Website builders have changed how people put up websites today. Even easy to use CMSes like WordPress struggle to keep up with usability and power of the best website builders on the market. While constrained a bit on the options you have, you can still create a beautiful and functional website.
Over the course of this guide, we’ll run down the best choices in the space. These website builders have stood the test of time, adapting to the market as website design trends shift. We’ll give you a few pointers on how to choose the one for you and whether you should upgrade after the trial as well.
All but one offering here offers a free plan to try out the service, so it’s worth it to sign up and see which fits for you. Do read through until the end of the guide before upgrading, however, as we’ll weigh the pros and cons of doing so.
The Best Website Builders of 2018
What is a Website Builder?
Now, the name website builder is pretty self-explanatory and we don’t want to bore you with an overzealous explanation. Simply put, it’s a tool for building a website. However, understanding the difference between a website builder and a platform like WordPress isn’t as simple, as the lines very often blur.
WordPress is a CMS, or content management system, that’s used in combination with web hosting to create a website. We won’t dive into specifics about web hosting here, so refer to our best web hosting guide for information. What you need to know now is that web hosting offers a greater level of control over your website.
That control comes at a cost, though. Setting up your hosting, CMS and any required files is a taxing process, especially if you plan to host your own website. That’s where website builders come in, filling the gap in ease of use and allowing even the most technologically ill-equipped to get online.
You’re getting the web hosting, CMS and editor all in one package, at a generally low price, to boot. Combine that with templates that are getting better by the month and website builders look like an attractive option for usability. If you’re focused on speed and ease of use, a website builder is for you.
However, you may need more flexibility. For that, WordPress is a great option, so make sure to read up on the best web hosting for WordPress. If you want to learn more about actually using the platform, read our guides to using WordPress:
Choosing a Website Builder
After looking at the best website builders in each category, you have to make a choice, and there are some things you should consider outside of the areas we hit on. The personal aspect of your site comes down to its purpose, the overall look you’re going for and the editor that works best for you.
Above all, your purpose is most important. Most website builders are capable of adapting to many different situations, but few are optimized for each. Local businesses will probably enjoy the practical app center of Wix, whereas artistic professionals can take advantage of the sprawling layouts of SquareSpace. There’s overlap between the two, but both fit better in their respective camps.
Next is the overall look you’re going for. Sample the theme selection from each website builder that piques your interest and note any that stick out to you. Likely, the one with the most attractive themes is up your alley. Do note, however, that it’s generally best to keep it simple so don’t make your choice solely based on a unique design feature that doesn’t aid your site’s purpose.
Lastly, try out a few editors and stick with the one you’re most comfortable with. All of the website builders presented here have plenty of power, and you’ll be able to use the editor to its fullest potential if you’re comfortable with it. The trade-off of a few extra features for a fluid design experience is well worth it, as you’ll typically end up with a better website in the end.
As always, there’s an element of preference when it comes to website builders. The criteria we hit on apply to everyone and should be the first thing considered when you’re making your choice. Outside of that, though, these three areas are important to using the site and ending up with a look you enjoy.
The Best Website Builders
Many of the best website builders offer similar features. You’re usually getting a drag-and-drop interface, support for designer themes and a slew of built-in applications. Any builder that sits outside of this basic outline was disqualified from this guide entirely. Above that, we’ll focus on five different categories to show off which builders shine in each area.
Let’s run down the best website builders on the market. We’ll touch on the highlights for each category, but be sure to check out the respective reviews to learn more about a particular builder.
A website builder is a fairly straightforward tool, so anything that sweetens the pot is certainly welcome. As a baseline for which website builder is best for you, we’ll first take a look at what features come included, either free or paid, and if they’re worth a premium on the service.
An app center is certainly the first area of concern in regard to features. The ability to expand your website with additional applications is extremely powerful, as shown by WordPress. Any website builder with an app center immediately went up the list, with extra points if the apps came directly from the builder.
Apps aren’t the only features we’ll look at, though: a website, even those built with a builder, includes many parts including email, security and SEO. Features such as SiteLock, SEO marketing and unlimited email are strong considerations in choosing our contenders. Here’s a short list of the criteria for this category:
- App center
- Security or spam removal
- SEO help
Wix is one of the most feature dense providers we’ve reviewed. It hits on all the major areas, including an app center, unlimited email, SEO help and responsive security to boot. In many regards, Wix is one of the most well-rounded website builders out there, which is seen in its features. Make sure to read our Wix review to learn about all of them.
Two of the most prominent features are the SEO tool and logo designer. The SEO tool gives you help with each page for setting the tags, header and meta description with helpful tips for optimizing along the way.
The logo designer does just that, designs a logo for you. It’s not a professional designer, though, rather an AI that crafts a look for you based on a few questions. You can always edit the logo after the fact with Wix’s robust vector and font gallery as well. The tool itself is completely free to try out and use, but you’ll have to drop a few bones to download the logo in hi-res.
Weebly sits right behind Wix in terms of features. You still have full email support, a large app center and a fully featured ecommerce builder. If you’re not going with an ecommerce option like Shopify, Weebly is the closest thing you can get without fully making the jump.
The app center functions a bit differently that Wix. It integrates more third party apps, opening up the options you have for building your site. That comes at the cost of an occasional dud out of the lot, but still a far more robust list to choose from.
Part of the app center focuses on ecommerce, and Weebly supplies enough tools out of the gate to create a bonafide online store. You can sell physical or digital goods, with tag and filtering options as well as secure checkout and inventory tracking. There aren’t tools for syncing on multiple platforms, but still enough if you plan to run an ecommerce site on its own.
However, Weebly scored high in this category because it has a very wide range on features, so make sure to check out our Weebly review to learn more.
Unlike Wix and Weebly, SquareSpace is an entirely closed system. There is no third-party support for applications, a bit of a disappointment at first. However, SquareSpace doesn’t need any other applications as the suite of features it offers is wide enough to make its slightly higher cost worth it.
One of the features that you may not notice at first is optimization. SquareSpace uses responsive and progressive image loading. In short, that means images on your site will load after the page has already loaded, decreasing wait times, and resizing the image to properly fit the display. Additionally, you have a CDN included which will decrease load times around the world and provide security in case any DDoS attacks hit your site.
SquareSpace doesn’t allow you to use any third party app on your site, but there are a few included with the system out of the gate. You have access to Google Analytics, Disqus and Typekit directly within the editor with no coding required. These few tools fill in the gaps left by SquareSpace’s lineup and make the overall package feel far more rounded.
SquareSpace’s feature index is so large that the size alone will show off how much this builder has to offer. Make sure to read through that and our SquareSpace review, though, to learn all the specifics about this service.
After features comes value. In our website builder reviews, this is the area where we judge the pricing of a website builder. Here, however, it’s far more beneficial to judge the overall value as opposed to a particular price point. Some of the choices in this category won’t be the most inexpensive, but will provide the most value for your money.
Features play a large part in that, but we’ll focus more on specifications so there’s not too much overlap. Many website builders use the same servers to store website on, so instead we’ll look at storage space, theme selection and any extra features not covered in the above section.
Pricing isn’t totally out of the question, though. We’ll compare the relative price points of each in relation to the features the builders offer. It’s a contextual assessment that, overall, should provide a solid baseline for value. Here’s a short list of criteria for this category:
- Storage space
- Theme selection
- Price point
As far as website builders go, it doesn’t get much cheaper than One.com. This web host turned builder offers comprehensive plans for only a few dollars per month, with a generous amount of storage space to boot. While you won’t get all the bells and whistles of a provider like Weebly, you’re still getting quite a bit for your money.
There’s only one plan available, but it’s filled with goodies. You have full HD image support, backup and restore options, unlimited email accounts and a Google AdWords voucher, all topped off with a quite large 25GB of storage. All of that, and the subscription costs less than eating out at a fast-food restaurant.
The builder itself comes with support for up to 200 pages so you should never run out of space, and is completely encrypted with SSL security. One.com is a great way to get started building your website, especially if you don’t have much money. Check out our One.com review to learn more.
Comparing prices directly, Weebly is far more expensive than One.com. Even so, it offers an awful lot for the price, especially when compared to other builders in a similar range. You have all of the features listed in the above category as well as mobile apps, responsive themes and a full SEO guide.
The most unique of the bunch are the mobile apps. Weebly has its builder on iOS and Android so you can build and edit your site even if you’re not at a desktop computer. The way in which Weebly uses its editor makes mobile editing as simple as possible, with a completely interactive interface that simply requires you to drag what you want where you want it.
All Weebly sites include a sitemap and SEO-friendly HTML, meaning half the battle is done for getting recognized by search engines. The indexing is already done for you as well, so all you need to do is set your meta description and keywords and the builder will handle the rest.
The price range is the typical fare you’d expect from a website builder, with new plans coming in around every $5 increment. However, the money and time you’re saving between the SEO help, SSL security, ad voucher and domain name, the cost is surely justified.
Strikingly in an odd inclusion anywhere on this list because it’s an odd website builder. It only offers three plans, two of which are pretty expensive when compared to other website builders. The single page design of Free and Limited plans isn’t ideal, although does offer a generous amount of storage space. Pro plans, on the other hand, are quite impressive.
You have access to unlimited bandwidth, domains and storage, with three professional sites included. These differ from limited sites with support for ecommerce and multiple pages as well as access to premium offerings in the app center. If you’re looking to expand your site even further, Strikingly also has integration with POWr addons.
Pros plans come in around $5 cheaper than an ecommerce plan anywhere else and offer up to 300 products in your store. While Limited and Free plans don’t offer much in the way of value, Pro plans do and should definitely be considered if you want to sell a few products and save a few bucks in the process. Read our Strikingly review to learn more.
Design & Tools
This is where we’ll go deep within the builder itself. The overall design of the service and how it implements tools within the editor is outside of just how easy to use the service is. The layout of the editor itself, the tools it implements and the theme selection are all areas we’ll look at in this category.
Theme selection is the most important area, though, as it sets a foundation for the overall look and function of your site before you touch any tools. We’re not just considering the best looking themes, but the most practical ones. A theme should look good and be functional, providing you a roadmap for design as you set down the path.
We’ll look at the tools used in the builder as well. Mainly, we’re looking at the design and layout of the tools and how they inform your decisions when building a site. Clutter and extraneous options aren’t acceptable, but only a streamlined interface that focuses on building the best site possible. Here’s the short list for this category:
- Solid templates
- Clutter free
- Useable tools
If you want the absolute best in design, SquareSpace is for you. This feature-dense website builder comes at a premium price, but also comes with a premium look. The sprawling landing pages and unique interactive features have been emulated many times, but few other website builders do it quite like SquareSpace does.
The builder itself is quite competent too. SquareSpace doesn’t hold your hand as many other website builders do. Instead, you’re presented with a limited number of tools and expected to create something out of them. The power is certainly there, but it’s up to you to unlock it for your website.
In the end, you’re left with a site that’s functional and beautiful. SquareSpace’s excellent array of themes provide a solid template, and the closed system of content gives you plenty of tools to get the job done. You don’t have the flashy apps of other builders, but instead a serious design tool meant to create the best looking website possible.
Wix has improved significantly in recent years, rivaling the stunning designs of SquareSpace. You have a wider selection of themes to choose from and with a greater range. Some templates are straightforward, especially useful for a blog or online magazine, an area where SquareSpace struggles quite a bit.
However, it takes second place in this category because of a cluttered interface. Wix still has plenty of power under the hood, with a slew of elements and additional applications. Even so, the editor itself isn’t as clean as SquareSpace and can sometimes seem like a bit too much during design.
It’s not difficult to use, though. Wix is certainly a competent builder that gives you a large list of tools for building your site. If you want more options than SquareSpace and aren’t too drawn to the flashy themes, then Wix may be the right choice for you.
In terms of design, Weebly sits in between Wix and SquareSpace. The theme selection is still quite large, with a solid middle ground between extravagant modern designs and straightforward looks. However, Weebly stands out from the two because of its excellent editor that’s easy to use while providing loads of power.
It’s a fully interactive experience, a true drag-and-drop interface that other website builders (such as One.com) attempt to emulate. Your left-side toolbar holds all the elements you need and you literally just drag whatever you want onto the page. It’s such an intuitive experience that still manages the power of SquareSpace and Wix.
Weebly has a good number of ecommerce features in the builder as well. The product section is as close to a dedicated web store builder as possible, with options for physical products, downloads and services. Business plans also come with automatic inventory tracking and low stock badges which is helpful if your main goal is sales.
Ease of Use
Riding on the back of design is ease of use. Here, we’re looking at how the builder functions specifically, separate from any particular tools it may have. The design space should lend itself to an intuitive experience. That means no extraneous tools or options and an editor that’s optimized for workflow.
That also means an editor optimized for web use. Some builders can lag behind on low-end hardware. After all, it’s a fully functional design tool on a webpage. With that, it’s important that the interface doesn’t slow down mousing over different options or take too much time to load any particular feature.
Outside of the editor, we’ll also look at the broad level use of your site. This includes your control panel and support area and how easy it is to access each. When the three are combined together, there should be very little question on where a particular feature is or how you can access it. Here’s our short list for this category:
- Intuitive editor
- Optimized for web use
- Clean billing and support areas
Webnode has been in the website builder space for awhile, first debuting its Word-esque editor back in 2008. Since then, the platform has been overhauled with Webnode 2.0, a rethought program that pushes the boundaries of how simple a website builder can be. The screen is free of clutter and extraneous options, making this the easiest to use builder we’ve seen.
It’s broken down into two categories: content and sections. Sections are the broad strokes of your page, the building blocks in which everything else is placed around. Minus the header and footer, sections can be placed anywhere.
Content is just that, the content that fills up these sections. It can be anything from a simple text box to a YouTube video, all of which you can drag around to fit the page together like a puzzle. There aren’t many options, but the few that are there present a ton of possibility.
The 2.0 editor hasn’t hit the ecommerce end of things yet, though. Webnode has already released it in a few parts of the world, so the update is imminent. Right now, however, it’s best to stick to another type of website. Read our Webnode review to learn more about all this service has to offer.
Jimdo allows you to create a full website in just a few clicks. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not. The Jimdo Dolphin AI asks you a few questions about you and the site you’re creating and scours the internet to find as much information as possible. After all that, Dolphin will put together a fully functional site, full with what it found.
Admittedly, it’s a little creepy. Thankfully, designing your own site with Jimdo is just as simple. Like Weebly, the editor is completely interactive, with options to resize, move and shape whatever is on the page without switching to a different view. The options are a bit difficult to get used to at first, but the editor slowly becomes one of the more intuitive ones of the market.
Despite that, there are a few issues with Jimdo’s system. Themes don’t always work properly and the number of editable elements can be overwhelming. Even so, the builder presents a ton of options and becomes fairly easy to use after a short time. Read our Jimdo review to learn more about what else this builder excels at.
As mentioned in the above category, Weebly has one of the best editors we’ve seen, not just in terms of raw power, but also in terms of usability. Nearly anyone can easily jump into the interface and take advantage of the many options it has. The neat array of blocks makes it simple to find what you’re looking for and drag it directly onto the page.
Oddly, a lot of the ease of use comes from Weebly’s restrictions. The left-side toolbar is page-specific, meaning you’ll only find the tools fit for that particular page in there. For example, the blog tools are only found on the blog page and header settings around only found on the homepage. It helps compatibility and ensures there aren’t any strange designs on your site.
There are a lot of other options that aren’t page-specific, though. You’ll find responsive forms that you can place any piece of content within, as well as options for the app center throughout the design. It’s an easy to grasp interface with all the options at your disposal. The marvel is that Weebly manages that without becoming too overwhelming.
Unfortunately, websites aren’t perfect and issues will arise. Despite the cause, you need a solid support system to backup any issues or questions you may have. In this category, we’ll look at the knowledgebase, support options and any other support features the website builder has such as a forum.
Particularly in the knowledgebase, we’ll look for troubleshooting guides. All website builders we’ve reviewed have a knowledgebase, but very few include any guides for common issues. In most cases, the knowledgebase simply functions as a tutorial center, so any articles that deal with problems you have will rank highly among our choices.
Also a weak point of website builders are the contact options. Most website builders only offer support via email, with some only offering up a simple contact form. Multiple support options and quick response times are the key here, so any builder that could offer one of the two got extra points in this category. Here’s the short list:
- Troubleshooting guides
- Multiple contact options
- Quick response times
Strikingly is a particularly impressive website builder in terms of support. It still suffers from email-only contact, but gains traction over the competition with a very well-rounded knowledgebase. This area is stuffed full of content, with everything from getting started to managing your site.
Particularly impressive, though, are the troubleshooting guides. Nearly all website builders have tutorials in the knowledgebase, but very few have resources for troubleshooting. Issues may not come up often, but the small investment on Strikingly’s end means you’ll have a guide in the event something does.
Making its first appearance in this guide, GoCentral isn’t a particularly impressive builder on its own. In fact, it feels more like a tacked on addition to GoDaddy’s domain and hosting services. Even so, the level of support is quite high. As a company more focused on web hosting, you gain access to web hosting levels of support which, on average, are far greater than a typical website builder.
The knowledgebase is the center, fit with an area specifically dedicated to GoCentral. GoDaddy includes a list of “dive in” articles, a quasi-curriculum for any particular area in question. The articles are extremely detailed as well, fit with screenshots and step by step instructions. The knowledgebase feels like a fully realized addition to the support area.
On top of that, you also have the typical forms of contact you’d expect from a web host. Live chat, email and phone support are all available, a huge step over most other website builders on the market. There are some other issues with this service, but support certainly isn’t one of them. Read our GoDaddy GoCentral review to learn more.
SquareSpace has a massive support section, packed with the typical fare of any other knowledgebase. However, its dedication to not only maintaining, but growing your site, sets it apart from other providers. The tools are there to be successful online, and those tools are found in the knowledgebase.
The area is made up of guides and FAQs. Typically, there will be a string of guides for a particular category with an FAQ at the end to cover any ground missed throughout the guides. There isn’t much in the way of troubleshooting here, but that’s fairly unlikely to come up. Instead, SquareSpace focuses on using the builder and growing your site.
What sets it apart, though, is the connection to the community. SquareSpace hosts frequent webinars that offer a workshop-like environment for crafting your website. If you’re fortunate enough to live within one of the SquareSpace offices, you can attend these workshops in person as well.
The Best Website Builder for Ecommerce
All of the website builders in this guide favor traditional websites over webstores. However, online stores are a large portion of the internet, so we didn’t want to leave you hanging in that regard. Some of the options presented here will suit small online outlets, but you may need something more powerful if you’re looking to sell online.
The largest difference is direct sales over resale. Direct sales, or a company selling its own product directly to the customer, will fare just fine with most website builders. The designer templates of SquareSpace and Wix give you an opportunity to show off your product and all of its features, with a few additional features for managing shipments and tracking orders.
Resale, on the other hand, will have a hard time. We’re not just talking about selling used items, but rather any business that purchases product from wholesale and then sells. The catalog is generally far larger and spread across multiple platforms. Most website builders simply don’t have the tools to track every outlet you sell on, nor the power to organize the inventory.
For that, it’s better to go with a dedicated ecommerce builder such as Shopify. You’ll have all the tools you need, including integration with Amazon and eBay, ShipStation, fulfillment and drop shipping. Additionally, Shopify supports XML import and export so you can move your inventory around to any platform and still have everything synced up.
For direct sales or a small array of products, though, any website builder will do. You’ll generally pay a premium to gain access to shipping and order management, so keep that in mind if selling isn’t the main purpose of your website.
Free or Paid?
After choosing your website builder, designing a bit and going live, the question of upgrading arises. While going free or paid is entirely dependent on your budget, most websites, no matter what the need, will benefit from an upgrade. You gain access to essential features for legitimizing your brand, all while increasing exposure and resources.
While simple, a domain name is the first step in that process. The offering of a branded subdomain with any free plan is generous, but breaking away from that is the first step in establishing your brand online. A domain name shows your website is legitimate and should be taken seriously.
On your actual site, the branding of your website builder is removed and, in some cases, you can place advertisements. The flexibility is there is create a site that is a step above a normal website builder, adding to your brand and, occasionally, making you some money.
On top of that, upgrading is pretty cheap. No website is free and while website builders have gone a long way in trying to make that happen, you need to drop a little money for a bonafide site. Thankfully, website builders have also gone a long way in driving down costs, so you can start a website for less than buying a few drinks each month.
In short, it’s entirely worth it to upgrade to a paid plan. Start on a free one to test out different builders and find the right fit, and then upgrade so you can take advantage of the premium features that come along with it.
It may be the best choice to use a website builder moving forward, especially if you aren’t already familiar with a platform like WordPress. The power level is ever increasing, and these builders show what strong contenders look like for building a serious website through an easy to use tool.
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As far as a serious website goes, though, it’s certainly worth it to upgrade to a fully featured plan. You’re often getting much more for only a small investment in addition to the priceless aspect of legitimacy. It’s hard to be taken seriously on the internet, but this small step can help you do so.
What’s your favorite builder out of the bunch? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.