Inspiration

All About Website Builders: A Beginner Guide

What is a website builder? The pros and cons of choosing a site builder to create your website, plus resources and tools to get started.

Animations from Envato Sites

Hiring a pro to design and maintain your website is great- but it can get rather expensive. And besides, not everyone needs or wants to have someone else do the work. For those who want to create their own mark on the web, site builders have become a compelling option.

The following is a look at what site builders are and a rundown of the different types you may encounter. We’ll also explore both the positive and negatives associated with them. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.

What is a site builder?

The term “site builder” (sometimes called a “page builder”) is commonly used to describe an online tool or app that lets you add layout and content to a web page. Most share those two basic characteristics, but the interface and functionality of each app can vary greatly.

The intended audience can also be varied to some degree. While most site builders are aimed at non-designers, there are a selection of tools that do look to attract professionals. They tend to offer more advanced capabilities, while still attempting to preserve ease-of-use. Either way, the end goal is to simplify a complicated task.

There are two main flavors of building tools:

CMS Based

Built for a specific content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, these tools tend to work with your pre-existing theme – although some come with a theme of their own. They provide either a point-and-click or drag-and-drop interface to help users create complex page layouts. Functionality including slideshows, audio/video, images, text blocks and more can be added in with just a few clicks.

Target Audience: Overall, a CMS site builder is a great option for those who already have a website and are looking for help in maintaining content. You’ll be able to add new items or edit existing ones with the capability to include lots of bells and whistles.

Examples: Visual Composer (WordPress), Azura (Joomla), Drupal Drag Drop Builder (Drupal)

Choose your Own Adventure

Much like the childhood favorite books, what we’ll call a “Choose your Own Adventure” site builder gives you a wide selection of options from which to pick. Various themes are available, often categorized based on the type of site you want to build (restaurants, for example).

Note that this type of builder is often bundled into a proprietary CMS. Depending on which you choose, there may be certain functionality that just isn’t available. On the plus side, some of these systems are built with a specific niche (like eCommerce) in mind.

Target Audience: This type of builder is ideal for those who are starting from scratch with their website and want to build from the ground up. You’ll get to both choose an appropriate design and fill in the content.

Examples: Envato Sites, Squarespace, Wix

Positives and negatives

Now that we’ve learned a little bit about what site builders are, let’s explore the positive and negative aspects of relying on them for your website:

Positives

1. User friendly

Site builders are meant to make the design process easier. You don’t need to know how to code in order to use one. Instead, the app helps you to implement various types of content and functionality with just a few clicks.

2. Cost efficient

Even if you have a professional do the initial design of your site, you’ll save a bundle in maintenance fees if you can add or edit content on your own. An intuitive site builder can help you do things yourself – which helps your bottom line.

3. Lots of options

Different site builders excel at specific tasks and cater to different user levels. So, no matter what type of functionality you’re after – you have options. This means that you can choose the site builder that fits your needs, rather than having to settle.

Negatives

1. You’re making a commitment

You and whichever site builder you choose will be in a long-term relationship. Once your website is built, you may find that switching to another tool is quite difficult. This is particularly true of the “Choose your Own Adventure” site builders mentioned above, but can apply to CMS Based apps as well. Each site builder works differently and one isn’t likely to be compatible with the other – regardless of platform.

2. All are not equal

As with anything, some site builders are of higher quality than others. Some don’t necessarily write the cleanest or most efficient code. That can result in a website that doesn’t display consistently across all browsers and devices or takes too long to load. You’ll want to read the fine print regarding these items and ask questions accordingly.

3. Don’t expect miracles

While they can make adding layouts and content a lot easier, site builders still have their limitations. They won’t, for example, fully replace the knowledge and experience of a professional web designer. They are simply a tool to help you get things done.

Is using a site builder right for you?

As mentioned above, choosing to use a site builder means that you’re making a real commitment. However, there’s no need to get cold feet. If any of the following statements describe you, then a site builder might be a great fit:

  • You aren’t necessarily a professional designer, but want to design and/or maintain your own website.
  • You don’t want to bother with HTML or other code.
  • You want to perform website-related tasks more efficiently.
  • You want to save money on web maintenance.
  • You don’t need enterprise-level functionality.

Those statements cover an awful lot of people. That’s why these types of building tools have become so widely used. Many website owners are discovering how much of an asset a site builder can be.

If you’re interested in taking the plunge, think about your specific needs. From there, do some research and find the best tool for the job. Some may offer a free trial or a demo that you can experiment with. Learn the ins and outs of each tool and see which one is the best fit.

The right one will offer you an intuitive interface and a feature set that helps to unlock your creativity. The result will be a compelling and attractive website that you can proudly say you had a hand in building.

Quiz: What Should You Use to Create Your Next Website?


About the Author Eric Karkovack

Eric Karkovack is a web designer with well over a decade of experience. You can visit his business site here. In July 2013, Eric released his first eBook: Your Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Designer. You can follow his rants on Twitter @karks88.