Tools for Building Websites

February 16 2017

It’s early 2017 and yet again, I’ve rebuilt my website. Here’s a rundown of the different tools I’ve used over the years. 

Kirby

At the time of writing, this website is built in Kirby. It combines the speed of a static-site generator and has an option of a web-based GUI for editing content. I’m converting all my personal websites to using Kirby. Highest recommendation on this list.

Pros

  • Incredibly easy to get running locally
  • Great documentation
  • Wide array of plugins to extend functionality
  • You can build the entire site locally to try it out before buying your license and launching it for the first time.
  • License cost is flat-fee, not subscription.
  • PHP-based and Wordpressy” in terms of it’s templating-engine.

Cons

  • Kirby isn’t free, and it costs $17 for a personal license and $89 for a commercial license. Totally worth it.

Jekyll

I went bonkers over Jekyll for a while, since it was my gateway into static-site generators. #NoDB

Pros

  • Open source
  • Static-site generator
  • Uses Liquid, an easy to learn templating language 

Cons

  • Setting up locally is kind of a bear and requires an understanding of Ruby.
  • Intended to be used for blogging, so adding other types of content, say a portfolio section, was challenging.
  • Since it uses Ruby to compile, there’s no web-based GUI. Forget about blogging on your phone or from another computer.

Middleman

Middleman is similar to Jekyll in that it’s a static-site generator. Unlike Jekyll, it’s natural capabilities extend far beyond blogging. It’s meant to build full websites.

Pros

  • Open source
  • Building full sites is a breeze
  • Great documentation
  • The front-end views are built using .erb templates. When you’re building your Middleman site, you’re learning and using the same code that’s in Ruby on Rails applications.

Cons

  • Setting up locally requires Ruby.
  • Again, no web-based GUI to add content. In the 1.5 years my site was in Middleman, I wrote a single blog post. I never wanted to launch my entire local environment just to write a quick thing.

Wordpress

We’ve all used Wordpress, and it’s here to stay. Depsite my love/​hate relationship with it, Wordpress is always my go-to when I need to build a site quickly and cheaply.

Pros

  • Wordpress easily has the best documentation of anything on this list.
  • It’s incredibly powerful and versatile.
  • There are an endless amount of plugins and tools to make the site right for you.

Cons

Tumblr

Can you define love? is built on top of Tumblr, and I love the platform. 

Pros

  • Pretty straightforward development. Tumblr themes consist of a single HTML file with the CSS included into a <style> tag at the top of the file. 
  • The templating language is very easy to understand.

Cons

  • There is a variety of ways to develop Tumblr locally. However, I did have success with Thimblr.
  • After creating your theme locally, you have to literally copy and paste your HTML and CSS into the web-based editor. No SSH, Git, or FTP functionality.

Hubspot

My most recent learning experience was building the Broadcat website on top of the Hubspot platform.

Pros

  • Their templating language is pretty easy to understand. It’s very similar to Liquid.
  • Hubspot has a tool for running a local server, and it’s very easy to set up.
  • Seriously, they have the best in-browser development experience I have ever seen. Take notes, everyone.
  • Even their drag-and-drop website building tools are easy to use.

Cons

  • The local server doesn’t serve your site’s actual content. It’s all dummy content, and I can’t figure out how to change it.
  • No SSH or Git workflow allowed here. Only FTP. I’m hoping they will expand this soon.

Recommendations

For most websites, I recommend Kirby. You can build a variety of websites, avoid database headache, work locally with no problem, use a Git workflow to commit and push your work, and add content using their web-based GUI (what Kirby calls its Panel”).

If you really want to invest in your business, I recommend Hubspot. In addition to being a powerful website builder, their marketing tools are top notch. Also, they use a similar technique to Brad Frost’s Atomic Design to create modules, groups, and pages.

Have you used any tools from this list? Let me know your favorite!