Should I use an online website builder, or install my own Drupal or WordPress CMS?

Scale weighing budget versus flexibility

Should I use an online website builder, or install my own Drupal or WordPress CMS?

Occasionally, I get asked a question similar to the following. 

I am building a new website. Should I use an online website builder such as Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly, or should I build my own site using a content management system like WordPress or Drupal? 

The answer boils down to a trade-off between budget and flexibility. I know there are many possibilities beyond those just mentioned, but for the sake of discussion, let’s assume the site in question is a good fit for either a website builder or a content management system (CMS): the site is probably intended for content marketing, maybe showcasing a portfolio, and perhaps including a little ecommerce. Even assuming this much, the answer is not cut-and-dried. The right choice depends on how you answer the following questions.


Will my website be too complex for an online website builder?

In general, the simpler your needs, the better value an online website builder becomes. The more complex your needs, the more likely you will need to customize your site, and many customizations can be difficult or impossible with a website builder. For whatever customizations or features you anticipate, evaluate whether your chosen service, e.g. Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com, can accommodate them. Customizations are more feasible when you install a CMS yourself, such as WordPress or Drupal.


Is my budget enough to build the website I want?

Be realistic about your budget and the kind of website you can get for it: if you can’t spend a lot, keep your site requirements simple. With simple requirements, you can take advantage of the low costs of an online website building tool. Don’t expect a lot of customizations unless you can do them yourself. With website builder services, they provide a fixed set of attractive themes to choose from. It’s like renting an apartment where you select from a few floor plans, but you can still put up your own decorations. If you do need something more custom, and you decide to build your own CMS, be sure to budget for a developer to help you, or if you have the skills to do it yourself, budget for extra time and effort.


Can I afford ongoing maintenance for my website?

Your website costs don’t end when you launch it. Be sure to consider ongoing maintenance as well. If you build and host your own CMS, you must keep its underlying software up to date in order to prevent hackers from exploiting known vulnerabilities, just like you must keep your computer and smartphone updated to prevent infection with malware. If you can’t do that yourself, you’ll need to budget for a developer or agency to help you, or pay for a managed hosting service who will keep your CMS up to date (note: these services may only update the “core” CMS software, leaving you responsible for contributed modules/plug-ins--if you look into managed hosting, be sure to ask about this). With a website builder service such as Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, or WordPress.com, the service takes care of the ongoing maintenance and software updates. Using the apartment analogy again, it’s similar to the landlord having a maintenance team to keep your roof from leaking and your plumbing working. This keeps your ongoing costs low and predictable.


What if I want to move my site later? Can I export my content from Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com?

This is an important question, especially if you put a lot of content into your site over time. You should own your content, not the website provider. If you choose an online website builder, does that service provide a way to export your content if you decide you want to move? Are there limits to the export capability? For more flexible export options, and direct access to and control over your content database, you will be best off skipping the website builder services and building your own site with a CMS such as Drupal or WordPress.


Can I integrate third-party analytics tools or use special meta tags with a website builder such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com?

It depends. If you plan to go heavy into SEO and SEM with tools for analytics, A/B testing, Facebook Open Graph tags, Twitter cards, or attempt other third-party integrations, you will have more flexibility with your own Drupal or WordPress site. Not all of these are impossible with an online website builder tool, but do your research. If these are important, I recommend you skip the website builder tool and build your own Drupal or WordPress site.


It comes down to budget versus flexibility.

The choice between a website builder tool versus building your own CMS is really a trade-off between budget and flexibility. If your budget is limited, you should expect to limit your flexibility and go with a website builder tool such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com. You will get good value for your budget, albeit with limits on what you can do. If you need more flexibility and have the budget for it, your best value will be to build your own CMS, using something like WordPress or Drupal, and hosting it on a quality hosting provider. A good CMS will provide the most flexibility, giving you the website and tools you need for your business.

If you would like to discuss your own situation, please contact us. We will be happy to help you with your web platform decision, your implementation, and your ongoing maintenance if you so choose. 
 

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