A content management system (CMS) is a platform that handles most of the technical aspects of building a website, allowing non-developers to easily upload and manage content. In general, CMS platforms fall into two general types: robust, customizable programs like WordPress and Drupal, and more streamlined, drag-and-drop options like Squarespace and Wix. Every CMS has its own quirks, advantages, and unique features. Which one you choose should depend on the kind of website your organization is trying to create.
In this article, we’ll compare two top website building platforms, WordPress and Wix, to help you decide which one is best for you.
About WordPress and Wix
Used by more than 60 million websites around the world, WordPress is an open-source platform for web publishing, and the most widely used CMS out there. WordPress is known for its flexibility: It’s what makes it suitable both for personal blogs and for major publications and news outlets like the BBC, The New Yorker, and more. WordPress users can access thousands of custom themes, plugins, and widgets built by the WordPress community to enable just about every kind of functionality. Those with coding experience can also get under WordPress hood and add nearly any feature they choose.
Wix is a newer entrant into the web publishing industry. Built around a large number of customizable templates and a drag-and-drop interface, Wix is designed to help non-developers quickly build a functional website.
A Quick Note: WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
There are actually two different sites/services that commonly go by WordPress. WordPress.org is a site that allows you to download the WordPress CMS for free. WordPress.com is a commercial site that offers basic hosting and maintenance using the WordPress platform. Unless otherwise noted, when we say “WordPress” we’re referring to the WordPress platform, available on WordPress.org.
Set-Up and Learning Curve
When you sign up with Wix, you’re presented with a series of questions that guide you through the set-up process. These questions cover the purpose of your website (Is it an online portfolio? A wedding site? A blog?) as well as key features you might need (like discussion forums, subscription plans, or a booking system). Wix has a proprietary feature called Advanced Design Intelligence (ADI) that automatically assembles a first draft of your website. For people with no design or programming experience, this could be an invaluable feature. From there, it’s easy to customize the template with Wix’s drag-and-drop interface. Wix also handles logistical considerations like hosting and domain registration, so users don’t have to worry about maintaining a site. (Note: Wix domains are free, but custom domains cost extra.)
To get started with WordPress, you’ll need to download and install the WordPress platform from WordPress.org. (If you haven’t already, you’ll also need to set up a hosting service and domain name for your website unless you go with WordPress.com) Once you have the platform installed, it’s time to choose and set up your theme. This can be the most time-consuming part of the installation process, as you’ll probably want to spend some time comparing the various layouts and functionalities offered by each theme. One thing to be aware of: Support for individual themes depends on the author. You may want to take a look at the support and documentation offered before you commit.
Adding content through WordPress is more of a process than with Wix. Most new content will be added through the post editor, which lets you input text either through a visual or developer view while adding content via the media library. Once you’ve input your content, you can see how it will look on your site with the preview function. While it’s not strictly necessary, you’ll probably have an easier time with WordPress if you learn at least a little HTML and CSS.
Where WordPress really stands out is in its near-infinite customizability. For most users, the way to tailor your WordPress site is through a combination of plugins and themes. Themes, or “skins,” are collections of files that tell WordPress how your site should style content without altering the content itself. Themes are generally comprised of template files, CSS, image files, and possibly some code. There are literally thousands of themes designed to support just about any kind of website, whether you’re building a personal blog, a wedding registry, an online store, or just about anything else.
Where themes mainly change the appearance of your site, plugins are pieces of software that add specific functionality, such as the ability to share a page on a social network or make bookings online. A word of warning about choosing WordPress plugins and themes: As with any open-source platform, there’s great variety both in terms of quality and support. Look for plugins and themes that are regularly updated or which come with detailed documentation. A WordPress developer can also help you choose high-quality extensions, or even build a custom solution for your site.
Customizing a website on Wix is similar in a lot of ways. Design starts with choosing from among Wix’s hundreds of templates. Each template is fully responsive and supports HTML5, meaning you’ll be getting a high-quality web experience whether your users are on desktop or mobile. Be advised, though, that once you’ve selected a template you can’t change it, so if you want to update your design later on you may need to start over. Like WordPress, Wix also uses plugins to add functionality like payment processing, event calendars, customer testimonials, form builders, etc. Many of these are third party plugins built using Wix’s in-house development tools.
This gives Wix some advantages over other streamlined web builders (like Squarespace, for example), but its selection of plugins still pales in comparison to what’s available on WordPress. Lastly, Wix offers additional services that add some common marketing automation functions like email marketing, SEO, and invoice management.
Support and Maintenance
Where do you turn when you have questions about your CMS? Wix offers pretty comprehensive support through its forums and help center, and you can also email or even call their support team from 6am-5pm Pacific time.
All Wix sites and content are hosted on their own servers. If you don’t want to worry about keeping your site up and running, this can be an appealing feature. At the same time, if Wix runs into server issues, you won’t have many options for getting it back up.
An important consideration with Wix is storage and bandwidth. While the basic Wix plan is free, it places significant limits on how much you can upload and how many people can access your site. If your website will be hosting video or audio files, or if you’re anticipating a lot of traffic, you may want to consider one of their paid plans.
The WordPress community is spread across thousands of blogs, forums, and instructional videos. If you’re serious about building out a WordPress site, it’s recommended that you spend some time finding resources that you trust. Remember, the level of support for individual themes or plugins depends entirely on the authors. In general, commercial developers tend to offer better ongoing support than many free options.
The level of support you get is important, because keeping your WordPress platform up-to-date is a major commitment. WordPress gets multiple updates per year, each one requiring you to update your individual site. Each of these updates runs the risk of conflicting with your themes and plugins, and if they’re not updated accordingly, you could lose important functionality. You might hear this and think that it’s better not to update, but doing so could leave you (and your website) vulnerable to malicious actors. This is one reason why having a WordPress developer around can save you a lot of time and effort when it comes to keeping your site humming along.
A final consideration is data portability. WordPress makes it easier to export your website data and even plugins, which can be a huge time saver if you move to another CMS. Wix doesn’t allow you to export any pages, files, or sites built in Wix, nor can you embed a Wix page in another site, so if you do ever want to migrate to another hosting option, you’ll be forced to start over. Some Wix plugins may allow you to export your data, but the bottom line is that taking your site off Wix is going to involve significant time and labor.
The Key Question: What Are You Making?
As we’ve seen, each CMS offers its own balance of flexibility and ease-of-use. Which you go with depends both on the kind of website you’re trying to build as well as your technical skills or willingness to engage an expert. WordPress’s customizability makes it attractive to a wide range of organizations, but it also requires more upkeep than simpler options. Wix, by contrast, is built to make producing a functional website as easy as possible, at the expense of customizability and scalability later on.
There are a few questions that can help guide you to which platform is best for you, including:
- What are you building? Are you just making a personal blog or a simple site with your business’s contact information and services? If your functionality needs are straightforward, you might appreciate Wix’s templates and streamlined hosting and maintenance. If, on the other hand, your website is your business, you might want to invest in a customized WordPress site.
- What’s your budget? Wix offers several pricing options depending on the features you want, as well as your storage and bandwidth needs. This can make it attractive for users who aren’t anticipating tons of traffic. With WordPress, the platform itself is free, though you’ll still be responsible for your own domain name and hosting, as well as any commercial plugins or templates you may choose.
- How many users, contributors, or admins are you going to have? How many people are going to be contributing to your site? Do they need individualized permissions? Both Wix and WordPress let you to define different types of contributors, though WordPress makes this available out-of-the-box, while Wix requires an additional plugin.
- What are your template needs? Is your site going to be comprised mostly of static text and images, or will you need to be able to support multimedia or interactive components? How much control will you need over tailoring the look of your site? The more complex your needs, the more you might benefit from WordPress’s customizability. Remember, Wix doesn’t allow you to switch templates once you’ve built your site.
- What are your security and availability requirements? Remember, support for third-party plugins and themes is up to the author. If a WordPress update breaks one of your plugins, will you lose critical functionality? Conversely, if Wix experiences a server outage, can your organization handle your website going offline temporarily?