Comparing types of website

Quite often we receive calls where we’re told “I need to build a website” – our first question is normally what type of website?

This article aims to discuss the types of website available and what they are suitable for.

Typically, a website falls under one of the following broad categories;

  • Non-editable brochure website (often referred to as static site).
  • Editable brochure website (requiring a content management system).
  • Editable, dynamic website, with more user engagement (login areas etc) and self managed through a content management system.
  • E-commerce site – integrated with a payment gateway such as Paypal, Worldpay or banks like Barclays or HSBC.
  • A web application – when a website requires lots of bespoke functionality or processes it generally falls under the web application category.

Deciding on which type of site you require depends on what you actually want the website to do. If you just want a website, because you feel you should have one, a simple brochure website is all that’s required. In an ideal world, no website should ever be completely static and not change, but you have to be realistic what’s achievable with your resources.

Brochure websites – static or content managed

A brochure website is quite often an online extension of your sales collateral; outlining the who, what & where of your business. It is how most organisations start out on the web. For some, a simple online brochure that rarely changes is enough. However, most small businesses at least require the option to add and edit their own news articles. In these situations, a simple tool like Perch is ideal. This allows the maximum of creativity, with the added option of making some elements of the page editable. Our own website is built on Perch.

Most of the website briefs or requests for a proposals that we receive spec a full content management system (CMS). In reality, most organisations don’t actually use the full capabilities of the CMS, only ever updating their news and staff pages. So, as mentioned earlier, be sure that you have the resources available before you start down the ‘full CMS’ path.

What is a content management system?

A Content Management System (CMS) is a web-based tool to allow any authorised user access to edit the website. The idea behind a CMS is that day-to-day maintenance is handled by the client who, typically, has no prior experience in web page programming. By using modern programming languages and WYSIWYG (pronounced ‘wizzy wig’ – meaning ‘What You See Is What You Get’) editors look and work in a similar way to Microsoft Word, but convert the content in HTML (the language of the web). None of them are perfect, but they certainly make it easier & quicker to publish to your website.

We find that people who are proficient in Word can easily work a CMS and have the ability to create new content, add content, insert images and basically control what is in the website.

Most CMSs will store the content of the web page in a database table, meaning it’s searchable and can have various meta data attached to it. It also means that you can have various version of the same page (for example, the live version, older versions and perhaps a new version that is not yet complete.) This makes a CMS a very powerful tool for managing the site content.

Fully functioning content management systems come in many different guises, thankfully, there are now some excellent off-the-shelf options available. Some of them are free to use, such as Wordpress and some require the purchase of a license, such as Expression Engine.

As a word of advice, if you don’t need particularly bespoke functionality try and stick to using a popular, reliable CMS. There is little point building a completely bespoke CMS just to add, edit and delete pages, news and blog posts. It simply isn’t necessary anymore. In addition, most of the mainstream CMSs have thousands of plugins available that will facilitate all manor of things, such as animated banner photos, photo galleries, dynamic (editable) contact forms etc. Don’t try and re-create the wheel unless you have to.

eCommerce

The eCommerce platform has been produced thousands of times, it’s been refined, improved upon and extended. As with the content management systems, there are many excellent eCommerce platforms available. Ranging from the cheap and easy to setup hosted options like Shopify through to the more advanced Magento.

When deciding which approach to take, be clear about your requirements. How many product lines, how many variants of a each product, do you need to integrate it with a fulfilment house? Which payment gateway do you want to use? (If you’re not sure, compare them here: Payment Brain) All of these decisions will influence the approach you need to take.

eCommerce websites demand a lot more attention than a normal brochure website. You simply can not build it and expect to see orders come rolling in, it isn’t like that. So be prepared to market the business and work hard to gain traction in your market.

A good tip for eCommerce sites is to learn from the masters. Online giants like ASOS invest millions into their online strategy, why not piggyback a few ideas from them? So take a look at their website, both on your smart phone and desktop PC to see how they are presenting their products and organising their site.

When is a website not a website?

When it’s a web application. If you need to do more than just host information about your organisation or collect user contact forms you are probably looking at a web application. Effectively, we can build a web application to do any job you require. We can build systems to access complex database, manage offline subscriptions through an online interface and anything else you can dream of.

To give you an example, 3fifteen is a web application that we designed and built to allow parents and schools to securely communicate who is collecting their child at the end of the school day. We created an API that can pass data from an SMS service, a secure email service and even a multi-lingual IVR – all back into an easy to use dashboard for both parents and schools. Complex programming such as this are beyond the realms of a normal website, it requires lots of bespoke coding and development.

How much should you budget?

It’s quite normal for the budget available to be a major factor in the approach taken. In very broad terms, the following figures are a good indication of the typical budget required for each approach. Please note, this is all for bespoke design and not template based websites.

  • Brochure websites with or without a simple CMS £2,500 – £5,000
  • A more complex CMS can be in the range £5,000 – £15,000
  • eCommerce ranges from £2,500 – £15,000+
  • Web applications range from £5,000 – £50,000+

This would include things such as;

  • Project management, planning & meetings
  • User interface and user experience planning
  • Bespoke design
  • Setup and installation of any software
  • Development
  • Implementation

In addition to the above you might also require assistance with:

  • Content strategy – (find out more: Content kills )
  • Training
  • Web strategy
  • Social media strategy
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Digital marketing strategy
  • Hosting

Decided what you need?

If you think you have a good idea what type of website you need, the next step is to prepare a website brief