Even in the age of social media, building a website is still an important step in establishing your online presence. For any startup, you want to make sure customers can find your contact information and product offerings, but it's also a great opportunity to make a brand statement. What is your company all about? What is your unique look and feel? Social media doesn't provide enough features to really set your new company apart.

Recently, I decided to create a site for the launch of my book, and built two entirely different sites. One used the Joomla programming language, which I've dabbled in a few times (thanks to my son-in-law who did most of the heavy lifting). The other used Wix, a website creation app. Wix launched a new A.I. powered feature called ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) about two years ago, but I was eager to try it out in a real-world setting. You can input some information about your new site like your company category, and the builder automates most of the steps.

I haven't always been that impressed by website builders, though. Some give you a cookie-cutter template and pop in some text; you can spot these templates easily enough and some of them almost look like those weird "search optimized" sites that come up when you do a Google search. They're not real sites; they are meant to get clicks. So I had fairly low expectations going into the test. (In my corporate days, I was in charge of teams that designed and built websites, even though it was more of a directorial role.)

For the Joomla site, I had a few objectives. I wanted a lot of links for the bookstores, quotes from the book itself and from those who endorsed it, and an excerpt for people to read. In about a day, my son-in-law created a site that matched my needs. To program the page that contains the book excerpt, he provided links to click through the text. We tweaked a few options here and there but were happy with the results. I had to re-learn the process for registering and hosting a domain, configure my own email, and look into Google search engine optimization techniques on my own.

Using Wix, I decided to start with the fully automated A.I. features. I typed in the words "book" and "author" and found that Wix did a great job of formatting a site that looked about like what I wanted, with a few tweaks. There was a large section in the middle of the site for the book cover or an image that supports the theme of the book, and it was easy to select a few site sections like a bookstore and contact info. I didn't need to bother anyone to help me do the programming, and yet the site looked professional and clean.

I experimented with quite a few other settings. You can show a "lighthouse" that appears over the main page. (In my case, it's a request to sign up for an email newsletter.) At the lower right, I added a chat pop-up, which works with the Wix app on my phone--when people chat through the site, my iPhone shows an alert that someone wants to talk. I added an email newsletter form easily--this was a little more complicated in Joomla. Wix lets you track sign-ups and create the newsletter, which is far more than you can do in Joomla. I was impressed with the final results.

The main ding against Wix is the cost. An ultra-basic site with Wix ads costs $5 per month, but to take advantage of form-builders, Google search optimization features, and an online store, you can expect to pay more like $25 per month. That's not astronomical, but if you decide to host the site yourself and pay someone to build it, your costs will be lower.

My Wix site looks a bit more like a brochure. The Joomla site has a few extras I like, including the book excerpt which would have been harder to configure in Wix. However, Wix provides more functionality in the end--the newsletter sign-ups, support chat, and back-end tools for SEO, an online store, and extra marketing tools make it worth the price. Even after spending a few days tweaking the site, I'd say the Wix site wins out.

If you have any thoughts about the two sites, including which one you think looks better or ideas on improving, drop me an email

Published on: Jun 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.