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Amy Kant

Account Director

Amy has more than 15 years of digital marketing, communications, social media and design experience, which she uses to help clients solve complex digital problems. She is a member of both Northwoods' WordPress Practice team and our Titan CMS product team.

Matthew Karge

WordPress Practice Director & Business Development Manager

Matt is the WordPress Practice Director and a Business Development Manager at Northwoods. He works with clients of many industries helping them to pursue a digital marketing path with the greatest amount of return. He’s always happy to meet over a cup of coffee to listen to your needs and provide as many resources as possible to help you succeed.

Website Builder or WordPress? Which Works Best for Small Businesses?

September 23, 2021 | Amy Kant, Account Director and Matthew Karge, WordPress Practice Director & Business Development Manager

9 Minute Read

Big ad budgets make Wix, Squarespace and Weebly the most familiar of the many low-cost website options that can help small and mid-sized businesses look big online. These tools – along with the right photos, content, and user functionality – can create a solid user experience that appears to level the playing field for smaller businesses.

But how do you choose among these services? And is this type of service right for your business?

What Is a Website Builder?

Before making a decision, it’s important to take the time to understand what these companies do and don’t do and what they are and what they aren’t. Wix, Squarespace and others in this category are website builders – that is, tools. They are not content management systems.

Website builders provide software as a service, or SaaS. This model covers all the necessary components of owning a website, such as licensing, hosting, and updating. Usually, they charge a small upfront fee to build the website. The small monthly payments that follow and the chance to forget about the headaches of owning and managing a website often appeal to owners and managers of small businesses.

How Do Website Builders Differ from Content Management Systems?

Content management systems work in a more traditional manner: A business pays upfront costs for licensing, for a designer to create a branded look and feel, and for a development team to build the site. The remaining ongoing costs mostly relate to hosting and general maintenance.  A CMS approach costs more upfront, but the total cost of ownership can even out with that of a website builder after a few years.

The difference between website builders and CMSs is shrinking as the builder platforms become more mature. Early on, website builders struggled to offer tools that rivaled those of CMSs. But in the last few years, the largest platforms – Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace – have developed many great website editing tools.

Each platform offers a set of features that enable businesses to create stunning websites – if the business has the right creative mindset and assets.

Is a Website Builder or CMS Better for a Small Business?

We all love pretty websites, but businesses are about bottom lines. The biggest differences between SaaS website builders and CMSs lie in fine business details.

Website builders are proprietary, locked platforms. Outside developers can’t enhance them. This means that Wix, Weebly and Squarespace must invest in their products to add features and troubleshoot problems. The futures of their platforms rests on these business/technical/user experience decisions.

Because website builders are proprietary, they come with lots of legal language that limits what can and cannot be done with their platforms. This is not necessarily bad, but prospective adopters should review those limits and prohibitions.

By contrast, certain content management systems take a completely different approach to the creation of new functionality. Some are open-source platforms, such as WordPress, and freely share technology and allow outside developers to create new functionality.  Instead of one business directing the future, a worldwide community of developers and users influence the platform’s evolution.

Other content management systems are considered proprietary – meaning that a single company owns, develops and manages the platform and licenses it to users. Developers and users can request new functionality but can’t build it themselves.

Which tool is right for your business depends on your company’s unique needs and goals.

Why Would a Business Choose a CMS Over a Website Builder?

Many small businesses that built their websites with Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace have come to Northwoods for help. They feel stuck in a lease with endless payments and fizzling results. We generally find that a CMS, such as WordPress, will better serve these businesses in the long term, for these reasons:

  • Significantly more design choices to create a unique look and feel.
  • A broader array of tools and applications to connect to business systems (e.g., ERPs or CRMs).
  • A massive support community, including agencies, sole developers, YouTube, websites, and more.
  • Lower long-term costs.
  • The capital costs involved lead to site ownership, which can be sold to other businesses.

A Closer Look at Website Builders

Here, we boil down some of the key elements of the three biggest website builders, as related to small businesses:

Wix.com

Wix has made a large advertising push to promote its custom development capabilities. This is new to the industry and requires more research to see the full depth of what a user can do.

Cost: Free to $500+ per month.

Designs: Create your own or pick from 500+ templates.

Tools: Vary upon plan and can be added independently.

  • “Velo” development platform to customize website
  • Built-in SEO Tools
  • Logo builder
  • Purchase or use own domain
  • eCommerce capable

Fine Print:

They spell out the terms of what you can and can’t do with their platform:

Subject to your full compliance with the Wix Terms and timely payment of all applicable Fees, Wix hereby grants you, upon creating your User Account and for as long as Wix wishes to provide you with the Wix Services, a non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-sublicensable, fully revocable, limited license to use the Wix Services and Licensed Content, for the purpose of generating and displaying your User Platform to End Users and offering your User Products (as defined below) therein, solely as expressly permitted under the Wix Terms, and solely within the Wix Services.

Here's where the proprietary nature of their license comes into play in the contract. They have all the power to shut off your website and delete your data whether you request it or not:

If your User Account or any Wix Services or Third Party Services related to your User Account are cancelled (whether at your request or at Wix’s discretion), it may cause or result in the loss of certain content, features, or capacity of your User Account, including any User Content, End User data or other usage data retained therein, and including any domain name reservation or registration that was included in such Services. 

Squarespace.com

Squarespace specifically targets photographers, bloggers, artists, restaurants, musicians, weddings, students, and Etsy sellers through its design and customer listings. They promote themselves as high design, and their themes deliver.

Cost: $16 to $54 per month.

Designs: As of May 2021, Squarespace offers 90.

Tools: Vary upon plan and can be added independently.

  • Includes “Tock” for reservations and events for the hospitality industry
  • Built-in SEO Tools
  • Logo builder
  • Purchase or use own domain
  • eCommerce capable
  • Business support services for additional $4,900 per year

Fine Print:

Squarespace goes so far as to say that they have no responsibility for the content on your website:

By operating the Services, we don’t represent or imply that we endorse your or other users’ User Content, or that we believe such User Content to be accurate, useful, lawful or non-harmful. We’re not a publisher of, and we’re not liable for, any User Content uploaded, posted, published or otherwise made available via the Services by you or other users.

But they also reserve the right to take away their services from you for any reason:

We reserve these rights, which we may exercise at any time and in our sole discretion, and without liability or notice to you (except where prohibited by applicable law): (a) we may change parts or all of the Services and their functionality; (b) we may suspend or discontinue parts or all of the Services; (c) we may terminate, suspend, restrict or disable your access to or use of parts or all of the Services; (d) we may terminate, suspend, restrict or disable access to your Accounts or parts, some or all of Your Sites or your User Content; and (e) we may change our eligibility criteria to use the Services (and if such eligibility criteria changes are prohibited by law where you live, we may revoke your right to use the Services in that jurisdiction).

Weebly.com

Weebly is often regarded as the simplest platform for website beginners. While it’s easy to use, Weebly limits customization options.

Cost: Free to $29 per month.

Designs: As of the date of this blog, there are conflicting reports of the total number. There appear to be more than 50 designs from which to choose.

Tools: Vary by plan

  • Built-in SEO Tools
  • Purchase or use own domain
  • eCommerce capable
  • Email marketing platform

Fine Print:

Weebly has the clearest contract language.

If you cancel the Service, your cancellation will take effect immediately. After cancellation, you will no longer have access to your web site and we may delete all information on your web site. We accept no liability for such deleted information or content.

For as long as we continue to offer the Service, we will provide and seek to update, improve, and expand the Service. As a result, we allow you to access the Service as it may exist and be available on any given day and have no other obligations, except as expressly stated in these Terms. We may modify (e.g., change data storage or capacity limits), replace, refuse access to, suspend or discontinue the Service, partially or entirely, or change and modify prices for all or part of the Services we offer in our sole discretion. All of these changes are effective upon their posting on our site or by direct communication to you unless otherwise noted. We further reserve the right to withhold, remove and or discard any Content available as part of your account, with or without notice if deemed by us, in our sole discretion, to be contrary to these Terms. For avoidance of doubt, we have no obligation to store, maintain, or provide you a copy of any Content that you or others provide when using the Service. We also reserve the right to limit or cease phone or chat support to you if you consume a disproportionate amount of such customer services or otherwise negatively affect our ability to provide support to other customers (as determined in our sole discretion).

Bottom Line

Today's website visitors expect exceptional online experiences. If your website doesn't create a positive first impression, you rarely get a second chance. Those built on such website builder tools as Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace can have limitations that can negatively impact user experience.

And should you stop paying your monthly or annual fee, you’ll lose access to your site and content. 

The good news? WordPress.org – the open-source CMS – is a great, affordable alternative that provides a better experience for both website users and businesses and has a massive technical support forum. And it's easier than you think to transition your site to the WordPress platform.

If you need help making the transition from a website builder to WordPress, contact us! Or learn more about our approach to WordPress web development.