If you are just getting your feet wet with a website, you might have wondered what is the difference between a website builder and CMS (Content Management System). Some people would tell you they are the same thing, but that is not the case in all instances. Yes, some website builders have elements of a CMS built-in to their functionality, but they don’t have the full tool set of a true CMS. In the end, you want to know what you’re getting to most effectively manage whatever initiative you are undertaking.
Both of these online tools can be very good for different types of activities and knowledge levels. If you are looking for a simple website with basic pages and that’s it, a website builder should do the trick. A good website builder can handle a simple blog, services pages, and even basic e-commerce functionality. If, however, you are looking to create more complicated content, with more flexibility, a CMS is more robust.
Let’s take a look at some of the core differences between a website builder and a CMS.
|Design||Great turnkey templates for a quick professional looking site||Lots of great templates available, but can have a slightly higher learning curve||Go with a website builder for small simple site, but CMS if you have significant online content needs.|
|Hosting||Typically provided by Website Builder company||Need to find hosting on your own||The all-in-one nature of website builders is nice, but hosting for a CMS should not be a huge deterrent|
|Pricing||Typically $10-$40/month dependent on storage and bandwidth||Free to download||Hosting is not included with a CMS. The cost of hosting company is typically a little less, but comparable to that of the website builder|
|Flexibility||Today's website builders have decent flexibility to customize a site||A CMS offers maximum flexibility given the number of plug-ins available, and ability to custom modify a site if necessary||Keep in mind the additional cost for a CMS if developers are needed for customization|
|Customer Support||Good support with either an support ticket systems, and in some cases even phone support||No support directly from the CMS developers||Support for a CMS is typically provided by hosting providers and third party developers of premium templates and plug-ins you purchase|
Design Templates and Customization
There is some similarity between a website builder and CMS on this one. But ready-to-go template designs are often the sweet spot for Website builders like Wix.com. Because website builders often are more of a turnkey solution, they offer templates that look beautiful right out of the box. Every piece of the design is ready to go, and you have options to drag and drop content so you can customize the look. This is the ultimate solution for someone who wants ease-of-use, and a very low learning curve.
Most CMS systems also have a large library of templates, but some are not quite as polished out of the box. For the free basic templates, it may take you some time to get the look exactly how you’d like. This can be frustrating for someone with little or no technical knowledge or ambitions. That said, there are also third party companies that make more polished templates for which you pay a premium price. The benefit to the CMS is if you have some technical experience, you can make modifications as necessary. You can even modify the templates with the right knowledge, which is a limitation of website builders. Just be careful if you do make modifications, that those don’t have an adverse effect on the rest of the site.
With a website builder, it’s most typical for hosting to be taken care of along with the entire package. That package often consists of a domain name, hosting, and the website builder. Again you see a great benefit to a website builder in that it’s a one stop shop. This aligns itself with users who don’t want to deal with the extra steps of buying a domain separately, and then being responsible for setting up hosting on top of that.
A CMS on the other hand is often going to require that you deal with the domain and hosting companies separately. Don’t let this fact scare you off though, since many web hosting companies will set your site up for you. On top of that, they’ll manage any issues you have depending on the plan you purchase. It is important to make sure you select a company that has an expertise in the platform you select. Most companies will make it very obvious which CMS they support. For instance, Sitegroud will help setup your WordPress site to the point you basically don’t need to do a thing. Regardless, there is a larger learning curve, and more hoops to jump through for a CMS.
Another difference between a website builder and CMS is pricing. On it’s face it can look like pricing is a big win for a CMS. That’s because many of them are open source, meaning you can get access to them for free. Literally, you go to a website, like WordPress.org, download all the files, and it’s yours. But that doesn’t take into account the hosting and any potential development costs. You can get great introductory pricing for the first year from most hosting companies. It’s very common however for them to lock you in for more than just the initial year in order to get that pricing. Assuming you can do any customization on your own, then hosting is going to be your major cost. If you will need help in developing your site further, then a CMS can get pricey.
A website builder on the other hand is more straight forward. They are typically going to offer you a number of plans based on storage and bandwidth requirements. You choose the plan that’s right for you, and you’re off and running. Often times that initial plan will come with a free domain for the first year, so be aware that can be an added cost in year 2 and beyond.
This is a key difference between a website builder and CMS. Website builders have come a long way when it comes to the ability to customize a website. But a CMS is still going to have more flexibility. Again, for a basic site, website builders are going to give you plenty of options in the way you structure your site. But if you have a more robust organization, and are want the maximum flexibility to scale a business, a CMS wins this battle.
One of the greatest benefits of the best CMS systems out there is the access you have to third party plugins. There is an enormous group of developers out there who build sophisticated add-ons that can do almost anything. Most of these add-on’s while promoting paid versions, often have free versions with impressive capabililties.
Support is something you should think heavily about when making this decision. A good website builder is going to have support built into the price you pay. If there is an issue, they will either have phone support, or online tickets you can submit to get assistance. Not to mention, because of their greater simplicity, you are less like to need support with a website builder in the first place.
As discussed, most CMS’s are free, so there is no support provided by the CMS company themselves. Now, if you pay for a premium template, they are going to provide you the support for development issues. The level of support is going to differ based on the which provider you purchase a template, so take the time to find a good company. We use Studiopress.com.
Your hosting company will also provide support for any issues you may have on that front. Because of this support coming from multiple different sources, it’s definitely more complicated.
A good website builder is going to have tools like built-in SEO, the ability to build forms, media galleries, and additional apps to add-on. SEO for instance, is critical in today’s world to ensure search engines are finding and indexing the content you create. And having an app marketplace that will allow you to build out further the functionality of your site is invaluable as you grow.
A CMS is going to have similar tools, but you may need to install external plug-ins to get the same functionality. For instance a CMS may require you install an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO before you truly get optimized URL’s and other features critical features. On the flip-side, once installed, the best plug-ins will give you even better SEO support than found in most website builders. This is true especially when it comes to analyzing the content you create in your pages and blogs.
Popular Website Builders
Popular Content Management Systems
- Magento (eCommerce)
The Bottom Line
Figuring out the difference between a website builder and CMS is important because they have different capabilities. They both have their place in the world of building websites, and you need to understand your end goal before choosing one. If you are looking for a simplistic and minimalist site, then you should trend towards a website builder. But if you are looking to build a larger site with more functionality and user interaction, then go for a CMS.