Building a website is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. You no longer need to pay a firm tens of thousands of dollars to develop their custom code, and then pay them thousands more each year to maintain that site. Well, not anymore anyway.
If you want to roll out a website on the cheap, you have two broad options – building one with WordPress , or building one with one of many drag and drop DIY website builders available.
Both options provide a powerful and flexible structure in which to build your website, as well as a system for managing and publishing your content online.
WordPress is free to use and can be installed on any server that supports PHP and MySQL, which almost all commercially available servers do these days. Website builders will usually cost you a monthly fee for as long as you want to use them.
But which one should you use? Which one is better? We’ll try to give you a definite answer.
The Face Off: WordPress vs Website Builders
WordPress is powerful, but it does have a learning curve. Website builders are much less powerful but far easier to use. The tradeoff looks something like this:
2- Ease of Use
Good website builders have visual page editors that allow you to drag-and-drop elements around your website. WordPress does not have a visual interface. Instead, it has a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor.
The drag and drop editors are easier to work with because you can see what’s going on in real time. A WYSIWYG editor is more difficult because you have to check what each piece of code you wrote looks like with the preview button.
Now there are certain ways to get a live editor in WordPress. Certain bits of software can add that functionality, but we’ve found that it’s nowhere as intuitive or easy to use as the drag and drop builders that come with DIY website builders.
3- Kinds of Websites
WordPress can power anything— from a personal blog to a full-blown university website, to an online store. As a result, it can sometimes feel confusing and abstract— because it is designed to be able to do a whole lot.
Website builders are generally far less flexible. They are designed to power conventional websites like small businesses and restaurants. Most will add new templates every day, but they’re still not as flexible as creating your own with WordPress.
With a drag and drop builder, you’re editing things within the framework. You can customize everything within that framework, but the basic layout and flow of the website tends to be the same. Website builders pride themselves on having the “best” layouts that follow time honored traditions. You won’t have to worry about whether your website is navigable, but you also won’t be winning awards for site design.
Take a look at Designer Gleb or Duplos to see what we mean.
WordPress, on the other hand, is infinitely flexible – provided you know how to use it.
4- Plugins and Addons
One of the strengths of WordPress is its large community. This community has created thousands of themes and plugins for WordPress. These extend the functionality of your website. If you have an idea for something, you can likely find a plugin that lets you do it. But because these plugins are designed by different people they can perform inconsistently. A plugin might need you to tweak the code for your theme, or deactivate a different plugin to work right.
Website builders don’t have nearly as many plugins or themes as WordPress. BUT, because all their add-ons are built in house, most of them will work just fine without you having to tweak them. The downside is, of course, you won’t find plugins for everything. Sometimes you may have to do without.
The other great advantage that WordPress has is free plugins. Most plugins are free. While you may need to pay to get more powerful plugins or some specific features, the free plugins are generally good enough for everyone. Most website builder plugins on the other hand are paid or subscription based.
WordPress makes building websites easy, but it still takes time and skill. That’s why hiring a developer can be expensive (although less than you think). A good custom website could cost $800+ (on the low end). Maintaining the site could still require a freelance developer to help you, which incurs extra fees. Then there’s also the cost of purchasing a domain (typically $1.50 to $14 per year) and hosting ($12/year+)Yet most website builders start at less than $20/month. You can login yourself and change copy, upload images, or add new pages within seconds. You’ll still need to pay for your own domain, but the hosting is included.
With a developer, though, your costs are going to be upfront. A website builder might try to trick you with low introductory prices or even a “free” website. But once you want to launch it, you’ll need to pay. That’s why it’s very important to check pricing before you set up a website with them.
Here’s a quick comparison of what different website builders cost:
||Price (per month)
|Fast Web Host
||Free with hosting (starting at $1/month)
Every website builder comes with its own hosting. No configuration required. Just buy a domain name and connect it to the website builder, and you’re good to go.
WordPress is quite different. To use WordPress you need to find a web host that can install WordPress on MySQL and with PHP support. You may also need to learn how to use an ftp or find another way to upload WordPress files to your host.
The big advantage for WordPress is you can always move it to another web host that offers a better deal or better service (or both). With a website builder, you are on their hosting forever.
Most good hosts will also offer you domain specific emails, but most website builders don’t.
Most website builders will have some limitations, such as a maximum amount of traffic (bandwidth), even with their most expensive options. Some may even display their ads on your site with a low cost paid plan.
With WordPress, you’re only limited in speed by the host you choose. You might hit some limits but there’s always some upgrade somewhere that you can take to go back to full performance.
DIY site builders are somewhat new. They’ve started becoming popular for the past few years, especially with the growth of Shopify – a DIY site builder specifically for small ecommerce startups.
WordPress on the other hand has been around for over 14 years. It’s used in more than 27.5% of the top 10 million websites, and almost 60% of all the websites there are.
Popularity matters because it affects how easy something is to use. If you run into trouble with WordPress, you can easily Google for an answer. With a site builder, your best hope is the company has a decent guide or help pages.
Wrapping up: WordPress or Website Builder?
We promised we’d give you a definite answer, and we will. But first we’ll just sum up when it makes sense to use each.
A website builder makes sense if you:
- Need to get online within the next 2 hours
- Have a tiny budget
- Need a fairly simple website, such as a blog or a one page portfolio
- Have no idea how to code HTML or CSS
- Don’t expect a lot of traffic
- Don’t need email addresses or are willing to pay a different service for email
WordPress makes sense if you:
- Can wait at least a few days to go live
- Need to make a complex, large-scale website
- Would spend time and/or money to get something highly customizable
- Want more control over the final look and feature set of your website
- Need something a site builder does not have the template for
- Need functionality a website builder cannot provide
- Expect a lot of traffic
- Want control over the hosting
- Need email addresses (from the hosting)
So What Do We Think?
We’re big fans of WordPress actually. If you’re going to do something, you should do it right and we believe investing the time in WP is worth it.
You’re probably worried about the cost. Don’t be. Because of the size of the WordPress community and its popularity, developers are far more inexpensive now than they’ve ever been. You can find plenty of freelance developers if you look around. We can recommend some, too, if you have a hosting package with us.
You might also be worried about maintenance and support. Again, don’t be. A lot of hosts, (including us) offer managed WordPress services. You won’t have to worry about updates, backups or security ever again.
In the end though, don’t let decision paralysis get to you— sometimes you just need to get your hands dirty and try something. We recommend you start with a host that offers both WordPress support and a free website builder (like we do). If the website builder does the job for you, then great, congratulations. If not then you have a hosting which you can easily install WordPress with one click.
About the Author: Rupi Azrot
Rupi S. Azrot is the CEO of FastWebHost – an affordable web hosting company. Over the past 17 years FastWebHost has hosted over 200,000 domains in 6 data centers all over the world. Rupi founded FastWebHost after finishing his Masters from California State University. If you’re planning a new web project, he’s happy to help.