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website builders overtake cms

Web Design Trends: Website builders vs. CMS

Drupal & Joomla are two popular CMS systems that offer powerful Web design and development features, and both have been overtaken in popularity by website builders, such as Wix & Weebly.

What's interesting about this trend is not that one brand of Web development tool has become more popular than another, it's that it signals a change in the way we build websites altogether.

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Americans are opting for ease of use and speed of development over power and flexibility when it comes to building websites.

CMS vs. website builder popularity trends

Take a look at the following Google Trends graph that shows the rise and fall in popularity of Drupal and Joomla in the U.S over the last 5 years or so:

As you can see, there has been a distinct change of fortunes for these CMS systems, with the real decline setting in around 2010.

Now take a look at the same Trends graph with Wix and Weebly included. It's important to note that the brand and term Wix is shared across a number of enterprises. So, unlike Weebly, the Google Trends graph for Wix may not be a good metric for its popularity:

Despite that, it's clear to see that Weebly (at the time of writing - this Google Trends graph will update with time) has clearly outgrown everything else in brand popularity on Google search.

However, we can turn to Alexa to give us a rough overview (yes, I know it's not particularly accurate - but it is sufficient to indicate strong trends):

Alexa trend graph showing decline in CMS systems popularity

Note how both CMS platforms have experienced a steady decline over the last few years, while both Wix and Weebly have experienced growth.

So why, if both Joomla and Drupal are trusted and utilized by the biggest and most recognized organizations in the world (including governments, news agencies, pop stars, etc), are site builders gaining market share?

To answer this we need to look at the fundamental differences between the two platforms.

CMS systems vs. site builders

A Content Management System (CMS) like Drupal or Joomla is a PHP and HTML framework for developing powerful, professional websites. A website builder is usually a complete Web solution rolled into one - including an online graphic Web designer, domains and hosting.

But CMS systems have relatively steep learning curves that serve as a technical barrier to entry for many entrepreneurs and home business owners. So while you can ultimately do more with them (since you have complete control over the code base), they require a certain level of technical skills and expertise to start with.

Site builders tend to offer free basic website packages for people to get started with, but charge a monthly fee for upgrades that offer more features. In contrast, Drupal and Joomla are free to download and use, but there are domain and hosting charges in order to get the website online.

In addition, webmasters are responsible for updating and maintaining their CMS website to a far greater extent than people using online builders.

For example, SME Pals is based on Drupal 6, which has no easy-to-implement responsive Web design support. This means I have to upgrade to Drupal 7 - but this is a real time consuming hassle that will also require lots of manual work to get right.

By contrast, people using Wix and Weebly can continuously take advantage of the latest trends and technologies (like HTML5 and responsive Web design) without investing any effort in development and the acquisition of new Web skills.

How to start a website today

So are CMS platforms doomed to slip away into obscurity while online site design tools become the de facto standard? And does this mean startups should avoid CMS systems?

I think, to some extent the industry is currently in a correction phase. Online site building software will continue to gain market share, but only to a point.

There will always be a place for more powerful and flexible CMS systems. As startups grow and evolve, so their needs and requirements of their websites might grow beyond what an online builder can offer.

And, of course, I have left out the one giant elephant in the room - WordPress. WordPress is a CMS that focuses on building blogs, but it is also a website builder - it comes in two flavors. is the CMS version, and is the online site builder version. Plugging WordPress into the Google Trends graph shows us something very interesting:

I think that the fact that makes the barrier to entry a lot lower than other CMS systems has contributed towards its dominance, but growth has tapered off since 2011. It may be that the market has reached saturation, but remember that Weebly is growing fairly quickly - albeit on a smaller scale than WordPress.

So, if you're looking to build a website, or online store, I recommend you read the following articles that will show you how to choose and use the best Web platform for your particular requirements:

What Web platform do you use? How long did it take for your company to design and develop the site? Are you happy with the features and functionality, or would you change platform if you had the chance?

Share your Web design and development tips and advice in the comments.

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