If you’re considering launching your very first website, then there are a lot of factors to consider. Mainly, which service should you use to host and build your site? For beginners who want to go the do-it-yourself route, there are two common options: website builders and WordPress. Start by considering the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed decision.
Website builders are services that host your website and provide drag-and-drop software to make it easy to launch your small business website or portfolio. Best website builders include:
- Bold Grid
- Square Space
Each comes with their own pros and cons. For example, some charge extra for email services or for hosting an eCommerce store. Some have more—and better—themes than others. Each site builder’s uptime and activation time varies. But what do they have in common? Let’s take a look.
Pros of Website Builders:
- They’re affordable compared to hiring a designer. A designer could run you several thousand dollars while these website builders usually cost around $100 per year.
- You have access to the backend of your site and can tweak your content and design as you please without contacting support.
- They’re easy to learn and have visual page editors. You can easily see how your changes will affect your design before implementing them.
- There are (typically) a lot of themes to choose from. (Bold Grid has one of the largest selections with over 3,000 options.)
- You can get your site up and running in minutes.
- Some website builders are specific to certain kinds of businesses, so not only are they easy to use, but they’ll cater to your needs. For example, Shopify is a website builder that allows you to build a site you can sell products on. It has the tools to track sales and manage your inventory.
Cons of Website Builders:
- Customization options are fairly limited. This means your site may look similar to others and that you can’t tweak certain aspects of the pre-built templates.
- Many website builders tack on additional costs for things like email.
- Website builders often lack the search engine optimization (SEO) power that WordPress has.
- Load times can be slow because you’re sharing your server with other sites. While this can be equally true of WordPress sites as well, there is more flexibility with third-party hosting to upgrade your hosting package and speed up your site.
WordPress is not a website builder.
Instead, it’s a content management system (CMS). It’s free open-source software that you can install onto your site through various web hosts. (You can also use the software hosted on your own servers, but chances are you’ll rent server space through another company.) The good news is that most web hosts are cheap—similar to the price points of website builders. But it also means there are many packages, prices, and services to choose from to meet your needs.
WordPress doesn’t have the same drag-and-drop functions as the website builders mentioned above, but because of that, it’s a more powerful option that can suit the needs of anyone from a hobby blogger to a large corporation. Even big sites like Time and Xerox use WordPress.
Pros of WordPress:
- The customization options are practically endless, allowing you flexibility in your design. As an open-source program, developers are constantly designing new web themes you can install on your site. There are both free and paid options.
- There are countless free and premium plugins—or pieces of software that expand your site’s functions—available from various developers. You can use these plugins to build a site suited to your needs, whether you’re launching a blog, portfolio, ecommerce website, or university site. Plus, with competition between developers, there’s an incentive for them to create the best web tools available.
- WordPress is built for blogging, so it’s a good platform if you’re looking to start blogging. It features tools like post scheduling, and there are tons of plugins available for creating beautiful social media follow buttons, newsletter subscription forms, author bio boxes, and more.
- You’ll have access to the backend of your site so that you can tweak design elements and content on your own.
- It’s SEO-friendly. Not only is the basic system good for SEO, but you can install SEO plugins that will boost your SEO results.
- As one of the most popular platforms, there’s a huge community around WordPress. That makes it simple to get your questions answered quickly.
- With the right responsive theme (and there are lot of them available for WordPress), you can build a site that’s mobile-friendly and looks great on desktop computers.
- Being so popular, it’s easy to integrate other services into your site, such as the newsletter service MailChimp.
Cons of WordPress:
- Because WordPress is a CMS and doesn’t have a visual editor, there’s a learning curve. It takes some time to become familiar with the system, and you may have to learn some basic HTML.
- Being an open-source platform with its code easily available online, there are security concerns. However, with a secure webhost and additional security plugins, it’s easy to add extra layers of security to keep your site free from hackers.
- Due to these security concerns, updates are frequent for both the main software and for any plugins you’ve installed.
- Since anyone can create themes or plugins compatible with WordPress, these plugins may at times cause conflict between their codes.
One aspect that may come as an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it is that high-quality themes and plugins come at an extra price. If you have a tight budget, you may see this as a drawback. (Although, to be clear, there are plenty of free options available as well.) However, premium themes and plugins come with extra perks. They typically look better, have better security, are better for SEO, and are more customizable. This allows you to create a more high-quality and professional site with practically unlimited possibilities. You’ll just have to budget for these extras.
Which Should You Use?
The question about whether you should use a website builder or WordPress comes down to one simple thing: your needs. If you’re a photographer looking to launch an online portfolio, then a website builder like Square Space should serve you well. If you’re starting a site for your business and need to go beyond the basics, then WordPress is likely the better option. Neither are very good at creating a network of users, although there are membership and forum plugins for WordPress if you want to gather a few users together.
A second thing to consider if you’re still not sure, is whether or not you are willing to learn. If you’re not very tech-savvy and are doing this alone, then a website builder might be better for you. If you’re willing to learn and do what it takes to create a unique, one-of-a-kind site, then try WordPress. You’ll get the added benefits like more customizable options.
It’s hard to say which option is better over the other because it all depends on you. The pros and cons listed above should help point you in the right direction, but don’t get hung up on the decision. Sometimes all you need to do is test it out and see for yourself if it’s the option for you. Which option will you test out first?
BIO: Robert is web developer and designer who helps small-businesses and non-profit organizations to build better websites. If you need his opinion or help, you can reach him at Twitter (@RobMening).