There’s more than one way to build a beautiful website.
Site builders are a hosted service. They allow you to create a website using the tools and servers of another company.
WordPress is an open source CMS (Content Management System) and platform. Anyone can download it for free and use it to develop their own, self-hosted websites and applications.
What the final website looks like, what it does and the process for building it will be very different depending whether you use a site builder or WordPress. Both can create beautiful and functional results, but the best solution will depend on your unique needs.
Site builders: Site builders are very cheap. By selling the same tools to millions of people, companies like Squarespace, Weebly and Wix can charge almost nothing per user.
Here’s what you’re looking at:
WordPress: WordPress is definitely going to be more expensive. Just how much more will depend on what you’re building.
These are the fixed costs:
- WordPress CMS download, Free.
- Domain Name: about $12 per year.
- Hosting: This will depend on the size of your site and how much traffic you’re expecting, but most websites can be hosted for under $10 per month.
But WordPress websites also take a lot more time to build. There’s a steep learning curve for beginners, and even for experienced developers it can take weeks. Whether you’re building a site yourself or hiring someone else, its going to take way more resources than it would to use a site builder.
Summary: If resources are limited, a site builder is the way to go. WordPress is only an option if you’re willing to invest a lot of time or money in your website.
What does your site need to do? Is it just a place to display information and photos, or will users need to make purchases and save information?
Site builders: Site builders come with a lot of powerful built-in functionality, such as:
- Managing Contributors
- Member login
These features are incredibly easy to implement on your website. The downside is that you’re limited to whatever your site builder offers. Building custom functionality is not an option and you can’t do much to tweak what’s provided.
WordPress: What makes WordPress so amazing is that there is no limit on what you can create. Its not just a CMS, its also an application platform that allows users to build and integrate their own functionality as plugins!
Just about any online functionality you can think of can be accomplished through one of the thousands of WordPress plugins. Here’s some examples of what plugins let you do:
- Online surveys, user submitted posts or web directory (via Gravity Forms)
- Manage and schedule appointments (via Appointments+)
- E-commerce, including digital downloads (via MarketPress eCommerce)
- Create member accounts and control content access for different membership plans (via Membership 2 Pro)
- Site search with weighted fields (via Relevanssi)
Of course, that’s easier said than done. But as far as sheer range of functionality goes, WordPress wins over site builders any day.
Summary: For basic, everyday functionality, go with a site builder. If your needs are very specific, or if you want a feature that is completely unique, WordPress is your solution.
What are your goals for the visual design of your website? Obviously you’re looking for something gorgeous. But what about branding? Does your website to reflect a specific personality or mood? Do you need your website to stand out in a crowd?
Site Builders: With a site builder, most of what your website looks like is determined by the theme you use. Each site builder has its own selection of beautiful, fully responsive themes to choose from.
Of course, there are downsides.
First, you’re limited to the provider’s selection of themes. Some site builders offer more choice than others. Squarespace has 38 themes, while Wix has 510. But in the end, you have to choose from what’s there.
Second, there’s only so much you can change within a theme. Background images, colour schemes and typography are easy to change, and some page elements can be moved around.
But for layout and user interaction design, you’re mostly stuck with what the theme provides.
Another consideration is that since templates are built to be one-size-fits-all, your website is going to look like a lot of other people’s — especially if they’re using exactly the same theme as you.
WordPress: There’s no limit to what you can design on WordPress. By building a theme from scratch, you have complete control over the layout, styling and functionality of your website.
This means you can standout from competitors with a completely original design. You can design a user experience for a very specific audience. You can communicate a brand or tell a story in just the right way.
The best part of WordPress is that you can combine custom development with pre-built themes. First of all, since anyone can build a template, there are thousands and thousands to choose from — many of which are free. Chances are, you can find something pretty close to what you’re looking for.
Second, when it comes to customizing pre-built themes, WordPress does it better than anyone else. Creating a Child Theme lets you inherit the functionality and styling of another template, while overriding any function, page, formatting rule or layout element with your own code.
Summary: Site builders let you create a gorgeous website simply by choosing a template. If you have a specific design in mind, if you need to stand out or make a statement, that’s when you go to WordPress.
Site Builders: Most site builders offer basic tools to improve SEO with meta tags for title, description and keywords.
For more complex SEO criteria like permalink structure, quality of template code and web technology, each site builder will be different. Web Builder Guide has a good comparison of SEO on different site builders.
It is worth noting that out of all Weebly, Squarespace and Wix sites, only 3 place in the top thousand for search rankings — and these 3 sites are the actual website builders themselves (i.e. Wix.com). This suggests either that site builder SEO is limited, or that people who prioritize SEO don’t choose site builders.
WordPress: SEO functionality on WordPress comes from plugins — and there are some pretty great ones. As well as letting you edit meta values for pages and posts, these plugins let you control indexing of your site, identify broken links (internally and externally), optimize images and much more.
Here are the 10 Essential WordPress Plugins for SEO, according to Search Engine Watch.
Used on over 25% of all websites, WordPress has 287 websites in the top-ranked thousand.
Summary: SEO for site builders varies across site builders. But in the end, plugins give WordPress the advantage when it comes to SEO.
The two approaches are for completely different use cases.
Site builder websites are a quick, cheap and beautiful. They’re also limited to the design and functionality offered by one provider.
WordPress is neither quick nor cheap. But in exchange, you get total control over your website and access to the powerful software built by an open-source community.
The right choice depends on what you are setting out to accomplish.