How to choose a tech stack for your website

If you want to get your website up quickly, if you want it to be reliable and you want it to scale, you need to choose the right tech stack.
7 minute read
Lee Patten @leepatt3n
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for How to choose a tech stack for your website

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The tech stack you choose could have big implications for the future of your website

If you’re a founder or small business owner, you’re no stranger to making decisions. Running a business means continuously weighing up options, and how you proceed can define whether you succeed or fail. Making decisions can be stressful, and deciding on a tech stack for your website is no exception.

Choosing tech which suits both your current situation and future strategies is crucial. The fact is, websites and applications are modern-day vehicles for commerce. When we draw up our business plans, implementing the right web technology can get us from A to B. The decisions we make in that regard can make or break us.

We’re not all technology gurus, and for some of us, there’s nothing more daunting or mysterious than tech. There are few things worse than being faced with an important decision and not understanding the principles of a concept. Available information on tech, far from being scarce, is often too technical, and overwhelming in its availability. It’s easy to get swamped and confused. Bad decisions can be all too easy to make.

The good news is, choosing the best tech stack for your needs is not impossible. Some basic research is required, but you won’t need an in-depth knowledge of web development to achieve your goals. Websites and apps adhere to a universal structure, no matter what the make-up of the stack. There’s no great mystery to full-stack development. Choosing wisely is simply about selecting the most appropriate tools for your goals, so it’s business as usual.

In this article, we’re going to talk about making informed full-stack decisions. We’ll get straight to the crucial factors that will help you make the right choices for your needs. If you’re not tech-minded, don’t worry. We’ll use plain language and real-world examples. You’ll quickly learn your frontend from your backend, and we’ll identify what really matters for your specific venture.

What is a tech stack, and why do you need one?

Put simply, to build any website or application; developers need frameworks. Making something that works and performs a function for an end-user also requires specific tools and programming languages.

All sites have two main parts. An invisible backend faces the server, supporting the features of a frontend that faces the user. At least, that’s the technical way of talking about it. It’s also where most non-tech people switch off. The point at which their eyes glaze over and they reach for the coffee.

To gain some insight, try thinking of the web developer as a builder. You can look at the backend of an application like the timber framework of a house. It contains services such as the mains wiring and pipework. All of the things that come out of the frontend get there because of the backend.

The frontend of an application or website is similar to the appliances in a home. The garage door, the plumbing and electrical fittings - all the items we interact with and experience. They’re all made possible by, and hanging on that backend framework, supported by invisible connections behind the scenes.

Users access the functionality of a website or application via a frontend, just as householders use a light switch. Lights won’t work without that concealed wiring. Websites don’t function without a backend connected to a server and the web. Just like you can’t fill your bathtub unless your home has a connection to the water supply.

Where are you at, and where are you going?

If you’re a business owner, selecting a tech-stack is just like making any other business decision. That might sound surprising, but you’re going to be considering a few very familiar factors.

A fundamental part of getting the right stack is figuring out where you’re currently at, and where you want to go. To a degree, the nature of your business will influence your choice.

Scalability: Choosing a website that grows with your business

If your business plan involves scaling up massively, you’ll need to select a stack to suit that. If your growth projections are relatively modest, it won’t be so much of a factor.

As with physical infrastructure projects, it’s essential to plan for the scalability you need. Choosing a stack that functions smoothly and seamlessly now, won’t necessarily ensure it’ll suffice when you get bigger.

On the flip side of that, incorporating more room for growth than you’ll ever require means wasting money. Size matters in your business present and business future. Your scalability needs should form a prominent part of the decisions you make.

You’ll read about two types of scalability when it comes to websites. Horizontal scaling refers to the ability to handle traffic by using more than one server simultaneously. Vertical scaling means adding more programs, without slowing down your site. You’ll need to think about both horizontal and vertical scaling if you plan on not growing out of your website.

Adaptability: Time to market versus instant functionality and depth

In web development, size isn’t all that matters. Excellent websites can handle large user numbers and still function well, but they’re also easy and enjoyable to access. It’s tempting to go for beauty, an exceptional user interface and depth of capacity right from the off. You can indeed achieve a certain level of performance and design on a relatively small budget.

However, it's important to consider that beautiful, high-performance websites and applications take many working hours to build. That’s going to work just fine for some ventures, but not for all. If the success of your business relies on speed to market, avoid a development-heavy stack.

Depending on your product type and plans, a cheap, fast single-page website might better suit your immediate needs. If that won’t do forever, weigh up starting over later against a stack that allows gradual scope for growth, in terms of both user numbers and extra functions. Start by looking at Django, an excellent option when you need to get visible fast.

Affordability: The cost of getting started, and the cost of starting again

Doing business means watching cashflow and operating with your means. That’s a given. Therefore, when you’re building a website or application, you’ll need to work within a realistic budget. Don’t design your website solely based on immediate costs, however. What you choose now should be enough to get you over some imaginary line in the future.

It’s crucial you base your tech stack strategy on the whole of your business plan, because having to build your website all over again from scratch will be costly. Try to make sure that you tailor your budget to what you can afford as well as where you need to get. If rebuilding later is unavoidable, do it when revenues allow.

Remember that initial development isn’t the only consideration when it comes to the cost of a website or app. All tech requires regular maintenance, but some stacks need less ongoing attention than others.

Consider open-source technology

Open-source technologies offer many advantages when you’re building a website or application. Developers using open-source have access to an almost limitless supply of code which is ready-written. Open-source tech emerges from huge communities of developers. Support is peer-to-peer and readily available, making open-source massively popular.

For cash-strapped founders, software that comes at a "freemium" often proves to be priceless. Freemium software operates on the basis that you get to use code for free. You pay nothing until you achieve a predetermined level of scale or use additional features. Freemium technology offers much flexibility regarding cost, speed of development, size, and functionality.

Check out what everybody else is doing

Every website project is different, but many businesses have needs in common. You can simplify finding the right stack for you by borrowing from a success story.

While your company might not be a global giant yet, that may well be the plan. Check out what different types of successful web-based companies are running beneath their own tech stack hoods.

Go forth, and come first

Hopefully, this article has made choosing the right tech-stack less stressful. Finding the right stack means planning for your future and keeping things as straightforward or as complicated as you need. Treating the selection process like any other business decision will maximize your chances of success, and you don’t need great technical knowledge to make great tech decisions.

  • The right stack for you should be capable of reliably meeting the needs of your customer base, both now and in the future.
  • Maintenance and development costs should fall within what you can afford.
  • If you’re on a relatively low budget, stack components that offer extensive support, flexible pricing, and developer communities are preferable.
  • If you need to get to market fast, open-source technologies also let developers draw on millions of hours of completed programming.

Now you have a better idea which tools and structures suit your needs, don’t be afraid to delegate. Choose the right developers based on their areas of expertise. They’ll thank you for having a basic idea of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there.

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