Every small business owner faces the dilemma of how to find the best website builder for creating a website. But, with so many choices available and so many changes taking place in today’s digital landscape, where does one begin? For most small business owners with limited resources and budgets, the choice is usually between using a cloud-based do-it-yourself website builder or a CMS (content management system).
To narrow your search and gain a better understanding of what you’re looking for, start by asking yourself a few questions.
- What is the purpose of your website? Will it be portfolio or brochure type website with a few pages of content describing your company and its services?
- Will you be using your website as the centerpiece of your marketing campaigns – driving traffic and leads?
- Are you looking for a unique custom design with your own brand identity, or are you happy using a template shared by other businesses on the web?
- Are you interested in knowing your website’s traffic stats and other key performance indicators?
- Will you be conducting ecommerce transactions or sharing content with sensitive information?
- Do you need your own hosting, which will allow you to customize your site, add sub-folders, upload additional media files and integrate ecommerce software?
- Will you need technical support to assist you in web development? Or, are you comfortable with basic HTML coding and content management?
Once you’ve assessed your needs, the next step is to look at your options and compare them. Here’s a list of the top do-it-yourself website builders and CMS solutions available for small business owners.
Cloud-based Website Builders
There are a variety of easy-to-use cloud-based website builders available that require little if almost no technical knowledge. Websites are designed on a browser using drag and drop templates. The website is hosted for you on a cloud-based system that is maintained, updated and controlled by your site builder provider. If you choose to switch from one website builder to another, it can be a challenge transferring your domain and site content. Many features, such as Google site indexing, e-commerce tools, and having more than one email account are not included in the monthly cost. Wix, Weebly and Squarespace are three of the leading cloud-based website builders on the market today.
Pros: This is considered to be one of the most innovative drag and drop website builders around. It’s easy to use, and your website can be up and running in an instant. It offers over 300 templates to choose from in a variety of categories, and has a reputation for adding new tools and design features on a regular basis. They recently introduced ADI (Artificial Intelligence Design), which allows Wix to almost completely design your website for you. They also offer both online and phone support
Cons: Think twice before choosing a template and building your content. Once you decide to change to a new template design, you have to copy and re-enter all your content onto your new pages. This can be a serious problem if you have a large website with lots of content. Wix websites are not completely mobile responsive, but have a mobile editor. Free users have to put up with annoying ads and Wix branding on their pages. Users have to pay extra to have their site indexed by Google.
Pros: Similar to Wix, Squarespace offers a drag and drop website builder, but with more extensive style options. The result is a cleaner, more sophisticated, minimalist design. Squarespace website designs are mobile responsive and you can change your template design at any time without losing your content. Another great feature is that you can import and export blog content to and from WordPress and other blogging services. Plus, they offer Cover Pages, which are single page layouts that can also be used as standalone websites. Squarespace offers 24/7 email support and live chat.
Cons: Some may find Squarespace’s edit tools difficult to use and require a bit of a learning curve. Also, you may find the extensive array of style and customization options a bit overwhelming. Squarespace only offers 67 modern templates, which are all beautiful and tasteful, but they are also very visually oriented and require a lot of photos to look right. If you’re considering e-commerce, Squarespace only offers one payment processor (Stripe).
Pros: Another easy-to-use drag and drop website builder, Weebly has one of the most user-friendly interfaces. It caters to the more non-technical user and requires no HTML coding experience, yet they do provide you with access to your template’s HTML and CSS codes, if needed. It offers several ready-to-use page layout styles, which you can simply select and place anywhere on your site. Plus, you can also build your site with both Android and iOS mobile applications. They also have a wide range of mobile responsive templates that you can switch with a click of a button. Similar to Squarespace, Weebly also offers email and live chat support.
Cons: Weebly has very limited design customization options built into its menu. So, if you want to change the color of your menu bar, content background or content width, it may require you to modify the template coding. Weebly is also slow to introduce new innovative features; it has a history of releasing improvements only once or twice a year, compared to Wix which announces improvements on a monthly basis. It also has fairly unsophisticated blogging features and doesn’t offer the tools to highlight related or popular posts.
Unlike cloud-based website builders, a CMS (content management system) uses software to create, manage and publish content to create a website. Users typically purchase their own web hosting, using a service such as GoDaddy or Bluehost, purchase and set up their domain, and then install the CMS software into their site folder. The user then accesses their site’s admin panel through their browser, installs a theme, and builds their site. There are thousands of design themes to choose from, many of which are free or can be purchased for a minimal cost. Advantages to have a CMS website include having full control over your site files, as well as the ability to modify and customize your design as you wish. Yet, CMS websites require some level of expertise and may require assistance from a professional designer. Users are also required to do their own maintenance and software updates. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the leading CMS platforms on the market.
Pros: By far the most popular, WordPress (WordPress.org) is a free, open source CMS, with a user-friendly interface that is intuitive and easy to navigate. It can be used for a wide range of purposes, including blogs, professional services, and e-commerce. There are thousands of themes to choose from and most are mobile responsive and highly customizable. Users can also choose from a wide variety of plugins, which add additional features to their site, such as SEO integration, Google site maps, shopping carts, and contact forms. WordPress has one of the largest online user communities, with extensive resources and user forums.
Cons: WordPress sites can be vulnerable to hackers and spammers. To protect your site, it’s recommended to keep your site updated with the latest version of WordPress, use strong passwords, and a reputable hosting service. You can also install a WordPress security plugin. WordPress can also sometimes be rather slow at page loading, depending on the size of your website and the design theme.
Pros: One of Joomla’s strengths is its power and ability to handle large sites with large amounts of data. It also offers a very intuitive and user-friendly interface and has the ability to handle e-commerce extensions for selling online. Joomla offers a wide variety of plugins, extensions, modules, templates and components for improving site content. It also enjoys the advantage of having a strong online community of developers.
Cons: Joomla is somewhat more complex than WordPress and may require a bit of a learning curve. It also has a much smaller selection of theme designs, add-ons, and plugins. Plus, it may have some compatibility issues with certain combinations of plugins, which could limit functionality.
Pros: This CMS stands out as one of the most advanced, with the ability to product sophisticated and advanced sites. Drupal is extremely flexible and can do almost anything. One of its most unique characteristics is that it can support complex multi-sites. It can be scaled up very easily and handle some of the busiest websites. Drupal is also known for its speed and performance.
Cons: Drupal is for more advanced users and may require the assistance of a developer. Users have to learn how to build their site within Drupal’s content management system.
Choosing the Options That’s Right for You
When considering whether to use either a cloud-based website builder or a CMS, business owners should not only evaluate their technical expertise and budget, but also be forward-thinking and consider the future of their business. Each solution has its advantages and drawbacks, but a business’s website and online presence is a valuable asset and an investment in its future.