Choosing a Website Builder Tool

If you are starting to create your first website, you will want to select an efficient tool to use. Creating the whole site in raw HTML is too time consuming and will produce results that look ancient in today’s world. This article is intended to help with builder tool selection for new website creators. The term website builder is used in this article to mean any of a range of tools that are somewhat or fully visual drag and drop. This is a broader definition than is used by some others. The author’s tool selection process will be documented here.

Background (and some technical information):

There are a few technology decisions that are better made explicitly than accidentally. Some of these choices could be forced on you by your tool choice at a time you had not considered the implications of these choices. Once you have created your website it would be very frustrating to have to repeat all of that work because you could not add another feature using the method you chose.  If ongoing expenses are an issue some technology choices may limit the hosting services/methods that are available to you.

One big example of a technology choice is static versus dynamic website.  Static sites are usually composed of .html and .css files only. They can only be changed by editing the source file.   Dynamic sites involve user interaction in some of the displayed content.  Obvious examples include:

  1. login facilities
  2. private areas of the site, accessed via login
  3. blogs with responses
  4. online stores
  5. data base access

One advantage of static websites is cost. The small ones can be hosted for free (check out aws.amazon.com, S3!).   If you can live with restrictions then static is for you and the rest of this article is probably not useful!

Another upfront decision includes server side vs client side scripting.  Server side, such as PHP might limit hosting operating system(OS) while client side (most Java) might work differently on different browsers (e.g. Microsoft IE, Google Chrome, Firefox).

A final thing to consider is a Content Management System (CMS).  In this configuration HTML is created dynamically on the server using a server side language like PHP. There are few, if any, HTML files on the server. The site display (HTML) comes for .php scripts and from data in a data-base.

In general these decisions are made when you select a builder.  Understanding this when selecting the builder tools is important.

Criteria for selecting a builder tool:

Following is a list of the criteria used in selecting a builder tool. This list is a minimum and may not be complete.

  1. Your tool should not be choice-limiting with respect to website hosting service selection. This can be critical if you are later forced to move your site. (This generally precludes hosting service proprietary tools.) This could impact cost, speed, security and/or reliability.
  2. Your tool should not be restricted to creating sites that require either Linux or Windows as a webserver host operating system (OS).
  3. A free tool is preferential, if there is one that can do the job.
  4. Select a tool that allows for plenty of available open technology so that you can optimize both time spent and quality where solid solutions already exist. Quality and reliability can be judged on a case by case basis (often plugins, templates or themes!)
  5. Secure solutions need to be viable for sites created with this tool.
  6. Compatibility with most common clients is very important. (If possible the site should work the same using Chrome, IE, Firefox or whatever). I personally am very frustrated when I am told by a support group to use a different browser to solve the problem. There are sites online that actually require two different browsers to successfully complete required portions of a process. This is not acceptable.
  7. If needed insure that the tool can provide for user login, data base access, blogs etc.

If any of these criteria are unimportant to you, you should eliminate them from your list and add what else you require.  Use this checklist to evaluate each tool you consider.

Choices I considered and the ones that I tested.

I read about many choices and tested a few.  I wanted to get started so did not undertake testing 10s of tools before beginning.  I am still happy with my choice.

I considered, but did not test Wix. This provider/builder is very popular in internet reviews.  Per the online reviews it is the easiest tool with which to build a site. It is also as un-portable as any solution out there. It is very hard to move your site away from Wix. Therefore, if it gets too expensive, lacks a feature you really need, goes down from ransomware or is just too slow, at any time in the future, your solution is to start over.  This is not what I would invest my time in.

Here is a list of sites that I have no personal knowledge of but that get many accolades on the web. Some of them may be host-service proprietary. If I had not chosen WordPress I would have looked into these further, based on articles on the web:

  • Duda
  • Gator
  • Weebly
  • Shopify
  • Squarespace
  • Site123

I did build simple sites with all of the following tools. (The first three are not really builders):

  • Dreamweaver (Adobe)
  • BlueGriffon
  • Bootstrap
  • WordPress
  • WordPress Multisite

I have nothing really negative to say about any of these.  Bootstrap is the most basic and requires the most work to use. It is an older technology but can be used to build completely static sites. I am not sure it is really for a beginner.

Dreamweaver is getting old but is still a powerful tool.  It is also very expensive.  I moved off of it before my free trail expired. It is still a very high end tool. My wife used it extensively a few years ago.

BlueGriffon is a free tool that has lots of features.  BlueGriffon and DreamWeaver can both start with Bootstrap.

WordPress was the first builder I tried that could create a simple website with just a few clicks after installation. (maybe not a site you like!)  I suspect WordPress has a slightly longer learning curve than some that I did not test. The balance of this article will be about WordPress and WordPress Multisite.

WordPress:

In my opinion, WordPress offers it all.  It certainly is a little more complicated to install (but there are solutions to that if you want.)  It absolutely takes some learning to achieve the flexibility that it can offer.  In my opinion it is well worth the investment of time.  I chose to program the things I needed that I could not find for free.  The alternative is to simply purchase plugins or themes that provide the exact advanced feature you are looking for. There are also hundreds of free plugins and themes available.  Many of these are certified by wordpress.org.  So, whenever you need more or different, you can make a decision to create it yourself or purchase it. WordPress is a CMS.

WordPress is used to create and maintain around 30% of the websites in the world.  That means there is a lot of evidence of its viability and a lot of options and help out there on the web.  So far I have been able to find precise instructions on how to work around any blockage I have run into.   (I have also found bad advice that I needed to work past.)   The point is, if you like to use google to find help, there is no builder tool that has near the community out there that WordPress does.

There are two choices for a WordPress product.  They are (1) wordpress.org and (2) wordpress.com. If you are an Apple user (I am not) and install the WordPress app, you are installing access to the wordpress.com console!  I use the free version exclusively (not wordpress.com).  The flexibility of wordpress.org is part of what I find powerful.  WordPress.com is commercial product.  WordPress.org is open and free.

There are two installations of WordPress.  They are WordPress and WordPress MultiSite.  I am currently using WordPress Multisite. (You are reading this on it!)  I have doubts about Multisite as a good choice. If you need to move one of the sites to an individually hosted place you will have to work out which data-base files you need. Or, you can purchase a plug in to do this (I think).  I will get more educated on this and write more on it later.  I used Multisite so that I stayed with one instance, of 720 instance hours per month on EC2. This is the free tear maximum for an EC2 service at aws.amazon.com.  If I have some part of this wrong, please correct me in the comments!

I began with a completely manual install of WordPress on WAMP.  I did this directly on my Surface Pro.  I even made the classic mistake of copying the wordpress folder itself, along with its files, into the correct folder in the WAMP install area of my SSD.  This worked fine for me, it just provides an awkward URL name (using http://localhost…).  I did the majority of my early development on WAMP.

When I moved my site AWS (amazon) EC2 I used the Bitnami stacks (this is close to a 1 click install of Linux, Apache, MySQL and WordPress).  It gets a little more complicated because of the security services (this is GOOD) at aws.amazon.com.

I could and will write about WordPress and AWS  for many pages but I think that is better served in more blogs!  I will try and publish at least one a week for a while.

Summary:

I selected WordPress as my builder tool.  Do not pay attention words calling WordPress a blog tool.  It is a blog tool but it is also very much a website tool now.  It is VERY full featured and can require programming ability or not.  What do you want to pay for?  Check out the plugins available for WP!

WordPress runs fine on Windows or Linux or anything else that supports Apache and MySQL. This means you will probably host on Linux just due to cost and availability, but…., you don’t have to. You can even host it for free (for a smaller site) on EC2 for one year!

If a static site will work for you, you do NOT want WordPress. 

Look for my next blog.  It will be on my hosting choice.

Thanks…..  Larry

1 thought on “Choosing a Website Builder Tool”

  1. Hi Larry!

    I am going to be creating a website and am just beginning to do my homework. I found this blog article extremely helpful!!! Thank you so much! I hope you and Laurie are doing well! It’s fun to find you on here. I came across it on LinkedIn. Say “hello” to Laurie for me! Hugs to you both!

    Kathy Ashcraft

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