Building a website has never been as easy as it is today, whether it’s a personal site or a business website. The questions many people ask are:
- What’s the best website builder?
- Am I capable of building a website?
I will try and answer both questions here.
Not so long ago building a website required you to know some HTML coding and was quite time-consuming and complicated, but now if you can use a computer you can build a website. It is almost that easy!
In this article, we will look at the different options available and see what I think is the best choice.
The different options
There are many options for publishing a website but they can be classified into 3 categories.
A web editor is software that is installed on your own computer. The program can either be a visual editor (for example Dreamweaver or KompoZer) or an HTML editor. You create your page or website on your own computer and when complete you upload your work to your web host. With web editors, you don’t need to be connected to the internet to edit your site.
In this post, we will consider the “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editors. Hand coding pages is great if you have the time and experience and it’s certain you will learn a lot if you take this road. But for putting a site together quite quickly and not needing to know HTML or CSS codes, using a WYSIWYG editor is a better plan.
Using an online site builder, you login to the website of the site builder, and then you write your articles, add images, or change the design of your site directly online. As you create pages they are automatically added to your site. The site builders host your website.
Content management system
A content management system (CMS) is software that you install on your web hosting. Once the software is installed you log in to your website and edit your pages as required. In some ways using a CMS has some similarities to a site builder, the main difference is that you have complete control of your site.
The best-known content management systems are WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. In this article, we will consider the WordPress platform.
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Ease of Use
I feel it’s hard to be really objective about which of the 3 is easiest to use because it all depends on what you’re used to using. Many people say the online site builders are the most straightforward, but personally, I found WordPress quite easy. I still use a web editor that’s installed on my computer to update one site I have, although this means messing about with HTML code, I enjoy that but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.
In other words, what works for me may not work for you, we will all have our own preferences. Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s available.
Although I find the WYSIWYG editors harder to use than the online alternatives they have come a long way and there are even some drag and drop editors. Having a basic knowledge of HTML is certainly be an advantage.
The site builders generally seem to be considered as very easy to use and it’s true you don’t need to spend much time before you understand how things work. Great for beginners. Another advantage over WordPress is that they are WYSIWYG editors, meaning you will see exactly how your site will look while you are editing.
This is my favorite site-building platform and maybe the learning curve is slightly steeper than for the site builders. However, I feel that WordPress is sometimes made to seem too difficult for beginners. I was reticent about learning how to use WordPress, but the platform I used to build my site gave step by step lessons which made it quite easy. Now I wish I had started using WordPress years ago.
Perhaps it was the lessons that made the difference, it’s certainly something you don’t see elsewhere. The only downside when using the editor in WordPress is having to leave your dashboard to see how your site will look in the web browser of your choice.
The site builders are slightly easier to get the hang of for a debutant, but with the step by step training, WordPress would be my choice. One important point to consider is that saving time initially is great, but in the long term what will take up most of your time is creating content. So saving a little time, in the beginning, may not be the most important consideration.
A web editor allows you to find your own hosting, this has a small cost but allows you to move your site whenever you choose. You create your pages on your own computer then upload all the content, images, and videos to the web host using an FTP ( File Transfer Protocol) client
The site builders host your site on their own servers. You should pay attention to this aspect because if you are tied into hosting with a site builder what will you do if their service deteriorates, they push up their prices, or even go out of business? You will have little choice, either continue with their service or lose your site.
Many site builders do allow you to build and host a site for free, if you choose this free option you will have an advert for the site builder on each page of your website. The site builders have different pricing options that often have restrictions on bandwidth and storage.
You find your own hosting which means you have the flexibility to move your site as you like, additionally you won’t usually have any restrictions on bandwidth and storage. As your pages are created online, once you are ready to publish all you have to do is click on the publish button.
It is also possible to create and host a website for free using WordPress.com or SiteRubix.com and in addition, there are no adverts on your site. However, there are many restrictions on WordPress.com.
Not having restrictions and being free to move your site to a new host is important, so, for this reason, WordPress or the web editors win here.
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Choice of Themes or Templates
Some of the editors may come with a few themes but if not you can find free HTML5 templates or buy templates from merchants like themeforest.com, their prices range from around $60 down to $5. In terms of numbers, I don’t know how many templates are available because many different resources are offering free templates, however, on Theme Forest there are nearly 1900 templates tagged HTML5.
Changing themes isn’t possible when using a web editor, you will have to start over again
Some site builders have quite a few themes, for example, Wix has 424 free templates. With other site builders, you might be limited in choice, but one point to take into consideration is that with some site builders, notably Wix, you can’t change the template. This means you have to start from scratch with your new template.
Apart from this, you can edit your template with the drag and drop editor and some site builders allow you access to the CSS and HTML codes. Each site builder has different choices and capabilities so you will have to check out each one to see what suits you. Personally, I like to have the option to change themes when I want, so Weebly would be my choice here, but at the same time, the number of free themes available is fewer than Wix. With most site builders, there are premium themes available.
With WordPress, on the other hand, you have a selection of over 3000 free themes, you can change themes when and as often as you like and you have access to the HTML and CSS codes. There are also many premium themes.
WordPress wins hands down, a much bigger choice of themes, change the look of your site when you like and you are free to make all the changes you need because you have access to the code. For me the best site builder in this section is Weebly, you can change theme when you need and edit the code, where they don’t fare so well is with the number of themes available.
Getting your on-page SEO done is easy with the web editors, you have access to the HTML code to edit the title tag and the description tag. You can add “alt” tags when adding images, heading tags and you choose the URL of your page.
Some people complain about the ability of certain site builders to achieve a good ranking in the search engines whereas others say they have no problem. You have the ability to enter all the important SEO data as with the other website builders. Some site builders include strange characters in their URLs for example #!, apparently, this doesn’t harm SEO but it doesn’t look as professional.
WordPress is well known as being SEO friendly, however, you still need to do your on-page and off-page SEO work to achieve the best results.
Although WordPress is renowned as being search engine friendly there are websites using the site builders that rank well on Google. From personal experience, I know that sites built with web editors can rank well. Overall I would favor WordPress but the choice of platform is just a small part of the equation. The most important point is to choose the right keywords and then do your on-page and off-page SEO correctly. Get your SEO right and you will rank using any site builder.
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The 3 categories have responsive themes available and this is an absolute necessity these days, as being mobile-friendly is a ranking factor. However, Wix templates are not yet fully responsive, they have a separate mobile editor. This means you have to edit 2 versions of your site.
There’s not much to choose between the 3 here. Although by the number of themes available, WordPress would be my choice.
It is possible to create an online store with a web editor and some templates are designed to create good-looking stores. For more advanced options like tax and shipping charges or creating your shopping cart, this might be more difficult. There are e-commerce applications like osCommerce you can install directly on your hosting server.
The site builders have complete e-commerce solutions and most provide integration with different payment providers. With many, you have to upgrade to the highest level to avoid the transaction fees that are charged in extra to the payment processor fees. Their e-commerce options allow you to give discounts, calculate tax and shipping charges. If you’re interested in having an online store you will have to take a detailed look at what each provides to suit your needs.
To build an e-commerce site with WordPress you need to install a plugin. There are several available but the best known is WooCommerce, which is free. This allows you to have a complete e-commerce solution for your site. There are no additional transaction fees just the payment processor fees.
This is a close call between the site builders and WordPress, but I would choose WordPress with the Woocommerce plugin, this would probably be cheaper. Another alternative would be to use a specialist e-commerce platform.
Creating content has a steeper learning curve than the other 2 options. When using a web editor you have to invest a little time to get to know how everything works. Once you have got the hang of things this does give you more flexibility, than with the site builders, as you are in complete control of your site.
You drag and drop your content into the location you want on your page. If you want to add text, you drag and drop a text box. If you want an image or video you drag and drop the relevant box. It will take just a few minutes to get the hang of creating a page. If you run into problems there are usually several help buttons to help you through.
The pages and posts are created in the visual editor. It’s easy to add images, videos, and audio. In the text editor, it’s possible to modify the HTML, which is very useful for those who are proficient. You can also find some themes that offer the drag and drop function. To see what your page will actually look like in a browser you will have to leave your page.
The site builders are the easiest to use. If you have the know-how the web editors are very flexible but it will take time to learn how to get the most out of your editor. As time is a major factor for most people my choice would be the site builders or WordPress. I prefer WordPress but many, especially beginners find the site builders easier use.
Although you will be able to start adding your content to your site in a few minutes with a site builder, is this the most important consideration? Building a website for your business is a long-term consideration, not something that should be influenced by being able to use a website builder very rapidly.
Yes, ease of use is important but so is the future functionality of your site, being able to revamp your site when required, and the cost. Therefore don’t just enlist with a site builder because they are easy to use.
To add functionality to a page created with a web editor you will need to add the appropriate code to your page. You can find ready-made scripts to insert, but this would be a little complicated for a beginner.
The site builders have apps you can add to your site to improve functionality. There are free and paid apps. The number of apps with a site builder like Wix is about 225 and most others have less.
With WordPress, there are many thousands of plugins available that can add features to your website for free. You can find a plugin to add almost any functionality to your website. There are also premium plugins that can add even more features.
Personally, I have never brought a premium plugin, the free plugins do everything I need.
WordPress can be expanded more than the site builders. Adding functionality with a web editor is more complicated. The site builders do have some good apps but nothing like the choice of WordPress. The number of free plugins in WordPress is outstanding. You may find apps supplied by the site builders to do all you need but this may have a price. WordPress is my choice here.
Support and training
The most popular web editors, like Dreamweaver, provide a couple of different support solutions. They have a help center with tutorials and documentation and also a support forum. Before investing in an editor it’s always worth looking at what they provide in the way of support and tutorials.
Obviously, if you have problems related to your hosting you will need to contact your web hosts.
The site builders usually provide good support. As they deal with everything you only have to contact their support. There are no third party items that have their own support. Generally, they have documentation, video, and forums. Often it is possible to contact the support by phone, email, and live chat.
As always it’s a good idea to see what their customers are saying about their support.
As your site is made up of different components, themes, plugins, hosting, and the core WordPress program, you will have to search for support from the individual companies.
If you have problems or need help with the WordPress program, they have a support forum and documentation. The documentation is the first place to start and you’ll find information from getting started to creating your own themes. In the forum you can search for previously posted questions, perhaps your problem has already been dealt with. If not, you can post your question in the relative section of the forum and wait for a reply.
Support for a theme or plugin should be sought directly from the editors of the product. Premium themes and plugins usually provide good support, but for free themes or plugins, you will probably have to wait longer for a reply. Before choosing a premium theme or plugin always check to see what customers say about the support and make sure they are kept up to date with the WordPress updates.
Hosting problems will be dealt with by your hosting provider. If you have chosen a reputable host you shouldn’t have problems obtaining good support.
Most web editors provide solid support but always check before buying.
Although there are vast resources to help with WordPress, you may have to deal with different companies. So this might take a little longer. Having said that the only help I’ve ever needed was from the theme editor which was very rapid and from my hosting provider and that also was outstanding. So if you do your research about the support for the different elements you shouldn’t have any problem.
The site builders get my vote here. The support for everything is in one place, with the telephone and live chat support you can have a reply to your questions very rapidly. Also, their personnel should be familiar with everything to do with the platform.
There are quite a few free WYSIWYG web editors that you can use to build your site. Others like Dreamweaver cost $19.99 per month, however, it is possible to have a free trial. A free web editor would be my choice which means the only cost you would have would be for your hosting about $7 per month.
The site builders usually have a free option which is great to get started. The only downside, you have an advert on your site and a subdomain that may look something like yoursite.weebly.com. The paid plans usually start at around $8 with the top plan including the complete e-commerce features at about $25.
The software is free, you will just need to pay for hosting and a domain name. You may decide to buy a premium theme which can cost anything from $30 – $100 and a plugin, but this is up to you. There are many free themes that are very good.
There are also some options to use WordPress for free with:
- WordPress.com, however, there are too many restrictions which mean that this isn’t recommended for a business site
- SiteRubix.com, you can have a fully-fledged WordPress site. The only downside is you have to use a subdomain (yoursite.siterubix.com). Nonetheless, a great way to test WordPress!
A free web editor or WordPress would be the cheapest solution for a site with no limits. Some site builders do have cheaper options, but these come with restrictions.
For example, the cheapest plans at Wix limit the bandwidth, the storage and you can’t have a store. By comparison, a good web host won’t have any restrictions on bandwidth. There may be some restrictions on storage but this is usually a much larger limit than the top plans with the site builders and you can build a store.
From a cost point of view and for a site that you can build freely, finding your own hosting using WordPress or a web editor would be my choice.
So have you decided what’s best for you? In the end, it will be your choice, and although I may make some recommendations what’s right for me may not be right for you. The 3 categories that I looked at in this article all have their pros and cons.
For those who want to get their hands dirty and learn HTML code, a web editor would be great. But the learning curve steeper than with the other 2 platforms. Learning some HTML will help you later whatever platform you use, however, you need to have the time to learn.
The site builders are a great alternative for beginners they make it very easy to get started. After a very short time, you will understand how to build your site. Having said, that if you’re creating a business site I think you should look a little further than just starting quickly and easily. You should consider things like:
- The functionality you require
- The cost
- Is it possible to change the look of your site easily by changing the theme or template?
- Can you change to another host if you decide you have made the wrong choice?
WordPress is my preferred platform to build a site. Perhaps it’s slightly more difficult to get started than the site builders but once you get the hang of everything, I’m sure you will love it. If you are a complete beginner using a platform with step-by-step training will be useful or you can find courses on sites like Udemy or Lynda.
There are several advantages with WordPress:
- The cost – you just have to pay for the hosting and a domain name and that’s it. Personally, the only item I’ve paid for is a premium theme. All the functionality I need is provided by free plugins.
- You have complete control of your site. You can add more or less any functionality and change the look of your site when you like.
- Changing host is easy and there are fewer restrictions than with a site builder.
Anyway, now you have to make your choice. I would try building a free site with one of the site builders and also try a free WordPress option (see my recommendation below)
The platform I recommend for building a WordPress site is SiteRubix. The SiteRubix website builder is part of the Wealthy Affiliate training platform which is focussed on teaching you how to create a successful, long-term online business.
When you sign up to this platform which is entirely free you are given 2 free websites to build and experiment with as you like. You are taken through the process of setting up your website with 10 lessons as you can see below.
After that, you can either stay as a free member and continue using your free sites for as long as you like, or you can sign up for additional training that takes you through the process of setting up your own affiliate marketing business.
If you are not used to using WordPress or building sites this could be very useful as you have the support of a whole community. You ask your question about anything to do with WordPress or building your business and you will normally have a reply quite rapidly. Additionally, if you accidentally break your site (this has happened to me a couple of times) their technical support is second to none. They sort out your problem and get your site back online in just a few minutes, really incredible!
You can try the SiteRubix platform by entering a name for your site in the form below.
If you have had experience building your own websites let me know what was your choice of website builder. Did you find it easy or difficult? Any questions or comments let me know below.
Thanks for reading,