With all the website building platforms available right now it can be difficult to decide on which one to build a website with or have a web designer build it for you.
In 2019 it is important to know which website building platforms are user-friendly and which ones aren’t. It’s also important to find the right price for what you’re getting with each platform, as well as which platforms are still popular and have active support groups.
There are a number of factors you should consider when deciding on a platform to have your website built. These factors include: price, user-friendliness, the type of website you want, how customizable the platform is, and the amount of web development knowledge required.
I have listed the open-source content management systems (CMS) along with the commercial website building platforms since they are alternatives to the same end goal of designing and hosting a website.
These platforms are not ranked in any particular order, although I have to say I’m fond of using the free WordPress software (WordPress.org) in most cases.
Skip To 2019 Web Design Platforms
Self-hosted WordPress is the most popular website building platform in the world, and for a good reason. Almost 30% of all websites on the internet use WordPress to build and manage their websites because of its user-friendliness, customizability, popularity. Plus it’s free.
To use WordPress software on your site all you need is a hosting provider with a database and a domain name. Alternatively, you may download WordPress to develop a website locally, without any hosting or domain name required.
- The newest version of WordPress can be downloaded for free and installed onto almost any hosting service for your domain, as long as you have a database to store the files. Some hosting companies have a one-click WordPress install on new websites as well.
- There are thousands of free and paid themes to use to easily build your website. The free themes don’t come with as many features but are often good enough if you aren’t picky with how everything looks or you know how to code. The paid themes usually come with a lot of built in customizable options that don’t require coding knowledge as well as some free paid plugins which help you manage your website and add useful features and functionality.
- Using WordPress as a content management system and website builder offers you full control over customizing your website. You can integrate your own code to alter themes, create your own themes, or you can download plugins that other people have built to add new functionality to your website, including e-commerce, scheduling systems, forums, and more. Pretty much anything that the other website platforms listed here can do is possible on WordPress as well. The possibilities are pretty much endless with WordPress.
- WordPress has the most active users out of any other platform. This means there are constantly new plugins and themes being developed to solve issues that would typically require a lot of coding knowledge. Using WordPress also means you get the biggest support community at your fingertips in case you have a question you don’t know the answer to.
- If you want a WordPress website built you will find a lot more developers with better pricing than developers who specialize in Joomla or Drupal.
- The WordPress interface may be difficult to understand at first for beginners. WordPress does become intuitive after using it for a while, but at first glance things can seem a bit confusing. There are so many things that you can customize, meaning someone with no experience building websites may not know how to get started. I recommend watching a beginner’s tutorial for WordPress before using it so you don’t get confused or discouraged. WordPress is still the easiest CMS to use compared to Drupal and Joomla though.
- It’s up to you to keep WordPress up to date as well as the plugins that you install. Not doing so can create a potential security risk. You will also be responsible for creating backups of your website with WordPress, just in case something goes wrong. On the plus side, there are free WordPress plugins that you can set to create daily, weekly, or monthly backups of your website and database. There are also hosting platforms like Bluehost which will automatically update plugins on your website.
Wix is a cloud-based web development platform that was founded in Tel Aviv, Israel in 2006. Over 110 million people use Wix around the world in 190 countries.
The platform is known for having an easy to use drag-and-drop website builder. It has over 500 templates and many other features and extensions available.
- Wix is one of the most beginner-friendly website builders available, allowing just about anyone to create a gorgeous looking website after learning the basics. The website design platform uses a drag-and-drop builder to let you customize your website with ease. The building platform allows you to customize the look of your website on phones and desktops separately – which is a unique feature compared to the other website builders.
- Wix is free to use for the most basic plan. This means you can experiment with how to build your website without paying any costs upfront. Of course, with the free option you won’t get a legitimate domain name, you’ll like a subdomain like: “username.wixsite.com/siteaddress”. Also, there will be Wix ads on your free website until you decide to upgrade to a premium plan. The most basic plan that allows you to connect your own domain name and remove ads is $10USD/month annually, or $14USD/month paying month to month.
- There are over 500 customizable templates available for you to choose from. This makes it easy for you choose the perfect template design that fits the look you were going for. All that you need to do is change the text and images in the template to have a nice looking site ready to launch.
- Wix has an “App Market” that is somewhat similar to WordPress plugins. These apps allow you to add more functionality to your website. Some of these apps include “Wix Forum” (to add a forum to your site), “Wix Countdown Clock” (to add counting down clock), “Wix Bookings” (to allow online scheduling), and “Wix Music” (to let you stream and sell your music with the Wix player).
- Wix performs well in speed tests. I tested a couple of websites built with Wix on GTMetrix (a website load speed checker) and the sites have scores of 90% and 98% for PageSpeed Grade. I didn’t try to optimize the websites’ load speeds at all. Having a fast loading website is important for search engine optimization as well as keeping users from leaving your website before it has loaded.
- 24 hour email support, with call centers open 8am-8pm EST Monday to Friday. No live chat support available.
- You cannot add custom CSS to your website. This is disappointing for web developers who are used to using CSS to make precise changes to their site design – especially through the use of media queries. With Wix you have to settle for the design options they offer you. I can’t hate on Wix though. They still offer a lot of options for customizing text, buttons, and images. Functionality for adding custom css will likely come in the future though, as they have an option to vote for it being a feature at some point.
- Once you’ve chosen a template for your website and added content you cannot switch to a new template. If you aren’t happy with the template you chose after building part of your website you’ll need to start from scratch with a new website and template.
- The free version of Wix has ads at the top and bottom of your website and you don’t get access to e-commerce tools. You also can’t connect your own domain name to a free Wix account.
- You cannot add “no-follow” links to Wix websites. For most people out there this doesn’t mean much, but for people familiar with search engine optimization this can create an issue if they don’t want to pass link juice onto the website they are linking to.
Squarespace was founded in 2003 in a dorm room at the University of Maryland by Anthony Casalena. Similar to Wix, it is a website building and hosting platform that allows you to choose from hundreds of templates to design a website from. Unlike Wix, there is no free plan so you’ll need to pay or use the 14 day free trial to try out the website builder.
- Squarespace offers hundreds of beautiful templates to choose from. They have the templates separated into categories to allow you to find one that best suits the look you are going for. You can also add a cover page to your website so people see the cover page before entering your website. All the templates are mobile friendly as well, so you can rest assured knowing your website will look good on all devices.
- There is a 14 day free trial to allow you to test out the website builder and whether it’s worth paying for premium subscription. Squarespace’s website builder is about as good as Wix’s in my opinion.
- Squarespace offers a vast and customizable e-commerce system to use for your websites. You can sell an unlimited number of products, setup subscription services, import your existing products from Shopify or other e-commerce website builders, create custom forms for your products, and more.
- You can add custom CSS. This is a feature that Wix does not have which makes Squarespace stand out. Web developers love using CSS to make their sites look pixel perfect to how they envisioned them.
- Enabling ‘Developer Mode’ allows you to edit your website files directly, a feature that Wix and Weebly don’t offer.
- The website builder allows you to customize your site really well. Once you get a hang of how it works you’ll be able to build a great looking website. Squarespace allows you to switch your template at any time, which Wix cannot do.
- Images can be edited directly in Squarespace with the Adobe Image Editor, allowing you to crop, resize, adjust brightness, and much more.
- Squarespace uses a content delivery network (CDN) for images hosted on their sites, which means that your images will load really fast for users.
- 24 hour technical support by email, with live chat available 4am-8pm EST Monday to Friday. No phone support available.
- The website builder isn’t as beginner friendly as Wix. People who have never built a website before may be intimidated with trying to figure out how everything works. The Style Editor can be a bit confusing to work with if you’re a beginner. You can add text to a page using the page builder, but the style editor is required to change the colour, size, and font of the text. The same is true with buttons. The purpose of keeping the Style Editor separate is to allow you to quickly customize the look of an entire website, but makes it more difficult to customize specific parts of a page as you want.
- Squarespace plans are more expensive than Weebly and Wix. The most basic plan costs $12USD/month if you buy it for the year, and $16USD/month if you are paying month to month. The higher price may be justified by the gorgeous design of its templates, the ability to add custom CSS, as well the huge number of other features available.
- You can’t edit the mobile version of your website separately like Wix allows. However, all of Squarespace’s templates are optimized to look good on mobile devices. You can preview how the site will look on phones, but you can’t directly edit the mobile version.
Shopify the most popular e-commerce website building platform you can find – for a number of reasons. Whether you are just selling a dozen items online or you’re selling a million products, there is no limit on Shopify.
Shopify isn’t meant for building hobby websites or basic local businesses. It’s high price-tag is meant for companies serious about getting their products online and ready for purchase.
- There are many templates to choose from to build your store. No coding experience is required and the interface is generally easy to navigate. The Shopify dashboard allows you to track your customers, order statuses, analytics, and add new pages and products as you need them.
- All templates are mobile ready. Like most website builders out there, an emphasis is placed on mobile friendly pages – which makes sense since 63% of all website visits are from mobile devices in the U.S.
- You can synchronise all the products on your Shopify website into Amazon and eBay listings. This way your products can be found through a greater number of channels and you’ll get more sales. You could always list your products on eBay and Amazon manually but Shopify saves you a lot of time doing it. You can list an unlimited number of products too!
- Trusted by big companies for ecommerce. The Ontario Cannabis Store (the only way to buy cannabis in Ontario, Canada until April 2019) uses Shopify to sell to legal marijuana to hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario. Even Tesla uses Shopify to sell car accessories, charging cables, apparel, and more.
- You can sell products in person using hardware from Shopify and have it connect to your Shopify account. This allows you to be more flexible with payments and manage your inventory across all channels of sale.
- The cheapest Shopify plan (Shopify Lite) costs $9USD/month and it only allows you to add a buy button to social media or a website to sell your products without having a Shopify website.
- Support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by email, live chat, and phone.
- The basic Shopify plan costs $29USD/month (or $38CAD/month). This is a steep price point for small sellers just starting out. Considering the cost of other website builders like Wix and Squarespace, which also offer ecommerce, Shopify is relatively expensive. For very small online retailers it may be best to start with WordPress software (which you can download free ecommerce plugins for) and test how things go. Although the website and ecommerce setup is not as easy as Shopify makes it, using a free alternative (like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal) could be favourable for retailers who haven’t tested the demand for their product yet and just want a place to sell it online.
- There are only 10 free templates to choose from, and 58 paid templates that start at $140USD. The free templates are not as nicely designed as the paid ones, which makes it more tempting to buy a paid one to get started. The monthly price of using Shopify is already quite high, but having to add another $140 just to get some variety on your template is a high setup cost. Wix and Squarespace offer all their templates at no extra cost and with a much wider selection to choose from.
- The customization options for themes are not great. The website builder feels pretty rigid compared to Wix and Squarespace, and if you want to add your own code you have to navigate through the backend files of the website and edit files accordingly. This is not user-friendly for beginner web designers. It almost seems like Shopify wants to make it difficult to customize the free templates so you’re more likely to buy the paid ones that have everything set up nicer.
Weebly is a website building platform started in 2006 by David Rusenko. It is similar to Wix and Squarespace, allowing you to build a personal website or sell products online through its ecommerce capabilities.
Weebly stands out by offering a free plan like Wix and WordPress, except its paid plans are a bit cheaper and don’t have any ads.
- Weebly offers a free plan on a subdomain (websitename.weebly.com) that allows you to test out the website builder or put up a free website to showcase your products, your art portfolio, or promote a cause.
- The first paid plan starts at only $8USD/month when purchased annually, which eliminates all ads (unlike Wix, which costs $10USD/month for no ads) and allows you to sell up to 10 products on your website.
- You can export your website pages into a zip file if you choose to migrate hosts and want to bring your website with you. Your blog posts won’t come with you though so you need to copy those over another way.
- There are hundreds of apps (similar to WordPress plugins) that extend the capabilities of your website without any knowledge of coding.
- Support is available available 7 days a week through email, phone, and live chat. Their support hours (in Eastern Time) are 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, and 11am to 8pm Saturday and Sunday.
- Not ideal for websites with lots of pages. All of the pages are organized and selected in the sidebar of their website builder, which starts to feel cluttered after 10 to 15 pages. For websites that require hundreds of pages or plan on expanding quickly, staying organized will be difficult and another website platform would be best.
- No root access or FTP access to your website files. Wix doesn’t allow this either, but it means you won’t be able to add advanced marketing tools to your website, such as A/B testing software or custom analytics packages.
- Nothing about Weebly stands out to me as a strong reason to use it. The pricing is pretty similar to Wix (both offering free plans), but the website builder as not as advanced or intuitive. If you are an experienced developer then there wouldn’t be much of a reason to use Weebly, since it doesn’t allow for root file access or FTP. If you are a beginner at website building then Wix and Squarespace are easier to use and have more flexibility.
WordPress.com is a website hosting platform that, as you can guess, is built off the free WordPress software. You can create a free website on a subdomain (websitename.wordpress.com)and can upgrade to a paid plan if you want more features and no ads.
WordPress.com is the beginner’s alternative to installing WordPress software on your own hosting provider, except it lacks the flexibility of the free software.
- Free to use for the most basic package. You can quickly sign up, use a free theme, add a custom logo and design, and store up to 3GB of content and media.
- Very easy to use. A beginner to web design can setup a proper looking website and start a blog within 5 to 10 minutes.
- Their cheapest paid plan is only $4USD/month, which gives you a free domain name for a year, removes all ads, allows for up to 6GB of storage space, and gives you access to live chat and email support.
- You can set up an ecommerce store on your website if you upgrade to the business plan for $25/month (which is not quite as much is Shopify charges).
- If you want to connect Google Analytics tracking, install plugins or upload themes you’ll need to upgrade to their business plan for $25USD/month. That is a lot to be paying just to have access to Google Analytics tracking (which is free for most website builders).
- Limited in the customizability of your website template. You can only work with the plugins that come with the template you chose, unless you upgrade to the $25/month package.
- You can’t sell ads on your website. In order to display ads you have to sign up for their WordAds program where you share revenue with them.
- I personally wouldn’t use WordPress.com for any big projects. It is nice that they offer a free plan that helps you get acquainted with the WordPress software, but if you’re running a business and need a website with lots of features and customizations then WordPress.com is not your best option. Like Weebly, nothing stands out as special with WordPress.com as a reason to use it over the other big platforms. If you really want the power of WordPress just learn how to use the free software and use it on your own host like Bluehost (which has a 1-click install) for much cheaper.
Drupal is a free content management system (CMS) that you install on your own host – similar to WordPress and Joomla. It was first released as open-source software in 2001 and powers around 2.3% of all websites. It is used by some big companies like Johnson and Johnson and Greenpeace.
- A good choice for complex websites that require advanced features. Experienced developers will feel comfortable using Drupal software for any project.
- Drupal places a strong emphasis on the security of their software.
- Instead of plugins Drupal uses ‘modules’ to add extra features. There are a lot of modules to choose from, making developing your website easier and require less hand coding.
- Not beginner friendly. There is a large learning curve compared to WordPress and Joomla (or just about any other website building platform). People who have never built a website before should not be using Drupal as their platform. For beginners who want to use a CMS I would recommend WordPress over Drupal, without a question.
- Before installing modules there is not much out of the box functionality. You have to enable the blogging module before you can even start writing your first post. WordPress is a better option overall for blogging.
- A lot less people use Drupal compared to WordPress, which means hiring a developer to build your website on Drupal may cost you more or limit your options on hiring developers.
- There are not as many modules (plugins) as WordPress which means more coding work for features you want that haven’t been created as modules yet.
- To add a module to Drupal you have to find the URL for module online then copy and paste it in your Drupal interface. Alternatively you can download the module files and then import them into Drupal that way. WordPress makes installing plugins a lot easier by allowing you to search, download, and install them without ever leaving the dashboard.
Similar to WordPress and Drupal, Joomla is an open-source content management system (CMS) that allows you to build websites with the help of applications (plugins) and themes made by other developers.
Joomla is somewhat easy to learn and has been downloaded around 60 million times. This means there is a strong crowd of developers who continue to make applications and theme.
- There a lots of templates and applications you can install to improve the functionality and appeal of your website without much web development knowledge.
- SEO tools are built right into Joomla’s software. These tools allow you to create and edit metadata, do keyword planning and monitoring, generate a sitemap, edit robots.txt, and more. On Drupal and WordPress you need to install plugins like Yoast SEO for functionality like that.
- Unlike WordPress you can connect your Joomla website to multiple databases, which doesn’t mean much for most developers, but is useful for companies storing tons of data and trying to separate databases. Having separate databases can make it easier to execute SQL commands and find data, since there will be less code conflicts and more organization.
- Joomla has a more advanced user management system than WordPress does fresh out of the box. However, there are WordPress plugins like User Role Editor that give you full control over user roles.
- Easier to learn than Drupal, but harder to learn than WordPress. If you don’t know much about web development then it may take you some time to fully understand how to use the Joomla interface.
- Even though you can create complex websites with Joomla, Drupal is still better for performance and complex functions for big websites with lots of traffic.
- Blogging is tougher to setup on Joomla than WordPress and more difficult to manage. If you’re starting a website that is based around a blog then I don’t suggest using Joomla or Drupal.
- Similar to Drupal, it will be more difficult to find a developer to do work on your website or add a special feature since there are a lot less developers who use Joomla. The pricing might be a little higher than you’d pay for a WordPress developer.
With all of these website building platforms to choose from it may feel tough to decide on one. There are benefits of each platform I listed, but there are some that dominate in more fields than others.
If you are a huge online retailer then Shopify may be your best bet. However, if you are just an artist looking for a place to create a free website and show off your work then Wix or Weebly may be your best choice.
Overall, WordPress.org’s standalone software is the winner in most cases for me. There’s a reason why it’s the most popular CMS in the world by a large margin. Whether you have a big or small project WordPress can handle it. For having your own domain that is fully customizable it costs way less money than any of the website building sites I listed. All you have to pay for is hosting and a domain name.
Joomla and Drupal have their moments when they are useful, but there isn’t much reason for a beginner web developer to choose either one over WordPress.
Let me know your thoughts on your favourite website builder. If you would like to work with me, whether it’s designing a new site or reimagining your existing website, refining your brand, or improving your site’s search traffic you can contact me here.