves very well to mobile devices, though they look slightly underwhelming on a desktop. The editor itself is incredibly easy to use. Every bit as easy as Weebly, in fact. Blocks of content are referred to as stripes. Adding, mixing, and rearranging your stripes couldn’t be more intuitive.

xprs

XPRS’s blogging system is rather lacking, but their eCommerce system — an integration with Shoprocket — is top notch, though the fees are a bit much. All in all, XPRS is a solid website builder that, judging by user feedback on Trustpilot, is well-received by users.

Final Thoughts

If Weebly has treated you well over the years but you find yourself looking for alternatives, there’s a world of website builder options out there for you, of which these 10 are but a few. The right choice for you, of course, depends on the nature of your business or pursuit.

Jason Vissers

Jason Vissers is a writer, cereal chef and Netflix aficionado from San Diego. A native Californian who enjoys the beach, Jason nonetheless prefers to do his surfing on the World Wide Web, the raddest wave of them all. Jason can’t eat raisins.

Jason Vissers

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Shopify vs. Squarespace: Online Store Options Compared

Shopify vs. Squarespace – they are two of the most well-known brands in the online store / website builder industry. I’ve written a Shopify review here and Squarespace review here. But how do they compare directly to each other?

First, a bit of background. Over the past few years, online store software costs have plummeted, and the technology to get a website from idea to reality has blossomed.

Whether you’re using a text editor and uploading to the Amazon cloud, hosting your own site powered by WordPress + WooCommerce or using a drag and drop website builder, there’s never been an easier time to create an online store. It’s no longer 2002 where every storeowner had to know PHP, HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript.

All-inclusive ecommerce builders have been particularly interesting. Companies like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, Shopify, and BigCommerce – not to mention platforms like Etsy, eBay, and Amazon – have brought ecommerce to everyone regardless of their coding skills.

On the wide spectrum of ecommerce store building solutions, they all live on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website.

That is in contrast to solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. That’s not a good or bad thing. But it is something to be aware of when you’re choosing one of them as a solution since it affects your website both long and short term.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

Using an online store builder is like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Shopify, Squarespace and other options like BigCommerce and Weebly as a group compete with options like WordPress (which provides the free software to build a website that you own & control – see my WordPress setup guide here) all the way to options like typing actual HTML code into a text file.

The last preface I’ll mention is that Squarespace is an all-around website builder with ecommerce capability.

Shopify, in contrast, is strictly an ecommerce platform.

This focus puts Squarespace behind as an advanced ecommerce tool and Shopify behind as a general website builder tool. With their respective free trials, you can quickly see the differences.

Try Shopify for Free

Try Squarespace for Free

Make sense? Awesome – let’s dive into the comparison.

Side note – if you want this comparison in a BuzzFeed-style quiz, you can take my online store builder quiz here…

You can also look at my posts on –

Otherwise, we’ll look specifically at pricing, onboarding/user experience, design features, technical features, ecommerce features, marketing features, and customer support.

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my professional experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pricing

Comparing pricing between Shopify and Squarespace is fairly straightforward if you have a clear idea of your needs. This comes from the fact that Shopify focuses on *only* online store owners whereas Squarespace markets to everyone.

The short version is that Shopify is more expensive. But there’s a few caveats to look at.

Shopify Pricing

Squarespace Ecommerce Pricing

The first caveat is credit card fees.

Squarespace syncs with Stripe and PayPal. Their fees are 2.9% + $.30 per transaction.

Shopify has their own payments gateway that charges lower per transaction fees. But – if you use a non-Shopify gateway, Shopify charges an additional transaction fee that Squarespace does not have.

So why is this important? If you already have a gateway (ie, Authorize.net for your physical pop-up shop) and you want to use them with Shopify – then Shopify’s transaction fee kicks in. But – if you want to use Shopify Payment’s for your online store – you can save a bit of money on transaction fees. Those fees add up. If you have revenues of $100000 – a 0.4% reduction in fees could equal $500 per month.

The second caveat is value pricing.

On front-end features alone – Squarespace is significantly cheaper than Shopify, especially on their Advanced plan, which compares almost directly with Shopify’s Standard plan.

See Shopify’s Plans here.

See Squarespace’s Plans here.

But – like I mentioned in the introduction, it’s hard to compare their pricing tables directly since they are really different products for different audiences.

It’s a bit like comparing the pricing of a motorcycle vs. an SUV.

Sure, the motorcycle is much cheaper and it gets you from A to B. It has wheels, an engine, and it drives on the road just fine. But it’s also meant for a certain type of driving.

It all really comes down to what you need for you project – two wheels that will get you where you need to go or a vehicle that has plenty of room along with lots of features. So let’s look at other differences.

Aside – if you’re curious, Shopify’s $9/mo Lite plan isn’t applicable since it’s more of an inventory/payments software than an online store builder software. You can upload products, manage them, and accept payments, but you can only sell them via other platforms such as a Facebook plugin or a button on an existing website. Same goes with Squarespace’s Business Plan. It’s meant to do a website that happens to have a couple things for sale – not really a full online store solution. I’ll set both those options to the side for the moment.

Onboarding & User Experience

No matter how intuitive and simple a piece of technology is, there’s always that moment of “what am I looking at and what do I do now?”

Onboarding is the process of guiding you past that point. In theory, a huge selling point of online website / store builders is that they have a near-zero learning curve. They have a straightforward process from website concept to website reality.

On this point, Squarespace and Shopify both do alright but in different ways.

Shopify has a quick path from free trial signup to site launch. They have guided tours and a very straightforward setup. They also have customer support outreach focused on getting you up and running quickly.

Shopify Backend

However, Shopify also has many more features, apps, and technical options available that can present a challenge. The most daunting hurdle is linking your domain name to your store. It’s not difficult but is daunting at the mention of “setting your CNAME” (in fairness, you don’t have to direct your domain if you purchase via Shopify for a bit more per year than via a 3rd party).

Since Shopify functions as a platform for payments, offline inventory and more – their website store setup is actually on the second menu of their main dashboard rather than front and center.

Squarespace has a ridiculously fast sign up to live site process. Their backend is fairly intuitive for basic websites. However, they to have a “Squarespace jargon” to get used to. They like to appeal to developers and freelance designers – so there are advanced tools that can clutter simply launching a site.

SquareSpace Onboarding

Their support emails and tours are structured well. But since their software is made for all types of websites, the ecommerce features are a bit buried (and limited) from the perspective of an online store owner.

I would not rule either provider out on onboarding/user experience. But their differences are sort of like a restaurant with a waiter (Shopify) vs. a fast casual restaurant with a menu above the cashier (Squarespace).

If you want more help and more customization, then Shopify is your choice. If you want to quickly see and order from the features, then Squarespace is less daunting.

Design Features

Part of the overall value of website builders is simple, straightforward design – no web designers necessary.

But good design is hard. And it matters – a lot. A lot of people can spot a good looking website but have a harder time figuring out how to get there. Using a template for a foundation and then customizing it is a good way to get the site you want without paying for a custom design.

Both Shopify and Squarespace use templates (aka “themes”) for design. But they are very different in customization options.

Shopify has a solid drag and drop design feature. You can create any layout element you’d like and drag it into place. You can click and edit any portion of any web page – including both content and design.

But – Shopify does not combine design and content. You have to get your design right – and then add content in a separate area (ie, it’s a template).

Since you can edit HTML/CSS with Shopify, you can build any design possible. There are few, if any, limits to any design that you see on the Internet. Additionally, Shopify has a drag and drop template editor.

Shopify Drag Drop

Squarespace has a hybrid approach. They famously have beautiful pre-built designs.

Squarespace Designs

They also have drag and drop – and pretty intuitive editing.

But – they also combine design and content with their editor. This approach has tradeoffs. On one hand, you can edit the design for specific pages. On the other hand, your design can go “off-base” pretty quickly – especially with content for hundreds of products.

The other drawback with Squarespace is that their off-the-shelf themes require *a lot* of really good imagery. If you don’t have access to high-quality photography, their themes are not going to work well. Many of Shopify’s designs are fine and functional regardless of product imagery.

They both have large marketplaces for premium designs (in addition to professional designers).

If you are a fan of raw functionality – then you’ll appreciate Shopify’s approach to design. If you want your site to look amazing off the shelf, love to edit details, and have access to good imagery – then you’ll appreciate Squarespace.

Ecommerce Features

The absolute core features of an ecommerce store are a –

  • product database
  • shopping cart
  • checkout page
  • payment processor
  • order database

That is it.

But, especially in 2017 (and 2018 and beyond), there is a *lot* more than can (and should) go into an ecommerce store. There’s everything from selling via Facebook Messenger to syncing with Amazon FBA to integrating with eBay – not to mention features for executing on marketing fundamentals.

Even for advertising products, there’s selling via Buyable Pins, Google Merchant, Twitter cards, and more. There’s remarketing and coupon codes. There’s A/B testing. There’s inventory synchronization with vendors like AliExpress. And there’s order synchronization with shippers like UPS and USPS.

And that’s all a drop in the bucket.

Obviously, not every store needs every feature. If you are trying to sell a couple T-shirts or a couple specialty products – you certainly don’t need them all. But if you want to grow and expand, you’ll need your options open.

For ecommerce features, Shopify wins hands down, though Squarespace does make it simple to sell your product. Squarespace has a few advanced features (like abandoned cart recovery), but it’s nothing like Shopify.

Shopify not only has more features directly integrated into their platform, but they also have a well-established app store that includes free and paid apps to extend your store with every feature you could possibly need.

Shopify Integrations

That said, this section is a bit unfair to Squarespace, because, again, they are a general website builder that includes ecommerce. Shopify is strictly an ecommerce platform.

If Shopify didn’t “win” on ecommerce features it would be a surprise. Technically, Squarespace competes more with the likes of Weebly and Wix or WordPress who are also website builders that provide core ecommerce features.

In short – if you need core ecommerce features integrated in a simple, straightforward way, then Squarespace is fine. If you actually need a full suite of ecommerce features to grow, then Shopify is hands-down better.

Technical Features

Technical features are all the web development best practices that don’t really “matter”…until they matter a lot. I’m talking about generating clean URLs, editable metadata, allowing page-level redirects, etc.

On this point, Shopify does very well – and not just compared to Squarespace, but compared to any hosted platform.

Traditionally, hosted platforms presented a risk for web designers, developers, and marketers who wanted to work on the technical aspects of the site.

I know that I flinch anytime a prospective client tells me they are on a hosted platform of any kind.

But Shopify and Squarespace perform well in general. Many skeptics of hosted platforms note that they actually take care of the technical features well. You still don’t have FTP access to your server, but you do have access to change things via their Liquid editor (Shopify) or Developer Mode (Squarespace).

Where they differ (especially for me) is in their potential for technical features. And again, here, Shopify’s app store is their “killer” feature. Even if a feature is not native to Shopify, a non-developer can usually add it.

On the flip side, Squarespace has a lot of native features that simply “work” – and a process of continually adding & revising existing features.

Both Squarespace and Shopify have inherent limitations as hosted platforms (ie, when you leave, you a lot of your data), but Shopify does a bit more to eliminate the weaknesses and capitalize on strengths as a hosted platform.

Marketing Features

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character says “if you build it, they will come.” Sadly, that is not true about websites. Like any business, you have to actively promote and market your online store for anyone to show up.

Marketing features like custom metadata, open graph information, Schema markups, email signups, share buttons, landing pages, etc all make marketing your site a lot easier.

For marketing features, both Shopify and Squarespace both do really well. They support header scripts. They integrate with many products. They add meta data, product schema and open graph tags automatically.

But like design & ecommerce features, there’s the same catch. For an ecommerce store owner, Shopify has many more (and higher quality) built-in features plus a better, more developed app store.

Squarespace has core marketing features built-in, but with more limits.

Support & Service

Customer support and service are difficult to judge. Like I’ve said in most of my reviews, a single customer can never really know if they happened upon a disgruntled rookie or if the company is really that bad.

That said, there are ways to look at a company’s investment in both customer services and support.

For Shopify vs. Squarespace, I think the clear “winner” is Shopify. Shopify not only provides more channels for customer service (phone, chat, email, forums, social media, etc), they also have an incredibly extensive help center.

The help center not only tackles technical issues, it also tackles customer success issues (aka problems with making money).

Squarespace has email support, and limited chat support – but no phone. Their knowledgebase does not have the attention or the depth that Shopify has.

Comparison Conclusion

So Shopify vs. Squarespace – which one is a better fit for your project?

If you plan on running a growing online store and want all the features possible, then you should go try Shopify.

Go try Shopify for free here.

If you want a simple store – or a general site with a beautiful look, then Squarespace might be a good fit for you.

Also – bookmark my post on creating an ecommerce marketing strategy here.

Good luck!

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Weebly Prices: So How Exactly Does Weebly’s Value Compare?

weebly

Weebly constitutes a strong situation to be The People’s Website Builder. Its website editing model is definitely probably the most intuitive available, and it is appeal to the non-techies in our midst is unparalleled. Consistent with their focus on supplying value towards the masses, there’s a totally free plan open to everyone. For this reason you’ll from time to time see Weebly known as “free website builder.” The truth is, a lot of why is Weebly an engaging website builder is restricted to having to pay subscribers.

Within my overview of Weebly, I describe Weebly’s editor featuring as completely as you possibly can. In the following paragraphs, however, I’d like to pay attention to the prices of Weebly’s services and also the value you obtain as a swap.

Table of Contents

Weebly Prices And Essential Features

Weebly gives all comers use of their platform for that low cost of free. Anyone who subscribes can get the next without getting to go in any payment information:

  • Drag & Drop Website Builder
  • Display Weebly Ads
  • Free Hosting – Weebly.com Subdomain
  • Internet Search Engine Optimization
  • 500MB Storage Limit
  • Chat and Email Support
  • Online Community
  • Lead Capture

However, time will probably come when you wish more from your Weebly site, whether that’s eCommerce, video backgrounds, or perhaps your own personalized domain. Well, for those that, you’ll require a compensated subscription. Fundamental essentials features you’ll get with any Weebly compensated plan:

  • A customized domain, free for that newbie
  • A $100 Google ad credit
  • No Weebly ads
  • Connect your overall domain
  • Limitless storage
  • eCommerce
  • Advanced Site Stats

As the compensated plans possess the above features in keeping, they differ when it comes to cost along with other features offered. Listed here are Weebly’s compensated plans, the prices (in line with the annual rate — I do not recommend a regular monthly subscription because they are more costly and don’t incorporate a personalized domain free for any year), and a few of the features they include:

Weebly Plan Starter Pro Business Performance
Prices (annual plan): $8/month $12/month $25/month $38/month
Phone support? No Yes Yes Yes
Video backgrounds/HD video & audio? No Yes Yes Yes
Membership pages? No Yes – As much as 100 people Yes – Limitless Membership Yes – Limitless Membership
Email promotions?  No  No  No Yes – 5 email promotionsOr30 days

At $8 monthly, Weebly’s least expensive plan’s very affordable indeed. However, it doesn’t include much of more features, so you aren’t getting a great deal for the money. It’s in the Pro subscription level where Weebly’s premium plans begin to show their value. At $12/month, a Weebly Pro subscription entitles you to definitely phone support, provides you with video backgrounds, high-definition audio and video, and enables you to setup membership pages which people can sign in having a password to gain access to exclusive content. If you are searching to operate a properly-featured non-eCommerce website, the professional plan could just be the “sweet place.”

weebly template

Hold on! What if you wish to build and run your personal online shop? Let’s compare the eCommerce options that come with Weebly’s compensated plans.

Weebly eCommerce Features

Weebly Plan Starter Pro Business Performance
Weebly transaction fee? Yes, 3% Yes, 3% No No
Quantity of products: As much as 10 As much as 25 Limitless Limitless
Checkout: On Weebly’s domain On Weebly’s domain On your domain On your domain
Digital goods/inventory management/SSL? No No Yes Yes
Abandoned Cart Email/Real-time Shipping Rates? No No No Yes

You’ll observe that underneath the least expensive two plans, Starter and Pro, Weebly charges a transaction fee of threePercent on every purchase someone makes in your site. If you are a web-based seller, this will make the Starter and Pro plans a lesser value proposition. Bear in mind this transaction fee comes on the top from the transaction charges billed through the payment processor, which generally emerge to 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction.

Beginning in the Business level, not just are Weebly’s transaction charges waived (the payment processor’s charges remain), however the limit on the amount of products marketing is finished. You’ll also provide your clients take a look at on your domain, not really a Weebly domain. (A lot more professional-searching this way.) You may also sell digital goods, track your inventory, and reassure your clients with SSL security. Just for $25 per month, Weebly’s Business package is very the offer.

Additional Fees To Think About

I pointed out earlier by using Weebly’s compensated subscription plans, you will get your very own domain for the site free of charge for that newbie. Later on, however, you choose in the cost. Domains provided by Weebly renew at $19.95 on the yearly basis, with reduced prices for 2, 5 and 10-year renewals. This rate is greater compared to rate for domains billed by Wix and Squarespace.

The price of personalized email is another good point. Some website builders include email within their compensated subscriptions — Weebly doesn’t. Rather, like Wix, they provide email like a standalone package through G Suite. The cost is $4.08 per user monthly, and you’ll reach use 30 different aliases (as with [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] etc).

Certainly one of Weebly’s selling points may be the Weebly Application Center, a sizable assortment of feature add-ons for a multitude of purposes. A number of these apps have the freedom, but a number of them work on the freemium model where you’ll need to pay between around $4 to $25 per month for that premium version.

Final Ideas

I’m keen on Weebly, and I’m glad they’re managed to get their pursuit to focus on as broad a crowd as you possibly can. Techies aren’t the only real individuals who require their very own DIY online presence. For any small fraction from the cost of hiring web-site designers to place something together for you personally, you should use Weebly to produce your personal attractive and functional website. As long as you make certain to pay for all of your bases feature-wise, you will be all set.

Jason Vissers

Jason Vissers is really a author, cereal chef and Netflix aficionado from North Park. A local Californian who enjoys the shore, Jason nevertheless would rather do his surfing on the internet, the raddest wave of all of them. Jason can’t eat raisins.

Jason Vissers

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