There are two main options when building a business website: DIY platforms like Wix or Squarespace, and WordPress, a self-hosted open-source content management system (CMS). Let’s explore the pros and cons of each, starting with the website builders:
Templates: Wix and Squarespace offer a wide range of templates that you can use as a starting point. In most cases all you have to do to build a half-decent website is replace the template text and images with your own.
User-Friendliness: Website builders use drag-and-drop interfaces that make it easy to create a website without any technical knowledge. If you’ve used PowerPoint or Canva before, you’ll pick up the basics pretty quickly. In limited cases it is possible to edit code, but you won’t need to unless you’re trying to do something that the basic features don’t allow.
Hosting: Wix and Squarespace both include web hosting, so you don’t need to worry about finding a separate hosting provider. We’ll look at hosting in more detail when we talk about WordPress.
Upkeep: Website builders use proprietary software that users aren’t able to access directly. That has its drawbacks, but one major advantage is that it eliminates the need for you to handle software maintenance and updates. You can build a website today and never touch it again for years, which isn’t advisable with a self-hosted CMS such as WordPress.
Customization: While Wix and Squarespace offer a lot of customization options, they’re not as flexible as WordPress when it comes to adding custom code and functionality. Remember, you’re using software that outputs a website rather than building a website directly – you don’t have access to the underlying code.
SEO: While Wix and Squarespace both offer SEO tools, they’re not as robust as WordPress. This can make it harder to optimize your site for search engines. Wix websites in particular have had a tendency to rank very poorly. The company has made some strides lately but is still not up to par with other options. Squarespace is better when it comes to SEO, but still not as good as WordPress or other tools that offer more control than website builders.
Ownership: With Wix and Squarespace, you don’t own your website. Your site is built and hosted within their software platform, which means you’re limited in what you can do with your site and its data. This also means that if the platform disappears tomorrow, your website goes along with it.
Scalability: Wix and Squarespace can be limited in terms of scalability. The most common limitation is multilingual functionality, which is not implemented very well (it’s usually handled through third-party plugins). If you need a multilingual website or need to add some kind of integration with other software, you may well run into roadblocks.
Customization: WordPress is an open-source platform that allows for extensive customization through the use of plugins, themes, and custom code. This means you can create a highly customized website that meets your specific needs. The limits to what can be achieved with WordPress are far, far beyond what you can do with a DIY website builder.
Scalability: WordPress is highly scalable, meaning you can add new features, pages, and functionality as your website grows. With thousands of plugins available, you can easily expand your website’s capabilities. This is a double-edged sword, though, because it’s very common for websites to use too many plugins. Each plugin is essentially a self-contained piece of software, and future plugin updates can break compatibility with other plugins, with the website theme, or even with WordPress itself.
SEO: WordPress allows much more control over the factors that affect SEO. This includes features like meta tags, sitemaps, and clean code, all of which can help your website rank higher in search engine results. This is influenced by the theme and plugins you’re using, page loading times, and other factors – but WordPress absolutely has higher SEO potential than website builders.
Ownership: With WordPress, you own your website and all its content. You have complete control over your site’s design, functionality, and data, and you’re not tied to any specific platform or service. You can move your website to a different web host, change its design at will, add or remove as many pages as you want, split your website into two different ones – the sky’s the limit.
Technical Knowledge: While WordPress is highly customizable, it does require some technical knowledge to set up and maintain. You’ll need to be comfortable with coding, installing plugins, and managing updates and backups (or hire someone who can do these things).
Security: Like any software, WordPress is vulnerable to security risks. There are security plugins and practices you can use to protect your site from hackers and other threats, but the most important thing to do is stay on top of software updates to WordPress itself and to any themes and plugins.
Cost: While WordPress itself is free, you’ll need to pay for web hosting and potentially for premium themes and plugins. Website builders include hosting as part of their monthly fee, but with WordPress you need your own – hosting is basically leasing space on a web server that makes your website files accessible online. This can add up over time, especially if you’re running a large or complex website with high computing requirements. As for themes and plugins, most professionals will have a lifetime license for the plugins and themes they use, but if you build your WordPress site yourself you’ll need to anticipate those expenses too.
Which platform should you choose?
I’d start by looking at your requirements. If you need a bilingual website or need it to pull data from an external data source, integrate with other software, or have special features like a client portal or a product catalogue, I’d probably steer you towards WordPress. It’s likely the website builders won’t do what you need, or at least won’t do it well.
If all you need is a basic unilingual website that lists a few services and has a contact form, then a website builder is probably good enough to start. If you find later on that it doesn’t do the job, you can always step up to WordPress or a different content management system altogether.
A third option – sort of – is a fully managed website like my “all-inclusive” offering. This gives you the most hands-off experience possible, although it is a little bit more expensive.