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How to Create an Ecommerce Website in 9 Easy Steps – Quick Sprout

How to Create an Ecommerce Website in 9 Easy Steps – Quick Sprout


How to Create an Ecommerce Website in 9 Easy Steps

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 09:00 AM PDT

We’ve covered the high-level strategy of building an online store that makes real money here.

But how do you create the ecommerce website itself?

In this guide, I’ll cover the 9 steps you need to take to create an ecommerce site in this guide. I’ve broken this guide into four sections:

  1. The Prep Work — These are the things you’ll need to do before you start customizing your actual shop
  2. The Framework — In this section I’ll help you pick the right theme for your online store
  3. The Build — You’ll actually customize and create the ecommerce website in this phase
  4. Get Paid — Connect a payments processor to your store and set the right prices

More specifically, this guide includes:

  • The one and only ecommerce tool we use to build our sites
  • The payment setting that can accidentally reduce your revenue by increasing refunds and chargebacks
  • The biggest myth of pricing and how real ecommerce website owners set their prices
  • What to put on your homepage to convert more customers
  • What an SSL certificate is and why you need one (also how to get one for free)
  • How to create an ecommerce website that’s profitable

You don’t need to finish all four phases in a day, though you could take a rough first draft approach and whip through them in a day, then iterate from there. Your choice! Let’s get building.

The Prep Work: Before You Build Your Ecommerce Website

Before we get into the actual work, I need to make a quick note: I’m going to assume that you’re creating an ecommerce website from scratch.

If you already have an ecommerce store and want to transfer that store to Shopify, we have a detailed guide for that here.

There’s a bit of prep work to do before you start building your Shopify store (or whatever ecommerce software you decide to go with). Don’t skip this stuff — it’s the foundation of your online business and if you get it wrong, your ecommerce business will not succeed.

Step 1: Search for Your Domain

Before going any further, make sure your company name has a good domain you can grab.

I’ve started several stores in the past, had a company name picked out, and then had a terrible time trying to find my domain. Eventually, I went with a completely different name so I had to backtrack and change a bunch of settings, or even recreate my store from scratch.

The whole process goes much smoother if you make sure the domain you want is available from the beginning. Then you won’t have to redo anything.

My go-to resource for checking which domains are available is Namecheap, which is our pick for best domain registrar. A domain registrar is just a fancy name for a company that registers domains on your behalf.

Not only is Namecheap our favorite domain registrar, they also have a wicked fast domain search. Even when I’m not planning on buying a domain, I always use them to search for available domains.

Ecommerce Site - Namecheap Domain Searchquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Namecheap_Domain_Search-300×128.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Namecheap_Domain_Search-768×329.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px” />

Don’t Buy Your Domain Name Yet

Why? Shopify has the option of buying your domain for you. If you use Shopify to buy your domain, they’ll also configure the entire domain. There’s nothing you need to configure or set up, it’s super easy.

I use Namecheap as our domain registrar and to manage all our domains. I believe it’s the best out there. It makes sense for us because we have a ton of sites and domains that we manage. Once you’re managing dozens of domains, keeping them all in one location helps a lot. It’s easier to keep them from expiring, update their settings, and sell them if you want.

But if you only plan on having a couple of domains for your ecommerce site, buying them through Shopify is the easiest option. So hold off on buying for now and just check to make sure your domain isn’t taken.

Step 2: Start Your Shopify Free Trial

Now that you’ve made sure that you won’t have any trouble grabbing the domain for your company, head over to Shopify and start your 14-day free trial.

Why Shopify? Aren’t there other ecommerce site builders?

Yes, there are other ecommerce software options. To be honest, none of them compare to Shopify, it’s not even close.

Years ago, ecommerce sites used to be fairly difficult to manage and build. Then Shopify entered the category and completely changed the game. And in the last few years, they’ve added lots of advanced functionality so they’ll easily scale with you no matter how big your site gets.

Shopify completely outshines the competition in ease of use, feature depth, ability to scale, and price.

Whenever I build an ecommerce site these days, I immediately go to Shopify. I don’t give a second thought to any of the other options out there.

There’s no credit card required so you can get a good feel for how Shopify works without any risk on your end. The 14 days are also perfect for getting your site built. I recommend setting a goal to get your store live by the end of the trial period. Then you’ll be making money as soon as you start paying for Shopify.

The trial will ask you a few questions about your company name, your address, and other standard details.

Step 3: Get Your Domain

With your Shopify store created, it’s time to grab that domain you spotted earlier. The easiest option is to buy your domain within Shopify.

In Shopify, you’ll find a domains section that allows you to search for a domain.

Ecommerce Site - Shopify Buy Domainquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Shopify_Buy_Domain-300×196.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Shopify_Buy_Domain-768×501.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px” />

Shopify sells .com domains for $14 per year. This is slightly higher than average. Most domain registrars will sell an available domain for $10 per year. If you’re creating your store from scratch and haven’t purchased your domain yet, I wouldn’t worry about trying to save $4 per year. Purchasing your domain directly from Shopify will save you the several extra steps you’d have to take to point your domain from your registrar to Shopify.

I also recommend that you purchase the .org and .net versions of your company name. So you should have three domains in total:

  1. company.com
  2. company.net
  3. company.org

What if you want to manage your domains outside of Shopify? In that case, choose a domain registrar like Namecheap and buy the domain there.

Once you have your domain, you’ll need to configure a few domain settings to point the domain to Shopify. You’ll find detailed instructions on how to do this here.

If you’re pointing your domain to Shopify, do this as soon as possible. It can take a few hours for domain settings to go into effect so you’ll want to make the changes and confirm everything is working before you’re ready to launch your store.

The Framework: Use Shopify Themes to Create Your Ecommerce Website

Step 4: Choose Your Theme

Your Shopify theme determines how your store will look. It’s also how ecommerce stores are able to brand themselves using their site. You can also change the look and feel of your site without having to transfer off Shopify itself, simply by changing the theme.

There are three ways to get your theme in place:

Free Shopify Theme

Shopify has plenty of great-looking themes that are also completely free. They’ve gotten so good over the years that it’s often difficult to tell what’s a free theme and what’s paid.

Paid Shopify Theme

Shopify also has plenty of paid themes in its marketplace. Most of them sell for $180. They offer a more polished site and extra features than the free themes.

Custom Shopify Theme

Yes, it is possible to get a theme built from scratch. If you go this route, an ecommerce marketing agency can build your site however you want. It can be completely customized to match your brand.

The costs for a custom theme will vary widely. It depends a lot on how big of a business you have and your requirements. Pricing will range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars for an enterprise ecommerce site.

My Recommendation: Create Your Ecommerce Website with a Standard Shopify Theme

Unless you already have a thriving business, it’s best to use one of the standard Shopify themes. This gives you the ability to get started without having to spend much money. Then once your business has taken off and you have a good idea for how to evolve your site and brand, you can consider a customer Shopify theme.

When we look for themes, we go to the Shopify theme store and rank all themes by popularity.

Then we start at the top and scroll down until we find a few that could work.

Ideally, you’ll find one that has a good “feel” for the type of customers your store will target. If you’re targeting men that spend time outdoors, a more rugged feel is ideal. If you’re selling luxury products, a polished and refined feel would be better. Don’t worry about getting this perfect — you only need a theme that’s “good enough” at this stage.

We typically don’t worry about the free versus paid Shopify themes. We’re more focused on finding the theme that’s a good fit. If it happens to be free, even better. If it costs us $180, we consider that a small cost and don’t hesitate to purchase the theme. If you’re watching every dollar and would prefer to stick to a free theme, you’ll still find plenty to choose from.

Once you’ve found the theme you want, get it installed on your Shopify store. That’ll make the next few steps a lot easier.

The Build: How to Create an Ecommmerce Site that’s Unique

Step 5: Create Product Pages

This is where you’ll want to spend the most time.

Product pages have a huge impact on how many of your website visitors end up converting to customers. And it’s one of the key parts of the business that you control. You can’t always control traffic. You can’t always control your suppliers. But you can control how much effort you put into making your product pages really high quality.

Let’s go through the key parts of a product page and how to make them amazing.

How to Pick the Right Product Name

Great product names have a huge impact on product sales. Just think of the legendary infomercial products like the Shamwow, Thighmaster, or OxiClean. Legendary product names are distinctive, instantly communicate the product benefit, and are easy to remember.

I’ve named my share of products and all I have to say is that this is a lot harder than it looks.

When I tried to name my first few products, it was really easy to fall into the trap of making the name too cute. There’s a fine line between a legendary name that resonates with your market and a cute name that everyone ignores.

This is why it’s generally better to focus on names that are clear instead of trying to be too creative. Until you have a lot of naming experience, it’s really easy to pick a name that falls flat.

A clear and boring name for a great product will still generate tons of revenue. A cute name will destroy it. So focus on clear names that your market will instantly understand.

How to Write a Product Description that Sells

This is your one to two paragraph pitch for the product. Really spend time on this copy.

Here’s a good structure to use in a standard product description:

  1. One or two sentences describing the problem that your product solves
  2. One or two sentences painting the dream of what it will be like when the product is solved
  3. Two to three sentences explaining how your product achieves that dream and the specific features that help accomplish that goal

This is a very common copywriting script that’s used for a lot of products, particularly any product that solves a distinct problem.

That said, not all products solve problems. Apparel is a great example. If I buy a trendy shirt, what problem am I trying to solve? None really. Instead, my purchase is aspirational. I’m aspiring to feel more confident, refine my identity, and change my look. In this case, it’s less about the product description itself and more about how the shirt looks and makes me feel. The product photos end up carrying more weight than the product description itself.

In other words, if the product description template above doesn’t work for your product because it doesn’t solve a distinct problem, don’t try to force it. Instead, use the photos to paint the dream your customers have the best you can.

How to Shoot Professional Product Photos

Photography standards have gotten super high these days. Everyone has an amazing camera on their smartphone and great photography has become super prevalent with Instagram, so ecommerce websites have to take their product photos really seriously.

Don’t skimp here.

Set up a small area to take high quality photos for your products and use the highest quality camera that you can get your hands on. Also make sure to take photos from multiple angles. If possible, you should also take a few photos of the product in action. If you’re selling bed sheets, take a photo of the sheets on a real bed. If you’re selling hiking shoes, take a photo of somewhere wearing them on a hiking trail.

Use your photos to paint the dream as best you can.

Step 6: Create Your Company Pages

After your product pages are done, there are a few more pages you’ll need to create.

Build a Simple Homepage with a Few Popular Products

The simplest and most effective way to approach your homepage on an ecommerce website is to feature your most popular products.

Take your most popular product of all time and include a giant photo of it along with a call to action to its product page above the fold. Then include the next 3–5 most popular products on the rest of the homepage. This ensures that new site visitors are exposed to your best products immediately, increasing the percentage of people who purchase.

Every six months or so, check your product popularity and rotate products as necessary.

Large ecommerce websites rotate their featured products at a much faster pace. As they should! They have a lot more customers and a product catalog that’s constantly changing. As you get larger yourself, you’ll also want to increase the pace that you change your homepage. Start doing quarterly changes, then monthly, then weekly, and so on.

Write a Compelling About Us Page

A lot of visitors will go to your about page to figure out who you are and what you’re doing. This is a perfect opportunity to tell your story and inspire your customers to join you on your mission.

Here are some questions and topics that you’ll want to cover on your about page:

  1. If there was a particular moment that changed your life and set you on your path to create this business, tell that story.
  2. Include any values or principles you use to build or select your products.
  3. If there’s a goal or milestone that you’re trying to achieve, share it.
  4. If you’re committed to living a certain lifestyle, paint that dream.
  5. Clearly define the type of person you’re offering products for.

Be authentic and write your copy as clearly as possible. The more that you can make this page resonate with your target market, the better.

Add a Contact Page

This page is nice and easy. Keep it simple: include your phone number, address, and a contact form for people to reach out.

The most important thing is to make sure that the contact form goes to an email address that’s actively being monitored. If you’re the only person working on your website, have it go to your email at that domain. For example, if I had a site called Sprout Candles, I’d create an email for lars@sproutcandles.com and have my contact form send messages there. That way I can respond to any customer requests really fast.

Once you gain traction, one of the first areas of the business that you’ll want help on will be customer support. Lots of ecommerce websites hire folks part-time or for a few hours each day to go through all the customer messages for the day. At that point, send your contact form to a generic support email that can easily be managed by anyone on your team. If I reached that point with my hypothetical business, I’d change the email to support@sproutcandles.com.

An easy and low-cost way to get a phone set up for your business is Grasshopper. They give you a public phone number that can route to any phone number of your choosing. In the early days, you’ll have it redirect straight to your cell phone. That lets you respond to any phone calls directly without having to post your personal phone number publicly.

Get Paid: Connect Payments and Set Prices in Your Ecommerce Site

Selling stuff — and getting paid — is the whole point of creating an ecommerce website. Otherwise it’d be a blog or a personal webpage, or even a hobby site. No matter how many hours of work you’re pouring into your website, if you’re not making sales and getting paid, your store isn’t a business; it’s an expensive hobby. This section is all about linking your payment processor and setting prices.

Step 7: Set Up Your Payments

One of the best parts of building your site on Shopify is how easy it is to set up payments. Shopify does just about everything for you — all you need to do is configure a few settings and tell Shopify when to send your money. It’s really that easy.

Those payment settings are under the Settings section in your Shopify account.

Go ahead and set up Shopify Payments:

Ecommcer Website - Payment Providersquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommcer_Website_-_Payment_Providers-300×137.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommcer_Website_-_Payment_Providers-768×349.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px” />

Most of the info that’s required is pretty standard. It includes basic business info, some personal info, and your bank account so Shopify can transfer money to you.

There is one setting that you should pay close attention to for your payments: your customer billing statement.

Ecommerce Site - Billing Statementquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Billing_Statement-300×160.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Billing_Statement-768×409.png 768w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Site_-_Billing_Statement.png 1244w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px” />

Have you ever looked through your credit card statement, seen a charge, and thought to yourself, “What was that for? Did I get charged for something I didn’t buy?”

It happens to us all. With the number of online purchases we make these days, it’s easy to forget what we bought.

As an ecommerce store owner, the last thing you want is for your customers to get confused when they see your billing info on their card statements. If there’s any doubt or confusion, your refund and chargebacks will go up. The best way to avoid this is to make it as clear as possible which store the charge came from. Use the primary name your customers will recognize from your site. This will save you money and frustration later.

Also, we do recommend setting up PayPal on your site as well. Some customers prefer using PayPal since they don’t have to enter their credit card info all the time. Especially on mobile, it’s a lot easier to pay.

If you don’t have a PayPal account for your business already, they’re super easy to create. The only charge is the small percentage of each sale that PayPal will keep, which is standard across the industry. Go through the PayPal settings in Shopify and get it connected to your store and a PayPal option will appear in your checkout.

Now that you can accept payments — how do you know you’re charging the right amounts?

How to Set the Right Product Prices

The biggest myth about pricing is how businesses set prices.

As consumers, we always assume that a business figures out how much something costs, adds a fair percentage to make some profit, and that’s how we get the final price.

In reality, it never works like that.

Consumers are willing to pay certain prices and if that price has a good margin, there’s a business. If there isn’t a good margin, the business model changes or there aren’t any good businesses in that category.

Mobile apps are the best example of this. Regardless of what it costs to develop an app, people are only willing to pay about $5 for it. The app could do incredible things and literally change lives but it doesn’t matter, the ceiling is about $5.

So how do consumers figure out what they’re willing to pay?

Price comparisons. As consumers, we only understand relative pricing. When we try to evaluate if a price is fair, we find the nearest comparison and judge based on that.

“After all, as bargain hunters know, comparison shopping is a cinch online. The result is that merchants are leery of raising prices. The ease of entering the marketplace, regardless of location, further ratchets up the competition. At the same time, internet retailers can often operate at a lower cost than their brick-and-mortar competitors.” — E-Commerce Might Help Solve the Mystery of Low Inflation, The New York Times

Why is it possible to only charge $5 for a mobile app? All the other apps are about $5.

Why is it okay to charge $5 for a latte? Starbucks charges about $5.

If you try to sell me a t-shirt, I’ll instantly compare your price to the standards I’ve come to know. Cheap, plain t-shirts are about $5, nicer t-shirts about $20, and luxury fashion brand t-shirts $70–100. Depending on what kind of apparel company you have, I’ll compare to those benchmarks.

But if there’s a felt-need and reasonable price point, I’ll buy. This is one of the key factors to ecommerce success.

The bottom line is that every business needs to factor in the comparative pricing. Yes, you can stretch it a bit if you’re delivering more value. For example, some mobile apps charge $10 and make it work. But there are limits.

Find the best comparison price to your product, nudge the price up or down depending on your value, then set your price.

And as a ecommerce website owner, it’ll be up to you to decide if your business works at that price.

Step 8: Get Your SSL Certificate

SSL Certificates allow you to say that your site is extra secure. They’ve been around awhile and have become standard for any site that handles private information like email addresses and payment information.

In the last few years, Google has made SSL certificates more prominent in its Chrome Browser. Here’s what a site looks like with an SSL certificate:

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Here’s what one looks like without it:

HTTP URLquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/HTTP_URL-300×44.png 300w” sizes=”(max-width: 468px) 100vw, 468px” />

There’s a very clear trend that sites with SSL certificates are being highlighted while sites without them are getting subtle warnings. While SSL certificates used to a “nice-to-have” feature, these days they’re considered a requirement for any ecommerce site.

The last thing any ecommerce site owner wants is to make a customer hesitate because there isn’t an SSL certificate on the site.

We strongly recommend that you set up your SSL certificate when you create your site.

The best part?

Shopify gives you a free SSL certificate for your store. That’s right, it’s 100% included with your store.

Something to keep in mind for later on: there are different levels and types of SSL certificates. When getting a free SSL certificate, you’ll only get the basic options. More advanced SSL certificates come with extra monitoring, insurance, and extra security. Prices range from $150 to $2,000 per year depending on the exact package.

The only folks that should worry about the more advanced SSL certificate options are those that handle credit cards themselves (you’re not; Shopify is doing it for you) or run very large enterprise sites.

In other words, the free SSL certificate from Shopify is more than enough right now. If your ecommerce site gets super large, you can look at the other SSL certificate options later.

After you get your domain purchased or connected in Shopify, you’ll find an option to add an SSL certificate in your Domains area.

Step 9: Launch Your Store

The big day has arrived!

Everything is in place and now it’s time to launch your store.

Shopify stores are password protected by default, so no one has been able to see your store until now. If anyone tried to visit your store until this point, this is what they saw:

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As soon as you remove the password protection, people will go straight to your real store without needing to enter a password.

Before Shopify will let you launch your store, they require you start one of its paid plans. You’ll still get full credit for your trial; the billing period won’t begin until after the trial ends. But you do need to get your paid account set up before you can open your store.

If you haven’t picked a paid plan yet, go ahead and do that now.

Then go into your store settings and look for the password section:

Ecommerce Website - Shopify Passwordquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Website_-_Shopify_Password-300×138.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Ecommerce_Website_-_Shopify_Password-768×353.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px” />

All you have to do is uncheck the “Enable password” box, save the settings, and your store will launch.

Congrats!

From here, it’s all about growing traffic to your ecommerce website, improving your products, and finding new products to offer. The better you get, the larger your business will become.

Bonus Step: Add A Custom Search

A custom search helps your users find the product they want as quickly as possible. WordPress comes with its own search but the problem is it is very limited – especially if you have a large, complex e-commerce website.

A good custom search will provide multiple filters so your users can narrow down the search until they find what they are looking for. For example, if you are selling homes you might have filters for the number of bedrooms, the price, the location, size and many other features. 

There are other search add-ons you might need such as AJAX updates so you can get new results on-the-fly and pagination which splits your results into pages.

Not only is the search itself important but also the way you display your results as well. You might want to present your results as a list, a grid or even on a map.

Toolset Search is a great option to build your search and customize your results as you do not need PHP coding. Experienced developers will save time building a search while novices will be able to add an important e-commerce feature they didn’t think they were capable of creating. Toolset also offers a Custom Types Training Course which will teach you how to create your search as well as other important features for e-commerce websites.

The Best Ecommerce Website Builder

Posted: 18 Sep 2019 09:00 AM PDT

Our content is reader-supported, which means if you click on one of our links to a recommended ecommerce website builder, we may earn a commission.

Want to jump straight to the answer? — The best website builder for ecommerce for most of us, is Shopify.

Launching an online store and trying to decide among the best ecommerce website builders, but don’t know which one’s right for you? They all seem to promise the same things: gorgeous templates, robust analytics, effortless inventory management, wonderful customer support.

I’ve got you covered. I took a look at all of the options to find the best website builder for creating an online store.

In my research, I paid attention to the following criteria:

  • Functionality — The major difference between an ecommerce site builder and a “normal” website builder is you’re going to be running your business off this platform. It needs to accept payments instantly and securely. It needs to have a useful dashboard to monitor traffic, sales, and inventory. It needs to keep have a cart the makes buying easy, and a system for calculating shipping.
  • Ease of use — There should be an easy way to add and remove products, an easy way to see your analytics, and an intuitive sales dashboard that can serve as your home base.
  • Design — The templates should look good out of the box and be easy to customize without expert (read: $$) help; and the designs should be pretty hard to mess it up or make worse.
  • Customer support — When things get tricky, you don’t want to feel like you’re going it alone.
  • Marketing — The pages should be SEO optimized, and the template should work work with your social channels and easily to connect paid ad channels.
  • Add ons — Since almost no system will have everything for everyone out of the box, I made sure the website builder had a way to accommodate additional needs.
  • Pricing — Sure, I get that an all-in-one solution like an ecommerce website builder will be more expensive than a DIY option, but we don’t want to pay through the nose, and we want what we get to be worth it. This includes the terms for payment processing. This is the last bullet on the list for a reason though: saving a penny here isn’t worth losing out on a dollar later on.

Which online store builder should I use?

The short answer: You should probably go with Shopify, especially if you plan to do more than $5,000/month in sales. It’s the industry leader for a reason. It has the level of in-depth analytics, inventory management, POS, shipping options, and every other ecommerce feature that you need (and that you really need at the $5,000+ level. If you’re not thinking that big, it’s time to get started.

New digitally-native and niche brands are the future of retail. — “Small Is The New Big,” Forbes

If you’re running more of a professional portfolio with some sales or subscription offerings, then hen you should check out Squarespace. Price wise, they’re basically the same. Squarespace wins for design; Shopify wins for ecommerce features.

The other online store builder worth recommending is Wix, which has a pretty cool AI-builder that’ll turn your social media into a website with a coordinating color palette and pre-populated photos. If you run a bookings-based business, or a music business, then there are features in the Wix stores that are definitely worth checking out. It’s also one of the cheapest options, though if you’re picking your ecommerce platform by price alone, we need to have a side conversation about how you need to get your head in the game. There are some flaws I discuss further down in the in-depth reviews you should take into account — and see if they’re dealbreakers for you during your free-trial period.

Side note: No matter which website builder you pick, you should use the free-trial period as a test run. What features are missing and can you live without them? What’s it like to actually run your business from that platform?

I also reviewed WooCommerce which is an open-source, subscription-free way to sell things through your WordPress store. If you’re running a content site, I wholeheartedly recommend building your site with WordPress; it just wins in the content management space. Simple as that.

Finally, Weebly, which was recently acquired by payments processor Square, is fine, but not impressive. The standards set by Shopify, Squarespace and the other contenders are just too high for Weebly to hit them. I’ll keep an eye out though.

The top 5 ecommerce website builders compared

Shopify

  • Best ecommerce platform for most businesses
  • Drag-and-drop store builder
  • 70 themes: 10 free + 60 paid
  • Competitive pricing

Shopify is my favorite ecommerce software — and the one I recommend to just about everyone. It’s the leader in the industry and rightfully so. The most important ecommerce features are ready to go without any customization, and Shopify makes it easy to customize anything else with its super robust app store. If you run into any issues, there’s 24/7 support.

The worst thing about Shopify is the price point — and it’s generally competitive. The subscription, which starts at $29/month is right in line with what you’d pay with any hosted option, and so are the payment processing fees, which start at 2.9% + 30¢ credit card rates and only get better from there. I just don’t like the 2% additional fee for non-Shopify payment processors. I get that Shopify wants you to stay in the Shopify ecosystem, but offering multiple payment options is better for customers and one of our 8 quick wins for ecommerce sites.

Shopify ecommerce websites previewquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-ecommerce-websites-preview-300×175.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-ecommerce-websites-preview-768×447.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

Pros

  • Robust app store
  • Clean, modern themes
  • Intuitive product pages
  • Easy-to-use drag-and-drop store builder
  • Competitive payment processing rates
  • Safety and security
  • Speed
  • Can create landing pages
  • Optimized for SEO
  • 24/7 Support

Cons

  • Additional fee for payments from non-Shopify payment processors, like PayPal for example
  • Blog feature is minimal — it’s technically there, but it’s not enough to run a content site on
  • Majority of the apps in the Shopify app store aren’t free, so you could also increase your monthly spend there
  • Liquid set up, not PHP
  • Lock-in feature — it can be challenging to move your store away from Shopify. It’ll export as a CSV file, but it’ll be time-consuming to rebuild where you go next

Shopify pricing

It’s competitive, but like I said charges an kind of annoying fee for external payment processors. All in all, I think the price is worth it.

  • $29/mo for Basic Shopify — 2.9% + 30¢ credit card rates + 2% for non-Shopify payment processors
  • $79/mo for Shopify — 2.6% + 30¢ + 1% for non-Shopify payment processors
  • $299/mo for Advanced Shopify  — 2.4% + 30¢ + 0.5% for non-Shopify payment processors
The difference between these packages:
  • Increase in number of staff accounts: 2, 5, 15
  • Unlock gift cards, reporting, and advanced reporting
  • Unlock third-party shipping calculations
  • Better rates on shipping and payment processing as you increase in the plans

Shopify themes

When choosing a theme, I suggest skipping filtering by price point. None of the themes on Shopify are going to break the bank — the most expensive themes are $180. If a theme has what you want, that’s the theme for you. Go to the all themes and ask yourself a few questions.

Shopify ecommerce themesquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-ecommerce-themes-300×232.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-ecommerce-themes-768×593.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

The first question is the most important:

  • How many products are you selling? Just one? A few? A lot? If you are selling one item your site will be very different than another online store that’s selling hundreds. In fact, set this filter and see if that’s enough to bring the templates down to a reasonable number.

If the number is still large, then you can filter even further:

  • Do you need a size chart?
  • What social media do you want integrated? Instagram? Twitter? Pop-up email form?
  • Would you like a “related products” feature?
  • Do you need video capabilities?
  • What layout and menu option will be easiest for your user to navigate?
  • What’s your store’s style? What’s your business like? Which theme reflects your business and creates the feeling or idea in your customer that you’re looking for? If you don’t have a clue where to start with this question, I recommend filtering by Industry. You’ll get a sense of the types of designs Shopify considers in line with most businesses like yours.
  • How are you going to tell your brand story? Is it in video? Writing? Photos? Are you running a crowdfunding campaign and the goal tracker is part of that story?

Find one you think you like? Check the theme reviews.

Shopify theme reviews positivequicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-theme-reviews-positive-300×145.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-theme-reviews-positive-768×371.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />
If other people have this theme and are frustrated, that’s a little peek into the future for you too.

Shopify theme reviews negativequicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-theme-reviews-negative-300×150.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-theme-reviews-negative-768×383.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />
Back away from themes with frustrated customers who haven’t had good luck with customer service.

Take a look at the demo sites both mobile and desktop versions. Then take a look at the actual stores using the theme. Are these in line with what you want to make?

If everything checks out, choose your theme. Don’t worry — you don’t have to buy it now. You’ll pay for it later, after you have a chance to test it out. Do check out the different versions of the theme — these will control the overall look and feel of your site, and you’ll want to decide which one you like best at this point. It can be hard to tell which one is best when you have only template content to look at.

I went through this process with a hypothetical business that sells one, and found a theme I like for this business. I chose the Showcase theme because I like the full-page photography. I picked the theme, answered a few questions from Shopify and then got to my dashboard.

Welcome to Shopify ecommerce website platformquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Welcome-to-Shopify-ecommerce-website-builder–300×168.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Welcome-to-Shopify-ecommerce-website-builder–768×431.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />
From here, I can add merchandise, or I can customize my theme. I’ll do a little bit of both, of course.

Shopify add first product online store backend 2quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-add-first-product-online-store-backend-2-300×206.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-add-first-product-online-store-backend-2-768×526.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

Key changes to make:
  • Change the font — this ensures your store will look different than other stores, even stores with the same theme
  • Layout, content blocks — you’ll drag and drop these in the menu on the left side and the preview will update to the right
  • Attach your social media feeds
  • Customize the cart experience

Shopify drag-and-drop ecommerce website builder 2quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-drag-and-drop-ecommerce-website-builder-2-300×188.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Shopify-drag-and-drop-ecommerce-website-builder-2-768×480.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

Shopify app store

If there’s anything your theme doesn’t have, like customer reviews, there’s the Shopify app store. Basically the apps are little snippets of code that will add a feature to your Shopify store. It’s like having a dev build something for you, but because Shopify is a huge ecosystem, you don’t have to pay them the real price of custom building you something. They’re going to sell this same code to thousands of other stores. I love this about Shopify. According to the Shopify app store, more than 80% of stores use apps — and I’ll bet if you filtered that number by the number of live, active stores that are really making sales, then the percentage would be really really close to 100%.

Squarespace

  • Stunning templates
  • Professional look
  • Ideal for portfolio sites
  • Has a learning curve

Squarespace has a reputation for beautifully designed templates. That reputation applies to its ecommerce store themes as well. They’re handsome, I must admit it. There are a few things you should know going in: I recommend Squarespace more for professional portfolio sites than true ecommerce stores. It’s just set up for those kinds of stores better.

It’s not a bad idea to run your online store with Squarespace; Shopify is just easier when it comes to managing inventory and customizing every little nuance of your store. The Squarespace builder is a module-based builder. It’s not drag-and-drop — but you can get the hang of it pretty easy. Don’t get frustrated by the “demo” content or “sample” pages. You’ll have to copy the page before you can customize it, a silly step but not one to deter you from getting your work done.
Squarespace ecommerce themesquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Squarespace-ecommerce-themes-300×201.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Squarespace-ecommerce-themes-768×515.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

Pros

  • Gorgeous templates
  • Incredible looking result
  • 24/7 support
  • 15-day free trial

Cons

  • Tabbed interface that’s not super intuitive
  • Design requires high-quality photography (which you should get)
  • Only integrates with Stripe, PayPal, and Apple Pay
  • No app marketplace

Squarespace pricing

  • Basic online store: $26/month billed annually
  • Advanced online store: $40/month billed annually
What’s the difference between these plans?

The Advanced plan includes flexible coupons, subscriptions, abandoned cart auto recovery, gift cards, and advanced shipping. Unless you want one of these features, you’ll be good with the Basic online store. There are also two other plans that aren’t aimed at ecommerce stores — Personal website for $12/month billed annually, and Business website for $18/month billed annually. With the Personal plan you can’t sell anything. With the Business plan you can, but you’ll pay a 3% transaction fee. If you’re doing more than $275 in sales each month, there’s no question between the two plans — you’d be paying in fees the difference in the price without unlocking any of the online store features like inventory, tax, coupons, and shipping labels.

You can also upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time. Unless you know you want one of the Advanced features, I’d start with the Basic online store and go from there.

Squarespace templates

All of them are beautiful. Let’s start there. To find one that fits your store, I’d start by sorting into Online Stores. You’ll see your options are narrowed to 11 templates. Then ask yourself:

  • How many products do I want featured on the homepage?
  • What amazing photography do I have?
  • Do I want to use video backgrounds?
  • Does the quality of my images stand up to the quality of the Squarespace design?
  • Do I have much to say in words? Do I want those words over the top of my images or beside them?
  • What kind of menu do I want?
  • Do I want anything specific: Grid layout? Scrolling features? On-hover effects?

I suggest you preview the theme and notice what it’s like to use the example layout. To be honest, your site is going to be at best like this one, so if there’s anything you don’t like, take note. It’ll likely annoy you even worse in your own store.

Once you find a layout you like, click Start with “Theme Name.” You’ll create an account at this point. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay yet — you have a 15-day free trial to customize the store and make sure it’s what you want.

How to edit your Squarespace storequicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/How-to-edit-your-Squarespace-store-300×170.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/How-to-edit-your-Squarespace-store-768×434.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

To make changes to the pages, you’ll need to make copies of the sample pages. The interface is minimal and soothing, but not very helpful. Just get in a meditative mindset and keep clicking to figure things out. There are a lot of tabbed sections, which I don’t love. But it’s not challenging.

Squarespace drag-and-drop online store builderquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Squarespace-drag-and-drop-online-store-builder-300×157.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Squarespace-drag-and-drop-online-store-builder-768×402.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

I wouldn’t call the builder drag-and-drop — it’s more of a module based style to build and go. You’ll get use to it the more time you spend with the system. Though, I’ve gotta say, if you’re using Squarespace, I suggest you take your cues from the design that’s ready-made. It’s one of the things you’re paying for.

Wix

  • 500 templates
  • Drag-and-drop without limitations
  • Quick-start with the help of an AI designer
  • Unique templates for booking, music, events and restaurants

I really like the way Wix has used AI to automate the design decisions. It’s the exact opposite of the Weebly approach of making you pick a theme based on your first glance. If you already have some web presence — maybe in your Instagram or Facebook — Wix will take the work you’ve already done and create a website to match. You can also start from scratch. That’s one of the things I like most about Wix. It’s pretty much down to help you build your online store the way you want to: with help or without, from scratch or from a template, in the drag-and-drop builder or deep in the code.

Wix online store builderquicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Wix-online-store-builder-300×143.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Wix-online-store-builder-768×366.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

Pros

  • Cheapest website builder in this list
  • Dozens of payment gateways including Square, Stripe, and 2Checkout
  • VIP Priority Callback support option

Cons

  • Limited reporting and analytics
  • No way to automate or integrate tracking numbers
  • Product pages don’t have a sort filter

The biggest drawbacks for Wix are its store features. Some very basic things you’ll want to do if you’re actually shipping products may become very irritating. I’m talking things like attaching tracking numbers to orders or downloading your reports.

If you’re making the choice on which ecommerce website builder to use simply on price, I implore you to stop using that as your methodology. There is a false logic at play. The $6 you’d save by choosing one website builder over the other will not be worth it when you’re wasting time trying to make the software do something it’s simply not built to do. Give the website builder you do select a thorough test run during your trial. This is the software you are using to run your business — don’t let a few bucks stand in the way of getting software that’ll really support you.

Wix pricing

  • Business Basic for $20/month
  • Business Unlimited for $25/month
  • Business VIP for $30/month
What’s the difference between these plans?
  • Storage: 20GB, 35GB, 50GB
  • Video hours: 5 hours, 10 hours, unlimited
  • VIP plan also gets VIP support with Priority Response
  • There are also 4 non-ecommerce plans that won’t allow you to accept payments

If you’re interested in learning how to make a Wix website for your online store, I have a whole tutorial on it, so I won’t repeat myself here.

WordPress with WooCommerce

  • Complete control over your ecommerce site
  • No subscription fees
  • 1 theme, with variations and customizations

WooCommerce is a little bit different than the other ecommerce options we’ve looked at so far. It’s a self-hosted option, which is the more DIY version. A website builder like Shopify is like living in a hotel where everything is already included: there’s a coffee maker and coffee grinds, clean towels, and shampoo. If anything breaks you know you’ll have help. But it’s also more expensive and you have less control and ownership. You can’t take the towels from the hotel home with you, for example. With WooCommerce, you’ll build your own site on WordPress and use the free WooCommerce Storefront theme. It’s not a drag-and-drop website builder, but you can customize the look and feel.

Woocommerce

Pros

  • Free theme
  • Works with WordPress blog
  • Great for content-heavy sites
  • Easy to customize with add-ons

Cons

  • Not a drag-and-drop builder
  • Not an all-in-one solution

WooCommerce pricing

  • Free
  • Common add-ons range from $10–$60 a year

With WooCommerce you can get started for free. You’ll need to buy a domain name and set up web hosting. We have a how-to guide on all those steps here in How to Start a Blog. When you get to Step 6, choose a theme, you’ll choose the WooCommerce Storefront theme. There are a few different “child themes” to choose from — these change the look of the theme the way a new coat of paint changes the look of a room. Some child themes are free; others are $39.

I recommend also checking out the WooCommerce extensions. Most sites will benefit from the customizer bundle. You may also need features like the pricing table, a contact section (yes, you definitely want this), and maybe a hamburger menu. Some extensions are free, others are paid. The price points are reasonable.

Weebly

  • 35 ecommerce themes
  • 348 apps

Weebly was bought by Square in 2018, and though Weebly is run as a separate business, it’s clear to me that Square is attempting to bolster it’s full-service suite of offerings for small businesses — with the cornerstone of that suite being in-person POS systems and payment processing. The drag-and-drop builder is intuitive, but the set-up and guidance isn’t all there for me. For the price point — $4/month less than Shopify — I don’t think it’s worth going with Weebly.
Weebly ecommerce themes 2quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Weebly-ecommerce-themes-2-300×149.png 300w, quicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Weebly-ecommerce-themes-2-768×380.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px” />

Pros

  • Intuitive drag-and-drop builder
  • Includes memberships, forums, support

Cons

  • Not very useful in helping pick a theme
  • No way to sort themes by feature
  • Cluttered page system that’s not good for more than 10 pages
  • You’ll need to manually copy blog posts if you migrate

If you’re launching an online store, you can skip right over the Starter and Pro plans — you’ll be pay a premium of 3% on every transaction and you’ll be limited in a lot of ways. You won’t be able to modify your cart, for example. For the price, I think you’ll get a better store from Shopify’s $29/month plan.

  • Starter $8/month annually
  • Pro $12/month billed annually
  • Business $25/month billed annually
  • Performance $38/month billed annually

What’s the difference between these plans?

  • Weebly transaction fee: 3% on Starter and Pro, 0% on Business and Performance
  • Number of products: 10, 25, unlimited, unlimited
  • Features only available on Business and Performance: Shopping cart, digital goods, product reviews, coupons, inventory manager, shipping calculator, among others

Weebly themes

When you create a store, Weebly will ask what you’re selling and if it’s online or offline, or both. After just two questions, it’ll pop you into a store for you. This seems kind of curt, and it is. When you click customize your store, you’ll be able to choose a new theme. How will you decide? Weebly doesn’t make it easy — there’s a page of themes offered, but you can only sort them by the top-of-the-fold look and feel.

Weebly pricing

The first few options are pretty and white.

Take note of a few things:

  • How large are the photos?
  • Is there a border?
  • Is there text on the photos?
  • Is there a CTA?
  • Where is the menu?
  • How many products are featured in that first view?

Since there’s no filtering, your best hope is to choose one you think looks like your store should look.

It’s pretty intuitive to add products and personalize your store. Keep checking back with the preview and you should do fine.

In sum: How to choose the right ecommerce platform for your online store

For an online store, you can’t go wrong with Shopify. It’s the industry leader, easily one of the best ecommerce website builders, and it’s well worth the price point. I like it a lot — particularly how much you can customize it with the app store. It’s got the analytics you need to run a real ecommerce shop. I also like the designs from Squarespace. They really do make it possible for a total beginner to create a professional looking site.

The other contenders for all-in-one builders are Wix and Weebly. I found them to have limitations, so they’re not my top picks. I did like the Wix AI creator and the features it boasts for booking businesses and other speciality stores, like music or video creators. It’s worth checking out (there’s a free trial period) if one of those things intrigues you. I’ll keep tabs on Weebly. However, right now it doesn’t come close to competing with Shopify and Squarespace.

If you want to run a WordPress site, then look into WooCommerce. You’ll find it is very familiar and has all the things that are great about any WordPress site: nearly limitless customization, great content management, excellent SEO, all subscription-free and open source. Granted, you’ll probably end up spending some on customizations and will need to throw down for your domain name and your web host. But if you’re the type that’s curious about building a self-hosted site, you already knew all that.

The Best Blogging Platforms and Blog Sites of 2019

Posted: 16 Sep 2019 01:45 AM PDT

When it comes to creating your own blog, you have two options: build a website to blog on or use one of the best blogging platforms as your website. Building your own website and blogging on it — this is probably the “traditional” way to build a blog. To do this, you’ll need to use blog software, like WordPress.org, or a website builder, like Wix.

There are pros and cons to these: you’ll need to do a little more work at the outset and you’ll build your own audience from scratch, but you’ll own and control your site completely.

The other option is to use a pre-existing blogging platform, like Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. With a blog platform, you’ll be beholden to the platform’s choices, settings, changes, and algorithms, but you’ll also have access to a built-in audience and you can launch your blog in literal minutes. I’ll refer to these platforms as blog sites, as well.

In this guide, I’ll break down both ways to set up your blog and help you pick which blog site, software, or platform is best for you. Let’s get to it.

How to Choose the Best Blogging Platform for You

To point you in the right direction, I need to ask you two questions: one about money, the other about your blog niche.

Do you plan to make money blogging?

If so, go with WordPress or Wix.

If you’re not trying to make money blogging, use one of the best blog sites instead.

These blog sites are great if you aren’t trying to create an income: They have built-in audiences and you won’t have to pay anything. My recommendation of which one to choose is based on the outcome that you’re trying to achieve — what is your blog like and who do you hope will read it? In other words, what is your blog niche?

  • If you’re in business, blog on LinkedIn.
  • If you’re creative, start your “blog” on Instagram.
  • The best classic blogging site is Medium, which can also serve as a syndication platform.
  • The biggest audience, of course, still lives on Facebook.

If you hadn’t thought about creating your blog on anything other than WordPress or with a website builder, it might be kind of hard to wrap your mind around these blog sites. I’m not saying they’re best for every blog — they’re really not directly monetizable with SEO, for example — but if your audience is already there, why try to get them to move to a website or blog they’ve never heard of. It’s easier for both you and your audience for you to blog on one of those sites.

Pros and Cons of Blogging with WordPress

If you want to make money blogging, go with WordPress. There’s no better option. You’ll own your blog and website and you’ll have true flexibility. There is no argument here. It’s the default content option and runs 30% of the internet for a reason.

There is more set-up that you’ll need to do on your own, like buy a hosting plan, for example. This is the only downside in my mind, but you don’t have to be an expert — we have step-by-step guides on How to Start a Blog and How to Make Money Blogging. (And an entire blogging section with ideas for keeping the momentum going, gaining readers, coming up with blogging ideas and other pro tips.)

Pros and Cons of Creating a Wix Blog

You can also build your blog using Wix. It’s an all-in-one drag-and-drop website builder. It’s an easy option if you’re looking to have your blog on your own site, rather than on a blog platform or service like Medium or another form of social media.

The downside is you’ll be paying a subscription fee and you’ll be locked into Wix’s themes and tools. So, you’ll trade some convenience for some flexibility.

Pros and Cons of a Medium Blog

Medium is the best all-around traditional blogging platform. It’s where the majority of readers who’re looking to read classic blog-style posts are right now.

The downside is built into the choice of picking to create your own blog or build one an a platform — you won’t own the traffic and you won’t be able to do things like sell ad placements, for example.

Deciding to blog on WordPress vs Medium isn’t an either-or choice. You can also publish your site and re-publish some posts on Medium to take advantage of its benefits, just like you would any syndication deal. You can thoughtfully approach this, but there are some technical how-tos we’ll get into below. You’ll need to import your posts to Medium properly and set the canonical tag, so you’re not penalized by Google (at worst) or simply out-ranked by the Medium version of the post (at best). Overall, though, I prefer to see each channel as a separate channel and create and publish unique content for that channel.

Pros and Cons of Blogging on LinkedIn

If you’re blogging about business, or something related, like management, then I’d say to build your blog on LinkedIn. There’s a pre-existing community of people there talking about those topics and ready to read your posts too. You’ll be able to build business followers, which is different than a “connection.”

The audience on LinkedIn is premium: 45% of LinkedIn article readers are in upper-level positions: managers, VPs, Directors, and C-level. If you’re building thought leadership, brand value, or community, rather than trying to make money, I recommend going to where your audience is rather than trying to woo them over to where you are. Build content for them where they already are and they’ll love you for it.

You’ll be able to build your network and your business opportunities, but like all blog platforms, the cons here are that you’re beholden to the algorithm and don’t own the site or the traffic.

Pros and Cons of an Instagram “Blog”

If you’re a creative — especially in a visual field, then your blog should really be an Instagram account. You can post images of your work and use the caption field for your written post. If you’re not used to this idea, it might seem kind of zany: That’s not a real blog. But it is. People read Instagram captions of the accounts they follow like they’d read a blog — and your visual work will be well highlighted in your feed and the general feed. The cons are self-explanatory: you’ll have to follow the Instagram format, and are subjected to the feed’s algorithm. It’s not impossible to monetize your Instagram feed, but you’ll be limited to those that you can feature in an image or caption. All of the monetization opportunities will need to be natively integrated

Pros and Cons of Blogging on Facebook

Of course, Facebook is the juggernaut in the room. It has the largest audience of any of these platforms. Creating a Facebook page might be all you need to build a blog — post on Facebook like you would on your blog and build your audience right there on your page. The comments and interaction on Facebook are even better than a traditional blog. You can really focus on building true fans on Facebook.

The cons of Facebook have really been blasted through the media lately. There are privacy concerns, there’s the issue of an ever-changing and pretty secretive algorithm, and all of that. You probably already have an opinion of Facebook — let that inform your decision here.

There’s another warning due here. If you build your blog on a single platform that you do not own, well, then you’ve built your blog on a single platform you do not own. That means you’re beholden to another person’s business and their algorithm for your business. What’s good for their business and algorithm may not be what’s good for yours. That’s why I say if you’re here to make money, you should own your site. You’ll have more control.

In-Depth Reviews of the Best Blog Sites and Platforms

First, I’ll cover the best ways to build a blog on your own website. I’ll cover WordPress and Wix. If you’re going to use one of the top blog sites and you already know it, you can skip these first two reviews.

Best Blogging Software and Best CMS — WordPress

WordPress is the hands-down king of websites with content. It’s the default choice here for the best blogging platform overall. If you’re building a blog on your own site, that means you’re building with WordPress. (Quick Sprout is on WordPress.)

To build your own site, you’ll need to buy a domain name, get web hosting, and set up your WordPress account. It’s all pretty simple. There’s more information on our post The Best Web Hosting for Small Business and on The Best Web Hosting for WordPress, which is about selecting a managed host that’s designed for WordPress. It’s more expensive but also super premium. If you have the coin, go for it. If you’re budget minded, you can skip it.

Backend of WordPress blog post

You’ll pick a theme, apply it, and honestly you’ll be just about done. We have some recommendations on SEO WordPress plugins you’ll want to add. The backend of WordPress is pretty intuitive, and if you get lost there are so many tutorials out there to help.

Like I said before, the choice between WordPress and Medium isn’t either/or. You can build your own blog and then use Medium selectively as a syndication tool. It’s worth thinking about if you want to grow your audience, but ultimately build your own site.

Ready to build your own site with WordPress? We walk you through how in our posts How to Start a Blog and How to Make Money Blogging.

How to Repost Your Blog on Medium

  1. Make sure your content has a long enough life on your own blog so it is solidified as the primary source in Google’s eyes. Two weeks is enough time.
  2. Use Medium’s Import tool to publish the content. It’s as simple as plugging in your original URL, updating any wonky formatting, and clicking publish. The import tool will automatically set the canonical URL to your original post on your website. It’s very important to have the canonical in there. This applies to any type of syndication: you want to have a canonical in place so Google knows where the original article is located. Otherwise, at worst, you could get penalized; at best, the bigger site will outrank you.

Pro Tips for Syndicating Your Blog on Medium

  • I wouldn’t auto-post all of your content to Medium. It’s weird. Why have a duplicate of your site living on their site? It doesn’t make sense for your readers, or you long term.
  • You should thoughtfully approach each channel. Content on that channel is its own form. What someone wants to read on each platform depends a lot on the platform itself — What is the UX like? Why are they there? What types of interactions does the platform encourage?

Best Website Builder for Blogging — Wix

Wix Blog Templates

I like Wix for blogging because it’s one-and-done. If you want to go the easy route for owning your own blog, this is it. It’s an easy runner up to WordPress for the best blog platform.

The templates are great looking and you can customize them with a drag-and-drop editor. The blog manager is simple and intuitive, and you’ll get analytics and SEO built right in. It’s simple to add the basic features you might want on your blog: social tools, likes, comments, hashtags, categories, and a subscriber forms.

Editing a Wix Blog

All of the SEO features you need are easy to access too: alt tags for your images, internal links, SEO titles and descriptions (that are different from you post title), and nofollow tags for external links. Wix blogs have an automatic email subscribe feature and a social media bar beneath each article for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and more.

To build a blog on Wix, you’ll sign into your account and pick a template. There’s a Blog template category, which is a great place to start. Once you have your template selected, I suggest updating the font, colors, and logo to personalize your template and help it stand out from the rest.

Create a blog post with Wix

Writing a post is as simple as clicking Create a Post, writing and adding images. You can save drafts, or even give other contributors writing privileges for you site. This is all just as easy from a mobile device as from a desktop — no app required.

Make sure that you update your SEO settings for every post: this is what’s presented in the search results page and is critical for ranking in organic search.

The resulting post will have an automatic read-time count, like a Medium post right next to the author’s name, which I also like a lot. I also like the ability to live-chat with your readers in the Wix app. If you build a real community in your blog or are open to answering reader questions in real time — say about an online course you’re offering or a webinar that’s coming up — then it’s a cool feature.

Best Traditional Blogging Site — Medium

It’s hard to pin down how many users Medium has — they focus on sharing how much time is spent on the platform reading instead. I dig it. The platform, was founded by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams as a response to the hyper-short limits of Twitter, hence the name Medium. Medium category pagequicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Medium-category-page-254×300.png 254w” sizes=”(max-width: 737px) 100vw, 737px” />At one point, there was some distinction between even longer blog platforms, but that’s dissipated by now.

In 2017, Medium had 60 million unique visitors. From personal experience, I know that when I read on Medium, I read with curiosity and intent. I’m ready to put in some time reading, and the read times on each article get me to commit to sticking it out for the whole thing.

Posting with Medium is super simple. There’s a clean, very white WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. Basically, as you type, you see what the post will look like when it’s published. There are a lot of tips and tricks to format your post that are a little hidden in the simplicity of the interface.

Don’t stop at this point though. Instead of just a profile, I recommend creating a Medium Publication. This gives you the option to add other writers and editors to your blog. More importantly, it gives you a lot more options for controlling what is essentially your blog homepage.

Take a look below at the difference between Patagonia’s basic Medium profile (top image below) and REI’s Medium publication (bottom image below).

 

Medium blog profile pagequicksprout-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Medium-blog-profile-page-260×300.png 260w” sizes=”(max-width: 761px) 100vw, 761px” />

Above, a consecutive stream of your posts. This is all you’ll get with a Medium profile.
Below, the more magazine-style layout you’ll get with a Medium publication. 

Medium blog publication pageOne is a simple chronological feed and the other is a designed page with useful menu options. When you create a publication like REI has you also unlock the ability to send a newsletter to all of your followers.

Pro Tips for Blogging on Medium

  • If you are syndicating your actual blog, use the Import feature. This is essential for SEO.
  • To start a bulleted list, simply type an asterisk or a dash.
  • There are two types of quotes. Use a block quote by clicking the quote icon once. Click it again for a pull quote.
  • Drop caps add a little editorial weight. To make the first letter of your paragraph larger, and give it that designed look, highlight the letter. The option will appear.
  • Use TK to leave yourself notes. This is an old journalism trick — there are no words with TK in them in the English language. If you’re writing something that needs a placeholder, use TK and Medium will alert you if you try to publish with one still in place.

Publishing on Medium is so effortless. Formatting content and uploading images takes basically zero time. It’s really the best web-based publishing experience I’ve had to date.

— Josh Pigford of Baremetrics

Best Blog Site for Business — LinkedIn

There are 590 million LinkedIn users, 154 million of them in the US. And a lot of them are active: 44% are monthly active users. LinkedIn used to be basically a resume hosting platform. In a lot of ways it was like a job-hunting dating app: you’d go on if you were looking to hire or looking to get hired but not much else. In the last few years that has changed dramatically.

Publishing blog on LinkedIn

If you’re building a business blog, the audience on LinkedIn is premium: 45% of LinkedIn article readers are in upper-level positions (managers, VPs, Directors, C-level).

In an article for Forbes, “Is LinkedIn Poised To Be The Next Big Social Network … For Brands?”, Ryan Holmes nailed what’s great about the platform, “Hardcore LinkedIn users know that there’s a certain warm professionalism that underlies many exchanges on the platform. In short, LinkedIn offers a kind of stability, civility and real value that’s sorely needed on some social platforms.” I completely concur. The platform has a ready made culture and set of expectations that a business blogger would dream of creating on their own site. Why build it when it already exists?

LinkedIn is a social network. Your influence grows in proportion to the size of your network. The more posts you publish, the more connection requests and followers you’ll attract. Writing consistently not only expands your network, it also reinforces the message about the depth and breadth of your knowledge of the subjects that you write about.

— Glenn Leibowitz, “10 Tips for Writing LinkedIn Blog Posts That Expand Your Influence” for Inc.

Publishing doesn’t make you a LinkedIn Influencer, unfortunately. That’s a hand-selected group of people that rotates throughout the year “to include only the most engaged, prolific, and thoughtful contributors and to ensure that their expertise matches our members’ interests,” according to LinkedIn.

An article isn’t a post and vice versa. A post is a smaller update you’d share with your feed and connections. Think quick anecdote or pro tip. They’re limited to 1,300 characters, which is about 5 lines. Articles are longer and more in-depth. They’re something that the broader LinkedIn audience would be interested in reading. A person who reads your article can also follow you from there, so they’ll be alerted when you publish your next article. Any articles you publish will appear in the Articles section of your LinkedIn profile.

Pro Tips for Blogging on LinkedIn

  • Be clear about who you are and what you’ll be talking about it. Stick to that topic and don’t stray. And post regularly. Even posting once or twice a month — consistently over time — will add up. Twice a month is 48 times a year. In five years, you’ll have nearly 250 posts. That’s huge.
  • You can share a draft with a colleague or friend for feedback.
  • Use the stats related to your posts as a tool: create more of what’s working, less of what’s not.

Want to improve? Check out LinkedIn’s own course on getting better at blogging on the platform, Writing to be Heard on LinkedIn. Because when they own the platform, what’s good for them is successful content that people want to read and engage with!

Best Blog Site for Creatives — Instagram

Instagram is primarily visual — the feed is all the images or videos, and very little of the captions. You can use the caption field for your text, and users like a long caption. You’ll be capped at 2,200 characters or about 300 words.

Instagram is perfect if what you’re sharing is visual: a lifestyle, art, dance. Or if there’s some way to share it visually like in a how to mini-video.

In fact, in a lot of ways, Instagram has killed the entire genre of lifestyle blogging.

It’s become a lot harder for upstart “bloggers” in the crowded yet lucrative fashion, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle spaces to build a following centered around their own blog. At the same time, social media platforms have given influencers more and more tools—including e-commerce, groups, and direct messaging—to keep them (and their followers) from going elsewhere online.

— Rosie Spinks, “Instagram Has Killed the Art of Lifestyle Blogging” on Quartzy

Instagram is so good now that it’s hard to want to go anywhere else. The downside is definitely that you’re beholden to the algorithm and the feed, and the changes the platform makes. On the flip side, you also don’t have to be the product manager, hire a developer, or build an audience from scratch. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons yourself!

You can also host vlogs on Instagram Live — simply tap the camera icon (top left of the screen, or by swiping right from the Feed) and tap Live at the bottom. When you’re ready to actually go live, it’s as simple as tapping Go Live. You’ll be able to see the number of viewers you have at the top of the screen and comments will pop in at the bottom. When you’re done, tap End. From here, I recommend tapping Save to save it to your camera roll, and tapping Share to add it to your story. It’ll live there for 24 hours to be replayed by anyone who wasn’t around when it was actually live.

Pro Tips for Instagram Blogs

  • Pick a good name that’s catchy and easy to type — your name should make it clear what your whole feed is about.
  • Stick to a niche.
  • Have a visual point of view.
  • Don’t stray. If you’re an artist, don’t post pictures of your salad for lunch. If you’re a food blogger, think twice before you post photos of your doodles.
  • Post regularly! And engage.

You can only have one link in your profile, but with something like Linktree, you can add more links. I don’t think it’s a great idea to build a blog somewhere hoping to get your readers or followers to move from there to somewhere else on the regular. It’s feasible to get your Instagram followers to also subscribe to your newsletter, but it’s not really logical to hope they’ll leave Instagram after ever post and go read your blog. They’re scrolling through Instagram, not trying to read your website.

Think about your own behavior here — how much momentum does it take to get you to follow a link that leads away from the platform you’re in? For me, it takes a lot of work. There has to be something I really want to buy, or really, really want to read.

It’s more likely that I’ll follow someone on Instagram for a while and then one day I’ll buy something from that person, or follow them somewhere else. Instagram, and all blogging really, is about creating a relationship with the people who’re reading your posts. Once that relationship is strong enough, then people will be interested in going wherever you’re taking them. Until then, you’ll need to deliver on that relationship within the platform itself.

Biggest Blog Audience — Facebook

I mean, what’s 1.49 billion daily active users to you? It’s a huge number, and one that’s worth noting. How many of those active users will make it to your page or your post, now that’s another question.

Organic reach on Facebook was once not such a wild aspiration, but in 2016 there was a huge decrease in organic reach. SocialFlow found that brands saw a 42% decline in organic reach over Q1 and Q2 2016.

The easiest way to build a blog on Facebook is to create a group or a page for your business or brand. From there, your posts will literally be Facebook posts.

To make it easier to post and handle all your interactions in one spot, I recommend using the Facebook Creator Studio. It’s an all-in-one dashboard for publishing and analyzing your content. If you’re new to Facebook and are really using it as a classic blog platform, you’ll want to create Notes. These are the closest things to blogs: a header image, a title, and text down the middle.

From here you can also go live, post videos, gifs, polls, recommendations — any type of Facebook post you’ve seen you can create from this dashboard. You can even save, schedule, and backdate posts.

Recap of the Best Blog Sites and Blog Platforms for 2019

Best Blog Software and Best CMS — WordPress
I’d recommend going this route to anyone serious about building a blog that makes money. You’ll build and own your own site with complete control. (If you’re a beginner, this is still very doable for you.)

Best Website Builder for Blogging — Wix
If you want to have to your own site, but don’t want to build it, then I’d recommend you go with a website builder. It’s a drag-and-drop editor that’ll get you up and running quickly, and you’ll still be building your blog on your own website, not on someone else’s platform.

Best Traditional Blogging Platform — Medium
If you’re not creating your own site and your blog is a classic blog — long form posts about a topic that’s meaningful to you — I like Medium. It has a built-in audience that’s interested in reading and an interface that’s seamless.

Best Blog Site for Business — LinkedIn
Blogging about business or hoping to be a thought-leader in a certain industry? You could go with Medium, but a more rabid and useful audience might be waiting for you on LinkedIn. I know, it might not seem like a blogging platform, but LinkedIn users are really engaged and content hungry.

Best Blogging Site for Creatives — Instagram
If you’re doing anything with images, art, creativity, or lifestyle, you’ll probably find your audience on Instagram. There are already so many people there and it’s easy for new followers to discover you through hashtags, comments, and the other people you and they are following.

Largest Audience — Facebook
Lastly, the biggest audience is on Facebook. There are millions of people there, and though organic reach on the platform isn’t what it once was, it’s still a massive platform. It’s also a great spot for building a community page element to your blog.

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Like!! Thank you for publishing this awesome article.

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