Self-hosted WordPress Alternatives for a CMS & Building a Website
There has never been so many options for starting a website or blog. Hosting WordPress on your own server is not only the most popular ways – it has been completely revolutionary. As a free, open-source, community-maintained content management system – WordPress software has allowed millions of people to start & fully control their own website.
But what if you want an alternative to WordPress? After all – there is no such thing as a “best website builder” or “best website software” – only the best for your project. And if anything has truly changed in the past decade – it is choice. Website owners can not only forego a developer/designer – they can go right to the DIY setup that fits their needs, expertise and focus.
In my career as a marketing consultant, I’ve been able to use and consult on a full range of website builders, software & platforms for both my in-house projects and client projects. While WordPress is great for most projects, I also thought it would be useful to have a list of WordPress alternatives along with what they do well & who they focus on.
Here’s a brief summary along with an extended explanation below.
Summary of Best Self-hosted WordPress (.org) Alternatives
|Name||Best if you want…||Visit!|
|Weebly||…drag & drop features w/ hosted integrated features.||Visit!|
|WordPress.com||…benefits of WordPress without self-hosting.||Visit!|
|Squarespace||…design-focused w/ hosted platform.||Visit!|
|Shopify||…full-featured, hosted ecommerce platform.||Visit!|
|Drupal||…open-source CMS w/ active community.||Visit!|
|Joomla||…established direct CMS competitor to WordPress.||Visit!|
|Ghost||…modern open-source software focused on publishing.||Visit!|
|Jekyll||…blog-aware static website generator.||Visit!|
Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies listed on this website. All data & opinion is based on my professional experience as a customer or consultant to a customer. Read my full reviews of various website builders here.
Guide to Self-hosted WordPress Alternatives
Here’s an extended guide to each, along with other WordPress alternatives for specific use cases.
Weebly is known as a drag and drop website builder. It is a hosted platform, which means that you don’t have to worry about hosting, speed or security like you do with self-hosted WordPress.
WordPress.com is the commercial provider of the open-source & community-supported WordPress software. They provide a managed platform where they provide a limited version of WordPress software in exchange for taking care of all the technical considerations. You can make use of the versatility of WordPress without worrying about HTML/CSS, security, speed or hosting.
Squarespace is a major brand in the website builder industry, thanks to their heavy ad spend on podcasts & Super Bowl ads. They do not have drag & drop, but do offer a user-friendly platform with a focus on design. They are pricier than other options (and have inherent hosted platform limitations), but serve as an excellent name-brand, hosted WordPress alternative.
Shopify is a name-brand ecommerce platform. Unlike WordPress – Shopify focuses exclusively on online storeowners. They offer drag and drop, along with templated designs in addition to features that fit all types of online stores.
Drupal is WordPress’ most direct competitor in the general open-source CMS market. Unlike WordPress, it did not start out as a blogging solution, so some developers argue that it has less baggage. For a while, the Drupal’s community was not as active. But with a recent release, Drupal has a re-growing fan base. Not as user-friendly as WordPress, but worth a look if you want a good, self-hosted CMS.
Joomla is the “3rd sister CMS” along with WordPress and Drupal. It has a new release due in 2017, but has been losing momentum for several years. That said, it has a devoted community with many strengths over WordPress. I personally don’t think it is as user-friendly, but is a very interesting alternative.
Ghost is a rapidly growing WordPress alternative, that in some ways, actually started as a reaction to WordPress’ movement away from its publishing roots towards a general content management system. Ghost is lean, open-source, fast and focused on modern web publishers.
Jekyll is also a fast-growing alternative that has caught on as reaction to WordPress’ recent product features. Jekyll is a “static website generator” – like the old-school Movable Type. This topic gets complicated, but basically static website technology fell out of favor to database-driven software like WordPress due its lack of functionality and flexibility. But – due to speed & security concerns (and feature-bloat) – static website generators are coming back. Jekyll is one of many that is growing in popularity.
Other WordPress Alternatives
There are, of course, tons of other alternatives including options that either have a specific use case, I haven’t used enough to fully judge or don’t quite have features/benefits that the alternatives listed above already cover.
That said, I’ve had managers compiling a list for internal evaluation ask for more. Here’s the list that I usually provide.
- HTML/CSS – it’s OK not to use tools! Sometimes you just need to write your own HTML and upload it to a server (or a cloud – which are near free nowadays). I love to look at onepagelove – where I got starter code to build this small project on Google’s Cloud. Bootstrap also has a whole suite of starter snippets for custom coded sites.
- GoDaddy GoCentral Website Builder – a pre-packaged website product from GoDaddy. Not nearly as flexible as WordPress, but very straightforward. I reviewed GoDaddy’s website builder here.
- BoldGrid – software offered by some hosting companies that installs with WordPress so that you get all the benefits of self-hosted WordPress in addition to drag & drop design and simplified setup.
- Wix – a name-brand website builder. It has drag & drop design with many integrated features. I compared Wix to WordPress here.
I’ve written a lot about website builders – and have been able to consult with a variety of clients from small shops to household brands. Here’s related resources that I’ve written.
- Shopify Review
- Weebly Review
- Squarespace Review
- WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
- Shopify vs. WordPress (and how to use together)
- Wix vs. WordPress
- Best Website Builder Guide w/ Quiz
- Best Online Store Builder Guide w/ Quiz
- How To Set Up A Website w/ WordPress
All the best on your project!