This article is part of a larger series on Small Business Websites.
A web content management system (CMS) is software used to build and manage a website. Most small business websites are built using a web content management system. Some, like WordPress, require more technical expertise than a site builder CMS like Squarespace or Wix. We’ll walk you through how to choose the best CMS to build your website and explain how these tools help you establish an online presence in greater detail.
How to Choose a Website Content Management System
When choosing between content management platforms for creating a business website, there are several things to consider. For example, who is going to create and maintain your website, what features are most important, and how much can you spend? Here’s what to look for when choosing content management system software:
- Ease of use: Look for one with the best mix of flexibility, features, and ease of use based on your business’ website needs and goals. Some are menu- and content block-based (WordPress), while others are drag-and-drop (Wix), allowing you to drag and drop elements exactly where you want them on the page.
- Level of skill required: If you’re a beginner or don’t want to learn code, choose one of the best all-in-one website builders. For example, Wix and Squarespace offer more design freedom, whereas GoDaddy is known for its beginner-friendly, section-based editor.
- Cost: Site builders have all-inclusive plans covering your business website cost based on the features needed, while WordPress.org is free to use—sort of. For instance, you must secure web hosting and a domain, as well as install a WordPress site builder plugin to make it easier to use. Your cost will also go up if you purchase premium plugins to extend functionality, such as for online selling, offering online courses, and so on.
- Scalability: Keep in mind all that you plan to do with your website when your business starts to grow, and choose a CMS that makes sense for future updates. You may start with a standard website, but in time, you may want to create an online store. Choose a solution that offers a variety of features so that your business’ growth isn’t hampered by your system’s capabilities.
- Page builder: Any web content management system worth using has a page builder. We recommend Wix as the best drag-and-drop site editor for those prioritizing custom design, whereas GoDaddy’s is the easiest to use. With WordPress, this entails the purchase of a WordPress page builder or going with a hosting service like Bluehost, which includes a page builder in all WordPress hosting plans.
- Templates/themes: Most website content management systems offer free themes or templates, but they may not be precisely what you’re looking for. You may need to pay for a premium theme, outsource site design to a web development professional, or use a website builder with templates and content blocks made by professional designers, like Squarespace.
- Features: WordPress users have access to thousands of plugins to extend website functionality. These include plugins for booking systems, live chat bots, membership content, and so on. Site builders may lack unique or niche functionality, but have all the native tools and features most small business websites need. Plus, site builders like Wix and Weebly also have app marketplaces with a slew of third-party plugins to choose from.
- Plugins: WordPress plugins are the key to adding site features and website functionality. For each one, you will need to source and vet third-party plugins to ensure their security and compatibility with your site and theme, and maintain them over time. With site builders, most features are available in the platform, if not through available one-click plugins or extensions, and no vetting or maintenance is required on your part.
- Content editing: You should be able to add pages and blog post content with any CMS, but some are better than others. For the easiest content editing, choose site builder content management platforms like Wix, GoDaddy, and Squarespace.
- Security: All-in-one website building platforms have strong security protocols, whereas free, open-source software like WordPress does not. If you go with WordPress, choose a web hosting solution that provides a firewall and enhances security at the server level, and plan to add a reliable, trusted security plugin as well. Also, be careful about using outdated or free WordPress plugins as they may be used to exploit security holes.
Types of Web Content Management Systems: Code vs No-code
There are two basic types of website content management systems: code and no-code. The type you choose then will determine how much technical skill is needed to build, manage, and customize your website. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all examples of popular code systems, meaning that you will need to know at least some basic coding (e.g., HTML, CSS, and PHP) to host, build, and customize a website.
No-code systems like Squarespace and Wix are far easier to use. Page building tools, templates, and premade content blocks are available to help you create a website in a visual design editor. This lets you see exactly what changes to your site will look like before you publish or update a page, allowing you to build a fully functional, professional-looking website with no code or technical know-how.
- No-code site builder CMS: Best for most small businesses, ideal for beginners, and the best way to quickly and easily create a business site or online store with prebuilt themes and elements at an affordable price
- Code CMS (e.g., WordPress): Best for intermediate to advanced users who need to create a fully customizable site with unique features or a large ecommerce store with the most advanced selling elements
Code vs No-code Website CMS Options
WordPress, Joomla, Drupal
Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy
~$3 to $25+ per month
~$10 to $27 per month
Technical Expertise Required
Intermediate to advanced
Robust Ecommerce to Sell Products and Services Online
Membership Site Tools & Gated Content
Subscriptions & Recurring Payments
Take Online Bookings & Accept Payments
Built-in SEO Tools
Built-in Marketing Tools
*Requires plugins or custom coding
**Limited support via web hosting and/or user forums
Best Web CMS for Small Businesses
For most small businesses, an all-in-one solution for hosting, site design, and content management like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly is the best choice. These all-in-one website builders make it easy to build and update a website, manage content, generate leads, sell online, and more.
The best website content management systems are affordable for startups and small businesses, easy to use, and make it easy to add the website features and functionality you need. Here are more details on which are best for small businesses:
- Squarespace: Design is at the forefront of this website builder. All Squarespace themes are free to use and were created by professional designers (so you know your website will look awesome). It is easy to use and plans are affordable, starting at just $14 per month inclusive of hosting, custom domain, and site builder. Read our Squarespace vs WordPress comparison to see how they stack up against each other now.
- GoDaddy: GoDaddy’s artificial intelligence (AI) designer will automatically build your website based on your answers during setup, which you can then quickly and easily edit using its section-based page builder. Read our GoDaddy website builder review and see if it’s the digital content management system for you.
- Wix: If you want one of the most intuitive website builders for custom visual site design on the market, choose Wix. There are hundreds of free themes to choose from and it offers affordable plans that come with a free domain and SSL certificate from $16 per month, or $27 per month for robust ecommerce. Wix is one of the most customizable site builders, so much so that it’s a top WordPress alternative.
- Weebly: Weebly is another intuitive, all-in-one site builder with extremely affordable plans, including ecommerce on all of its plans (even the free one). With ad-free paid plans starting at just $12 per month, it’s one of the cheapest website content management systems for small business ecommerce out there.
- WordPress: To build a WordPress website, you’ll need web hosting, a domain, an SSL certificate for site visitor data security, and will likely want a premium WordPress theme and page builder. You may also need to use plugins to add functionality, such as an ecommerce solution, search engine optimization (SEO) tools, or niche functionality like a forum, knowledge base, member-only content, and so on.
Keep in mind that the best CMS isn’t necessarily the best website builder. Website builders like Squarespace and Wix include most of the features you need from a CMS while having beginner-friendly features. Plus, there’s no installation to worry about and the software is professionally maintained, so you can stay focused on building your online presence.
On the other hand, WordPress is a popular content management solution, but it isn’t the easiest to use. To get started, you’ll have to get hosting and install WordPress and maintain it over time. You’ll also need to find compatible plugins, install, and maintain them as well. Top WordPress hosting solutions like Bluehost come with WordPress installation, management, and a WordPress page builder, reducing some of the technical expertise you’ll need to build a site.
Best Content Management Systems at a Glance
Free Plan (Subdomain With Ads)
Starting Cost (Monthly*)
Starting Cost for Ecommerce (Monthly*)
From $2.95 per month (with Bluehost)
From $9.95 per month (with Bluehost)
*On an annual billing cycle; monthly billing is also available at a higher cost
**First ad-free paid plan
***WordPress.org is free, but does not include the cost of hosting or domain needed to publish a website
What You’ll Get With the Best Content Management Software
Using content management software is the easiest way to build and manage a website and all the content that goes onto that site. You can access all the content on your website from the CMS, including web pages, images, posts, and settings without needing a web developer, and without having to learn complex code.
Here are some of the capabilities and benefits you can expect with the top web CMS platforms:
- Multiple user access: Set user permissions for admins, editors, and authors for team members who need access to the platform.
- Schedule content: Many platforms have scheduling tools that allow you to create content in advance and publish it over time or in alignment with an event, such as publishing a press release.
- Organization: A CMS is a content database, and most have search engines tools that make it easy to find specific resource files (e.g., images or PDFs) as well as articles, pages, and other site content.
- No expertise needed: Most platforms are easy to learn and use, so you won’t have to rely on a web developer or an information technology (IT) department to keep your website up and running.
- Maintenance: With content management software, you’re able to update pages, posts, and content easily. Likewise, all-in-one site builders like Wix require far less technical skill or manual maintenance compared to WordPress, while still giving you a unique, custom-looking website. Read our Wix vs WordPress comparison for more detail.
- Affordable: Using free, open-source software like WordPress or a website builder’s proprietary system is affordable, especially compared to outsourcing web development or hiring an in-house web developer to build a custom site.
Wondering whether to have a professional build your website instead? Learn how much it will cost to build a website yourself vs the cost of professional web development.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do I implement a content management system?
If you need to build and manage a website yourself but lack coding skills, use an all-in-one website builder CMS like Wix or Squarespace. Implementation is as simple as choosing the platform that has the features you want for your small business’ website, creating an account, and building your site with beginner-friendly, intuitive tools.
Alternatively, implementing WordPress requires purchase of web hosting, a domain, and SSL certificate beforehand. Then you’ll have to install WordPress and choose and install a theme, and will likely want to purchase a premium WordPress site builder to make building your website easier. You can reduce some of this work by hiring someone to install WordPress and build your site, such as a freelance pro from Fiverr or a top agency like Hibu.
What are the most popular content management systems?
The most popular content management system is WordPress.org, but it’s not the only one, nor is it beginner or user-friendly. Those without web design experience are advised against using WordPress, as it often leads to a homemade-looking website. Instead, opt for a top website builder like Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix. Learn more about the best WordPress alternatives.
What’s the difference between a CMS & a CRM?
It’s possible that your business needs both a CMS and a CRM, but they aren’t the same. CMS stands for “content management system,” and is software used to build and manage a website and its content. CRM stands for “customer relationship management,” and is software used to manage contact and deal information on clients, customers, and sales leads. Learn more about CMS vs CRM here.
Your business needs a website, which means you need to choose a web content management system. The best make it easy for anyone (even complete beginners) to create and manage a website without having to know code. For complete beginners, all-in-one site builders like Squarespace are much simpler to use. Not only do they make it easy and quick to build a business website, they’re also very affordable and easy to manage.