Website design and platform options can be overwhelming. This article breaks down what’s available for developing websites in 2020. I’ll also talk about the positives and negatives of each option. Finally, I summarize the information and suggest a path you can explore.

Note: I won’t explain many of the terms in this article, but I’ve included links to websites that go into more detail.

HTML5 and CSS Code

The days of programming only in HTML and using Adobe Flash (now Animate) for animations are long gone. Today, the latest version of HTML, called HTML5, works together with the latest version of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which is CSS3. These two modern technologies work together to meet the needs of modern websites. That is, they need the ability to:

  • Display animated graphics and video clips.
  • Appear correctly on mobile and tablet devices as well as on desktop and laptop browsers.
  • Appear correctly in different web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox.
Pros
  • There are plenty of books and online courses available to learn how to program in HTML5 and CSS3.
  • You can start programming your code using your favorite text editor like Windows Notepad. You can also use free web code editors like Visual Studio Code from Microsoft.
  • If you want to build your websites visually, you can use commercial development tools such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Google Web Designer. These tools let you code your site, too.
Cons
  • You have to take the time and make the effort to learn HTML5 and CSS3.
  • If you prefer using a text editor, you have to switch between your editor and the browser often to make sure things work.
  • Dreamweaver costs $20.99 per month. So, it makes more sense to use it if you already pay for Adobe’s Creative Cloud, of which Dreamweaver is a part.
In Sum

If you want complete control over your website, coding is the way to go. However, HTML5 and CSS3 are only the basics. Depending on what you need, you may also have to learn other web-based programming languages like Python, PHP, and JavaScript.

Website design and platform options need careful review before you start building.

Online Website Builders

You’ve probably seen advertising from websites promoting their website builders. These builders are offered as part of a hosting package, though some companies like HostGator and GoDaddy emphasize hosting. Some of the more popular website builders include:

Some website builders are better suited for different needs. For example, if you’re creating a site to show off your work, then consider a builder like Adobe Portfolio or Weebly.

Pros
  • There are plenty of templates to choose from.
  • Some online website builders allow you to create a website for free.
  • In many cases, you can get your website up and running in minutes.
Cons
  • You need to shop around and learn which service gives you the most bang for your buck (or no bucks).
  • Some website builders don’t allow you to change your templates after you’ve chosen one.
  • You may need to purchase another product to use a free builder. For example, to use Adobe Portfolio, you need to be a paid user of Creative Cloud.
In Sum

If you need a cheap solution for building a good-looking website fast, and you’re not interested in much tailoring, online website builders are your best bet.

Content Management Systems

A content management system, or CMS, is a website app designed to help you create websites so you and/or others can maintain them. Many CMSs are used to create blogs, but you can also create websites. CMSs also have a lot of support, though none more so than WordPress.

WordPress (WP) is a CMS that currently has 63 percent market share in the website design tool business. It’s easy to start a blog by setting up your own account at wordpress.com. If you want to set up a blog or website that has your own custom website address, you need to set it up on wordpress.org.

WordPress has several website themes so you can create a new website easily. What’s more, WP has a large ecosystem of third-party developers that create plug-in modules in categories including security, e-commerce, SEO, and more.

You can also find a number of companies that offer their own themes and editing interfaces that integrate with WordPress. The most popular include:

  • Beaver Builder
  • Elegant Themes
  • Genesis

These companies require you to pay a fee to use their service. These services also include  (Full disclosure: I use Elegant Themes with this blog and the BCG website.)

Pros
  • You can set up WordPress with your current hosting service at no extra charge. (If your hosting service doesn’t offer it, consider finding a new one.)
  • You have a large ecosystem of third-party developers and support.
  • You can log into your WP website, make changes, and add blog posts.
Cons
  • WordPress has a learning curve you have to climb.
  • The WordPress interface is a bit clunky.
  • You may have to pay for full versions of a plug-in module so you get the features you need.
In Sum

If you want to create a custom website but keep the flexibility of updating it yourself — and/or use a company to do it — a CMS is the way to go. Unless you need to use another CMS, use WordPress.

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I hope this article has helped you learn more about your website design and platform options.

Go back to the section overview “What you need for a modern website,” or read the “Creating a website” introduction.

Eric Butow is owner of Butow Communications Group and has designed websites since 1997. Please feel free to comment with questions and ideas to help make this series as useful as possible. Thanks!