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Open Source CMS vs. Proprietary site builders

Many site builders offer free trials to attract end-users in today’s SaaS market place. Eventually 94% site builders want their end-users to upgrade to premium monthly plans. Web Builders’ pricing model align with SaaS (Software-as-a-service) to entice users pay monthly retainers for web hosting, advanced integrations with third party software and UI support. By default, when you signed up for a freemium account, you created a subdomain based on the domain name of your provider. Many site builders requires end-users to upgrade from free tier to premium solutions. If customers bring in custom domain names, the site builder may charge higher monthly web hosting fees in comparison to customers buying from a stand alone web hosting company. This may not be a suitable solution to some end-users. Here are reasons why businesses should replace web builders with open source CMS.

What is an Open Source CMS?

Open Source CMS (Content Management System) enable users to modify and customize websites with GUI. Apart from web builders, CMS software have functionalities related to document management and video & image storage. There are two parts of the CMS that completes a website: the content management application (CMA) and the content delivery application (CDA). CMA is the part where you add content and manage your website. CDA delivers content and stores data, so your site can be rendered and displayed to the visitors.

Open Source CMS vs. Proprietary site builders

Site builders make most back-end services opaque. Since they are proprietary SaaS vendors, users have no clue how site builders handle data storage, website speed, and manage web hosting. Open source CMS benefit users by allowing users to take complete control over their websites. By launching your business website with an open source CMS, you will know from top-down your site architecture, what back-end services you are using, and the real operating cost of a website. You will also have complete autonomy and data sovereignty over your entire business. Instead of letting the SaaS site builders dictate version updates, hosting provider, and where they store your site data, it’s time to go open source to reduce your operating costs to bare bones.

Pricing for Proprietary Site Builder SaaS

Proprietary SaaS inhibits end-users to migrate data to other service providers. This is inherently true across most SaaS providers. The best outcome for certain die-hard SaaS loyalists is leaving website maintenance aside until an incidental downtime has occurred. Not a good idea! Here’s why proprietary site builders are not suitable for every end-user.

Proprietary site builders do not specify an SLA (Service Level Agreement) or at least make commitments in terms of uptime guarantees. Even for some hosting companies, they rarely consider how to architect servers with high resilience and availability for fail-overs. The best way find server providers with high quality maintenance and support is to buy direct! You should consider buying wholesale solutions from IaaS (Infrastructure providers) such as Digital Ocean, and hire an IT technician to set up your own virtual server. IaaS providers gives you a private server instance that you own and your server admins have full control over it. By buying direct from source, the service quality and post-sales support will be better than the customer experience you will receive from a web builder SaaS company. When you run into issues such as software usability, slowness of your web instance or long periods of down time, it’s tough to reach SaaS support agents who are accountable for maintenance work and quality of your web server. Afterall, they are employees working in an organization; not an experienced sysadmin.

SaaS Web Builders provide shared hosting; not dedicated private servers

Another disamenity of proprietary site builders is all infrastructure is shared. Every website is placed into shared hosting servers. Thus, the maintenance and support costs are higher for the SaaS site builders compared to individual self-hosted web applications. Here’s why – the proprietary site builders monitor each individual user accounts to ensure no bandwidth overages on web servers. To optimize cost, proprietary site builders invested in generic cyber security solutions to defend against any malicious traffic or other forms of cyber attacks in the clients’ servers. Since all sites have the same underlying hosting infrastructure, it’s easy for attackers to find security vulnerability and breach data throughout the entire web server. This is why shared hosting is less secure than self-hosted websites. Businesses should fortify their web application security by using self-hosted open source solutions.

Pay the Theme Developers directly; not the Web Builder Companies

The competition is in pricing. Website builder SaaS providers exploit the market with cheap monthly subscriptions without placing much emphasis on security, custom plugins, storage, and data processing infrastructures.  Once you become a customer of a site builder, the vital interest and operations of your personal/business site is beholden into that SaaS Web  Builder company. This is not a good approach in the long run. Especially if you run an eCommerce store or selling virtual services online, for every dollar you earn the SaaS company charges a transaction fee in addition to what you pay to Paypal or Stripe.

Buying direct from theme developers or building your own site would be the best solution to break away from commissions and on-going monthly fees levied by site builders. There are many seasoned developers in ThemeForest that offer inexpensive themes with regular security and feature updates. In our humble opinion, supporting independent developers will be a better deal for end-customers. Because users regain data sovereignty, autonomy on how their web themes and CMS are managed. Users are also not obligated to take upsell or cross-sell solutions such as custom domain emails and email marketing solutions that they don’t need.

Build your site with an open source CMS

An Open Source CMS provides users flexibility to customize and store data on self-hosted servers or managed hosting providers. Users have freedom to store their data in servers of their own choice. You can choose to host your WordPress website on the official source: WordPress.com. This is a reliable managed hosting provided by a team of WordPress developers. The standard plan has round the clock live chat or email ticket support. The premium plan providers phone support.

Pricing for WordPress.com hosing:

WordPress Hosting Price Grid

If you decide to self-host your WordPress instance, we recommend you to go with IaaS providers like Digital Ocean. They provide a single node virtual machine for each user account. They have availability in multiple regions around the world such as Frankfurt, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, and Singapore.

Pricing for Digital Ocean VPS:

Digital Ocean Pricing

Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla are three best open source alternatives. You may want to know why it is worthwhile to migrate from proprietary SaaS to open source site builders. We will talk about how you can customize your websites for each open source CMS.


WordPress dashboard traditionally has a UI with Plugins, site customization, and widgets available on the side menu.

WordPress CMS

You don’t have to know how to code from scratch.  Just use a visual editor like WordPress Bakery drag and drop tool to edit your website.


WordPress has a widgets area where you can drag and drop functions such as “Search Bar” and “Categories,” so you can turn these functions on and off on your WP Blogs.


Create tables with WordPress using the TablePress plugin for images, text, and bullet points.

Build your own portfolio with WordPress themes on ThemeForest.

Monthly cost of SaaS Web Builder Subscriptions

Proprietary web builder solutions offer monthly subscription plans ranging from $13 to $39 /month. The annual cost ranges from $156 to $468 for only one website instance. Sounds good on the surface, but apparently there are limitations on video hours. In Wix.com, even with the largest VIP plan, users are only allowed to upload up to 2 video hours on the website. If your business or personal sites focus on video content, Wix is not a suitable provider for you in the long run. In fact, you can use self-hosted solution for your site and upload videos without hard limits on YouTube, or better yet Vimeo (an ad free video sharing platform). So you can embed the videos links to your website without incurring video bandwidth and storage costs on your web server.

Wix.com Pricing Tiers 

Wix.com pricing

SquareSpace Web Builder Pricing Tiers

SquareSpace Pricing

Weebly Web Builder Pricing Tiers

Weebly Table

WebNode Web Builder Pricing Tiers 

WebNode Pricing

Jimdo Web Builder Pricing Tiers 

Jimdo has a bandwidth and storage caps for each tier. They also provide custom domain email. The downside for Jimdo is no real time support for the Growth and Start Plans in the middle tiers. Same day support response time is only available to the highest pricing tier $468 annual fee unlimited plan.

Jimdo Web Builder Pricing

Webflow Pricing Tiers

Webflow charges transaction fees of 2% in addition to Paypal or Stripe fees for any eCommerce or virtual services purchased on your website. To avoid the “commission” fees deducted from every dollar of revenue earned, we recommend you self-hosted payment gateway solutions such as Invoice Ninja that integrates with Stripe API. Invoice Ninja integrates with Stripe for online payments, recurring invoices, and auto-billing. The Ninja-Stripe integration provides a more sophisticated function compared to using any payment gateway on Webflow. For this reason, Invoice Ninja-Stripe integration is a huge cost savings over the course of operations of your business. It may be worth the effort to separate your payment gateway hosting, so your revenue stream wouldn’t be “taxed away” by providers like Webflow.

WebFlow price discriminates based on how much revenue they project each of their end-client earns. This is a way to entice upgrades, so clients seemed to be getting better value.

WebFLow Plan

Usability of site builders 

We have explored the UI for two most popular site builders to review their functionality and versatility in terms of theme selection.


Wix.com has a UI that’s very cluttered and the blog preview display is not customizable. Unlike WordPress, there are no variants in blog displays (ie: full width and masonry display). The GUI has too many buttons on the dashboard. There is no pagination function for the blogs on the eCommerce theme. We tested the a contact form, the emails are entered to Wix’s contact list. But there is no way to enable email-sending to users who filled out the Wix Contact form. We’ve made a test blog article in the blog widget.  Overall, the Wix Site Builder is loaded with graphics and pop-ups. The usability is 4 out of 10 stars.

Wix.com GUI

Wix.com interface II


SquareSpace has a sleek interface for end-users to customize their websites. They provide a 14-day trial period until you are ready to upgrade to monthly subscription plan. You can transfer custom domain to SquareSpace or buy a new domain.

Free your website from locked-in SaaS Solutions

If you would like the flexibility migrating out of managed service providers, Envato (ThemeForest) would be a better option. Because once you downloaded the theme, you have ownership over the license forever. As a one-time payment, premium themes cost range from $50 – 80 only for a one time fee. Sometimes when premium themes are on sale, they can be reduced to $10 – 25 a theme. Another benefit of buying themes in Envato is that the quality theme developers regularly release new updates to allow end-users to optimize and secure their web instances for free. This is a great perk for users to upgrade their themes often.

The free upgrade for each individual theme is something that proprietary site builders don’t offer. Chances are they will not improve the existing web themes. Proprietary site builders may sporadically update new functionalities and security features to the themes in the share hosted environment. They primarily prioritize their bottomline before their end-users’ interests.