CMS vs. Website Builder for Web Design: A Comparative Guide

Most people choose either content management systems or website builders to create DIY websites. Understanding the differences between these web design tools will help you decide which one will best suit your website.

cms vs website builder

So, like more and more people nowadays, you have decided to take the plunge and build your own website. But to move forward with your ambitious exploit, a big decision looms: which option do you use to create your website?

Most people choose either content management systems or website builders to create DIY websites. CMSs offer frameworks that users can enhance with additional functionality through theme templates, plugins, and extensions. On the other hand, website builders avail drag-and-drop interfaces that make website creation a breeze.

While both options empower amateurs to create professional-looking websites, they possess core differences that might lead you to wonder which would be better for a DIY website design project. The ideal pick varies from person to person and usually comes down to your technical skills, website needs, and future goals.

This CMS vs. website builder probe will discuss functions, characteristics, and suitability, bringing to light the respective strengths and shortcomings of each tool. Understanding the differences between these web design tools will help you decide which one will best suit your website.

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CMS Definition and Functionality

Content Management Systems Word Cloud

A CMS is website creation and management software installed on a web server. Its 2-in-1 functionality supports pre-designed elements that offer flexibility in customizing the look and functionality of a website and a raft of tools for creating, editing, categorizing, and publishing content.

The beauty of content management systems with regard to web design is that they offer a much simpler, more accessible, and cost-effective alternative to custom-building a website manually.

Designing a website from scratch involves writing code (in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or other programming languages) to create the structure, style, and functionality of all the web pages. It results in a tailored website but is an approach that demands significant time and the expertise of a web designer or programmer.

CMSs simplify things by providing a variety of pre-built templates and the following advantages.

CMS Pros

• Allows in-depth customization: Aside from the tons of fully customizable templates that CMSs offer, most platforms are open-source, thus providing users with access to their underlying code. With this, users can go beyond tweaking colors and fonts and alter the layout structure. Doing so demands proficiency in coding, but the good news is plenty of CMS extensions and plugins are available to simplify customization tasks and expand functionality even further.
• Does not limit the growth of your site: CMSs do not lock you into a specific set of functionalities. As the needs of your website evolve, you can leverage the vast plugin ecosystem to add new features and adapt your website to changing requirements, all without needing a complete overhaul.

CMS Cons

It takes some time to master: Despite being designed to be user-friendly, there's a learning curve associated with using a CMS. Users need to familiarize themselves with the specific platform's interface and how to work with plugins.

Website Builder Definition and Functionality

Web developer sketching web page interface on whiteboard

Much like a CMS, a website builder is software that allows users to create websites quickly and easily without manual coding or technical expertise. However, instead of customizing templates, web builders have you piece together the design and layout of your web pages using pre-built elements. This approach results in an even easier user experience compared to CMSs.

Website builders typically take on the look of graphic editors and feature a drag-and-drop interface that makes website building a lot like assembling puzzle pieces. You seamlessly choose from a selection of professionally designed templates for various website types (blog, portfolio, e-commerce, and so on) and then add and arrange core elements to web pages (text boxes, images, forms, menus, etc).

While there is some allowance for customizing available with website builders, it is usually within the allowed scope of a given web builder. For the most part, you can add your logo and other branding elements and change things like theme colors, fonts, layouts, and background images, but not much else.

In essence, website builders prioritize ease of use over extensive customization options. They are also quite limited in equipping your website's capabilities, simply offering a range of built-in features and widgets to match the intended purpose of a given template. For this reason, a DIY website builder is an ideal option for people or businesses who want to create a simple website (personal blog, small store, etc) quickly and easily.

Website Builder Pros

• Is extremely easy to use: The greatest strength of website builders is their ease of use. Designed with newbies in mind, they come with pre-designed templates and simple drag-and-drop functionality.
• Translates to faster building time: The straightforward, visual approach to design also means that building a website is significantly faster with a website builder. Even as a first-timer with no clue of how the backend of a website looks and works, you will

Website Builder Cons

• Comes with several limitations: While the simplicity of website builders is an attractive quality, some options have limitations in customization, scalability, and control. That not only makes it difficult to achieve a custom website but also means you will have to upgrade to a website builder's higher-tier version/plan that offers more capabilities as your website grows and evolves.

CMS vs Website Builder Additional Noteworthy Differences

From the above CMS vs website builder run-through, you can see that the two platforms do not only approach website building differently but are also poles apart in their range of capabilities. While these are the main differences between the two, there is more. Here are a few more things you should know when choosing between a DIY website builder and a CMS.

Set-Up Process

Both CMS and website builders need to be installed on a web server for you to be able to create and manage your website. The server stores the files and assets of the CMS or website builder, including the software itself. But while the two platforms run on a web server, the respective set-up processes differ.

CMSs are typically self-hosted, meaning it's up to you to find a server for the software to run on. This independence is advantageous because your choice of CMS and hosting provider are not tied together. That means you can choose the best CMS for your needs separately from your hosting provider, and you're not limited to one provider because of your CMS choice.

Setting up the software is easy since many hosting providers offer one-click CMS installations to simplify the process. And if that option is unavailable, most CMS platforms have a user-friendly installation wizard that will guide you through the process.

Here's an overview of how the process goes:

  • Download your CMS of choice

  • Buy a domain name and secure web hosting

  • Install and configure the CMS

  • Select/upload a theme and customize it

  • Install whatever plugins and extensions you need

  • Create the necessary content for your website - homepage, about us, blog posts, product descriptions, or landing pages

  • Test all functionalities on web pages and ensure everything displays correctly across different devices

  • Launch your new website

On the other hand, setting up a website builder is also easy. First, you will need to choose a web builder that will work for your website and then look for a hosting provider who offers the platform with their hosting plans or an API that allows you to download the web builder.

The upside to this option is that you will not have to worry about setting up the software, as your hosting provider will take care of it. So this leaves the process of getting your website up and running with a website builder looking something like this:

  • Find a hosting provider offering your preferred website builder.

  • Sign up and choose a hosting plan.

  • Access the featured website builder, select a template, and start working on it (personalize colors, fonts, and other customizable elements)

  • Start creating content for your pages.

  • Once you are happy with the website's design and content, preview it on different devices to ensure it displays correctly before hitting the publish button to go live.

CMS vs Website Builder: Wrapping Up

The decision between a CMS vs a website builder ultimately boils down to your web development needs, goals, and what you are comfortable with.

If you seek a powerful and flexible platform that will arm your website with the ability to grow and adapt, a CMS is an excellent choice. It empowers you with a vast range of tools and customization options. But you have to be willing to invest some time in learning about the platform of your choice if your technical skills are lacking.

Alternatively, if ease of use and a quick start are your priorities, a website builder offers an ideal solution to get your website up and running. These platforms work best if you only need a website with basic functionalities and do not mind potential limitations.

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About The Author ~ Enid K.

Enid is a Web Hosting Expert and HubSpot certified SEO copywriter. She shares her knowledge and insights through blog posts and tutorials, helping readers navigate the complexities of web hosting and website creation. When she's not writing, Enid loves to cook and experiment with new recipes.

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