Here at The Smart Bear, we work with a number of different platforms, including Shopify, Squarespace, and even WIX but it got us thinking – which is the most ethical and which should we be avoiding due to the company’s values or actions?
This article might be of particular interest to small eco, sustainable or ethical businesses who care about their supply lines, including where they put their website and who they pay for their website services.
All the platforms I’ve covered here are what I call ‘renting’ platforms by which I mean these are companies where you rent the use of their system via a monthly subscription.
You may own the content but they own the platform it’s on and have the right to withdraw their services or indeed increase the costs at any time.
This in itself isn’t unethical, it’s a business model, but it may not be the right option for your own business website. If you’re unsure about which platform to pick for your website, feel free to book in for a free consultation or drop a dm on social media and I’ll be happy to help. If you’d like a more in depth conversation, consider buying a power hour session where we can suss it out in even more detail, together, and I can help mentor the set up and build of the website on your chosen platform.
TLDR; If you haven’t got time to read all of the research of each website platform mentioned in this article – or you prefer to view it visually – here is a summary graphic of the results.
Click the image to enlarge the graphic
Shopify Ecommerce Platform
Overall Score: 1.5/4
Shopify is a great platform for ecommerce websites – in fact that’s what it was designed for. It’s easily scalable but also easy for micro businesses to start up on with easy to use templates and everything you need to start a shop online.
My only issue with Shopify is that as a platform, anything other than the basics are not included with the subscription so they are at an extra cost. This includes some features which are included with other ecommerce solutions, but aren’t with Shopify and if you want anything other than a simple shop, it’s going to cost you.
But is Shopify ethical as a brand?
Shopify are really genuinely keen on diversity and inclusion, both within the company and in the community by supporting a range of schemes and initiatives from ‘Ladies Learning Code’ to making it easier to ‘Shop Black Owned Businesses’ via their app: https://fashionunited.uk/news/retail/shopify-highlights-black-owned-businesses-on-shop-app/2020061749411
“We’re intentional about diversity and inclusion initiatives in all areas of our business – from the way we design our spaces (e.g. offering all-gendered restrooms, spaces designed for both introverts and extroverts and rooms of requirement), to our commitment to hiring candidates from different backgrounds and experiences, to encouraging employee communities and resource groups for like-minded folks.”The VP & GM of channels at Shopify said in a 2018 article
And so, based on the research carried out at the time of writing this article, we think Shopify is an ethical website building platform which is perfect for ecommerce websites.
Sustainability of Shopify
Shopify does try to be more sustainable – they have data centres on Google Cloud which is carbon neutral offering renewable energy offsetting and their offices are also carbon neutral. Alongside this they offer some offsetting for their customers too with a variety of schemes including their own ‘Offsetting’ app.
The reviews are pretty bad for Shopify which surprised me – apparently, scam sites/fraud sites are apparently pretty endemic within Shopify which I think it’s because it’s so easy to set up a professional looking online shop.
Read all reviews on Trustpilot: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.shopify.com
Accessibility on Shopify
Shopify isn’t that great for accessibility and it hasn’t generally been built, as a platform, with accessibility in mind. Although there are some things you can do to help, like installing an accessible-positive theme or a plugin to aid certain things (but isn’t a solve-all solution). More here on : https://accessibe.com/integrations/shopify
Squarespace Website Builder Platform
Overall Score: 0.5/4
I loved Squarespace as it’s super easy to use and looks modern…that is until I found out about their ‘extra’ pricing which I personally don’t think is obvious enough. For example, the membership and marketing pricing isn’t clear until you go to activate it, and the emails on Google workspace are only included in the business package for the first year. Whilst it does state this on the pricing table, it’s hidden away on a pop up ‘information’ bubble which is easily missed and isn’t very accessible. I feel they could definitely have a clearer pricing structure to be more ethical.
Ethics of Squarespace as a brand
Squarespace has been subject to some controversy in the past where employees were engaged in unethical and manipulative practices to boost the company’s revenue. This on top of my own experiences mentioned above, leading me to err on the side of caution when it comes to saying whether Squarespace is being ethical or not, and say it’s not, there’s still work to do.
But is Squarespace sustainable?
Whilst Squarespace claims to run on 100% renewable energy it has been criticised in the past for being too reliant on coal-fired energy sources.
And, I’ve been unable to find a sustainability policy at the time of writing this article so I’m going to go with a no, it’s not sustainable for now – again, there’s more sustainable work to do.
Squarespace reviews on trust pilot are pretty terrible and some are even saying they are currently suing the company due to their business behaviour, eek!
Read the reviews on Trustpilot here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.squarespace.com
Accessibility on Squarespace
Squarespace’s accessibility options are very limited, despite their guide to accessibility found here: https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/215129127-Making-your-Squarespace-site-more-accessible?platform=v6&websiteId=636befce60bc413ff11c826a
It does have some built in features like controlling the ordering of elements for screen readers but unlike some other builders, there are no accessibility-specific themes that you can install. So you’d need to create your own to make the most of accessibility which could be costly.
Godaddy Website Builder Platform
Overall Score: 2/4
Godaddy is mainly known for their hosting and domains services but they do also have their own website builder which is pretty good. It’s easy to use and has SEO services built in.
Godaddy also own quite a lot of other companies including well known 123reg and Host Europe which itself owns things like Paragon (TSO hosts etc).
Is the Godaddy builder sustainable?
Godaddy released their sustainability report in 2021 but haven’t yet released one for 2022. Whilst in 2021, they were well on their way to being carbon neutral, using renewable energy and groundwater for cooling for their servers, there was still some work to do.
We’ll hold out for the 2022 to confirm if they are now sustainable but they’re definitely considering what they do and how they do it which is great.
Ethics of Godaddy
So…. Godaddy are still recovering from an incident in 2011 where their CEO, Bob Parsons, posted a photo/video of an elephant he had killed during a hunt, on social media. Alongside this, they were accused of buying domain names that users had searched so they could sell them at a higher rate to those users, which is definitely not an ethical business practice – and of using sexist marketing campaigns.
But, this was a while ago now so are things any different?
On their ‘Godaddy for good’ page, it definitely looks like they are working hard to try and shed their unethical image.
Yet, I was able to find more recent reviews of their unethical marketing strategy, business practices and pricing which points to the fact, they still have work to do: https://www.yourdigitalresource.com/post/godaddy-website-review-not-use-godaddy
Surprisingly, Godaddy has pretty good reviews on trust pilot, although one review did say ‘Greedy Liars. All about profit, not customer experience.’ which is certainly more like my experience in the past, with this company.
Read the full Trustpilot reviews here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.godaddy.com
Accessibility on Godaddy
Because the Godaddy builder is a simple drag and drop where the fundamental code can’t be changed, sadly it’s not accessible as the fundamentals are not already built-in. The templates are also not specifically built for accessibly.
WIX Website Builder Platform
Overall Score: 2/4
I’ll admit from the start that I don’t rate WIX as a builder, I think it has terrible user experience and doesn’t offer a responsive solution (although they say they are working on this) – and more importantly for small businesses, for some reason you don’t get the same SEO results on this platform compared to other platforms where the same techniques are deployed.
It’s also not as cheap as they make out – once you start building there are add-on costs that make it very expensive compared to other builders, which is questionable when it comes to ethics.
Nonetheless, is WIX sustainable?
WIX uses Google cloud, like Shopify, so is using renewable energy but I wasn’t able to find any other information about their sustainability practices, goals or even a policy. So, I suspect the move to Google cloud servers was more about their business than the environment.
Nevertheless, at least they are using renewable energy which is a positive thing.
Ethics of WIX as a company
WIX claim to be investing back into community via a range of schemes and projects, listed here: https://www.comparably.com/companies/wix-com/sustainability
But, the main ethics issue that came up during my research, is about where WIX is based – being in Israel. The concern was as stated on https://boycottwix.org/:
“WIX relies on free access to the internet and access to startup capital that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are denied.”
There are also concerns around unethical marketing offering ‘free’ services when in fact, after spending some time building, their customers discover to make a good functioning business website there are additional costs involved and it’s not free after all (indeed, it’s very overpriced). I feel they could be more upfront with their pricing to be more ethical.
They have mixed reviews on trust pilot with complaints mainly being about poor customer service and auto-renew/cancellation problems.
Read the full Trustpilot reviews here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.wix.com
Accessibility on WIX
WIX has got an Accessibility wizard to help you make your website more accessible, has a lot of features built in, and it has some accessible templates available. So full marks to WIX for accessibility.
WordPress.com Website Builder Platform
Overall Score: 4/4
WordPress.com (as opposed to the standalone service wordpress.org) is a great option for blogs and small brochure sites. But much like other services, there’s an add-on cost for different services so if you want anything other than basic, it’s going to cost you more than it would to set up the same service on your own hosting (with wordpress.org).
Is WordPress.com sustainable?
WordPress, whilst not being run on renewable energy sources, do offset their carbon and are essentially net-zero which is great and the next best thing until they make the move to renewables.
The ethics of WordPress.com
I couldn’t find mention of any unethical practices of WordPress.com although I personally think their pricing system is a little off like those of WIX etc, where they entice you with a free plan but you have to upgrade to get the basic systems that small businesses need for a website (like the ability to install free plugins for example).
WordPress.com has mixed reviews but on the whole it’s positive: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.wordpress.com although one complaint is pointing out what I mention above (about paying to install free plugins) and the lack of service which I would have thought is what you’d be paying with the fees.
Accessibility on WordPress.com
For WordPress, you can definitely get some accessible themes so that’s a plus, and there are a range of plugins that you can install to aid accessibility (if you’ve paid for the privilege, of course). The core of WordPress is constantly being worked on by an “Accessibility Team” so even though I can’t find specific evidence to say WordPress.com is accessible at it’s core, I’m going to go with yes because it’s the same software core as WordPress.org.
Weebly Website Builder Platform
Overall Score: 0.5/4
I used to use weebly all the time but I found it limited and ‘old fashioned’ in design – but this was many moons ago and it may have changed since then. In fact, Weebly is now part of the company Square.
Weebly have a free plan but make it clear what you get for that, or any of the other packages. There are a load of ‘apps’ where you can add more functionality – some are free and some are not but they all have star ratings so you can make an informed decision.
Are Weebly ethical?
I can’t find any evidence of ethical business practices or not. Square, on the other hand, was under controversy during the pandemic when people were unable to get to their funds quickly when they needed them the most.
So overall, again, I’m going with no due to lack of evidence and the above.
Is Weebly sustainable?
Again, I wasn’t able to find any evidence that Weebly is doing anything to do with sustainability. They may be but they’re not advertising it if they are and so I have to say no, Weebly is not sustainable at the time of writing.
However, Square, the owning company, are making efforts to be more sustainable (net zero by 2030 ) – it’s odd that they’ve not filtered this down to Weebly to make the platform more sustainable.
Weebly has really bad reviews on Trustpilot – bad customer services, trouble cancelling, terminating accounts without notice are all cited in the reviews.
Read more reviews on Trustpilot here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/weebly.com
Accessibility on Weebly
Weebly has some in-built accessible features so it’s partially accessible but there are still improvements that could be made – including making more templates with accessibility in mind.
IONOS Website Builder Platform
Overall Score: 3/4
I’ve never used the IONOS builder but I’ve talked to people who have and they haven’t rated it, mainly due to the customer services. They sometimes have offers to save money on the plans but don’t seem to offer free trials to test it before you buy, unlike other builders. And with the cheapest package being at £9 per month (non-offer price), it’s not the cheapest option either.
Is IONOS ethical?
At the start of the war on Ukraine, IONOS (alongside Godaddy and other leading hosting companies) decided to terminate customer contracts with ties to Russia and would not accept any new ones.
And, I can’t find anything else to say it’s not ethical so I’m going to go with yes.
Is IONOS Builder sustainable?
Yes, hoorah! IONOS is powered by renewable energy and they have a number of other sustainable practices.
They have great reviews on Trustpilot, and unlike a lot of other companies mentioned on this blog, they actually respond to customers reviews as well which is a good sign they care. The recurring theme on the bad reviews is that the buyer didn’t get access to the services they bought so that could be a potential problem with the platform.
Read more reviews here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/ionos.com
Accessibility on IONOS Builder
I was unable to find any evidence that the IONOS builder is or isn’t accessible – so it’s probably not been looked into at this stage. But, as it’s not dissimilar to the Godaddy builder, I suspect it won’t be so I’ll say no for now.
Webflow Website Platform
Overall Score: 2.5/4
Webflow is a no-code/low-code option rather than a traditional ‘web builder’ as it’s not as easy as a drag and drop system but I’ve included it on this blog anyway as it’s becoming increasingly popular.
Is Webflow ethical?
I can’t find any evidence of unethical business practices so I’m going with Yes at the time of writing.
Is Webflow sustainable?
Webflow is hosted on AWS (Amazon Web Services)which has in recent years been more proactive when it comes to sustainability. Webflow also do some offsetting to be more carbon neutral. Which is a good thing as a lot of website built on their platform are quite heavy sites, meaning they take up more resources. But, nevertheless, I’m going to go with Yes for sustainability.
Accessibility on Webflow
Webflow is a weird one – as there are tools to make it compliant, and have accessibility controls but it’s not set up to do it as standard. But that makes sense with Webflow as, like I said, it’s not really a traditional builder. So yes – as long as you implement it.
It’s not got great reviews to be honest – mainly saying there is a lack of service and the sales pitch is misleading saying it’s easier to build than it actually is.
Read more Trustpilot reviews here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/webflow.com
Create.net Website Builder
Overall Score: 3/4
This company has been around since 2000 but rebranded to create.net in 2009 – they’re not as well known as some of the others. Based in Brighton, UK, they claim to be easy to use and green. I’ve tried it and it is easy to use, and has a lot of features built in, but you do need to use their help videos/guides to find your way around at first – it’s not necessarily intuitive compared to some other builders.
Are Create.net Ethical?
When it comes to being green which is their main marketing pitch, absolutely! (see below). And I couldn’t find any controversy so they get points there too.
However – if I’m being picky, their tech dev team could be a little bit more diverse and it would be nice to see their published ethics extending to other areas.
But they still absolutely get the ethics tick from me as I’m comparing them equally to the other companies on this blog.
Is Create.net sustainable?
Yes! They use carbon neutral hosting using a combination of renewable energy and offsetting. They also have a sustainability positive team, including an Ecologi subscription for the company.
And, websites built on their platform are built with efficiency in mind so they’re fast and optimised. On top of all that – each website plan comes with a planted tree scheme each month! Wowser!
The highest review score I’ve seen but not as many reviews as the other platforms. The bad reviews said that it was hard to use and featureless – which to me indicates that they hadn’t taken the time to learn how to use it or read the guides.
Read the Trustpilot reviews here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.create.net
Accessibility on Create.net
I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest Create.net is or isn’t accessible. Given its advanced features and considerations, I’d be very surprised if it isn’t but I can’t say either way so for now, it’s a No.
So which website builder came out at the top?
The top scoring platform was WordPress.com (4/4) followed by Create.net (3/4) – the worst scoring platforms being Squarespace and Weebly who both scored 0.5/4.
Will this change your opinion of these platforms? Doing this research has certainly changed my opinion of a few – some have gone up in estimation and some have gone down. I’ve learnt a lot, and so I’ll be changing my packages and supply line, in the near future to use some better platforms – although, of course, we’re still ticking with WordPress (.org)!
This article only covers some of the ethical considerations of these platforms, and I’ve tried not make judgements about how good they are at creating business websites (that’s a whole blog in itself). And, I haven’t reviewed any industry specific platforms, like Kajabi, FEA Create etc but I’ll definitely cover these subjects in subsequent blogs so keep an eye out on social media for more information or get in touch if you want to discuss anything/make suggestions.