The terms Content Management System (CMS) and Website Builder are often used interchangeably. It’s understandable, since both enable you to build a front-facing website – with relative ease. However, once you scratch the surface, there are some variances that make them quite different solutions.
In the case of a CMS, these enable you to manage more specific types of content – such as a blog posts, house a knowledge base or a resources section. Website builders, conversely, usually provide you with the tools you need to create stylish-looking websites, but are limited in their functional capabilities and flexibility. Both tools are very useful, but suit different requirements.
Here, we look at the differences between CMS’s and website builders, discuss the advantages of each, and (hopefully) help you pick the right tool for your needs.
The Difference Between CMS’s and Website Builders
First we’ll look at the differences between these two types of solutions. Let’s start with website builders:
A website builder is any tool with a main purpose of letting you easily put together a site using pre-built components. Most website builders use drag-and-drop functionality and various layout options and preset themes to help you get to the end product as fast as possible. It’s fair to say that if your requirements are fairly basic – a web presence with a few descriptive pages – then many of these builders make creating websites as easy as following an omelette recipe. Even if you don’t really know what you’re doing when you start, you can still get a great result.
CMS’s, on the other hand, tend to have much deeper functionality and are usually harder to get to grips with if you don’t have much experience.
Take WordPress, for example, which is the world’s most popular website platform accounting for about 30% of all sites. With this platform, you can use a pre-designed theme to build a modern website quite easily, but it also offers a host of additional features. Despite its original purpose as blogging software, WordPress has grown to the point where it can power virtually any type of website you can imagine.
Not only are CMSs like WordPress inherently more powerful than website builders, but a lot of them also include website-building tools of their own. If you want to use a CMS, or your needs determine it, then you’re not necessarily sacrificing the ease of use that comes from a website builder.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Website Builder
Based on what we’ve said so far, you may be leaning towards the idea that CMS’s are a better option than website builders. However, the solution you should choose depends on your requirements. The following points are the main benefits of using a website builder:
- They’re (really) easy to use. This is the main selling point of website builders. Their simplicity is their strength. If you can find a website builder that meets your needs then it’ll almost certainly be easier to put together yourself.
- Speed to go live. If you just need to put together a simple website, these types of tools can enable you to streamline the process and avoid fiddling with too many settings. The less moving parts the better.
- Ongoing ease. Updates and changes are easy to manage. If you want to change an image or update some text then it’s usually just a case of logging in and just making the necessary updates. Your “new” site can be live immediately.
As far as disadvantages go, the main problem with website builders is that they’re usually lacking in features and scalability. That means they aren’t usually a viable option for large or more complex websites and they can’t be customised as much.
The Pros and Cons of Using a CMS
WordPress is our favorite CMS thanks to its ease of use and flexibility.
As previously established, CMS’s usually provide you with far more features than website builders do. However, features are not all they offer. Let’s look at the main benefits of using a CMS:
- Content-type focus. Most CMS’s were built to focus on one particular type of content. A lot of CMS’s focus on creating and managing a specific type of site (although many can be adapted). Two examples are WordPress for blogs, and Magento for e-commerce.
- Extendable functionality. Almost every CMS includes extensions or plugins that enable you to add additional features with ease. Thus if your original requirements change, such as if you decide you want to integrate your CRM, a CMS can usually change with you. Plus, you can customise the CMS to your needs if it’s an open-source solution (such as WordPress).
- Pre-designed themes. Website builders are best when it comes to ease of use and speed, but most CMS’s now include their own themes that allow you to create a stylish website relatively quickly.
The main drawback of using a CMS is that most of them have a steeper learning curve. The necessary complexity that’s involved in a content management system, can be harder to get to grips with, understand all the features and how to use them. You’ll also need to find a hosting partner – not difficult, but it’s an extra thing to do and an extra cost. If you’re just looking for a way to create a very simple website, it often won’t make sense to invest the time into learning how to run a CMS.
How to Decide Which Solution Is Best for You
You will hopefully now have a solid understanding of the kinds of websites that will benefit most from each type of tool. But in summary:
- Website builders. Leaner on features compared to a CMS, website builders usually still provide enough functionality for a simple website. If you want to set up a static information site, a basic blogging site or a simple e-commerce store, a quality website builder should be more than enough. Use the drag and drop functionality, populate your content and get going fast. You can search around for the best pricing and best features for your needs.
- CMS. Most CMS’s are comprehensive platforms, with a broad range of features and customisations. Some, like WordPress, can be adapted to power almost any type of website imaginable, whereas others are more specialised (such as Magento for e-commerce). If you have plans to scale your website and don’t want to limit yourself in terms of functionality, using a CMS will usually be the way to go. You’ll just have to invest a little more time in learning the platform or get some outside help.
Before you settle on a particular choice, it’s advisable to demo some of the options first. Most of the main website builders offer a free tier or a trial so you can check them out before committing. If you have access to a hosting server, you can also set up more complex platforms such as WordPress (or you can create a local site to learn the ropes).
Both CMS’s and website builders are great tools for the right purpose, but chances are one will be a better match to your particular needs. That’s why it makes sense to first settle on your requirements, then understand the different options.
If you have any questions on how to decide what’s right for you, or would like a demo, then get in touch!