As a professional web developer I never had much use for a website builder myself, but I know that most people don’t know how to make a website from scratch, so I decided to look into some of the options since I get so many questions about them from my readers.
The idea behind website builders is to make the process of designing a professional website simple. After reviewing some of the options out there though, I will say that only a few really make good on this promise. The bad website builders tend to be either difficult to use, or the websites they create look really unprofessional and outdated.
The Choice: Website builder or web designer?
One of the most common questions I get is whether to try to use a website builder or hire a web designer/developer. The answer to this question depends on your situation of course. If you have a really unique project and you have the money to support it then by all means a good web designer will be your best bet. However, the cost for a truly customized website from a knowledgeable professional can easy run into the multiple thousands of dollars. For some people that cost is justified, but for most it is not.
The advantage of a good website builder is that you can get a professional looking website at a much lower cost. The disadvantages are that you will have to sacrifice a bit in terms of customizations and you will also have to do a bit of work yourself.
Should you use a website builder for your site?
Website builders are a good choice for those with a lower budget, who still want a professional looking website. This makes them a good choice for:
- Small businesses
If you want to get promote your business or skills through a website without breaking the bank then a good website builder will give you what you need.
How do you choose the best website builder?
To give a complete review of each website builder I did what you would expect:
I built a website using each of the website builders.
I then monitored these websites (and continue to monitor them) for the following things:
- Template options
Templates are the basic foundation for your website’s design. You choose a template and then from there you can customize things further. The easiest way to build a website is to choose a template that is as close as possible to what you want your website to look like, since the customization is the part that takes time to do.
Because finding a good template to start with so important for making things easy and having your site look the way you want it to, the number of choices of quality templates is a huge factor in choosing a website builder.
- Easy customization
This is the actual “website builder” that we’re looking at here. No matter how good the template you choose is you will definitely need to do a least some customization in order to get your site looking the way you like. So an easy-to-use and intuitive website builder is a must. You want something that offers the ability to make the changes you want, and that doesn’t require you to spend hours learning how to do it.
Website uptime is a measure how often your website is available to everyone on the internet. Ideally we are striving for 100%. Websites are loaded from what’s basically a big computer called a server, and since it’s a computer it occasionally needs to be restarted, updated, etc. in order to continue to function well. Because of this maintenance 100% uptime isn’t realistic, but somewhere in the 99% or greater range is. What we are basically looking for here is any red flags where the site is not working for long periods.
- Loading speed
Your website loading speed is how fast your site opens up for a visitor. We have all visited websites that take forever to open, and it is quite frustrating. The faster your site loads the better, but as long as load times aren’t super long then this shouldn’t be a huge concern for most people.
- Customer service
No matter which website builder you choose you will likely have some questions at some point, whether it is how to change something on your site, updating your billing info, or something else it is inevitable that you will need to contact customer service at some point. When you need support it is important that it comes in a timely fashion with a helpful answer, so this is an important one.
All of the website builders I review here are significantly cheaper than hiring a web designer, but there are a still a variety of price points. In some cases you might get something for paying a little extra, but I also found that some of the worst services charge some pretty high prices compared to their more qualified competitors.
A note on the cost of website builders:
If you’re in the market for a website builder then I am sure you have seen the promises of low (or free) prices. Unfortunately, as you might expect, you typically get what you pay for with website builders. The free ones are typically either really bad (e.g. your website will look terrible), or they aren’t actually free.
How can they say they’re free if they’re not?
Well signing-up for an account is free, but if you want to do just about anything else you will need to pay:
- Custom domain? $20 per year
- More than 5 pages? $10 per month
- Create a store? $20 per month
- Custom email address? $15 per month
I take all of these things into account when reviewing each website builder, so you can find the true cost to build a functioning website, not just the promotional price they use to get you in the door.
My in-depth review of each website builder is below, but let’s start with the summary of the results:
|1. Wix||$9.25/mo||excellent||excellent||99.9%||very fast||good||10/10|
|2. SiteBuilder||$9.98/mo||very good||excellent||99.9%||very fast||good||9.5/10|
|3. Weebly||$12.00/mo||good||difficult to use||99.9%||very fast||good||8/10|
|4. SquareSpace||$18.00/mo||very good||very good||99.9%||fast||good||9/10|
|6. Jimdo||$7.95/mo||very limited||limited||97.2%||good||poor||4/10|
|7. Yola||$8.33/mo||outdated||very limited||99.9%||good||poor||3/10|
-You can create a free account, choose a template, and customize it before ever paying for anything.
-The most intuitive and easiest to use of the website builders I tested.
-In addition to the regular drag-and-drop website builder, you also have the option of entering in some basic data for your site (background info about you or your business) and having the your site pre-configured, which makes the start-up process easier.
-Has a large selection of modern templates. Almost every type of site imaginable is covered from a variety of small businesses, to artists, photographers, writers, and more.
-Video backgrounds and other modern features are a nice benefit.
-Customer service had the fastest response of the website builders I tested.
-SSL included (important if you plan to ask for credit card info on your site)
-Email accounts are about $4 per month, which can add up if you need email accounts for multiple people.
-If you want to build an online store you will need to purchase a more expensive package ($17 per month).
-At $10 per month for the “Combo” package (which should be sufficient for most people), it’s not the cheapest option.
Video Overview of Wix
Summary of Wix
Overall this was my favorite website builder, and the main reasons were how easy it was to use along with having the most modern template selection. If you want to change something on your site just click on it and options come up to edit text, drag- and-drop, change background images, etc. There are also helpful tutorials that pop-up right inside the builder, so if you are struggling to figure something out there is help right there, which means you won’t have to contact customer service for every little thing.
I personally think a few extra bucks a month is worth it for the more modern-looking templates and the easiest website builder, but if you are looking for the cheapest option then this is not it.
You value an easy-to-build, modern looking website. The easiest website builder at a reasonable price.Get the Best Deal on Wix.com
-Wide variety of template options.
-The website builder is easy to use. Drag-and-drop most things on the page with ease.
-At $4.99 per month it is the cheapest of the website builders I reviewed.
-Website templates look a little generic, like I’ve seen several other sites with the same template. Not as outdated as some of the other website builders, but not as modern as Wix and SquareSpace.
-Online store costs $19 per month.
Video Overview of Site Builder
Summary of SiteBuilder.com
I had heard of most of the other website builders I reviewed before, but SiteBuilder was a new one for me. That lack of name-recognition along with their lower price point had me expecting a poor performance, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a full-featured website builder with a decent template selection. If you just want to get some sort of website up and aren’t too picky on design then this may be the website builder for you.
You are particularly price-sensitive and you don’t mind having a somewhat generic looking site.See SiteBuilder.com
-Good selection of very modern and sleek looking templates.
-Website builder is designed slightly differently than most others, but is still intuitive and easy to use.
-SSL included (important if you plan to ask for credit card info on your site)
-$14 per month is on the high-end.
Video Overview of SquareSpace
Summary of SquareSpace
Overall SquareSpace is a high quality website builder that comes with a variety of modern templates to choose from. The builder interface takes a few minutes to get accustomed to, but once you do it is intuitive and easy to use. The only real downside is the price. You won’t be disappointed with your website design, but you can make an equally great site with Wix while paying less. I basically look at SquareSpace as a more expensive version of Wix.
There is a particular SquareSpace template you like and you’re willing to pay more for it than a similar template from Wix.See SquareSpace.com
-$8 per month is a reasonable price.
-Good selection of fairly modern templates.
-Templates are more of a blank slate than the other website builders, which means there is more work to do. If you have some basic technical skills then this might actually be a pro.
-Web builder is not very intuitive if you don’t have a background in website design.
Video Overview of Weebly
Summary of Weebly
Weebly has been around longer than just about another website builder, but unfortunately they have not been able to keep up with their more modern competitors. The template designs look older, and the website builder is more difficult to figure out. It’s not a bad choice if you have a particular reason for choosing it, but otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it.
You are slightly more technically-inclined and/or don’t mind taking some time to learn how to use the website builder. Not recommended for beginners.See Weebly.com
Strikingly offers a good variety of template options that are well-designed and modern. The website builder doesn’t make it as easy as some of the others to customize things, but it’s fairly good. The real downside is the price. At $16/mo it is the most expensive option (they have an $8/mo package but it is really limited), and with some other website builders offering a better product for a cheaper price, Strikingly is not the best choice.
GoDaddy Website Builder
GoDaddy is a relative newcomer to the website builder market, although they have been selling domain names and web hosting for a while now. The template options are pretty poor and the website builder is difficult to figure out, and even when you do it’s not easy to customize your site. Overall this feels like GoDaddy just wanted to get a website builder product to market and didn’t really put in the time necessary to make it good.
The biggest knock on Jimdo is that they only offer 17 templates. Don’t like any of those templates? Too bad. That’s far too limited a selection compared to every other website builder here. The pricing is pretty good, but this is a case of getting what you pay for.
Yola has been around a long time and hasn’t aged well at all. There are a variety of template options, but they are all really old looking and not well-designed. The only positive is that it is relatively cheap, and add-ons like email are pretty cheap too. In my opinion you won’t be happy with how your site looks or functions though, and I think that paying a few extra bucks to get a high quality site from one of the other website builders is definitely worth it.
I came into this test not knowing exactly what to expect. As a web designer I assumed that website builders were all going to be pretty limited and difficult to use. While some of the website builders definitely proved me correct, I was surprised at just how good some of the better ones are.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have the skills or time to build your site, or you don’t want (or need) to pay for a completely customized design from a pro website developer, then a good website builder is a perfect way to get a professional looking website up and running with minimal time. For those just wanting a blog, I recommend using WordPress, which I show you how to do in my guide on how to create a blog using WordPress, but for a full website the top-ranked options on this page are all good choices.
Which Website Builder is Right For You?
My overall favorite was Wix, mainly because of the high-quality of their templates and their easy to use website builder. I would definitely recommend that everyone at least try out Wix since they allow you to build your site for free (no credit card required) before deciding if it’s right for you.
If the $10/mo for Wix is more than you can afford, then SiteBuilder offers a good product for just $5/mo, although the template quality isn’t up to par with Wix.
Weebly and SquareSpace are also solid choices that you won’t be disappointed with.
If you pick any of the top 4 rated website builders you should be pretty happy with what you can put together. I would personally recommend that you stay away from anything outside of the top 4 since there are better options.