Technology

The most important factor in choosing a website platform

Craig Reardon /

This topic isn’t a new one to this blog but it’s so important in terms of potential significant costs and heartache that it’s definitely worth revisiting.

Website platform choice is one of the most significant technology investment decisions affecting small business operators and sadly, impartial advice on the subject is almost impossible to find.

In one corner, website developers wax lyrical about the various attributes of open source platforms like WordPress and Drupal, while in the other, Software-as-a-Service companies like Adobe, Squarespace and Weebly furiously peddle the benefits of their hosted proprietary platforms.

Online forums are littered with often heated debates about the merits of either approach.

But there’s one simple factor that makes the choice a relatively simple one and that’s how unique your functional requirement is.

Functionality uniqueness the key

Quite simply, if you require your website to perform in a way that is relatively uncommon — by offering an unusual freight calculation, for example — it’s likely that you will require a qualified web developer to custom create that functionality for you.

That will mean two things from an investment perspective.

First, you will need to budget for the developer labour that will be required to create and maintain that functionality. Second, you are likely to require an ‘open source’ platform to allow the developer to build on the base platform and the ongoing maintenance costs that entails.

However, if all of your website functionality requirements are relatively straightforward, you will find that a proprietary system that already includes that functionality built in is going to be far more cost effective over time.

Three kinds of savings

The reason for this is threefold. First, because the functionality you require is already provided within your platform, you save significantly on developer labour to either create or install it.

Second, because that functionality is developed ‘in-house’, its less susceptible to security issues that open source systems and their ‘plug-ins’ typically encounter and so you save on what can be costly maintenance.

Third, website platform companies are continually improving their features and functionality at their own expense, simply to stay competitive and keep you from defecting to a competitor.  These improvements are paid for by your monthly or annual fees so typically you don’t pay extra to have them added to your existing platform.

The impact of all three factors on your ongoing costs can be very significant indeed — often as much as tens of thousands of dollars over time.

The amount of that saving will come down to exactly how unique you need your website functionality to be.

Wait and you will receive

Another important thing to remember is that as platform companies get more and more demand to add a new feature or functionality by their customers, they often will develop it at their expense just to keep ahead of, or sometimes catch up with, competitors.

So often it’s just a matter of waiting until the unique but hitherto expensive functionality you need for your website is simply added to your off the shelf platform without any further charge at all.

What this approach also means is that over time, the notion of your required functionality being unique to your requirement diminishes, meaning your need to finance developer labour can be avoided.

Developer labour diminishes

Sadly for them, this form of natural attrition is the enemy of many web developers who rely on development labour to make a living and/or profits. It’s also an occupational hazard of working in a field that is constantly reinventing and superseding itself.

The smarter ones predict this repetitive trend and embrace it by taking a platform or software approach themselves, rather than expose themselves to being replaced by relying on ‘hourly rate’ labour.

But for the smaller business operator, the more functionality that is included ‘out of the box’, the more they will save both upfront and over time.

Typical platform lifespan

Typically, the longer you stay with your existing website platform, the more you will save on having to switch to another, so it makes perfect sense to ensure you have the right platform in the first place.

I’m pleased to say that due to my business policy of being ‘platform agnostic’ we have had customers stick with the one platform for up to 16 years, which is probably some kind of record.

However, this is an exceptionally long time to stay with the same platform. Realistically, if you can go five years without the need to switch platforms you are doing pretty well.

It really comes down to making the correct platform choice in the first place.

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Craig Reardon

Craig has been assisting and educating Australian smaller businesses with their marketing and website requirements since 2002 via his business The E Team.

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