Is WordPress a Good Website Builder?
WordPress isn’t as beginner-friendly as some alternatives, but it offers vastly more potential for customization. Is, and when is, WordPress a good website builder?
When you’re choosing a tool for building your new website, you have a number of solid options. Some are aimed at complete novices, enabling users to build a site by choosing from a few ready-made themes and editing premade content sections. Others require a little more effort upfront, but may also offer more powerful functionality as a whole.
WordPress falls into the latter category. It isn’t necessarily as beginner-friendly from the start as some alternatives, but it offers vastly more potential for growth and customization than do most DIY website services. Here we’ll examine how this tradeoff works, and ask: all things considered, is WordPress a good website builder?
We’ll examine how easy it is to get WordPress up and running with a default installation. From there, it’s on to the world of themes and plugins—and how they can be game-changers.
But first, it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between WordPress and the other website builders on the market.
WordPress vs. Other Website Builders
How does WordPress compare to website builder solutions like Wix and Squarespace?
Over the years, WordPress has gained a reputation as a professional-grade tool. Yet, it still seeks to compete in the beginner and hobbyist markets as well. It’s looking to become the best website builder available for virtually any type of project. WordPress is also open-source (meaning the code is not owned by anyone) and free to use.
Meanwhile, a whole range of companies are looking to recruit those same users. They’ve built proprietary tools that are marketed as one-size-fits-all solutions. Many claim to have removed the technical challenges out of building a site. In many cases, you’ll have to pay in order to use them (although there may be free versions with reduced features).
So, how do these two approaches compare?
DIY Website Builders
Many of the competitors in this space, including tools such as Wix and Squarespace, are designed so that users can build a website without knowing code. While there may be the option to add custom code, it’s not at the forefront of their offerings.
The goal is to provide a means for anyone, regardless of previous experience, a visually-oriented way to build a site. The interfaces tend to be oriented around simple interactions like clicking and dragging and dropping.
These tools are widely used, and they really do work as advertised—you can use them to create a beautiful website without code. Specifically, Squarespace works very well for this; Wix and Weebly are much worse options.
However, what these options have in common is that they lack much of the more complex functionality you may be looking for. Even when these more complex features, like e-commerce, are offered, they may not be quite as flexible as you’d like.
As the world’s most popular content management system (CMS), WordPress can power everything from small personal blogs to large enterprise websites. Because of that wide range of potential uses, it’s a bit more complex than the solutions mentioned above.
However, WordPress can be user-friendly if you approach it in an informed fashion. And, unlike DIY website builders, there are an almost limitless amount of customization options. The advantage is that you get to make WordPress a website builder that meets your specific needs.
Starting from Scratch with WordPress
When you first install WordPress, you’re likely to notice two things:
- The back end (admin) area of the website has lots of menu items and settings.
- The front end (public) side of the website displays a basic theme with a few sample bits of content.
WordPress comes with the latest version of its “default” theme. Each theme is named after the year of its release (Twenty Twenty, Twenty Nineteen, etc.).
These themes offer a good starting point in terms of taking advantage of features already built into WordPress. For example, you can perform some basic layout and color changes via the Theme Customizer.
Pair a default theme with the Gutenberg block editor and you’ll have enough to start building a basic website.
Is this “default” state of WordPress the best website builder available? Probably not for most use cases—whether you’re a beginner or expert. To empower WordPress as a website builder, you’ll want to expand your horizons.
Using Page Builder Plugins and Themes to Make WordPress the Best Website Builder
By itself, WordPress can only do so much. But that’s by design. It’s not looking to make assumptions about what you want to achieve.
Where it shines above virtually every other CMS is the sheer number of available plugins and themes. This empowers us to build a website that looks and functions exactly the way we want it to.
Here’s how these extra tools can further enhance the experience.
Page Builder Plugins
Page builders are meant to make the process of content creation as easy as possible.
While the Gutenberg block editor makes creating page layouts easier, it doesn’t quite have the fit and finish of a WordPress page builder plugin. And it doesn’t come loaded with all of the advanced features you’ll need to make your website stand out.
Page builder plugins tend to offer a ton of options for crafting pixel-perfect page layouts. In addition, you’ll often find ready-made content sections or even entire page templates that can be easily edited to your liking.
If that sounds like the other DIY website builders we mentioned, you’d be right. Page builders are meant to make the process of content creation as easy as possible.
These tools offer a highly visual experience. Adding design and functionality is just a matter of dragging and dropping elements into place. Even if you’re not a technically-minded person, you can still create professional-looking pages, no code required.
Best WordPress Page Builder Plugin: Beaver Builder
The page builder plugin market includes a number of well-known products, including Beaver Builder, Divi, Elementor, and WP Bakery Page Builder.
So, is WordPress a good website builder now? While a page builder plugin can do a lot of things on its own, the theme is another important part of the equation.
Themes aim to provide an overall look and layout throughout your WordPress website.
However, there can be some confusion as to what role themes play. The theme marketplace has actually created some mixed messaging, as commercial themes often come bundled with page builders. Still, it’s important to know that those are, and should be, separate pieces of software.
In general, page builders tend to focus on the actual contents of a web page or blog post. Themes, on the other hand, aim to provide an overall look and layout throughout the website. It controls elements such as the typography, color scheme, navigation, header and footer.
Plus, themes control the overall layout of your website and ensure that it adapts properly for every device. That means visitors can use your site just as easily on an iPhone as they can on their larger desktop screen.
Most modern themes also allow you to tweak settings to your liking. Settings are accessible either via the aforementioned WordPress Customizer or a custom theme settings panel within the Dashboard.
However, note that what settings and methods are used to change them are up to the theme’s author. Therefore, they can vary a bit.
Themes to Start With: Beaver Builder Theme or Astra
WordPress has thousands and thousands of themes, and most of these we do not recommend. They may look good on the surface, but they’re built in ways that make them unreliable, hard to work with, and slow.
We recommend you start with one of two widely used and reliable themes:
- The Beaver Builder Theme (see our review). Like the Beaver Builder page builder it pairs with, it’s very sturdy and reliable, but has fewer options than some other solutions.
- The Astra theme (see our experience building a code-free website with it). I’ve noticed a few glitches here and there, but it’s also extremely feature-rich.
Combining Page Builders and Companion Themes
You can combine just about any theme and page builder plugin and use them in tandem. However, that can sometimes make for an inconsistent editing experience. And it may also leave some gaps as to what you can accomplish without knowing how to code.
Thankfully, there are now products that are exclusively built to work with one another. Some page builder plugins, including Beaver Builder, have released companion themes. (You can see our Beaver Builder Theme review here.) The advantage of this pairing is that, if it’s done well, it can give you a lot of compatible options for building your website.
Even better is that some products let you choose from a variety of starting points. You can start with a premade look and customize from there. Or, you can opt for a blank slate and build your website from scratch.
This effectively closes many design and functionality gaps. And it also makes WordPress the best website builder it can be, in terms of what you can create within a completely visual interface.
A major difference from Squarespace and other “hosted builders” is that you’ll need to buy web hosting for any WordPress site you create.
The host you choose will play a huge role in your WordPress site building experience. Your host should have a WordPress installer script that gets you up and running the easy way. Hosts can also help you at every step of the way—or actively impede you.
The Right Host: SiteGround
Choosing a host is a huge topic, and there’s unfortunately a huge amount of misinformation about which host to buy for your needs. The honest truth is that SiteGround is the right host for you to start with on a new WordPress project. Read our analysis of thousands of honest WordPress user reviews to understand why that’s true.
The Bottom Line: WordPress is a Good Site Builder, with the Right Accessories
If you spend enough time using WordPress and interacting with its massive community, you’ll find it’s a piece of software that’s capable of filling many roles.
Some professional designers and developers use it to create highly-customized web applications. But it’s just as capable of being a good website builder for those who want a more visual experience.
In both instances, the sky is the limit.
Build a Website to Suit Your Needs
The key is to know what you’re getting into and what it will take to accomplish your goals. WordPress does not necessarily come with everything you need for your project out of the box.
Think of a default copy of WordPress as a starting point. It’s still going to take a little elbow grease to make it exactly what you want.
For WordPress to be a complete website builder, you’ll need a page builder plugin, a theme that offers plenty of custom settings, and good hosting.
The great thing about all of this is that you get to decide which direction you want to go. WordPress and its community provide the options, and you get to pick the ones that work best for you. This is something that other DIY website builders can’t offer. And it’s one reason why WordPress continues to grow in popularity, year after year.