The journey towards your first website can be a daunting one. There are many things you need to consider – and yes, to match against your existing skill set. There may also be lots of terms and requirements which you may not be familiar with.
One question which I come across frequently is the choice between standard web hosting and a website builder. To answer this, we need to look at what exactly they are and their function in the website development ecosystem.
Once again: What is Web Hosting?
Websites are made up of multiple files and in some cases involve the use of a database. For example, a static site may only be made up of files, but a WordPress site would need a database as well to function properly.
All these files and databases need to be placed somewhere – and that is on the servers that web hosts provide. Just as you keep files on your own PC, your website files need to be on servers accessible via the internet to allow visitors to get to.
The primary role of the web host is to:
- Allow you to use space on their servers to store your web pages and databases, and
- Give you access to the right infrastructure to serve those files to your visitors.
Anything else is dependant on which web hosting provider you sign up with.
There are key advantages of signing up with a dedicated web host and that is the wide variety of plans you can choose from. You can opt for very basic, low-bandwidth plans up to powerful dedicated servers.
What is a Website Builder?
To have a website for your visitors to use, you need to create it first. Websites are simply a collection of files containing lines of code that tie together various things like text, images and the like. It can be as simple as just one line of text to as complex as a video streaming site.
In early days, the only option to build a website was to code everything yourself, line by line. This required knowledge of specific scripts for you to do. Things nowadays are much easier, and you can use visual interfaces to build websites with little or no coding knowledge.
A website builder is a specific application that allows you to build websites quickly and easily. To run the website you build, you will still require web hosting. For this reason, website builders also include web hosting in their plans.
Most hosting offered by website builders is very basic and their strength lies in the website building tool itself.
What’s the Difference?
Every website on the internet needs web hosting, but not every site is built using a website builder. Take for example the case of Altushost versus Wix. Altushost is a good example of a company that focuses on offering web hosting plans. Wix, one of the popular website builders, on the other hand, is built primarily around the premise of being a website builder – and offers hosting to support sites build using their platform.
The distinction is small but significant at the same time. Because Wix is focused on the website builder aspect of the business, they have fewer plans for you to choose from. There are also limits to what you can use to build your website since they only allow you to use their own website builder.
With a web host, you are free to build a website with any tools at your disposal, from coding it yourself to using a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress.
1. Hosting Plans
Web hosting service providers often have a wide range of plans to choose from. Static or low visitor volume sites can be extremely cheap to host, and plans can start from as little as a dollar or so per month. On the other hand of that scale, large corporate sites or those which handle large volumes of visitors can opt for dedicated servers.
With website builders, your options are more limited. Although some will be able to offer enterprise-scale plans, those are not for general sale and you will need to contact them to discuss specific needs and prices.
2. Technical Aspects
Web hosting service providers focus on offering space and optimizing their servers so that your site can run smoothly. The development of your site is left entirely up to you. This gives you extreme flexibility in your choice of web development, but also require you to know what you are doing. Some may offer automated application installers, but development-wise, it’s all on you.
Website builders require almost zero technical skills and work with extremely visual elements. Building a site can be as easy as choosing a template and then dropping in elements or modifying them where necessary.
3. Site Customization
Because web hosting is basically only space and bandwidth, what functions you want your site to have is up to you – if you are able to build those functions yourself. You can build anything from a small static site to one as complex as a corporate site which includes a forum, blog and whatever else you can think of.
For website builders, your limitations depend on which website builder you opt for. The functions that are offered by your platform are your limit and if you need anything that they do not have, well, you’re out of luck.
Which is Right for You?
Website builders are extremely easy to use and can help you build a site very quickly. Because of the many advanced website builders available in the market today, there is very little in terms of functionality that they cannot really handle.
However, because of the limits to their hosting capabilities, there may be issues with sites that are planning to ‘go big’ after a while. Take for example Wix, which is one of the top site builders around. If you sign up with Wix and plan to scale up your plan as you grow, be cautious. Wix doesn’t allow you to export your website and move it to another platform. Once you hit their web hosting limitations, you’ll be out of luck.
I would say that website builders are ideal for beginners and small businesses that require no more than the token digital presence.
Web hosting, on the other hand, would be good for sites that intend to grow. They are also good for developers or those who need a sandbox experience in order to test out various tools and applications.
Naturally, this serves only as a guideline and which you opt for will depend on your specific needs.
About the author: Jason is a technology enthusiast, marketer, and a full-time dad. He loves exploring new opportunities online. He’s currently associated with BuildThis.io as the site manager.