What’s better than a king?
An emperor? I’m not a history buff and I’m not an expert in feudal societies, but when it comes to the clichéd Bill Gates quote “Content is king,” I know now that Mr. Gates was underselling it.
Content is an emperor. Content is divine. Content is the perfect complement to e-commerce, and the digital solution that provides the seamless management of both would surely be the stuff of legend.
When it comes to my own company, ClydeBank Media, we have arrived at a content management system (CMS) that my team and I feel is a good fit for our organization, our products, and our customers. In the case of ClydeBank Media’s content and e-commerce management, the third time was the charm.
The story of our online presence spans a few years, thousands of sales, and three content management system providers, before we settled on, and embraced, the third option we tried. It provides us with what we feel is the best mix of utility, customization, and consistency—all wrapped up in an affordable package.
If you’re an entrepreneur who is in the same place I was a couple of years ago, then you’re someone who has a great idea that is one part optimism, one part passion, and one part nagging worry.
I hope that you can learn from my journey and save yourself some time, money, and worry lines bringing your small business success story to life.
This post is part of an ongoing series where we break down the exact tools and techniques we use at ClydeBank Media that have helped transform our company from a basement operation into a successful small business.
Small business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs of all types are invited to use these same tools and concepts to write their own small business success stories.
Not into long blog posts?
Do you want to just jump right to the part where we got everything we wanted out of a CMS and eCommerce platform?
SPOILER: There are more than a few good reasons why it is the tech that powers 28 percent of the internet.
Because you already know that we didn’t go with our first choice, right away you know that we transitioned away from Squarespace despite its being our first e-commerce and CMS solution provider.
Right off the bat I want to make it clear: I am not out to bash Squarespace or any of the other CMS solutions providers listed here.
Based on our needs and the way our business took shape, we have since moved on from Squarespace, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad company or that it offers an inferior product. When it comes to the way I want to run my business, Squarespace simply wasn’t the right fit. At first glance, however, Squarespace does it all.
They offer domain hosting, website building, e-commerce solutions, blogging tools, and domain registrar services on top of their content management system (CMS) integration. For me, someone who has big dreams but not so much skill when it comes to coding a website, what more could I ask for?
Where Squarespace shines is in providing out-of-the-box, templated websites. With a simple process, users are up and running with a complete website for their business. What it lacks in robustness it easily makes up for in ease of use and looks.
Squarespace is perfect for establishing an online presence, especially if you're about to reach out to potential clients or partners and want something up and running quickly for when they ultimately google you. Their out-of-the-box templates are professional, clean, and modern.
Squarespace powers millions of websites across the internet, and it is trusted by a large number of small businesses and entrepreneurs. It offers an inclusive experience, and the folks at Squarespace already know what your web presence will need to be successful.
Their library of templates offers easy-to-use solutions for those interested in getting started quickly and looking professional without much work. It was this simplicity that attracted me to the platform when we got started.
The fact that Squarespace offers integrated e-commerce tools and blogging solutions with their template designs is very attractive to users who are looking for a fully functional website along with all the bells and whistles, without having to go through the process of shopping for those solutions themselves.
There are also a number of marketing tools that too-busy entrepreneurs can use in lieu of building marketing solutions themselves. The minimum expectations of industry-standard security, hosting, and 24/7 support are included.
The pricing model for Squarespace isn’t as competitive as others in the same sphere. Of course, the value matrix will be different for everyone—some may be willing to pay for a hands-off approach, while others want to save money and do more themselves—but Squarespace is on the pricier side of things.
Another big sticking point is customization, especially customization when it comes to SEO. When we were using the Squarespace platform it just felt kind of bare-bones.
To increase discoverability, we wanted to optimize our products for SEO purposes. There were no clear solutions. The same went for other small site tweaks or minor changes we wanted to make. Besides the tweaks the templates offered, there simply weren’t a lot of customization options.
Why We Left
In the end, we abandoned Squarespace.
This was at a time when ClydeBank Media was figuring out how best to present our products to our customers. At the same time, we were developing our brand and finding our own core messaging for our existing customers.
We needed the ability to boost our discoverability through comprehensive SEO tools, and we needed a more robust e-commerce platform. Plus, I wanted to make changes (probably too many changes) and the templates felt restrictive in that regard.
What had seemed like a low-maintenance, all-inclusive solution now felt restrictive and clunky to scale. Those restrictions ultimately sent us in search of another CMS solution.
This decision also fit into the overall arc of our company’s growth.
We wanted to transition from just having an online presence to having a fully functional e-commerce solution. That’s something Squarespace just didn't have.
For example, there were no integrations for third-party fulfillment services, which are essential for our business. Additionally, there was no automatic order processing functionality, which is also something we rely on today.
Shopify offers many of the same services as Squarespace but it definitely much more robust when it comes to the eCommerce side of things.
Shopify offers domain hosting, customized domain names, and a bunch of free and premium themes. When it comes to the eCommerce side of things, Shopify really excels. Their software integrates with social platforms and for organizations with physical storefronts, Shopify can power your POS (point of sale) for in person selling.
Shopify is ready to sell on mobile, and it comes with its own blogging suite.
Shopify stands out as an eCommerce leader and their reputation is deserved. With Shopify, online stores are versatile, responsive, and comprehensive. They have great customer support, and the customization of your site is enhanced with a slew of integrations (known as apps) that are both produced by Shopify as well as community-generated.
Shopify apps are handy and they provide a level of easy customization to really tailor your site to the needs of your organization, as well as to the needs of you team, your products, and your customers.
Shopify allows full access to CSS and HTML5 files so that tech-savvy sellers or stores with their own design and development teams can customize to their heart’s content. That is not me. I was looking for a range of options that integrated with no effort and delivered the functionality we needed.
While Shopify is much more customizable, the SEO tools still felt limited right out of the box. There are a few SEO apps for Shopify, but during the time we used Shopify we didn’t explore any one of them in great detail.
What really felt underdeveloped were the content tools. Shopify’s blogging platform felt like an afterthought.
While the themes and the store aspects were highly customizable, the blogging side of things wasn’t particularly well developed. If we were serious about sticking with Shopify we could have hired someone to tinker with the CSS until the blog came out looking just the way I envisioned, but that seemed like a lot of work when there are other out of the box solutions available.
Why We Left
In the story of ClydeBank Media’s business growth and development, we had reached the point where our business was getting into the world of content marketing. We have a team of talented writers, and content marketing is fast becoming the norm for businesses in a truly wide variety of sectors.
I didn’t know how exactly our content marketing efforts would take shape, but I knew that whatever we did it would be the next step in growth for ClydeBank Media. I settled on a blog format and had our writers whip up a few posts, then uploaded them.
They looked terrible.
I changed themes, layouts, you name it. There was nothing I could do to make the Shopify blogging platform work for our concept. We needed content-forward tools with robust SEO and a high degree of customization.
Shopify is one of the big players in the world of eCommerce, but they are by no means the only CMS provider with eCommerce capability. I knew it was time to switch—again. The next CMS solution we went with had to offer an eCommerce platform, but it also had to have solid SEO tools and highly customizable, powerful blogging functionality as well.
The driver of the decision to leave Shopify was our gear shift from an eCommerce-first strategy to a content-centric approach. Because our brand was—and in many ways still is—new, we needed a way to stand out from the crowd.
An actionable and valuable content marketing strategy was the best way to do that, and our blog would be the center of that strategy.
The WordPress CMS platform is a no code/low code environment, and it makes building a good-looking website simple. We’re going to take a look at some of the standout features of WordPress that influenced our decision to switch, and ultimately to stay, with this platform as well as the ways in which they augment our business objectives.
Starting from the basics, WordPress offers their own custom domain and hosting services, but we took it a step further. Because we have pivoted from an eCommerce strategy to a content-forward strategy, SEO became more important than ever.
What good is content if no one can find it to consume it?
Page delivery speed is a major factor in search rankings, and by pairing a hosting service that is optimized for WordPress and built for speed, we lay the groundwork for a successful SEO strategy.
Speaking of SEO, what we felt were shortcomings with Squarespace and Shopify when it came to the ability to optimize for search engines were completely validated when we began looking around inside WordPress.
WordPress allows you to control everything.
It is admittedly a little more work. If your business objectives don’t rely on discoverability or you are just building a website “to have one,” then Squarespace or Shopify are better options. Squarespace especially is a “website in a box” with little work required.
That was what I thought we needed at the beginning, but as I realized that content marketing was the direction we should be heading in, I knew we needed more customization options.
Paired with a robust SEO plugin like Yoast (I love Yoast and swear by it) we were suddenly making the changes that allowed us to appear on the first page of the associated SERPs (search engine result pages). The ability to make a serious impact on our on-page SEO profile was the number one reason we made the switch to WordPress.
The platform is infinitely scalable and the admin dashboard is very easy to use. It is evident from the dashboard’s construction that it is designed to accommodate large site structures and there are even a few WordPress plugins designed to make the management of a large site even easier.
When it comes to plugins, the number and scope are staggering.
There are WordPress plugins for everything. All those little tweaks that we felt to restricted to implement with Squarespace and Shopify could be done quickly and easily with Plugins. On top of that, most plugins are further modifiable, meaning tweaks on tweaks if we desired.
Again, it is slightly more work than having Squarespace or Shopify do the work for you, but my team and I will always be willing to take another step further if it means that our web presence will be a perfect fit for our business goals.
When it comes to plugins, we love them. We use a ton of plugins to squeeze every ounce of functionality and performance out of our site. Most are free, or free with a premium option, and the latter is ideal because that means you can decide if a plugin is right for you then start paying for it to scale it with your growth.
The user control panel and the ability to assign users with different levels of access is tremendous, and it speaks to WordPress’ focus as a content-forward platform.
Users can be assigned roles from administrator all the way down to editor and contributor. Guest blogging and contributor articles are handled easily with this system, and with the help of some plugins, it can be adapted to give your customers login credentials to your site to preserve customer profiles, purchase histories, etc. while keeping them fenced out of the admin aspects of the site.
Just like Squarespace and Shopify, WordPress looks great because of the wide variety of free and premium themes that are available. We use the premium theme Extra from developers Divi and we love it, but it isn’t cheap.
There are themes for blogs, portfolios, and eCommerce sites—whatever you need. These themes are fully accessible to developers who have the skill and the desire to modify aspects of the themes, but a lot of those changes can also be handled via plugins for us no code/low coders out there.
When it comes to themes, I have yet to see one that doesn’t include responsive design.
Being able to access sites from an army of different devices with different resolutions and screen sizes is a marvel of the digital age, but it is a headache for developers. Responsive design is a standard feature on CMS providers, and it isn’t always perfect, but having your content dynamically respond to your viewer’s device relieves a major headache.
Stability and Support
Despite the fact that most of the WordPress themes and plugins are community-sourced, the platform itself is very robust and stable. Part of our success however is that we use a premium theme and we use WordPress-optimized managed web hosting, so a lot of stability comes from those two aspects alone.
On forums I have seen the occasional issue, but a lot of them seemed to stem from inexperienced users trying to implement their own CSS or PHP code, then creating issues they couldn’t troubleshoot their way out of.
When it comes to support, we use a premium theme for exactly that purpose. Divi supports their theme with standard support, our WordPress-optimized web host has amazing support, and there is a truly massive community of support for WordPress. Google any issue and there is a whole page of results that include forum posts, articles, and how-to guides.
What about eCommerce?
That’s all well and good, but what about eCommerce?
Like so many other aspects of WordPress—there’s a plugin for that.
We use WooCommerce to power our storefront through WordPress and it has everything we need. It doesn’t have the social integrations that Shopify offers but our products are really sold primarily through distributors and third-party vendors anyway.
As far as I know, WooCommerce is a bad fit for a brick and mortar POS as well, but again, we don’t have a physical storefront.
The Bottom Line
So, there you have it. We made the change to WordPress and we haven’t looked back. The bottom line is that the content management system that is the best fit for you is the one that fits your needs and your business objectives.
Do you need a no hassle website for your business that needs little maintenance and won’t need mountains of customization? In my experience, Squarespace is a good fit.
Trying your hand at eCommerce and need a robust digital storefront? Shopify leads the pack. What they lack in SEO options can be circumvented with paid advertising (if that’s your model) or social selling (if you’re any good at that). Shopify can also power an in-store POS.
Looking for a long-term content strategy and brand-building arc? WordPress allows you to endlessly tweak your site and refine your SEO strategy while not sacrificing eCommerce capability or lose the robustness or stability of your site.
To answer the question posed at the beginning of this post…should you use WordPress to power your site? The answer is unfortunately still the same: it depends. Hopefully, however, you will be able to make a smarter choice about the CMS provider you choose to power your site’s online presence.
This post is part of an ongoing series where I share the exact tools, methods, and techniques I have used to grow my business and sustain my success. Nothing is left out; everything is included. That means the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Fortunately, for me it has been mostly good. Mostly.
Do you have a burning question about small business development in the digital age? Contact us. I’ll do my best to answer your question, and it may even make its way to the front page of the ClydeBank Business Blog.
Can our story help your business? I hope so.
This is how we communicate (and why we're slackers for life)
This is how we host (and why it is the right choice for WordPress)
John co-founded ClydeBank Media in 2013. Focusing on adding as much value as possible to the market, John, with the support of the exceptional team at ClydeBank Media, has helped guide the early growth of the company. He currently serves as the Director and as a contributor to the ClydeBank Media blog.