If you want to create a website but aren't sure where to start, this overview of the three main ways to build and manage a website will help you understand your options and decide which approach is the best fit for you.
There are many ways to create a website, including a wide range of software platforms and online services to help you get a website up and running, but any system you use will generally fall into one of three categories: website builders, content management systems and custom-designed websites built from scratch.
Understanding the differences between each method for creating a website will help you get started on the right track by choosing the best option for your particular needs. As you might expect, each method has its pros and cons as well as some trade-offs between simplicity and features.
- Basic website builders are quick to set up and don't require any special skills to use, but have limited features and limited options for customization.
- Full-featured content management systems like WordPress offer more customization and an extensive library of plugins, but can take time to learn.
- Custom-built websites have the greatest potential for fine control over design, functionality and performance, but require the most expertise with website code and administration.
Website builders are relatively simple tools that allow you to create a website with little to no technical expertise. These systems usually feature a simple interface to manage design and content, and most website builders offer a demo, a free version or a free trial, so you can try a few to find the best option.
Easy & Fast
The most valuable feature of simple drag-and-drop website builders is that just about anyone can get a basic website up and running, often in just a few minutes. Many platforms include free hosting and a free subdomain (like yourbrand.example.com) so the only thing you have to do to create your website is sign up and start adding content. If you just need the basics, a website builder or a simple blogging platform can be the perfect solution.
Website builders are great for setting up a simple website quickly, but typically this comes at the expense of advanced features and design customization. Having limited control over how your website is configured also makes it harder to manage important aspects of your website like search engine optimization and loading speed.
Some of the most popular website builders:
Content Management Systems
If you need a more powerful system with room for customization and complex functionality, a full-featured content management system like WordPress is a great option. A content management system (often called a CMS) is a software platform for creating and managing your website. Rather than using a centralized service like a website builder, a CMS is your own separate system, giving you complete control over design and configuration.
A CMS allows you to create and manage your website through a user-friendly interface in your web browser or through an app, without directly editing the underlying code. (Although that's usually an option as well.) Unlike simple website builders, content management systems offer a wider range of features and more advanced functionality and allow you to control the details of your website with greater precision.
Content management systems are popular among small business owners who want to manage their own website without sacrificing features or spending a lot of time learning website code. Some content management systems are powerful and flexible enough to be used by professional web developers as a way to build and launch client websites quickly and efficiently.
A Learning Curve
Depending on your level of expertise with building and managing websites, one potential drawback to using a content management system is that it can take time to learn. If creating a website with an absolute minimum of time and effort is a priority, a full CMS probably isn't the right choice.
Many DIY website administrators and small business owners enjoy the challenge of learning how to manage their own website, particularly if it means they can have more precise control and use advanced features. If you're open to learning, getting up to speed with a CMS can be a great investment in your business.
Some of the most popular content management systems:
Although there are many CMS platforms, WordPress is by far the most popular and it's easy to see why. WordPress is a flexible, powerful, comprehensive system to create a website and manage content. WordPress is a good solution if you want to build a website on your own but get up and running without high-level web development expertise or spending too much time.
Part of the reason WordPress is so popular is that there are lots of resources available to help you make the most of your website. In addition to support documentation, forums and tutorials, an extensive library of plugins lets you extend functionality and a large selection of themes make it easy to customize the design to fit your brand.
The core of WordPress is the open-source CMS software found at WordPress.org that you download and install on your own web server. You're responsible for setting up and maintaining the software (like updates and data backups) but it's entirely under your control. If you're not interested in administering your own software installation and server setup, some web hosting providers offer what's known as managed WordPress hosting often at an additional cost.
WordPress.com offers a version of the WordPress CMS that's provided as a service. Somewhere between a website builder and a self-hosted CMS, this option makes it easy to setup a website without hosting and managing the system yourself, and includes a completely free version.
Hand-coding and manually managing the files of your website gives you the most detailed control over how your website looks and works. Creating a website from scratch also makes it easier to keep things simple and lightweight, which can translate into better page loading speed.
Time & Expertise
The downside of creating a website from scratch is that it requires a minimum level of knowledge and expertise, and that can take time to develop. Anyone can learn HTML code and create a website from scratch, but depending on the kind of website you need, it may not make sense to invest the time.
If you don't want to build your website entirely from scratch, boilerplate code files, website templates and pre-built code frameworks are good resources to jumpstart your project and save time. Most website templates include a basic design style that you can tweak and customize and many also feature modular content elements that can be mixed and matched to fit your content.
A few of the many resources to help you build a website from scratch:
While website builders, content management systems and hand-coded websites have their differences, they also have one thing in common. Regardless of the method you choose to build your website, you'll need to register a domain name.
Some website builders include a free subdomain (like yourbrand.example.com) but if you plan to use your website for a business, a custom domain name is a must to project professionalism and credibility.