Ready to take your web design game to the next level in 2023? It all starts with choosing the right CMS for your website. With so many options available, and without a background in website design & development, how do you know which one is the perfect CMS for website design?
At Slam Media Lab (Slam), we've done the research for you! We partner with small businesses, startups, nonprofits, tech companies, and Fortune 500 to design beautiful websites that scale and drive results that matter. Yes, more money! We’ve spent decades trying out all the latest web design CMS, so we know the ins and outs of each one in the market.
So if you're a web designer, marketer, or founder looking for a CMS that works for you, join us as we explore the top contenders, including WordPress, Ghost, Framer, Editor X, and the clear winner for most people - Webflow. Let's dive in and discover the best CMS for your web design needs!
Breaking Down the Basics: What’s a CMS?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of each CMS option, let's take a step back and answer the question that might be on your mind - what exactly is a CMS? CMS stands for Content Management System, and it's a software application that allows you to create, manage, and publish digital content.
From blog posts to product listings, a CMS makes it easy to update and maintain your website without needing advanced technical skills. Many web designers and developers choose to pick a CMS that allows their teams to update content without their support.
At Slam, we believe that a powerful CMS is the backbone of any successful website. So, whether you're a seasoned web designer or just starting out, we’ll break down what features are the most important for your website design and development project. If you have any questions, reach out via our Contact Form.
What’s Important for a CMS in Web Design?
When you’re designing a new CMS for your web design project, you want to make sure that the CMS is:
- Easy to use
- Optimized for SEO & Loads FAST
- Flexible & scalable
Most importantly, the code should be clean so you don’t have to add a million plug-ins. Why? Because you’ll need to manage billing, update them if there are new versions, and it’ll slow down your website.
Picking an Easy to Use CMS for Web Design
This is as straightforward as it sounds. Choosing an easy-to-use CMS for your web design project can save you money, time, and resources. Here are features we filter through:
- Your CMS should have a drag & drop feature
- You shouldn’t have to rely on a developer or an agency to make updates for your site
- Your CMS should help you, not work against you
Website Design CMS Optimized for SEO & Site Speed
We’ve audited hundreds of website projects, and the #1 regret for most web designers and marketers is not choosing a CMS that can help them optimize SEO from day one.
Many suffer the pain points of a slow website, having to spend more resources setting up a sitemap and Google Search Console, buying new plug-ins to compress images and setting up metadata.
When looking at a CMS for your website design project, make sure you read filtered by whether:
- The CMS needs additional plug-ins for SEO
- The CMS has SEO tools built-in
- The content and website load fast
For instance, a restaurant website client based in Washington DC reached out to Slam because they were frustrated by how slow their website was, and how competitors were beating them in search engines. We noticed the site was slow, outdated, and needed a lot of additional work to update and integrate it to Toast, their POS system.
They were using WordPress as their CMS web design platform, which caused a lot of frustration. We ended up switching it to our preferred platform (more on that later)! With their new website, their sitemap is automatically updated, connected to Google Analytics, and has metadata set-up from the beginning. Plus, their website is now 10x faster.
Pro tip: You can use Google’s Page Speed tool to see how fast a website loads. And you can use BuiltWith.com to see what a site is built-on.
A Flexible & Scalable Web Design CMS
This is an important filter when you’re picking a CMS for your website. As you grow, get more traffic, and need more landing pages and features, you want to choose a CMS that scales and grows with you.
We’ve worked with clients where their default web design CMS were unscalable platforms, including:
- Hubspot CMS
Please stay away from these. You often get stuck with them as you build and it’s really hard to scale your site and web design. Our clients ended up having to hire a developer to launch new products and landing pages, and managing multiple content management systems. Definitely not ideal!
Here are the things to look out for:
- Pick a CMS that is full featured:
- CMS should be as limitless as CSS
- Choose a CMS that is familiar for designers who use Figma, Illustrator, XD, etc
The last one is important because if you talk to most designers and developers, they’ll tell you to stay away from platforms like Hubspot and Contentful.
To recap this section, be on the lookout for a CMS that someone with almost no technical skills can update and make changes, that you can optimize for SEO from day one, and lastly, one that will help scale your projects without having to go to another platform.
Now that we’ve gone through the most important features for your web design CMS, let’s dive into our favorite picks. We’ll go over pros and cons, features, and pricing too.
Choosing the Best CMS for Web Designers
At Slam, we've worked with all these platforms in some way or shape, so we'll help you find the perfect fit. We've narrowed down the top contenders:
- Editor X by Wix
Web Design CMS: WordPress
WordPress is a CMS that was first released in 2003 and became popular in the late 2000s. Around 43% of websites in the world are hosted on WordPress. It’s known for its ease of use and flexibility, as it can be used to build everything from simple blogs to complex e-commerce sites.
The most popular website design plugins on WordPress are Divi Builder and Elementor. They both offer a drag-and-drop interface to design custom pages without very limited coding knowledge.
Divi Builder is a drag-and-drop visual builder with a library of pre-made templates. You can create custom designs, save them and re-use your own designs, too.
Elementor is also a widely used web page builder that offers similar features to Divi. The plugin has a live preview feature, allowing users to see their changes in real-time.
Both Divi Builder and Elementor are highly customizable and offer a lot of design options, making them popular choices for WordPress users looking to create custom website designs without needing to know how to code.
As you can see, WordPress is a popular CMS for web designers given its flexibility and community. However, with any tool, it has its pros and cons. Let’s dive in!
Pros of using WordPress as a CMS
- Easy to use: WordPress has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy to create and manage content.
- Flexible: With WordPress, you can build complex websites, from a personal website to a website where you can sell millions of products.
- Large community: With millions of users around the world, there is a vast community of developers and designers who can help answer questions.
- Extensive Plugin Library: WordPress has a vast library of free and paid plugins, including Divi Builder and Elementor, which can be used to add functionality and enhance the look and feel of your website.
- SEO-friendly: WordPress is optimized for search engines if you use plug-in tools like Yoast SEO.
- Open-source: WordPress is open-source software, which means that it is free to use, modify, and distribute.
- Cost-effective: Because it’s open-source, you only need to pay for hosting and any premium plugins or themes you might want to use.
Cons of using WordPress as a CMS
- Security vulnerabilities: Due to its popularity, WordPress sites can be a target for hackers, which can lead to security vulnerabilities.
- Technical knowledge & customization: While WordPress is flexible, customizing it can be challenging, especially for non-technical users.
- Plug-in overload: With thousands of plugins available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right ones for your site. Plus, too many plugins can make your site slow
- Maintenance: WordPress requires regular updates and maintenance to ensure that it runs smoothly and remains secure. This can be time-consuming and require technical expertise to make changes.
- Limited scalability: While WordPress can be used to build complex sites, it may not be the best option for very large or complex websites that require custom development.
Web Design CMS: Framer
Framer is a powerful interactive design tool that helps designers create beautiful and functional websites and prototypes. The platform has been around since 2016 and has grown into a powerful community.
With Framer, you can build entire marketing sites, landing pages, and online campaigns. What really sets Framer apart is its unique ability to publish your designs directly from the canvas. This means you can quickly and easily turn your designs into fully functional websites, without needing to write a single line of code.
Sounds great, right? Let’s dive into the pros and cons!
Pros of using Framer as a CMS
- Speed: Framer is known for its speed and efficiency in building websites. You can easily ship your designs quickly, without having to rebuild them in code.
- No need to code: With Framer, you don’t need to hire a front-end dev team. If you have the right design and vision, you can launch this website pretty smoothly.
- Scalability: Framer can support your entire marketing stack and integrate with all the necessary services for tracking and conversion. It also comes with world-class hosting.
- Complete: Framer has no constraints, allowing you to express anything on the freeform canvas or in the CMS. You can collaborate in real-time and even mix in code for custom needs.
Cons of using Framer as a CMS
- Learning curve: Framer has a learning curve, which can be difficult for beginners to get the hang of.
- Fairly limited CMS: Framer is primarily a design tool and prototyping platform, so it doesn't function as a traditional CMS. While Framer does offer some basic CMS features like hosting and the ability to add and edit text and images, it is not designed to manage complex website structures or handle large amounts of content.
- Few templates: Framer is fairly small compared to other platforms, so it has limited templates and pre-built designs to choose from, which may require more custom design work.
- Small community: As a newer CMS platform, Framer has a smaller community compared to more established platforms like Webflow or WordPress, which means fewer resources and support. However, there is a Discord server for Framer for support.
Web Design CMS: Drupal
Drupal is a free, open-source CMS that was first released in 2001. This CMS gives you the tools to structure and manage your content, allowing you to build flexible content publishing workflows and all kinds of dynamic features around that content.
Drupal has over 40,000 customizations to add features and functionality to your site. It's also highly secure, with regular updates and a dedicated security team to ensure the safety of your site's data.
But Drupal is not just a CMS. It can also act as the central component of your digital experience platform (DXP). This means you can integrate it with payment gateways, CRMs, analytics tools, social media, and marketing automation platforms. Drupal really shines for projects where you want to combine high-quality content with a full range of features and marketing tools.
With that overview of Drupal's features, let's take a look at the pros and cons of using Drupal as a web design CMS.
Pros of using Drupal as a CMS
- Drupal offers flexible, easy-to-use content authoring tools that support the "create once, publish anywhere" approach to content management.
- Its highly customizable features, powerful API-first architecture, and numerous, freely available modules (add-on functionality) make it a great choice for complex projects.
- Drupal has a constantly evolving ecosystem powered by a massive, engaged community, which ensures that the platform stays up-to-date with the latest tech trends and features.
- Out-of-the-box features include WYSIWYG authoring and editing tools, a customizable workflow and approval system, a media library, performance-optimized caching mechanisms, and a theme system that enables you to create custom, responsive front-ends.
- Drupal also offers add-on modules, an easy-to-use form builder, content scheduling, customizable URLs, meta tags, a robust search experience, multilingual content and user interfaces, and accessibility compliance (WCAG AA).
Cons of using Drupal as a CMS:
- Steep learning curve: Due to its complexity and vast array of features, Drupal can be difficult to learn and use.
- Technical expertise required: Building and maintaining a Drupal site requires technical expertise, which may not be accessible to small companies or organizations with low budgets.
- Customization can be time-consuming: While Drupal's customization capabilities are a plus, it can also be time-consuming to customize and configure, particularly for non-technical users.
- Slow site speed: A Drupal site can be slower than some other CMSs because of its complexity, which can lead to longer load times.
- Security updates: Due to the open-source nature of Drupal, security updates are regularly released. However, this also means that organizations need to stay on top of updates to ensure that their site remains secure.
It's important to note that many of these drawbacks can be mitigated with proper planning, training, and ongoing support. Additionally, the benefits of Drupal often outweigh the potential drawbacks for organizations that require a robust, flexible, and scalable CMS.
Web Design CMS: Ghost
Ghost is a modern, open-source web design CMS designed specifically for bloggers and content creators. It has a minimalistic and user-friendly interface that makes content creation and management easy.
Pros of using Ghost as your CMS
- Simple, intuitive interface that's easy to use
- Minimalistic design that puts the focus on your content
- Built-in SEO optimization tools
- Markdown support for easy formatting of text and images
- Native support for membership and subscription features, making it easy to monetize your content
- Advanced analytics and reporting to track and measure your content's performance
- Robust developer documentation and active community for support and troubleshooting
Cons of using Ghost as a CMS:
- Limited customization options compared to other CMS platforms
- No built-in support for e-commerce or online stores
- Limited third-party integrations compared to other CMS platforms
- Higher cost for advanced features like custom themes and integrations
Despite these limitations, Ghost is a great option for writers and content creators who want a simple and streamlined CMS experience with built-in SEO and monetization features.
Web Design CMS: Editor X by Wix
Editor X is a web design platform that provides advanced design and development capabilities for creating complex websites. It was made especially for designers and agencies, allowing to build without code. Editor X is owned by Wix.com
Pros of using Editor X as your CMS
- Advanced design capabilities: Editor X offers a wide range of advanced design tools like CSS Grid, Flexbox, and custom breakpoints that allow designers to create complex and sophisticated designs with ease.
- Collaborative workflows: The platform makes it easy for designers and developers to collaborate on a single project. It allows multiple users to work on a project simultaneously.
- Customizable design system: Editor X allows designers to create custom design systems with reusable components, which can help speed up the design process and ensure consistency across projects.
- E-commerce integration: Editor X provides robust e-commerce capabilities, including integration with Wix Stores
- Scalability: Editor X is a scalable platform that can be used to create websites of any size or complexity. It's designed to handle large projects and can be integrated with a range of third-party software.
Cons of using Editor X as your CMS
- Learning curve: Editor X is a powerful and complex platform, which means it has a steep learning curve. New users may need to figure out how to use it.
- Limited customization: While Editor X offers a lot of customization options, there are still some limitations to what can be achieved without custom coding.
- Limited third-party integrations: The platform is relatively new so there aren’t a lot of integrations available yet.
- SEO: Editor X offers some basic SEO tools such as the ability to add meta titles and descriptions, alt tags for images, and a sitemap generator. However, compared to other CMS platforms, Editor X's SEO capabilities are relatively limited. It doesn't offer more advanced SEO features like automatic canonical URL generation, redirect management, or structured data markup.
If you're looking for a full comparison of Editor X VS Webflow, check out our latest post breaking down the differences between the two!
Web Design CMS: Webflow
Webflow is a cloud-based website builder and low-code platform started in 2023 by folks with a design, product management, and marketing background. At the time, they were pissed that most website design CMS didn’t give designers more control over their work. So they created Webflow as a way to allow devs and designers to launch websites without the need to code.
It is a popular tool for creating custom, professional-grade websites for businesses, e-commerce stores, portfolios, and more.
“Webflow has leapt up the website builder rankings because it allows you to craft responsive, custom, and visually stunning sites using no code whatsoever. While larger companies like Rakuten, Michael Kors, and Dell use the website builder, Webflow’s bread and butter is serving smaller operations,” said Worklife Ventures, a future of work venture capital fund.
Slam Media Lab’s blog is powered by Webflow’s web design CMS.
Pros of using Webflow as your CMS
- Drag-and-drop visual builder: Webflow's visual builder allows users to create responsive designs and adjust the layout for different devices without any coding knowledge.
- Customizable design options: With Webflow, users have access to a wide range of design elements, from typography to animations, that can be fully customized to match their brand.
- Strong SEO: Webflow provides many SEO tools to help you optimize your site for search engines, including customizable meta tags, sitemaps, and automatic generation of clean, semantic HTML code. Webflow also supports Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), which makes sites fast!
- Powerful CMS: Webflow has a built-in content management system (CMS) that allows users to manage their website content, including blog posts, product descriptions, and more.
- Accessibility: Webflow allows you to create fully accessible websites with features like customizable alt text for images, ARIA labeling, and support for keyboard navigation. Webflow also offers accessibility audits and tips to help you make your site more inclusive.
- E-commerce functionality: Webflow offers e-commerce capabilities that enable users to create online stores and manage their products, inventory, and orders.
- Advanced hosting and security: Webflow provides secure, reliable hosting for websites, with features such as automatic backups, SSL certificates, and DDoS protection.
Cons of using Webflow as a CMS
- Learning curve: Although Webflow is designed to be user-friendly, it still requires a certain level of knowledge and experience to use effectively. Users may need to spend some time learning how to use the platform before they can create complex websites.
- Limited support: While Webflow offers a range of support options, including a help center and community forum, some users may find that the level of support is not as extensive as WordPress.
- It’s not Shopify: While Webflow does offer e-commerce functionality, it may not be as robust as what you can find in Shopify. This may make it challenging for businesses looking to scale their online stores.
- Expensive for some small businesses: While Webflow's pricing is competitive with other web design platforms, it may be too expensive for those who have no revenue or money to invest in. Some users found that they need to upgrade to a higher pricing tier to access certain features they need.
The Website CMS for Designers You Should Choose
Picking the right website CMS depends on who you are and what you’re building.
Here’s our quick decision guide based on the features and pros and cons mentioned above.
If you’re looking to build something super simple, like a landing page for your resume, Framer is our top choice. It takes a couple of hours to push it live, and doesn’t require coding experience.
Transitioning from Wix
If you’re on Wix, moving to Editor X is definitely the way to go. Here’s quick guide on how to make it happen. As you’re transferring the site, keep in mind that Wix keeps all your SEO settings, but any change in design, structure, and content can impact your SEO.
Slam’s Preferred Web Design CMS
By far, Webflow is the best CMS platform for web designers out there! Yes, we use it at the moment. And though as any platform, it has its cons, we love how flexible, fast, and beautiful the websites are. Some sites look like $100,000 budget projects, but in reality they took a couple thousand dollars and were built in half the time.
Given its features, integrations, and its intuitive drag-and-drop features, we believe Webflow is the strongest web design CMS in the market. It makes it easy to integrate with most CRMs and tools across marketing stacks. Plus, you can build the site in half the time compared to Webflow, Wix, or Squarespace. Its ability to create responsive designs across all devices and make adjustments accordingly is a big win for us!
Building Your CMS: Website Design for Startups, Nonprofits, and Beyond
Now that we’ve gone through all the features, advantages, and disadvantages of each major web design CMS, you can now choose and pick the one that fits your needs!
At Slam, we’re certified Webflow experts with a strong edge in SEO. We also have built on WordPress, too. We destroy the game in creative website design and development. We are masters in both Webflow and WordPress. We're always focused on giving our clients' sites a fresh, modern, and impressive brand image, partnering with companies as diverse as health education startups to large government procurement agencies. Our vision is to ensure the site is visual, informative, and encourages the user to engage. You only have 1 chance to make a first impression, so let's impress them!
We work with startups, nonprofits, small businesses, universities, and Fortune 500 companies. Ready to slam dunk? Book time with us!