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Who needs a website?

It may be an odd thing for a website host to ask, but “Who needs a website?” is a valid question. Many of us here at Winhost have been in the hosting business since it started, more than 20 years ago. The business – and maybe more importantly, what you expect from it – has changed more than a few times over the past two decades.

In the early days you built your own website. Period. So you needed a website host. There weren’t any other options, and there certainly weren’t any social networking or social media sites where you could establish an online presence without a website.

The first generation of point-and-click website builders sprouted up in the 1990s, but for the most part they were clunky sledgehammer approaches to site building, so they never really caught on with most website owners.
In the early 2000s social networking sites came in to our lives, starting with Friendster, which was quickly eclipsed by MySpace, the dominant platform for a few years. That is until Facebook came along to make all of the other social networking sites obsolete. I’m not sure that world domination was Facebook’s plan, initially, but that’s how things played out.

But regardless of which platform you used, suddenly if you couldn’t build a website, or had no interest in building a website, you could establish an online presence. And when that particular revolution happened, the perceived necessity of a traditional, build-it-yourself website (and someone like us to host it) briefly waned. But only briefly.

Rapid advances in web technology and the increasing spread of broadband Internet connections paved the way for a new generation of website building platforms like SquareSpace and Wix. With the new platforms you could build a site without bothering with any of the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts. A lot of small businesses flocked to the new site building and hosting platforms, and away from traditional website hosting. But over time the drawbacks of those systems became apparent.

Now we’re seeing an increasing number of people moving away from social networking sites as their primary business presence, as well as making the sometimes tough decision to leave the point-and-click site builders/hosts. They’re moving back to traditional hosting because they are realizing that those point-and-click platforms lack some fundamental and essential ingredients for a successful business site (or any site, really), mainly: flexibility, SEO (visibility), and portability.
A business site needs flexibility. The ability to scale out with different kinds of pages or applications that a platform like SquareSpace or Wix don’t necessarily offer or support, the ability to choose or change how you accept payments, and the ability to change the look and feel of the site. On some of the site building platforms you are stuck with the style or template that you chose when setting up the site. In order to change the appearance of the site you have to re-build it from scratch. Ouch. And while e-commerce is baked in to most of the platforms, you’re limited to the methods and providers that they offer. Social networking sites are even more inflexible and limited.

Every website owner eventually becomes concerned with search engine optimization, or SEO. You may not give it a lot of thought when you are building or launching your site, but when you want to expand your audience or customer base, you will have to dive in to the deep, murky waters of SEO. Much of what’s necessary to maximize a site’s SEO is done on a page level or a configuration level, and if your site lives on one of the walled-in platforms, you simply won’t have the access necessary to make many beneficial changes. So you’re limited in what you can do to make your site grow.

As far as portability is concerned, they’ve made it purposely difficult (and in some cases, impossible) to move a site from a platform like SquareSpace or Wix to another platform or to a traditional host like Winhost. Understandably, I suppose, as it’s in their interest to keep you inside their walls so you will continue to pay them every month. Making it easy to move a site would mean making it easy for their customers to leave, so they have every incentive to make it as painful as possible. And of course you can’t take your Facebook page away from Facebook.

For those and other reasons, we’re seeing a move back to traditional custom-built websites hosted on open platforms where you decide how things are going to work, rather than being at the mercy of a large company’s development and support teams. Building and maintaining your own site comes along with its own costs, of course, both in development and maintenance. But the freedom and ability to steer your own ship that are gained by creating your own site will outweigh those costs for most of us.

And if you don’t want to start from scratch, there are now a lot of platforms and frameworks that you can install in your own hosting space to give you a head start. The most popular of those, WordPress, is running on more than 26% of the world’s active websites (that’s more than 77 million WordPress sites if you’re doing the math). In fact, in 2016 Microsoft moved thousands (yes, thousands) of its sites and blogs off of their own proprietary platform and over to open source platforms like WordPress, and you can be pretty sure that wasn’t a decision that was made lightly.

The bottom line is it’s easier than it’s ever been to build a flexible and portable site that you can easily change and update to suit your needs.

So the answer to the question, “Who needs a website?” is: you do. Whether you build your own site from the ground up or base it on a solid foundation like WordPress, what it all comes down to in the end is control, control, control. Take it! Keep it! It’s your website, you should be the one who decides how it works, what it looks like and where it lives.

Of course, if you want it to live here at Winhost (and really, why wouldn’t you?), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we have a fully managed WordPress service that removes a lot of the maintenance and security concerns from your plate, freeing you up to focus on the most important thing in all of this: making your site the best it can be. You’re still in control, we’re just at your service. It doesn’t get any better than that!

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