Preamble

The first question that comes to my mind, being the owner of a development company, is "Why did you build your new website using a commercial Site Builder website, instead of doing it yourself?" The answer really comes down to this: I need to blog more.  I used to participate in online discussions for hours a day in my younger years, but now I can't even get off a single blog post on a regular basis.

Another way to state the answer is: "time".  I've built and maintained my own website for decades, and I've gotten pretty efficient at it.  Posting a new blog post on my old site was as quick as 1) writing the content in a new HTML page on my local server, 2) adding the new link to the website outline, and 3) clicking a button to automatically FTP everything to the Web server.

But nothing beats having one step. With a Site Builder, I only have to write my content and click "Save".  Step 1 and done.  In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Acher reminded me of psychology truism: the fastest way to develop a new habit is through the "path of least resistance".  In much the same way as the Theory of Contraints teaches us, remove all the obstacles possible between you and your goal.  In Shawn's book he talks about wanting to play the guitar.  When the guitar was in its case he never practiced.  When he placed it on a stand next to his couch, practicing became just as easy as picking up the TV remote and he started practicing.

In Lean Startup and Lean UX terms, this is also why we build a Minimum Viable Product.  In trying to convince people to switch to using your product, you have to make it as easy as possible.  Remove all of the barriers to adoption.  Simplify.  As a startup with a limited financial runway, you need to trim away the unnecessary development time, building only what is needed right now to move to the next level.

For me, personally, it's all about the blog, and right now that experience on Site Builders can't be beat.

Squarespace - *Winner*

http://squarespace.com/

Pros: 

  • Mobile (iOS) blogging application for writing posts on the go!
  • Mobile and Desktop Previewing
  • Dynamic WYSIWYG updating while editing CSS!
  • Configurable "Summary" component with Category and Tag filters
  • Dynamic image slideshows
  • Social icons
  • Can change templates and preview before committing

Cons: 

  • Cannot add custom ids or classes to arbitrary elements.
  • No Android versions of their apps.  (Psst, Squarespace, take a look at Kendo UI!)

I maintain a Squarespace site for InterAct Story Theatre.  And this blog itself started because I was unhappy with several aspects of maintaining that website in Squarespace.  The biggest one was the difficulty of creating custom CSS for it.  Now I don't mean the ability to add CSS to the site.  That's actually really easy.  Thanks for that, Squarespace!  But if you have a specific element that you want to change with CSS, you cannot add a custom id attribute or class attribute to that object and then write CSS for just that element.  You must use complex CSS to target the element, for example using ">" and "+" CSS operators.  That is too hard for the lay person, and easily broken if my users then change the structure of the page.  WordPress handles this really well.

After I tried all the other platforms, though, I realized that what those platforms are missing is so much worse than the inability to add custom classes.

By far, Squarespace has some of the best utilities for reusing content on other pages.  For example, I publish slides from my meetup talks I give.  I can import the slides and make a "Gallery" out of them.  I can then include this gallery in a blog post as a nice slider, complete with next and previous buttons, excerpts, and thumbnails.

And the last feather in Squarespace's cap is that if they don't have the widget you need, you can insert a custom HTML block, add your own HTML, CSS, and javascript and extend your website however you want.  For me, as a developer, it's the perfect complement.  I let Squarespace take care of all the basics, the content, the editing, for myself and my clients.  And when I need a special custom solution, I add the code just as I would if I was managing the site myself.  The amount of time I don't have to spend with my clients taking care of basic administrative tasks is well worth it!

Weebly

http://www.weebly.com/

Pros: 

  • Dynamic image slideshows
  • You can edit CSS and HTML for the templates (but not individual widgets)
  • Mobile and Desktop Edit Modes
  • Social icons
  • Can change templates on the fly

Cons: 

  • Cannot add custom ids or classes to arbitrary elements
  • Cannot reuse built-in content like blogs and galleries

Weebly has a lot going for it.  I almost went with Weebly instead of Squarespace.  I liked their editor a little better, and I had control over templates, to edit not only the CSS but also the HTML structure of the template!

Where they lost me was their lack of reuse of built-in content, and the inability to edit the CSS styles of their RSS widget (since it imbeds in an iframe)!  When I say lack of reuse, I mean that once you've entered your blog posts or your image galleries, there's no way to use that meta data.  I thought there would be a widget that would pull a list of titles for all the blog posts that I could stick into another page, or that I could access the collection of photos in a gallery.  Nope.  I would have had to manually code index pages for my blog posts to include any of them on the home page.  The only thing you can do is link to their blog list page.

The closest approximation that I found was using their RSS widget and inputting the RSS feed for my blog section.  That produced all the right data, but the style of the RSS widget was atrocious, and when I went to fix it in CSS I discovered that the RSS widget was inside an iframe and inaccessible to my CSS!  Ooh, so close, Weebly.

Wix

http://www.wix.com/

Pros: 

  • Wix App Market
  • Mobile and Desktop Edit Modes
  • Dynamic Image slideshows
  • Really nice "show on all pages" feature for global content

Cons: 

  • CANNOT CHANGE TEMPLATES!!!
  • Cannot add custom ids or classes to arbitrary elements
  • A little hard to identify the items in the design to customize fonts and colors

Seriously, Wix?  You cannot change a template after a site is created?  Really?!!  A huge majority of potential new customers are moving to a new platform because they want to redesign their site.  And the response in your support forums is, "If you want to change templates, just create a new site!"  Ok.  How do I important all my content, my blogs, everything I've already written?  Oh, you don't have import functionality either?  If you don't have the time to build that, I don't have the time to pay you money.  (Perhaps you can tell that I'm pissed!)

Before encountering this issue, I was actually having fun building my site in Wix.  It wasn't until I realized a limitation in my choice of design template (not in Wix itself) that I became aware of this.  Not being able to change to a new template without rebuilding all my content from scratch was just too much.  I honestly don't even find it worth it to talk about any of the other features.

WordPress

https://wordpress.com/
http://websynthesis.com/ - A hosting provider for easy WordPress sites

Pros: 

  • Add custom classes to arbitrary page elements!!!
  • Great library of additional plugins
  • You can edit most items HTML code through the server

Cons: 

  • You must install and maintain your own webserver
  • Many customizations require FTP access
  • If you don't set it up right, can be very slow and inefficient

MillionMunkeys' client Urbanful runs on WordPress, and it works really well for them.  They have the funds to hire our WordPress administrator/developer to take care of server issues and tackle customization challenges.  If you don't have the funds for an administrator, though, then WordPress is not the option for you, so in the context of this comparison it's not really an option.

Clover Sites

http://www.cloversites.com/

Pros: 

  • It's hard to find any pros that all the other sites don't have also.

Cons: 

  • Flash website editor
  • Can only edit what they want you edit
  • Promise new features as "coming soon" that are still missing after 2 years

I'm going to tack one more platform on here, because I also have extensive use of it through InterAct's website as this was their previous web host.  It had all the standard WYSIWYG features, plus multiple editors.  It had list makes and page managers and all the standard features.  There just wasn't anything more.  It's easy to quickly outgrow.  The advertise as a website for building church websites, and if that's all you're doing and you only need the basic features, then this might be a good match to host with like-minded individuals.

Summary

1st Place: Squarespace: For features and customizability, while it's not perfect, Squarespace is the best platform out there right now.  If you're a developer looking for Content Management System for a client, where they can handle the content, images, uploading files, etc., but that you can also customize with HTML, CSS, AJAX, and Javascript, this is also a good platform for you.  If you don't have a developer, Squarespace is still a great site to use with no technical knowledge.

2nd Place: Weebly: If you just have a simple site without a lot of special needs, and no developer, and you're looking to save a little more money each month, then look to Weebly.  If it has the widgets you need, and you can find a template that you like, you will be happy enough.

3rd Place: Wix: If you're picky in the design of your website, and don't have much content, then you might find that Wix is your platform of choice.  Just make sure that the idea of rebuilding your site from scratch should you wish to change designs doesn't sound like a problem to you.  Their editor is noticeably more robust and full-featured than Weebly, and I could see designers having a preference for this site.

Honorable Mention: WordPress: If you are a PHP coder, and/or you have the time and money to spend on developers, WordPress has been around a long time and has a wide, great support base.

Also-ran: Clover: If you're a church, you may like Clover Sites, but even then, probably not.

Posted
AuthorPete Oliver-Krueger