Columbia University faculty, Host of the Learn to Code Podcast, and Teacher at OneMonth.com
Over my career as a web developer, I’ve built more than 100 websites for clients including Bacardi, Toyota, and The Four Seasons. One time, I even made a website for a semi-famous goat in Virginia.
In this post, I want to answer the question, “What’s the best way to make a website?”
No doubt there are hundreds of options, but I can boil them down to one question that you need to ask when starting to build a new website:
Do you want it to be easy to build, or highly customizable when it’s live?
If you want the process to be easy — Making a new website will be inexpensive, but you’ll be limited in the number of customizations you can make.
If you’d prefer it to be customizable— It will be more expensive and it’ll take longer. The plus side is that, in the end, you’ll have a more customised and fine-tuned experience.
Here’s a breakdown of your options for making a website: easy vs. customizable vs. hybrid:
If you want a simple website, my suggestion is to start with easy.
Think a band website, your web portfolio, photo gallery, a blog, pictures of your pet dog, a restaurant, etc. Basically, anything that needs to share information in the form of text or images, but not much else.
Here are the five easiest ways to launch a website:
Customization means you can decide every last detail of the website: the colors, themes, fonts, and page layout. But it also means you’ll have to make choices about the programming language (Ruby vs. Python vs. PHP?), the database, hosting company, etc.
While customization gives you complete control over everything from site loading times, SEO meta tags, and security, the caveat is that customizations like these are going to cost time and money.
When starting out, you’ll need to look at the tradeoffs of having all these customizations, or whether the easy route is sufficient.
If you go the customization route you’ll need either hire someone or to earn the following:
Many people build their own website from scratch because they need something very specific and highly customizable. Keep in mind that you can always start with an easy website, and upgrade to something more customizable when you need it.
The hybrid approach is somewhere in between easy and customizable. With the hybrid approach, you take an easy option and either learn to code so that you can customize it yourself to the maximum amount possible, or hire a developer to customize it for you. It’s sort of like getting a suit tailored instead of having to choose between wearing it off of the rack and going fully custom.
WordPress.org is perfect for the hybrid approach. WordPress has thousands of themes for you to launch a website in literally 5 minutes. From there you can add plugins for improved SEO, e-Commerce, security, and more. If you know the basics of HTML, CSS, and PHP you can even get under the hood and customize your theme!
Other examples of using a hybrid approach are using a coding framework like Ruby on Rails, Django, and Express.
Need help choosing? Let’s use the analogy of choosing a birthday cake.
If you need a birthday cake the easiest thing to do is buy one at the supermarket. But because it’s pre-made you’re limited by how customizable it can be.
This is Squarespace — it’s pre-made, quick and inexpensive.
If you want a very specific birthday cake (for example, an organic vegan strawberry cake with chocolate frosting and airplane liquor on top?) then you’ll probably want to make it yourself!
But as you know, this takes longer, you need a kitchen, and if it’s going to be a good cake you’ll probably need some cooking skills. This is what it’s like to make a website from scratch. It takes more time, and you’ll need to know all the ingredients that go into it.
Then there’s always Duncan Hines! This is the hybrid website.
With Duncan Hines, you’ll still need some foundational ingredients like eggs, milk, and butter, but nearly everything else comes in the box. Once you have your foundation, it’s then possible to swap out some of the colors and flavors. For example, if you want to swap out cow milk for almond milk you can! This is what it’s like to use WordPress, Ruby on Rails, or an out of the box CMS.
Need to build a website and want to know which way to go? There’s no right answer or a wrong answer, just some that are easier, and some that are more customizable (but often pricey).
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