Proper Platform for Building Online Stores

I haven’t updated my blog in a while as I have been traveling over the past few months but now I’m back and ready to update this again!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good e-commerce online store, and do you know that feeling when you have some ideas, then you leave it alone for a few months and the ideas just grow and mature? I think that’s what’s happening to me as I have  a few new thoughts on e-commerce builders.

The more I think about creating an online store, the more I think about how flexible the builder is to grow with your business.  I guess everybody starts small, but at some point it is your intent to get more customers and visitors.  Then what?  Just because the tools that worked for you at the beginning of your journey doesn’t mean they will be sufficient going forward.

That’s why I’m starting to think that having a proper platform, a really good ecommerce platform that gives you the flexibility to grow your website along side with your business is so important.

ecommerce platform

No body plans to fail right?  So you have to plan for success (a good quote I heard from somewhere).  To plan for success, it makes a lot of sense NOT to jump on the first online store builder you find… but to really evaluate if the builder gives you a good platform to keep adding new and more advanced tools to build your site when you start to become more successful.

I mentioned in my other blog post that there are two great e-commerce builders, that are Shopify and Bigcommerce.  THere are a lot of other good builders out there, such as Weebly which have been adding to their e-commerce tools lately, which is great.  But they are nowhere as flexible as Shopify or Bigcommerce especially with their app stores.

Shopify just reached over 100,000 paying users, and have been growing so fast over the past year as I watched them improve their tools and offerings.  Bigcommerce is growing as well, but doesn’t look like they’re growing as fast as Shopify.  In any case, both are great.

I also want to talk more about how Shopify is starting to change their business which used to only cater to online stores before, and now they are starting to offer point of sales systems for offline stores.  That is so interesting but I’ll leave that for another day!

 

Backing up and Exporting Websites

website builder backupsAs I spent more time and effort into building websites, one of the things that struck me is that what if my website accidentally gets deleted, if a particular website builder decides to stop providing services.  Website builders, afterall, are businesses and closing down does take place.

Because of this, I started looking into backup features of website builder software.  What I discovered is that with a lot of these hosted builders such as Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, etc, they don’t really give you a very solid backup plan.

I would assume that since the websites are “hosted” with them, they should have their own backup copies for emergency issues.  But what if I want to move website builders?

One of the things that is a drawback is that with these builders, you can’t really switch between them.  For example, if I want to move my Wix website to Weebly, it’s not easy, or possible at all.  Having websites built on a different platform, with different mechanics and technology results in incompatible codes.  For example, if I built a slideshow with Wix, that slideshow may not be compatible with Weebly, and so that doesn’t work.

Another example, imagine moving a Squarespace website into Webs.  Pretty tough if you asked me as Squarespace’s templates are responsive and so much more good looking.  The difference in technology and tools just won’t adapt to each other.

In any case, after a bit of digging, here’s what I found out:

  • Wix – no backup or export function
  • Weebly – you can backup / export your website, but some tools may not work outside of Weebly and you can only import it into a separate host (and not a WYSIWYG builder)
  • Squarespace – you can export your blog and pages into WordPress (so only a partial export)
  • Jimdo – no backup or export function
  • Webs - no backup or export function
  • Shopify - no backup or export function

It’s a bit disappointing, but I suppose that is the trade-off of using drag and drop builders.

If I was to build a successful business out of creating websites for other people (hopefully my clients!), I need to seriously think about these issues as I’m sure they may ask me about it.

One option, although not being my most favorable option, is to use WordPress.  WordPress is an open source builder, so I doubt they will shut down their business.  Plus, I did some research and learned that I can move my WordPress websites around to different hosts and there is a service called VaultPress which will keep my websites backed up at all times.  I wrote more about comparing WYSIWYG builders vs WordPress here.

Just something I’ve been thinking about as I do more research and learning how to build up my website business.

Where to Find Free Picture Editors

One of the things that wanted to learn, in addition to how to build better websites, is to how to edit pictures. All my friends and people on the web said to get Adobe Photoshop but it’s pretty pricey. They used to sell it for a few hundred dollars and recently I found out that they switched over to a monthly payment plan. So sort of like a membership type of deal where I’ll need to pay around $30 per month to use it.

free picture editor

I don’t think I have the budget for that yet on a recurring monthly basis, so I set out to find some good, free picture editors (and no, MS Paint doesn’t count as a good one!). I’ll be needing these tools when I get better at building websites and setting up my business.

I did some Google searches and quickly came up with a few decent ones that I would like to share:

1) Photoshop Express Editor – it’s a free version of Photoshop! Why pay! I know that it wont’ have as many tools but it’s good enough for me at this level.

2) Pixlr – this one looks sorta like MS Paint, but is a bit more sophisticated. It looks clean and sleek, very similar to Photoshop Express I mentioned above – at least from the style perspective.

3) iPiccy – I haven’t played with this yet, but my first impression is that it is a bit less stylish as Pixlr or Photoshop. Not saying that it functions any less better, but just the overall set up looks slightly less professional. I’ll let you know once I try and see how it works out.

4) PicMonkey – strange enough, PicMonkey was the first free picture editor that showed up on my searches, but I find that they are the least stylish. Plus, there is this annoying rectangular advertisement across the bottom which makes it look much more amateur than others. I know it’s free and ads are expected, but that’s just my observation.

I’ll probably have try at the picture editors, but my gut is telling me that Photoshop Express Editor and Pixlr will probably be my favorite. If you’ve tried any one of them and have an opinion, please do share them in the comments!

Hopefully I’ll become a bit more sophisticated and will start to learn more about more advanced tools, and prepare myself to hopefully one day upgrade to the professional version of Photoshop. Another thought is that if I ever do some freelancing on picture editing or creation, I’ll definitely need the full version of Photoshop, but that’s alright as I’ll be making some more money then!

e-Commerce Website Builders – Which ones are good?

In my other post, I talked about WYSIWYG builders and how easy they are for an average person or a business to get an online presence.

But what about using the best Ecommerce software to build an online store?  If you want to sell things online, be it clothing, arts and craft, whatever, the best way to do it is to build you own online store.

This can be a very daunting task as you have to think about how to set up payment service providers, how to insert products and images to your website, and just how to communicate and handle customer service.

There are so many different things to consider when it comes to running an e-commerce business. It’s very overwhelming. But that’s why there are some really good e-commerce online builders out there.

Shopify

One of my favorite ones is Shopify. Right now, they have over 60,000 paying customers which shows that they are really quite legit. Shopify is one of the leading services provider out there and they have some really awesome and professional looking themes.

They also provide you with apps to add on to your online store to extend the functionality of your store (such as invoicing, marketing, connecting with accounting software). What this means is that you can focus your time on getting more customers, growing a business, rather than worrying about technology. There are a lot of great shopify reviews on the internet, so be sure to study them prior to committing since they are not free. But they also have a 14-day trial so that helps you decide as well.

Bigcommerce

Bigcommerce is a close competitor of Shopify and is one of the best ones available online as well. They have a very comprehensive set of e-commerce tools so they can definitely be very effective in helping you launch your online store.

However, based on some bigcommerce reviews, it seems that they are not very transparent about their available themes. They have been criticized for not having great design themes, meaning your online store may not look as professional or sleek. But best to test them out yourselves using their 15-day free trial program. I heard their tools are awesome.

Comparison – which one to use?

So now that you are building an online store for the first time, which one should you choose? It’s a big decision since you don’t want to invest the time and effort to building one then find out you want to switch builders. Based on this bigcommerce vs Shopify discussion, it seems that if you want a more beautiful, professional design, Shopify has a much better selection. But when it comes to actual tools you can use, it sounds like Bigcommerce has a slight edge.

It’s just something you might want consider especially if you’re still trying to learn how to build an online store.  In any case, both offer free trial periods (since both are not free) so you might want to sign up to both and see for yourself!

WYSIWYG Builders vs WordPress

wix vs wordpressHow are website builders compared to wordpress? This is a classic debate.

You will get a lot of people saying that wordpress is much more superior and flexible, which is probably true. It does have a lot more plugins and hardcore developers building a lot of tools for wordpress users. However, using it isn’t as simple for the “average” person. To really flex the WordPress muscle to make the best out of the tool, you really need to have some coding experiences and knowledge. Even if you don’t, you can hire experienced users to help you but this wont’ be cheap.

For web builders, as mentioned in my previous post, it’s very easy to use and is catered to the average person who isn’t very proficient with codes (or know any codes at all). These platforms open the gate for skills of every level to quickly get an online presence.

squarespace vs wordpressThere are a lot of debates out there, particularly on squarespace vs wordpress, since a lot of people really like Squarespace. They are great because of their professional themes and that they are responsive. So great to use and you don’t have to touch any codes.

Wix is often compared to wordpress as well and this wix vs wordPress discussion is a highly debate one as well. Wix is great in that they have a lot of HTML5 templates, but the downside is that once you pick a theme, you can’t change it which isn’t great.

Weebly vs wordpress is another highly discussed topic. Weebly is probably one of the easiest web builders to use, so people love them. WordPress is flexible, but takes a lot of time to learn.

In any case, this is an ongoing discussion and there is no right or wrong. Just preferences. If you want to learn wordpress, you can build some really fancy / powerful websites. But if you are okay with the WYSIWYG builder, you can learn and build a website in just a few hours which is fast!

WYSIWYG Website Builders

What is WYSIWYG? It stands for What You See is What You Get. When you put this together with a website builder – it’s an awesome advancement for website building technology.

In the past, as early as the early to mid-2000s, building websites is something that’s privileged to those who know HTML or CSS codes. If you didn’t know how to build a website, you’re really out of luck.

Brief History of Website Building

Just over the past 5 – 8 years, a bunch of developers started to build these WYSIWYG website builders to cater to those who didn’t have the ability to build websites. They created these online software where you can sign up, and start dragging and dropping “elements” on to the page right in front of you.

Elements can be images, paragraphs / text, videos, etc. Basically all the things that you see when you visit an average website. So they made it so you can start inserting elements on to the screen, and when you publish, you get your own website. No coding required!

How has this changed the world? Well, it allowed ordinary folks to build their own websites to express themselves and put their thoughts on the web to share with everybody. It allowed small business who don’t have massive budgets to start growing online and sharing their brands with everybody.

This is really a revolutionary evolution of the internet, making it possible for someone as young as 8 years old all the way to my grandmother (who is 85) to participate – if they want to.

The hurdle is removed – just wonderful!

Who are these WYSIWYG Builders

There are a number of web builders that has been around for years. I’ll write more about how I find the best website builder in detail in other posts. But the largest ones include Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Jimdo. I’m sure there are other ones but these are the ones that I’ve used.

Wix is the largest by users count. They have really nice HTML5 templates and they are a pure drag and drop builder.

Weebly is really easy to use but their templates are just average. I think they should have better designs.

Squarespace isn’t free, but they have really nice templates. Great for photographers and portfolio people.

Jimdo is based out of Germany and although their not as large as Wix or Weebly, they are pretty good. Their templates are a bit average just like Weebly too, so hopefully they’ll improve. They recently came up with a really awesome iOS App where you can literally build your entire website using your iPhone or iPad. I’ll write more about these later.

Picking one of them to use is not easy, but I have another post before this that discusses some tricks on how to pick the right one for you.

Website Builders for You

Choosing the best website builder for you is not an easy task, this is especially true as your own specific needs for a website will be very different from other people. For instance, what a photographer needs, is different from what a plumber who wants to build a website for his/her own website. What a doctor’s website needs, will be different from someone who wants to set up an e-commerce online shop.
best website builder

How to Find the Right Website Builders for You

The best way to start is to list out what you exactly you need, or want to build out of your website builder. What defines the best website builder for you and your unique wants and needs.

After you have listed it out, you can start looking around the internet for reputable website builders. Be sure to start off by focusing on reputable, large website builders as this is a great place to start understanding what is available out there.

More and more website builders are being created on a monthly basis, so getting a good sense of what large builders offer will get you started off the right foot.

There are many reputable WYSIWYG website builders out there, and some of the focus on all industries, and some of them focuses on very narrow niches.

For instance, Squarespace focuses on artists, portfolio type of websites. Photoshelter only focuses on photographers. Shopify and Bigcommerce focuses on e-commerce online shop builders. Weebly and Wix focuses on all different industries so they are more “general” web builders.

Once you get a good understanding of what are available in the market, it’s time to read some reviews on them.

Read Website Builder Reviews

If you start searching for good, quality and comprehensive reviews for website builders, you’re going to get all sorts of information overload. There are literally hundreds of different review articles out there and not all of them are great (in fact, most of them will be a big waste of time).

So how do you separate the useful reviews from the losers? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Focus on the reviews that has a lot of social shares (such as Facebook likes, Google pluses, pinterest pins, twitter tweets). Usually these signals that a lot of people are recommending the review so this suggests that the post should be pretty good
  • See if the reviews have a lot of comments. If a review article has no comments, this usually suggests that the review is not that engaging and doesn’t provoke any thoughts. But don’t just look at comments, check that the comments are asking good questions.
  • Check that the website that you’re looking at is an authority website. One quick way is to see how many articles they have written and also check the two points above (social shares and comments). If the website only has 1 or 2 articles, then either it is just starting out, or it suggests that the site isn’t too “serious” about providing reviews on the best website builder.

Conclusion

Finding the right and best website builder for you is important. The last thing you want is to build a website and figure out that you chose the wrong builder, and have to start all over again.

The best way forward is to understand what website builders are available, if they cater to your industry. Then read some good review articles to learn more about the pros and cons about the website builders.

Focus on if people are sharing the reviews, and what types of questions and comments they are asking about them. This will usually give you a lot of clues on whether the website builder is suitable for you.