I’ve been working with the WordPress.org content management system to design websites since at least 2012. I began with my own and my husband’s jewelry site. I’ve been happy with the ability to control some of the tech aspects without having to learn PHP code to design from scratch. After I discovered Studiopress premium themes, I had plenty of clean, well-designed sites to choose from (the quality of free themes varies too much). I also found that I had more choices and control by using the .org version of WordPress and setting up my web hosting and domain registration at other locations.
I stayed away from WordPress.com because a) “free” came with ads I had no control over, and b) fewer themes and plugins to work with. The business premium version (commerce-equipped) is rather pricey for what you get in my opinion, because you still have to have a certain amount of geek to you to use the back end features to create page layouts and edit content. You are better off comparing prices for different web hosts, picking one, and then using the WordPress.org software as your basic website management system. Most web hosts make it easy to install WordPress.org for your website.
But WordPress is not the only content management system on the planet. There are simpler ones called “page builders” that make it a bit easier to make changes to the site without all that extra “backend” stuff. You just have to pick a plan that has some of the features you need (security enhancements, search engine analytics, ecommerce/shop features, photo galleries, etc.).
Some page builders are better than others, though (have more features, easier to use). Weebly and Wix are common page builders. I haven’t been that impressed with the options available or the quality of the layouts for either one of these, but some folks swear by them and some web hosts use Weebly in particular as a basic website builder for their customers. You’ll just see very simple layouts and not as many choices for colors or site feature layouts.
Separate page builder systems are also available to work on top of WordPress to make it easier to edit pages while you can see the final layout at the same time (a “visual composer” view of things). Sometimes these products are plugins, and sometimes they are theme framework systems.
And speaking of page builder-style systems, WordPress is moving swiftly in that direction themselves with their new block editor, which came out a year or so ago, I think. The “blocks” of various sizes and types and can be nested inside of each other to make groups of elements, very much like traditional page builder systems. But you still have to play with these features in a separate editing screen, except for a few things on the home page.
I have been finding that some of my site design clients get overwhelmed with WordPress, though. The new block editor adds even more pressure to figure out block layouts for text and images or product descriptions and testimonials. WordPress has plugins now that offer “readymade” layouts (Atomic Blocks is one), but users can still find the system a bit much to keep track of.
Since I find other page builders too restrictive and lacking in aesthetic design, I thought I’d look at one that has an excellent reputation among artists—Squarespace. I’ve always been impressed with the beauty of the layouts when I see that someone has used Squarespace, but I wondered what restrictions there might be to this system.
Squarespace is like WordPress.com in that it is both a content management system and a web host at the same time. You can’t go over to GoDaddy or Hostgator and get a Squarespace website (but you can get a WordPress.org one, though). Squarespace is a one-stop shop (except for website name registration). This is simpler, of course, but not necessarily cheaper. WordPress.com offers some more features for a $25/month ecommerce business plan than Squarespace does for the same level ($26/month).
The main advantages of Squarespace seem to be the beauty of their theme layouts and the ease of customizing right on the page as your customer would see it. Insert new images, add or edit text blocks without going to a separate screen. You still don’t have as many theme or plugin feature options as the whole WordPress.org world, but it’s a lot less complicated to work with. I can see that my tutorials with Squarespace will be shorter and simpler for clients. Also, updates to the system are invisible; you don’t need to make a point to manually update separate themes or plugins, for example, because Squarespace owns all the parts.
So, WordPress.org for some cost saving options and lots of control over all aspects of your site; Squarespace for a one-stop site design space with automatic updates and an easier editing interface.
I won’t be abandoning my WordPress.org home since I want the flexibility that the system provides. In a budget pinch, one can also use something like GoDaddy’s basic page builder with a short tutorial. I can see using Squarespace as a more aesthetically pleasing option for clients who want an easier way to take care of their own sites.
Let me know what your favorite website building tools are. I’d love to know!