by David Page, Digital Marketing Consultant at Elfsight — developer of customizable & coding-free website widgets
During the early days of the internet, only large companies and people with coding skills could have a website. Those days are gone and today there are lots of website-building solutions on the market that fall into two major categories — CMS solutions and website builders.
In this article, I’m going to draw the line between the two of these types, describe their pros and cons as well as the key features of modern website building and management solutions and provide you with a list of top software for personal use, e-commerce, and small businesses.
What is a CMS?
CMS stands for Content Management System and refers to a software application that’s used to create and manage digital content. There are two main types of CMSs:
- Enterprise Content Management Systems (ECMS) allow companies to create, manage, distribute different types of content (docs, surveys, product info) as well as provide collaboration on them.
- Web Content Management Software (WCMS). It’s a set of tools allowing users without prior programming knowledge to create and maintain digital information on a website. This is the case that I’m going to refer further in this article.
WCMSs are usually free or offer affordable subscriptions that outweigh overall costs. As said above, they don’t require users to have a coding background, that’s why most WCMSs are user-friendly and easily customizable. However, there are expensive solutions on the market that are more complex and require training but at the same time, they provide more flexibility and/or security to meet particular needs.
Website building tools are another option that’s gained much more hype than CMS software. The term ‘website builder’ is self-explanatory and refers to software that is used to construct websites. At first glance, CMS and website builders have the same goal — why have two different terms for the same thing? But it’s not that easy and there are actually significant differences between these two. Let’s find out!
CMS vs Website Builders
The terms ‘CMS’ and ‘Website Builder’ are often used interchangeably, but these are different things as they use different approaches when applied to the website building. Both of them have their pros and cons. Below I pointed out the most crucial differences for you to grasp the idea.
1. Pain In The Neck vs All-In Solution
In order to use a CMS, you need to install a hosting, purchase a domain, manage databases, run manual updates etc. Website builders are all-in tools that require no additional management efforts.
2. Highly Customizable vs Easy-To-Use
As long as in CMS you are dealing with direct code, you’ve got a wide range of opportunities for customization including extra plugins, modules etc. In the case of website builders, you are typically offered a visual drag-and-drop interface.
3. Poor vs Rich Design Opportunities
Most CMSs offer only a few basic (often low-quality) templates. That’s why you most often have to either purchase premium themes and templates or improve the existing ones / develop your own from scratch. Unlike CMSs, website builders offer a rich variety of predesigned customizable templates and other design opportunities.
4. No Customer Support vs Quality Support
Free CMS solutions often provide no official customer assistance, so you have to search for blogs and users’ communities for troubleshooting. In the case of website builders, they offer strong customer support.
5. Built-In SEO Tools vs External SEO Plugins
Free CMSs offer poor or no SEO customization at all, so you need to install external plugins while website builders provide built-in SEO tools.
To sum up, website builders require no coding skills as well as offer a user-friendly interface and tons of design opportunities. These are the best choice for non-techies like small businesses, personal websites etc. On the other hand, CMSs offer rich customization opportunities but require more advanced skills to be handled effectively. CSMs are best for companies to manage projects, documentation portals etc.
Core Features of Top Website Building Tools
Before you decide which website building tool to use, you should define your priorities in relation to its use, management, functionality and more. While usability and cross-platform opportunities are important to some, others focus on SEO and social media promotion opportunities.
Here’s a list of the core, in my opinion, features that most of the top CMS tools and website builders should have built-in.
Nowadays most solutions are tailored for users without programming knowledge, so it’s important that modern software has an intuitive WYSIWYG editor with preview functions, import capabilities for media elements like video and audio content, interactive flash animations and more.
The percent of mobile views is still growing and today mobile-friendly webpages are a must. Many website building solutions provide ready-to-use templates that automatically adjust to the size of the display but they are often not available for free.
Social Media Integration
Whether it’s a website-building CMS, an ECMS, a website builder or any other, it’s essential that website pages support content promotion capabilities including sharing buttons and comment function.
Built-In SEO Tools
Needless to say that your website should be SEO-friendly and appear on the first pages of the relevant search requests. That’s why good website building software should have SEO tools including page titles, headers, SEO-friendly URLs, meta tags and meta descriptions.
Your website should have a proper search unless it’s a single page website. Some of your visitors come to browse, some look for a particular piece of information like a specific product, article an so on. And if your website fails to provide this information, visitors will leave your website and the conversion rate is going to be low. That’s why it’s essential that your website has a proper, fast and easy-to-use search.
These are the basic modern CMS’s features although it may vary depending on the purpose of the website. Let’s get specific and look into the best CMS solutions for e-commerce, small businesses, and personal use.
Best CMS for eCommerce
If you are looking for an e-commerce CMS solution and not sure where to start, I’ve compiled the following list of the most popular CMS software for e-commerce. Have a look!
Probably the most popular e-commerce website builder. It’s so widely used mostly because it’s intuitive, easy-to-use and it has a huge app store that allows enhancing your online store. There are also thousands of third-party apps available that extend functionality and make it suit your needs best.
If you use Wordpress, WooCommerce is the best and most popular e-commerce option out there. It’s a truly powerful solution that is compatible with most of the popular plugins for the websites. But if you’ve never used Wordpress before, you need to consider other options. Otherwise using both Wordpress and WooCommerce can be tricky for a new user.
Another powerful option for e-commerce. It’s more user-friendly than Wordpress and got a bunch of other benefits like PayPal integration. It also offers a variety of pre-built templates that extend its functionality greatly and make it one of the best e-commerce CMS on the market.
Jumpseller is a good alternative for non-techies. It has a friendly interface, a quality customer support team, and a reasonable price. It might not leave much room for design, but it’s easy to use for beginners.
Magento is used by massive retailers like Samsung and Nespresso as well as small e-commerce operators. The learning curve of this one is steep for but it’s worth the effort. It’s available as a free download as well as a hosted service. Its pros also include an impressive feature set and high customization capabilities.
A few years ago website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace were only tailored for personal and company websites without e-commerce functionality. But that’s changed. You might want to consider website builders for your online shop but keep in mind that their e-commerce functionality is limited.
Top CMS Options for Small Business
Small business websites usually don’t require advanced functionality, therefore, the website building software for this particular purpose should have an intuitive interface and be easy-to-use with minimum extensive knowledge required.
Probably the most widespread option due to its functionality, host and self-hosted options and many more. Wordpress is a free open-source solution that requires no coding skills. Plugins are a huge part of it — there’s a plugin for every use case.
Wix achieved the reputation of the most easy-to-use CMS platform in the Web. It’s true, Wix has an intuitive interface, an array of simplistic plugins and third-party accessories integration like Google Analytics. However, it has some limitations concerning the integration of more complex tools. More tech- and marketing-witty individuals should look into other CMS solutions.
Joomla is an easy-to-use CMS that comes with an intuitive dashboard. And there are many third-party integrations available for setup. Since this is open source, the elements are customizable to suit your needs. Setting up may require a steep learning curve. Maybe not as easy to set up as Wix or Weebly.
One of the most popular open-source content management systems on the market. Its major advantages include functionality, flexibility, customization and a wide variety of plugins. However, Drupal requires advanced knowledge of installation and modification (more advanced than in Wix and Joomla).
Best Software for Personal Website
Unlike company websites, personal blogs and portfolios are lightweight and don’t require advanced functionality. So plain solutions look like the best choice for this purpose. Let’s take a look at the top options.
Carrd is a free service for building and hosting simple, responsive, one-page websites for anything and everything. It is both simple and easy-to-use, while not compromising on your ability to create a functional and beautifully designed website.
Build your page from a wide range of pre-designed blocks. Choose from a wide range of widescreen covers, gorgeous typography, photo gallery, background video, forms and more. Start from scratch and create new blocks with unique design and adaptability.
From simple to sophisticated, Grav has the flexibility to power all sorts of websites. Flexible content structure and powerful templating allow easy realization of any design whether you need a personal blog, a landing page or other.
Cloudpress allows you to create responsive WordPress websites without coding. Choose from a wide range of dimensions, typography, web fonts, backgrounds, and effects. This is a great option if you’re specifically looking to build a page on the WordPress CMS platform.
If you are building a personal blog or portfolio, website builders are the best match for you as long as CMSs often lack flexibility, limited when it comes to design, and require extensive knowledge of coding. Meanwhile, CMSs allow you to create powerful websites and that’s why they require much more technical knowledge and experience.
In this article, I attempted to give you a quick idea of the top website building solutions for e-commerce, small businesses, and personal use. Thanks for reading!
What website building software and/or CMS tools do you use? What are the pros and cons? What’s your favorite solution? Please, share in the comments!