It doesn’t matter if they are just starting their business online, or simply creating a website for their existing one;  either way, small business owners are faced with a choice of using a website builder or a content management system for their new website. This decision sets the course for the project and plays a significant role in their business efforts later on.

Making the decision requires that owners first decide on the purpose of their website, and then assess the resources they have a their disposal, in terms of money, time and technical skills required in creating and operating the site.

Completing this initial assessment will help them later on when the time comes to compare these two different systems for website development and operation, and ensure they choose the one that is suitable for them and their business.

Defining the Terms

Discussing the choice between a CMS and a website builder requires a basic understanding of these two options.

Content Management System (CMS)

WordPress logo.
WordPress logo.

CMS is a type of software used to create, edit, manage, publish and store information for later retrieval. A CMS has a search function that helps locate information as well as an editor that allows users to enter and modify stored data in the form of digital media and text.

A CMS runs on a web server operated by the company or by a Web hosting service. A user or a designated webmaster can access the CMS via a Web browser. After login, the user can use the CMS interface to add website content.

Some of the popular CMS apps in use today include the following:

WordPress. A popular CMS that powers many websites in the world. The open source solution works for blogs and e-commerce sites and everything in between. Developed and supported by the community, WordPress has a vast user base that has access to many free and premium add-ons that make it suitable for almost any purpose.

Joomla. Another popular open source product. Conceptually similar to WordPress, Joomla uses a Web interface to create and organize information and then display it using themes and other visual elements to website visitors. Joomla powers approximately 2.7% of the largest websites in the world.

Drupal. Free, scalable, and extensible, Drupal appeals to a segment of website owners who depend on user participation. The open source team behind the software has some community-based training and support options. Many enterprises use the software to create an ecosystem of diverse sites having a consistent theme.

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Website Builder

Squarespace logo.
Squarespace logo.

Web hosting companies often make website builders available to their clients to help them quickly create an online presence. As proprietary online tools, the apps require almost no previous technical knowledge and eases the process of publishing engaging content. Users design their pages through a browser-based interface which automatically publishes pages upon completion.

Some examples of modern website builders include:

Wix. A cloud-based website builder that creates pages based on HTML5. Wix has an interface that lets users drag and drop elements to create Web pages. The service also helps clients tweak customized mobile versions of their pages, giving them complete control over the user experience.

Wix is one of the best website builders currently available, but you should always take into account all the pros and cons of using it. Therefore, if you want to learn more about Wix services, make sure to read this Wix review.

Weebly. Another drag-and-drop web builder that uses a theme as a foundation upon which clients can build desktop and mobile websites. Small businesses can use the service to create e-commerce sites.

Squarespace. This cloud-based site manager has a built-in page designer used to construct standard websites and blogs hosted on Squarespace servers.

Jimdo. A site builder with a variety of features used to build functional business websites. The site also has SEO tools that can help a company attract visitors. Jimbo has developed an interface that simplifies every stage of the development process.

CMS vs. Website Builder

Some basic guidelines can help you evaluate whether a CMS or website builder will work best for your small business website.

Ease of Use

Learning how to use a CMS can take some time, especially for people with little technical expertise. Some website hosting services offer managed CMS installations that can simplify maintenance, making such a site easier to administer. Companies often lack the in-house talent needed to create customizations for CMS-based sites, requiring the retention of professional design firms. Many businesses, however, do not require such extensive modifications of their CMS.

Companies that choose to use a website builder do not need technical skills. Drag and drop interfaces create beautiful pages with varying functionality and give small business owners an easy way to sell goods online. Clients can usually publish a site faster using a website builder than they could create one with a CMS.

Flexibility

A CMS can create websites that scale to businesses of almost any size and adapt to niche markets and specialized needs.

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Website builders offer less flexibility and do not easily scale for complicated purposes. Sites build with such tools, however, often work well for non-profit organizations and small businesses including those operated by restaurants and creative professionals.

Hosting

Small businesses rarely have the equipment and expertise to run in-house web servers, so the use of a CMS usually requires a hosting service. Many hosts offer free CMS installations, so companies can focus on building an online presence. Business owners have the flexibility to save their CMS data and move to a different host if necessary.

The absence of hands-on configuration makes website builders attractive. Business owners choose their domain and begin publishing pages. The proprietary nature of website builders makes changing between services almost impossible.

Maintenance

CMS applications often require manual maintenance and software updates. If the Web host doesn’t perform maintenance as part of the service contract, the website owner must either learn how to perform routine maintenance or hire someone with sufficient expertise to do it.

Sites created with website builders require no maintenance. Users can modify existing pages to take advantage of new creative features as they become available. The provider automatically backs up data and installs security updates.

Cost

Like most open source software, CMS applications cost nothing to use. Businesses owners might choose to buy premium third party features and services to extend the functionality of their site. Still, most Web hosts offer CMS installation for free, with a hosting contract. Also, annual domain charges and other costs can make a CMS-based site more expensive than one created with a website builder.

Businesses that choose a site builder pay a fixed monthly rate based on their selected service features. If requirements change, business owners can opt to move to a different service plan.

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Choosing the Best Option for Your Business

Both CMS and website builders offer easy ways to establish an online presence for you business. No universal solution exists, so business owners must evaluate their technical expertise, feature requirements, and available budget in order to decide on a suitable option.

Companies with little technical skills and design experience might choose a website builder, especially if they need a good website up as fast as possible. Those that require a customizable and flexible website they are prepared to work on should consider opting for a CMS system.


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