Creating a professional website is one of the most important things you can do for your small business. Having a dedicated space online for customers to connect with you and find out about your products and services is a must. There are, however, a couple of different ways of going about this – through a hosted platform or a self hosted website.
If you’re just starting out, you might have built a website on a hosted platform such as Wix or Squarespace. There is a lot to like about these platforms. However, as you grow and look to work more on your online presence and SEO, you may consider building a more independent site. The flexibility, SEO enhancement and overall control a self-hosted website offers is certainly appealing.
Last year, I published this post discussing the best hosted website platforms out there. Now, I’m here to take that a step further. Here, I’ll explore “the big three” in self-hosted website content management systems for your small business.
For reference, as I go on, I’ll abbreviate content management systems to the more commonly used “CMS”!
What is Self-Hosting?
Before we dive in, let’s define self-hosting. A self-hosted website is exactly what is sounds like – a site hosted on your own or a third party server as opposed to the platform you’re building on. So while the site you build on may be free, it’s important to take server costs into account when making a decision.
A giant in the website building world, WordPress is likely a platform you’ve already heard of. Almost 15% of the top 100 websites in the world and 20% of all self-hosted websites are powered by WordPress. As such, it is a CMS option that appeals to many small business owners.
WordPress itself is totally free to create a website on and there are a number of hosting options to choose from if you aren’t going to be using your own server. BlueHost, Hostgator, and GreenGeeks are three examples. With a wordpress.org site, you have full control – you own all of your data. It’s easy to use and highly customisable. Short of having to manually back up the website yourself, there are very few cons associated with a WordPress self-hosted website.
There are countless different fully customisable WordPress design templates (called ‘WordPress themes’) and even entire page builder plugins out there to create your WordPress website with. You can find the right theme for your purposes on WordPress or through sites like Theme Forest. I’ll list four of the most popular page builders here for your consideration! But remember to always do your own research to find what’s best suited to you and your business.
Cost: Free version available. Premium plans range from $49-$199 per year.
- Front End Page Builder – Elementor allows you to view the site and the changes you are making as you go. So, particularly if you’re new to website building, this is a big plus.
- Mobile Responsive – more and more people are browsing the internet predominantly on their mobile phones. Elementor provides fantastic mobile responsive options. As self hosted website building goes, this is crucial!
- Highly Customisable – with Elementor Pro plans, you can customise your entire theme. No more stressing over that one section of your website that just doesn’t look right! Elementor also works with all WordPress themes.
- Works well with WooCommerce – setting up an online shop? Elementor works well with WooCommerce, so could be the perfect fit for your store.
- Styling Problems – it has been frequently noted that people find themselves forced into a particular styling choice with Elementor. This could be typography, the style of a link or colour palette. This can be turned off in settings, but for certain themes, the Elementor style will be the default setting!
- Lacking in Support – the overall feeling is that while the plugin itself is great, the support when it comes to any issues is somewhat lacking. Customers have listed slow response and difficulties with customisation as issues with the support.
- Issues with 3rd Party Add Ons – some users have reported glitches in their site when adding on third party apps or plugins.
Cost: Free/Lite version available, Premium plans from $99-$399 per year
- Front End Page Builder – like Elementor, this is a front end builder. This means you are watching the end result come together live, unlike working with code in the back end.
- Excellent Support – The Beaver Builder support is said to be incredible, which is a massive plus if you’re working on a self hosted website.
- Reuse Content Sections – In an extremely handy move, Beaver Builder has created the option to save both templates and content sections to reuse in the future. A great time saver!
- WooCommerce Compatible – again, like Elementor, Beaver Builder is a good option if you’re looking to create an online store through a self hosted website.
- Cost – Beaver Builder, in comparison to some competitors, is fairly costly. The free/lite version is extremely limited, barely more than a demo. Not ideal if you’re on a budget!
- Slow to Add New Features – again, in comparison to competitors, the feeling is that Beaver Builder is a little slow. They are less frequently adding new features and making improvements.
- No Undo/Redo Button – this sounds like such a small thing, but it can actually make a huge difference when building a self hosted website! Making a minor mistake can suddenly become extremely time consuming to fix!
WP Page Builder
- Fantastic Free Templates – with over 30 layout bundles and countless handy widgets, this is a huge positive for WP Page Builder. Many of the features they offer for free aren’t available outside of premium plans with other builders.
- Lightweight – despite the many features, WP Page Builder is said to be really lightweight, ensuring a smooth, fast running website.
- Zero Coding Required – everything you need to create your self hosted website can be done via WP Page Builder, with absolutely no coding.
- Pro Version Limitations – while the free version is excellent, the pro version of WP Page Builder can’t compete with its competitors. So if you’re looking to create a more advanced website, this might not be the builder for you.
Cost: Free version available. Premium plans range from $39.50-$299.50 per year.
- Ideal for Landing Pages – if you’re in need of a beautifully designed, high quality landing page, SeedProd is the page builder for you. It has over 100 pro templates to choose from!
- Excellent for Lead Generation – looking to build an email list? SeedProd is the perfect choice. This might be worth considering if you’re just starting out!
- Manageable for Beginners – not exactly tech savvy? No problem! You don’t need to be an expert coder to work with it because SeedProd is designed with beginners in mind,
- Limited Elements – A con of SeedProd is that it is limited in terms of the available elements, when compared with other builders. This is really the only problem flagged up in any reviews!
It should also be noted that WordPress’s Gutenberg block editor is being heralded as a game changer. While it is a fantastic editor, it isn’t (yet) as powerful as a full page builder plugin. For the basics, it has everything you need. However, if you’re starting from scratch, it alone might not be enough to create the site you want!
Verdict: If you’re a beginner looking to create your own self-hosted website, WordPress is an excellent and flexible choice.
Next on the list we have Joomla. With “thousands of free extensions and templates” available, Joomla is a highly customisable option. Creating a self-hosted website here gives a lot of flexibility.
Joomla is regularly praised for its excellent content management options. This makes it a winner against competitors in terms of menu options, article creation and more. It is, however, not quite as beginner friendly (in terms of its interface) as WordPress is.
Let’s take a closer look at some of their top rated Page Builders.
SP Page Builder
Cost: Free version, then $59-$299 for lifetime usage.
- Front and Back End Builder – SP Page Builder has front and back end builder options, making it really flexible. This makes it a great choice for beginners or more tech savvy business owners.
- Mobile Friendly – the sites built via SP Page Builder are 100% mobile responsive. As discussed, this is so important in 2021 (and beyond). With more and more people using mobile exclusively, this is a must!
- Unlimited Undo and Redo – realise you made a mistake a few steps ago? With SP Page Builder, you can go back as far as you need to to correct it.
- Helix Framework – Helix is “an advanced, functional and ready to use template framework for Joomla“. The compatibility with this ensures a quickly running and highly responsive self-hosted website.
- Free Version Limitations – the front end page developer is not available in the free version. Limitations to the free version make it a more costly choice down the line.
- No SEO Integration – this is a big downside of SP Page Builder. The lack of SEO integration definitely puts it at a disadvantage against competitors.
Cost: Free version available. Pro versions range from $49-$552 for lifetime usage.
- Complex Layouts – Quix is applauded for its ability to create virtually any layout. However complex the layout you have in mind, Quix can cope!
- Front and Back End Builder – like SP Page Builder, Quix has both front and back end builder options. This flexibility is a definite plus for people at a variety of experience levels.
- Advanced Media Manager – if images are of vital importance to your self hosted website, Quix has you covered. Upload any “images, animations, videos and SVG files” to your website.
- Inadequate Video Documentation – Quix has a lot of pros and very few cons in all of the reviews I checked out. The main downside seems to be a lack of adequate video documentation. Everything else gets a thumbs up!
JA Page Builder
Cost: Free version available. Premium versions from $89-$2326 (ultimate developer option). One off payment.
- Over 120 Content Blocks and 29+ Ready Made Page Libraries – with a huge library of ready to use pages, JA Page Builder can help you create your site extremely quickly. These ready made libraries are high quality and make for a really professional finish.
- Mobile Friendly and Fully Responsive – designs on this builder are fully responsive across different screen sizes. This means your website will look perfect whatever a customer views it on.
- Undo/Redo Button – as mentioned previously, an undo/redo button is a huge help when building a self hosted website for your business! Fix minor mistakes in seconds with this feature.
- SEO Friendly – All JA Page Builder pages are SEO friendly and easy to optimise to ensure your website is performing well.
- Limited Free Version – while there is a free version available, it is very limited in comparison to what is offered on the paid plans. So this might be an issue if you’re working with a small budget.
- User Interface – some reviews suggest the user interface could use some work here, so if you’re totally new to website building, this could be an issue. Beginners might take a while to get to grips with it.
Verdict: If clever navigation and slick content management is your priority, Joomla is worth considering. It is less beginner friendly than WordPress, but it can produce some beautiful results.
Drupal is another popular option when it comes to building a self-hosted website for your business. It’s known to be more suitable for developers, but it has a lot of positives worth exploring.
There are significantly less “drag and drop” page builders available for Drupal, when compared with WordPress and Joomla. The Drupal editor itself is an excellent website builder without using a page builder plugin. WordPress’s Gutenberg may follow suit in the future.
- Security – Drupal has high level security. It is one of the platform’s biggest selling points. That’s not to say others on the list aren’t secure. Drupal, however, is applauded for going the extra mile in terms of protection.
- Scalability – Drupal sites are extremely scalable, so if you’re looking to continually expand your business, this could be an excellent choice. One to consider for those thinking far ahead!
- Community – Looking for support from fellow users? Drupal has a fantastic community around it.
- Multisite Capability – an interesting pro (discussed in detail here at Created by Cocoon) of Drupal is the multisite function. In a nutshell, you can create multiple websites using the same base code. The example given in this review is a customer website, a B2B website and a jobs website. Being able to generate three separate sites from the same code can be incredibly useful.
- Steep Learning Curve – Biggest downside to Drupal? The steep learning curve. Drupal allows for the creation of a fantastic self-hosted website, but it isn’t easy. If you’re a seasoned developer it’s great – but if you’re a beginner, WordPress might be a better fit.
- Updates – Drupal updates (from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, for example) do not have backwards compatibility. This means upgrading your site can be a challenge.
- Cost of Themes – the high level of customisation on Drupal means that themes created by expert developers can be costly.
Verdict: Drupal is the right choice for the more tech savvy business owner. If you have experience as a developer, the options Drupal offers are amazing.
At the end of the day, there is no “perfect” content management system out there for a self-hosted website. It all comes down to this – what do you need for your small business to operate? It sounds so simple, but a few things to consider are:
- Time – how much time do you have to spend building a website? If you are a beginner looking to do it yourself, look for a user friendly option.
- Cost – working to a budget? Spend some time reviewing each option and what you get for your money. Remember, domain name and hosting charges are separate to the website building cost!
- Content – what is your priority? Complex video and images, expert navigation, SEO wizardry – whatever it is, evaluate all options with that at the forefront of your mind.
Good luck – wherever you build it, a new website is an exciting milestone for every business!
To read more about how to make your website work for your small business, have a look at these: