WordPress’s free software is one of the most popular choices for building a new website, but there’s definitely a learning curve to using it. I spent over a month building my first WordPress website, and much of that time was spent Googling how to do simple things I couldn’t figure out on my own. I did have a much easier time setting up this blog, partly because the theme shop where I bought my theme had such great setup instructions, but also, I’m sure, due to the fact that I’ve been using WordPress for a couple of years now.
On the other hand, you can have a great looking new website up and running through Wix.com, Weebly.com, Squarespace.com, or a similar website builder in just a couple of hours. These and similar services allow you to easily customize pre-built website templates, or drag and drop elements to create your own website design. (To make things even more confusing, the same company that created WordPress also offers a similar service at WordPress.com. Just to be clear, whenever I refer to WordPress, I mean the software offered at WordPress.org, not the web builder service offered at WordPress.com.)
A website builder that’s so easy to use seems like the obvious choice for building a website, right? But there are a few important differences you need to know about before deciding which direction to go with building your site.
Drawbacks of Hosted Websites
Drawback #1: You’re stuck with that company.
Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and other similar services all require that you have them host your website, which is why a website built through them is called a “hosted” website. If you choose to build a website with one of those companies, you won’t have the option of moving your website (keeping the same design) to a different hosting company like you would with a WordPress website. If you later decide you need features that aren’t available for websites built through that company, moving your content to a new website may not be easy.
With a “self-hosted” WordPress website (where you build the website yourself and choose your own hosting company), you can switch to a different hosting company at any time without the appearance of your website having to change at all, and you can redesign the appearance of your website or add extra functionality without losing any of your content (pages, images, and blog posts).
Drawback #2: Your options for customization are limited.
Hosted websites are limited to whatever options for customization are available pre-built into their system. While these options are probably sufficient for a personal blog or a simple informational business website, if you find yourself needing features that your website doesn’t offer, you’re basically out of luck.
On the other hand, the options for customization with a website you build yourself using WordPress are virtually unlimited. By installing “plugins” (pre-built code added to your site with the click of a button), you can add functionality to your website and integrate with 3rd party softwares that help you run an online business. Wix does offer a growing selection of tools like this in their App Marketplace, but their options are limited compared to what’s available in WordPress.
In short, using WordPress gives you complete control over your website, which may not be necessary if you just need a website for your business (or for personal use), but is very important if your website is your business.
One option does give you the best of both worlds, and that’s WordPress.com‘s Pro Plan. If you set up free, simple website using WordPress.com, you can later upgrade to their Pro Plan and have access to the same features, plugins, and customizations that you would have with a self-hosted website.
Drawback #3: You’re bound by their terms & conditions.
When you build your own website, you completely own it and can put whatever you want on it. But when you build a website through a website builder, they technically own the website (since you can’t move it and have to keep paying them for it) and you have to adhere to their terms and conditions. If you will be depending on your website for income, this is somewhat of a risk to be at the mercy of a company who would be within their rights to change their rules in a way that could limit your business.
Since these companies want to earn your business, there’s probably nothing in their terms and conditions that will cause you any trouble, and even in the worst case scenario you could just set up a different website later. But if you’re considering using a website builder to create a website you intend to use as a primary source of income, at the very least be sure you carefully read their terms and conditions, particularly as they relate to the ways you intend to monetize your website. For example: Do they allow affiliate marketing? Are certain types of businesses prohibited? Will you be able to monetize you site by putting ads on it, and if so, will you be free to choose which ad networks to use?
Drawback #4: It may end up costing you more for a basic site.
Most website builders have a free option, but the free version will have an ad for the website company on your website and your website URL will end in something like “.squarespace.com”, which is hard for site visitors to remember and doesn’t sound very professional. More importantly, the amount of website data you’re allowed (both storage space and website traffic) may be extremely limited, making this option unrealistic if you’re hoping to attract visitors to your site (IMO, it’s really just a way to give you a free trial so you can see how easy the setup process is).
With a WordPress website, the only thing you’re absolutely required to pay for is a domain name (which costs $10-$20/year) and hosting, which shouldn’t cost more than $10-$20/month when you’re first starting out. Keep this in mind when looking at the pricing tiers for website builders.
Using a website builder like Wix.com to build your website does come with a couple of very big benefits, which for some people may be enough to outweigh all the drawbacks:
Benefit #1: You won’t have to worry about your site breaking or going down.
If something goes wrong with a website you’re paying for monthly, all you have to do is contact the company’s customer service team and they’ll help you fix it. With a self-hosted WordPress website, if something breaks, it’s up to you to fix it. You may be able to contact your hosting company or theme developer for help if you’ve correctly identified them as the source of the problem, but they may or may not be able (or willing) to help you. In the beginning especially, you may end up having to hire a web developer or WordPress consultant to help you fix any problems you run into with your WordPress website.
Benefit #2: Creating a website is easy.
Benefit #3: It’s easy to design the appearance of your website.
Most WordPress themes only come with a few options as far as the site layout. For example, when I decided I wanted an email form at the top of RVinspiration.com, I had to have my husband build me one with custom code. Wix makes it easy to drag, drop, and resize elements such as buttons, images, text boxes, and email forms to easily design your own website.
There are WordPress themes that can be customized with drag-and-drop builders. (One like this that’s especially popular is the Divi theme.) However, the fact that a theme comes with lots of options for customization doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy to set up (and sometimes the opposite is true).
The Bottom Line
If building a “self-hosted website” (meaning you built the website yourself using a tool like WordPress and have it hosted by the company of your choice) is like owning real estate, building a website through a web builder like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace is like renting an apartment: much easier, but with limitations. One option that gives you the best of both worlds is WordPress.com, but you’ll have to plan on paying a little more per month if you go with that option.
To read more about which option is right for you, take a look at my article called “Is WordPress the Best Choice for Building Your Website?”.
If you’ve decided to go with a website builder, read more about the process of setting up a Wix blog in my article “The Easiest Way to Build a Blog or Website”.
And if you’ve decided to go with WordPress, read about how to choose a theme in my article “7 Things to Consider When Choosing a WordPress Theme”.