Starting a small business online, or creating a website for an existing small business almost inevitably means choosing between a CMS (Content Management System) or a website builder.

Leading website builders account for millions upon millions of active websites, as do open source CMS Web platforms like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.

But, from the perspective of a small business looking to create a website, which option is the best one to take?

This article discusses the pros and cons of each type of website, and shows how to relate your business goals to the type of Web solution you ultimately select.

Small business website objectives

Before you choose a Web solution for your business, it is important to understand exactly what you need.

Are you going to sell stuff online? In this instance you need eCommerce facilities. While CMS systems do offer eCommerce add-ons, for a pure eCommerce startup, I recommend you check out Top shopping cart software, 2013.

If you want to attract customers via organic search then you will need to be able to add plenty of great content – most likely in the form of a blog.

Read How to build a website for an in-depth look at building specific website types from blogs, to forums, portals, etc.

Web development resources

Once you know what you need from your website, it is important to asses what you have in the way of resources – money, technical skills (HTML, CSS, etc).

While open source CMS platforms are free to download and use, they are not necessarily the cheapest option in the long run.

Once you know what you need, and what resources are available to invest in your website, it is time to make a comparison between the two systems, based on this information.

CMS vs. website builder comparison

CMS websites almost inevitably have a fairly steep learning curve. All allow you to create a fairly nice basic site with little trouble. But, as soon as you want to customize the site in any way, you will need some technical skills, or to hire a developer.

Website builders specialize in being able to provide highly customizable Web solutions without needing any technical skills. Web design is handled using a drag and drop interface that doesn’t require direct manipulation of HTML and CSS files.

Website builders can have fully operational websites up and running very quickly.

CMS websites, for anyone with skills and experience, are extremely flexible and customizable and can be adapted to suit almost any business requirement. Website builders are less flexible.

CMS websites are free, but you still have to pay a monthly hosting charge, or a domain charge, and it is likely that you will end up paying for themes, development, design or plug in modules at some stage down the line.

Website builders charge a set monthly rate depending on your requirements. This cost includes the cost of hosting, upgrades and additional development.

CMS websites need to be updated manually. Often new developments are slower because they rely on community contributions.

New technologies come and go, and website builders adapt with the times without requiring any additional effort or development on your behalf. This is not necessarily the case for CMS systems.

Deciding on a small business Web solution

In essence, a website builder is an easier, faster tool that removes much of technical burden of starting and maintaining a cutting edge website.

Website builders are also fairly cheap to run – usually between $3 – $100 per month, depending. You can check out a comparison of the leading website builders (with monthly pricing) at Which of the popular website builders is the best for my small business?

For businesses that have no Web design experience, or simply want a good website up as fast as possible with as little hassle as possible, a website builder is the right choice.

For businesses that want a customizable and flexible Web solution that they are prepared to work on, and maintain, a CMS is the best choice because it offers more power and flexibility “under-the-hood“.

Are you still undecided on a Web solution for your business? Check out this complete domains, hosting & websites resource, which also provides free advice – simply submit your requirements and receive the best possible Web solution recommendations.

Have you already decided on a Web platform? What were the key factors in making your decision?

Share your small business Web development experience and advice in the comments, to help others decide.