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Insights from 15 years of building websites for marketing and business needs

I have been the CTO of a marketing agency since 2007, so I have built a lot of websites of different sizes and purposes. Our clients needed everything from landing pages, corporate websites, SaaS product sites to complex web applications with advanced UX and UI.

I was directly or indirectly responsible for the technology choices for all of these projects. Below is a summary of what I learned along the way and what I choose most often today.

My biggest mistakes

  1. Using complex solutions for small needs

  2. Listening the client

  3. Always using CMS by default

  4. Ignoring low-code platforms

  5. Planning technology for the long term in an ever-changing environment

Let's look at these separately.

Complex solutions for small needs

It is very tempting to use the "free" WordPress setup to create your landing page... but this WP will need maintenance generating hidden costs and can be a point of entry to your hosting and infect other sites. It can quickly get messy and expensive.

As an engineer and someone with web development experience, I am comfortable navigating the complexities of website hosting, CMSes, FTPs, domains and other technical aspects of website development. I have to remind myself that my clients are not.

This lack of familiarity can lead to significant support costs as clients often require assistance and guidance with tasks such as setting up domains, managing hosting accounts and troubleshooting CMS issues.

Worst of all, these costs are not visible or predictable at the outset, so it is difficult to budget for them at the outset. With low-code platforms, all costs are known in advance - I see this as a huge advantage.

And yes - WordPress - can be a complex solution. Have a look at the section WordPress Trap.

Listening the client

Yes, we should listen to the customer's needs... when it comes to their goal. Listen carefully to what they want to achieve and why. At the same time, we are obliged to offer advice and our experience to recommend the best way to get there. They usually want to edit every single thing on the site - or so they think.

It's important to strike a balance between giving the client what they want and what will actually benefit their business. Providing examples and case studies of successful website projects - as well as your failures - can help clients understand the impact of certain design and functionality choices.

Open and clear communication with the client is key to understanding their needs and ensuring their objectives are met. Clients are often unaware of the technical aspects and limitations of certain features or design elements, so it's important to guide them towards more practical solutions.

Always using CMS by default

When it comes to marketing needs, it may not make financial sense to invest in every editable element via a content management system (CMS). It may be more cost-effective to pay for a few hours of a developer's time for small, one-off changes. This is where staff augmentation or time and materials models come in.

CMS platforms often come with additional costs such as licensing fees, plug-ins and ongoing maintenance. By opting for developer-assisted changes, organisations can save money in the long run by only paying for specific changes as and when they are needed.

In addition, relying solely on a CMS for all editable elements may not provide the level of customisation and design flexibility that some marketing projects require. Worse still, it can lead to overly complex code - making the site slower and harder to maintain, starting a vicious cycle.

CMS platforms typically offer a standardised set of templates and plug-ins that may not fully meet a company's unique branding and visual requirements. Hiring a developer to make small changes allows for more tailored design options, resulting in a site that accurately represents the brand and effectively engages customers. In addition, developers can implement custom features and functionality that may not be easily achievable through a CMS alone.

Ignoring low-code platforms

In my web development experience, I've had my fair share of disappointments with WYSIWYG tools like Dreamweaver and WordPress visual builders. However, I've come to realise that modern solutions such as Webflow and Wix are a completely different story.

The code generated by these platforms is of much higher quality than it used to be, and meets the requirements of most common solutions. This improvement in code quality has made it easier and faster to iterate on ideas and meet the ever-evolving needs of businesses.

Webflow and Wix provide a powerful and easy-to-use interface for intuitive website design and customisation. The drag-and-drop builders make it easy to create visually stunning websites without the need for extensive coding skills. This level of flexibility and design control enables businesses to create unique and engaging online experiences that resonate with their target audiences.

In addition, advances in low-code platforms such as Webflow and Wix have enabled faster development cycles. Businesses can quickly prototype and launch new features, test strategies and adapt to changing market demands. This agility is critical in today's fast-paced digital landscape, where staying ahead of the competition requires the ability to iterate quickly and deliver exceptional user experiences.

I must say that my negative experiences with older web development tools are a thing of the past, thanks to the emergence of modern solutions such as Webflow and Wix.

All of this is essential if you want to stay competitive and deliver results.

Planning technology for the long term in an ever-changing environment

Don't get me wrong. I am a strong advocate of long-term planning in general.

However, when it comes to technology, especially in the context of websites and digital platforms, it is important to accept that things are constantly evolving and changing. What might be considered cutting edge today could be outdated and inefficient in a matter of weeks.

It is therefore vital to approach technology planning with a flexible mindset. Rather than investing heavily in a single technology or platform, it is advisable to adopt a modular and scalable approach. This means using open source technologies, designing systems with interoperability in mind, and being prepared to adapt and integrate new tools and frameworks as they emerge.

By adopting this mindset, organisations can future-proof their digital presence and ensure that their websites and platforms can easily adapt to new technologies and user expectations.

The lifespan of modern websites is short, especially when it comes to marketing needs. You need to build quickly and be able to respond to changes in an instant. Agile software development and custom software are the answers when it comes to building robust products, but when you need a website or a prototype? Thanks to low-code tools, you can now do things differently.

The rise of a Web 2.0 and WordPress trap

You might be thinking - OK, so why do we get into a WordPress so often? The answer is - because it is low hanging fruit. It is achievable for a student, junior developer or even non-technical people (e.g. a marketing manager) to set up an instance and start creating.

WordPress has gained popularity as a website development platform due to its ease of use, open code and huge plugin library, which has invited other developers to participate in an ecosystem. It has become the first choice for many businesses, especially those with limited resources or technical expertise. It has grown from a blogging platform to a ubiquitous ecosystem where you can build advanced websites, e-commerce stores and even mobile applications.

At the time of its birth, there was no better alternative and the snowball effect began. It also coincided with the rise of Web 2.0 - it allowed people to share their thoughts with the rest of the world. Let's not forget that WordPress is part of the internet revolution. Fast forward to today, it's become so widely used that it's often the default choice without considering other options.

Today, WordPress powers 45% of the internet, making it a very easy choice. To paraphrase the popular saying "Nobody got fired for choosing WordPress". If everyone is using it, how can it be a wrong choice? Well, it can. In short, it is best for blogging and news sites - period. Relying solely on WordPress can sometimes be a trap.

When it is beneficial to use low-code

Use Webflow or Wix for your website if you want a highly customised, visual design without extensive coding. Low-code tools typically offer a drag-and-drop builder, which provides greater design flexibility and real-time visualisation of changes. What's more, if you're looking to incorporate complex animations and interactions, Webflow's built-in tools and capabilities sometimes outshine WordPress plugins.

Initially, choose Webflow if you want to move quickly and have more control over the functionality of your website. Webflow's intuitive interface and drag-and-drop builder make it easy to create visually stunning websites without any coding knowledge. You can easily customise every element and create unique, responsive designs that truly reflect your brand.

It's also a great choice if you're looking for an easy-to-use platform that offers a wide range of templates and pre-designed elements. It's widely known that it's perfect for small businesses or individuals who want a beautiful website without spending too much time or effort. I would argue that it will gradually take over large companies and corporate websites due to the comparative advantage of being able to move faster than your competitors.

Ride the AI and low-code wave

These two trends are very strong today, and when combined they become a tremendously powerful tool for business and marketing. And they are reshaping the way we approach website development and digital marketing. AI (artificial intelligence) and low-code tools are enabling businesses to automate processes, make data-driven decisions and create personalised user experiences.

With AI, businesses can use machine learning algorithms to analyse large amounts of data and gain valuable insights. This enables better targeting of marketing campaigns, predictive analytics, and improved customer service through chatbots and virtual assistants.

Meanwhile, low-code development platforms enable non-technical users to build web and mobile applications with minimal coding. This means faster development cycles, less reliance on IT resources, and the ability to quickly iterate and adapt to changing market demands.

Today, creators can rely on them to create content for websites, including text, images, ideas and SEO support. In addition, although still in its infancy, there are solutions that can transform textual user requests into functional and finished solutions. Generative GPT algorithms (or GenAI) allow developers to have HTML code, text and images created for them, while low-code platforms take care of devops/sysops needs. All of this is done much faster and at a lower cost.

It gives you leverage - companies that don't use it will fail.


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