State of Self-Serve Website Building in 2020

State of Self-Serve Website Building in 2020

While building our simple new website, we evaluated many website builder options, and realized how much the landscape has changed for self-serve business website design and hosting. In this post, we'll review three most practical DIY approaches, suitable for a simple static website up-to a full Content Management System (CMS).

Back in the day, small-businesses would hire a designer and a web developer to get their website custom made. Then came WordPress, and it changed self-serve website content management forever. However, over the years WordPress has become bloated with features and plugins, resulting in a slow browsing experience and software security issues.

Having a fast website is the number one success factor for any small-business digital strategy. A fast website makes website visitors less anxious, improves their engagement, results in more sales, and improves search engine rankings.

In the past few years, the web development community is understandably shifting to static hosting, which basically involves delivering pre-generated static HTML content pages, instead of serving them from a database on each request. This makes the browsing experience much faster, without any backend overhead or security issues.

Running a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), a website CMS separate from our product web app allows content writers and team members to quickly and independently edit the website (e.g. marketing copy, pricing notes, FAQ etc.) or publish new content (e.g. blog posts) without involving a tech person or initiating the workflow for Continuous Integration and Delivery (CI/CD).

It's gotten so much easier and quicker to publish content on our own terms.

So, how can an indie maker, startup or small-business launch a neat and fast website in reasonably less time, that's still easy to maintain?

Simpler CMS

There are several WordPress alternatives available now, which are easier, faster, and more suitable for small-medium scale publishing. I'll review my top choice to keep things simple.

Ghost is a beautiful blogging web software, that we ended up using for our own website. It's clean, fast, has a decent selection of themes, and even has in-built support for newsletters. You can self-host it on a small server (one-click deployment on a $5 VM on Vultr or DigitalOcean will do), or you can use managed Ghost hosting if self-hosting seems hard to you.

Headless CMSs are also gaining momentum. They provide a backend to store the content, and an Application Programming Interface (API) to retrieve the stored content using client-scripts on a static website. Altogether, it's particularly useful for sites built with JAMstack (JavaScript, APIs, Markup). Check-out the list of headless CMSs for Jamstack sites.

Website Builders

Don't worry if you haven't heard of WYSIWYG editors from the past, like FrontPage or Dreamweaver. Some modern website builders offer a similarly visual but more end-to-end workflow, from drag-and-drop designing to one-click publishing, all from within the platform.

Webflow is a fantastic platform to build a full responsive website with a blog, e-commerce store or any other dynamic section (e.g. knowledge base, team profiles etc.). Their gallery of high-quality templates is impressive to choose from. The intuitive website builder makes layouts and content management a breeze, but that's not where it ends. It generates a static website on each publish action, maintains a change history, and hosts the static website on a global Content Delivery Network (CDN) for fastest delivery. It even takes care of asset minification, and assigning & renewing SSL certificates.

Versoly is also a good option for quickly building blocks-based websites, landing pages, and publish blog posts etc.

A lot of use-cases only require a one-page website, or a static frontend to a Single Page Application (SPA).

Carrd is awesome for such single-page responsive websites. It has a simple drag-and-drop builder, which also supports layout sections (emulating a multi-page site). Like Webflow, they also host the website, and take care of SSL certificates. Carrd is the quickest way to having a neat website up & running, minus a blog.

Static Site Generators

A more advanced option for building static websites is using a generator tool, that takes a bunch of pages and posts (written in plain-text or Markdown) saved in a local folder, and generates the formatted HTML website based on a template.

Static site generators provide the most freedom in changing a hand-coded template, its layout, styling or tags.

Hugo and Jekyll are probably the most popular of this kind, but there are many more static site generators out there. The generated static website can also be automatically published to a static hosting provider, like Netlify.

Pages and posts can also be pushed to a remote repository like Git on GitHub or GitLab for free, to have them auto-generate the static site on each change (commit), and even host it on their Pages service.

One other unique blogging platform that turns a folder into a blog, is Blot.

Bonus: Stock Media

Captivating images, videos, icons and fonts can add flair to a business website, as long as they're not excessive enough to dramatically increase the page size. Check-out the awesome stock resources repository for a long list of public domain (free) stock media resources.

Overall, there are many smart options and public resources available for building a business website in less time & effort than ever before. Good luck with your next one!

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