Dreamweaver versus WordPress: Which should you choose?

by James Cook on November 4, 2011

Dreamweaver versus WordPressCartoon © TOONrefugee.com

OK, I should admit up front that I'm not really going to answer that question because there is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer. But I do get a lot of questions from people who look at Dreamweaver and WordPress as competitors (I don't). So I thought I'd share parts of an email I got today along with my answers.

Do you think that knowing the fundamentals of Dreamweaver would be a help if I wanted to tweak a [WordPress] website to suit my needs.

I use WordPress myself on this blog and for a number of clients. It's a good choice for many applications. However, the answer to your question depends upon your goals and how you plan to use WordPress.

Installing WordPress (one click on some web hosts) and using a Theme (the WordPress term for templates) can be done without much/any knowledge of HTML/CSS, etc. A lot of functionality comes built in (some of it has a learning curve) and you can add a lot more with plugins and widgets. This lets you accomplish a lot of things that would be very difficult or impossible (especially for a novice user) in Dreamweaver alone.

However, once you start making changes in WordPress, things get very complex very quickly. The first level of changes - modifying the appearance of a theme - requires a fairly good understanding of HTML and CSS and I think Dreamweaver is a great place to learn those skills. I try to emphasize HTML and CSS in my courses but I've found that a lot of college Web Design instructors don't and that's a disservice to the students.

In any case, the more you know about HTML and CSS, the more successful you'll be modifying a WordPress theme. You should be aware however that the HTML/CSS in WordPress is much more complicated than what you're likely to build on your own in Dreamweaver (CSS beyond the basics is fairly complex and also evolving - I've worked with it for several years and I'm still learning).

When you get to the point of making major changes to an existing WordPress theme (or creating your own) you'll also need to become somewhat familiar with the PHP scripting language on which WordPress is built. That goes beyond what I teach in my course but Dreamweaver has become a fairly powerful PHP editor over the last couple versions and I expect this will continue in the future.

If you weren't a trained web designer/developer would knowing Dreamweaver enable you to manage someone else's website?

I consider the things you learn using Dreamweaver – HTML, CSS, uploading files to your server, etc. – the basic building blocks of web design/development. Knowledge in those areas will allow you to manage/maintain small, static HTML sites (which will help you to learn more site management skills). Managing more complex sites, especially ones based upon a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress is something that requires more experience (such as managing your own WordPress site) before you'll want to take responsibility for other people's sites.

You should also be aware that there are specialized areas such as e-commerce that are really specialties unto themselves and best left to experienced developers.

Final Answer

Dreamweaver and WordPress are not antagonists (although Adobe might disagree). They are just tools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The decision to use one, both (as I do) or some other tool (which I also do) should depend upon the level of your knowledge, your skill set and your goals.

Most importantly, whatever tools you use, the first step in learning to create and manage websites should be to focus on learning HTML and CSS. Your ultimate success depends upon it.

Let me know what you think

I've got a lot more to say about this topic and I'll return to the issue in future posts and I hope you'll join the conversation by submitting your opinions and questions using the comment form below.

David September 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Hello, Good article, I just started using WordPress after ten years of Dreamweaver experience and have to say it’s a lot quicker for clients to upload and change there appearance, but I find it has it’s limitations in theme design and they way I want it structured, I use static sties like my website for a more designed look and my clients how are not to fussy about design I use WordPress for them, So I think Dreamweaver wins for me but thanks for the heads up.

Luis June 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Hi, i made my website with iweb. Now i don´t have my mac anymore and i try to edit my website with dreamwaver but i didn´t expect something soooooo much complicated. The blog and comments are nearly impossible to check, even worse try to edit. As i see you know about this theme, can you please give me an advice about what software to use or how to edit my iweb page as i don’t want to start from scratch. If such tool does not exist please confirm too, to try to get back my mac. Thanks.

dwcourse June 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Sorry, but I know nothing about iWeb but from what I’ve read, the transition from iWeb to anything else is not easy.

Magic February 18, 2012 at 11:20 am

What a useless post. They are not competitors. Even though they can be both used for a somewhat similar endproduct, Wordpress got nothing on dreamweaver. Dreamweaver a program used in aiding the designer in coding their own real website, making things easier but not hiding stuff. Wordpress is just one of those page generators for dummy middle-aged adults who believe to know … about computers.

dwcourse February 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm

@Magic, you seem to be unfamiliar with WordPress. While it can indeed be used to create websites by folks with little training and experience (a charge also often leveled against WordPress, it is also a powerful content management system (CMS) which is used by professional web developers for complex projects that would be difficult – if not impossible – to create using Dreamweaver. For instance the commenting function we are using here is part of WordPress. I would challenge you to build it from scratch in Dreamweaver.

I made the comparison between the programs because, as an instructor, I’ve seen increasing demand for WordPress-based courses – in some cases at the expense of Dreamweaver-based courses.

But, as I stated, I don’t view it as an either/or choice. Each is a tool with specific tasks it performs best. And, in some cases, they also work well together.

Personally, I use both tools in my business and expect to continue to do so in the further.

Steveorevo December 31, 2011 at 8:38 pm

May want to check out ServerPress’ DesktopServer. It does Dreamweaver some justice and makes WordPress theme design a whole heck of a lot easier.


dwcourse January 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm

@Steveorevo I just purchased ServerPress DestopServer and just got it installed. The new Dreamweaver integration looks promising although I haven’t tested it extensively yet. When I do, I’ll post a review here.

Steveorevo February 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Sounds good. Will keep an eye out. There has been a few fixes in the latest release with regards to child theme compatibility. This site looks like just the place to cover Dw & WordPress!

Mike Barnett November 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I’m an animation student who needs to have a website to show my demo reel. I’m interested in building my own website but am concerned about the time it will take to learn Dreamweaver to build a decent site. Basically time spent on Dreamweaver is time not spent on animation.
My question is what do you think of sites like wix.com that offer a free web page that is drag and drop? In your opinion, is that a good way to go for someone who has no intention of entering the web design field or could that possibly look unprofessional?



dwcourse November 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I’m not familiar with wix.xom but there are a number of sites that offer similar services. If you don’t plan to do web design then taking advantage of one of them is probably a good idea. After all, a good looking website on someone else’s platform is better than a poorly designed site you put together yourself.

I see that they offer a premium plan for a few dollars a month that lets you use your own domain name. You might want to consider that. Your own domain name does make you look more professional. It gives the impression that you’ve invested in your personal brand.

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