Everyone’s got a brand to promote these days, even if that brand is just a showcase of blogged thoughts or a portfolio of various talents. And if you’ve got a business — no matter how big or small — you’ll definitely need a strong and compelling website to stand out from the crowd.
So whether you’re just launching a business, setting up an online store, or sharing a message to help others, having a website is the easiest way to get it all out to the masses. After all, it’s your first introduction to potential customers and clients, so it’s vitally important to consider what your online presence is going to look like. Simply put, a website builder is the perfect tool for freelancers, start-ups, and more established firms alike. (And if you’re on a budget, you should check out our list of the best cheap web hosting services, too.)
That said, some site builder options are more friendly to beginners than others. For example, Squarespace is a popular website builder with tons of awesome templates that you can use to create a beautiful website with professional results (even if you don’t know your CSS from your HTML). On the other hand, a web builder like Weebly will give you a lot more freedom to play around with coding. So, though there are a lot of options for website builders out there, you’ll want to take some things into consideration before you can choose the best one for you. Fortunately, we’re here to show you the ropes, so let’s jump into the basics.
Why do you actually need a website?
It’s important to consider why you want an online presence before purchasing a website builder plan. Is it just to double-up as a form of online business card? Or, do you need advanced features, like e-commerce tools or a contact form, to keep you linked with consumers? Or, maybe you’re not running a business at all, and need to create an aesthetically pleasing portfolio of your work, or a more personal blog to keep people informed. The ultimate goal of your website is something that must be considered before you spend a single dime. You don’t want to invest in a website builder that might not be the right fit for your needs, or provides far more than you need when a free or low-cost plan option would suffice.
What should a good site builder cost?
There’s a common misconception that developing a website takes hundreds of hours or the work of a team of professionals. Back in the olden days of the internet, it’s true that you had to be a little bit of a tech wizard (or dole out the cash to hire one) in order to have your own website. But, today’s website builders don’t require you to know about HTML, FTP, servers, or even web hosting in order to create a robust home for yourself on the web. They offer plenty of resources to help you create an attention-grabbing site, even if you have zero web design experience. That said, you should expect this convenience to cost you a bit of coin depending on the services you need.
Big companies can dole out thousands of bucks for custom sites, but small businesses or organizations should do just fine with a website builder in the realm of about $10 to $25 per month. If you need some extensive features, like extra storage or bandwidth, or you’re running an e-commerce operation, that cost may bump up closer to about $40 per month.
If those prices are not in your budget, however, it’s totally possible to find a free website builder that’ll get the job done with great results. Just keep in mind that the website building provider’s logo and other ads will be prominent on your site, which could make it look a little less impressive. A free website builder is also likely to be limited in bandwidth and storage which could very well limit what you want to do with your site. In these cases, it’s best to carefully read the fine print to see just how generous the website builder is with its no-cost plan.
What can you expect a good website builder to provide?
All website builders will give you a web address with their domain (something like yourname.websitebuilder.com), but a custom domain name will cost you extra. Most paid plans will provide this for free for the first year, however. Many will also provide a free SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to ensure your visitors that your site is safe to browse, and 24/7 customer service to guide you along and make sure your site is up and running at all times.
That said, you’ll also want to pay attention to how much storage your site builder plan includes, as you’ll need a good amount to host big files, like videos or photos showcasing your products or portfolio. Also, note how much bandwidth a plan offers to make sure it can handle your site’s expected traffic.
Most, if not all website builders offer a ton of pre-built website templates to get your site started, and some even designate which templates may best suit different needs, such as e-commerce, portfolios, or even restaurants. Many site builders also utilize a simple drag-and-drop interface that lets you place everything pretty much where you want it, along with the ability to tweak stuff like color schemes, fonts, and more to fit your personal brand. Some, but not all site builders will allow for varying levels of HTML or CSS coding on the backend to tweak things even further if that’s something you have knowledge of and want to dig into. You should also expect a good website builder to provide stock photos that you can use to make your website look better.
If your site acts as an online shop, make sure you choose a website builder or an advanced plan that is equipped with the e-commerce services and features you need to operate properly. Think cart and checkout pages, credit card processing, and services like email marketing, inventory, and shipping tools to make your business better and your life easier. If your site is primarily blog-based, on the other hand, consider a website builder that caters to easy WordPress integration.
Some site builders will optimize the way your website looks on mobile devices, but a few are much better at this than others (we’ve noted them in our roundup below). Also keep in mind that no matter which website builder you choose, it will likely be quite difficult to switch to another website builder or web host in the future. So it’s pretty crucial to make the right pick from the start, while carefully considering your website or business’ potential growth over several year’s time.
Because your website’s needs may vary, we’ve narrowed down the best website builders for many different situations. From budget-friendly options and minimalist sites to e-commerce picks and hands-on choices for coders, there’s sure to be the perfect web builder for you below. (We’ve also answered a bunch more of your website building questions at the bottom of this roundup, so be sure to scroll all the way down to learn about web hosts vs. website builders, picking the right templates, SEO, and more.)
Attractive, flexible templates • Easy export to WordPress • 24/7 customer support
Possibly intimidating for newbies • Comparatively pricey
Squarespace offers design flexibility that makes it popular with both newbies and experts, but it’s not the cheapest option on the market.
A popular choice of site builder thanks to its superior, aesthetically pleasing templates and flexible customization.
A well-established name in the website building business, Squarespace is basically the gold standard for a drag-and-drop site builder that’s approachable for all users. They offer noticeably better templates than their competitors (albeit fewer in number) but, regardless of whether or not you have coding experience, it’s possible to tweak and edit how they look so you’re not stuck with a cookie-cutter result. You also have the ability to easily change templates to switch things up, and you’ll get a free custom domain for a year, SSL security, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited storage. Squarespace also goes the extra mile when it comes to SEO with options for maximizing search performance, as well as tracking your site’s performance via its own analytics dashboard.
Mobile editor • AI site builder • Free option
Inflexible templates • No direct editing
Wix’s many templates, features, and mobile options are straightforward and easy to use, but the inability to switch up a site’s design could cause frustration.
A user-friendly choice with just enough customization options to satisfy (but not overwhelm) beginners.
Free (with ads)
Wix offers a mind-boggling array of different templates (we’re talking more than 500) aimed at every taste and industry possible, and its ad-based free option can’t be beat when it comes to tight budgets. You can effectively get a site up and running in under an hour, thanks to its incredibly user-friendly drag-and-drop website builder, or its artificial design intelligence feature which builds your site for you. There’s even a mobile editor that enables you to create a separate site optimized for mobile users, ensuring that your business won’t lose customers while people are browsing on-the-go. The only downside is that you can’t switch your website template at a later date without adding and customizing all your content again from scratch, and customization options may not be as extensive as users with some HTML or CSS coding will want.
Easy-to-use interface • Lots of templates • Free option
Limited mobile functionality • Inflexible templates • No code editing
GoDaddy is ideal for those who simply want an online presence — fast — without a lot of intimidating options.
A simple drag-and-drop website builder without a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles.
A prominent name in the web hosting realm, GoDaddy also has its own website builder service that’s quite intuitive and ideal for speedy startups. They provide hundreds of professional-looking, ready-to-launch templates (including some guidance as to which themes would work best for certain purposes) alongside a fully drag-and-drop user interface that allows for easy insertion of images, slideshows, contact forms and whatever else you need in just seconds. Multiple backup points can be set up so there’s never any fear of losing valuable content along the way, but don’t expect to be able to do any code editing or change your website template without starting from scratch. On the plus side, you can start your start for free and keep it free forever, or upgrade to a paid plan if you need more features.
Fast basic setup • HTML and CSS customization available
If you’re mainly looking for a landing page to share simple details about your business, IONOS could be the way to go.
IONOS by 1&1
A solid choice if you’re just looking for an online business card that can get set up super-quick.
MyWebsite Online Store:
With a speedy setup process, IONOS ensures that you can at least get a simple, yet professional landing page up and running right out of the box. They utilize a drag-and-drop interface with pre-set styles to make it easy for anyone to adapt their many templates as needed. If you step up to the next tier in their trio of plans, you’ll also have the option of customizing things further with HTML or CSS, if you please. No matter which plan you choose, however, you’ll get your first month free, along with a free domain for a year and a free SSL certificate.
Specially made for e-commerce • Lots of plug-ins • 24/7 support
Costly transaction fees • Not coder-friendly
Shopify will help you minimize the hassle of running an e-commerce site, but be prepared to pay handsomely for that convenience.
The clear leader for setting up online shops, but it’s pricier than a regular website builder and has more of a learning curve, too.
If your main purpose for an online presence is to have an online store, then Shopify is hands down your best bet as they’ll get you set up with professional designs that ensure your products will appeal to prospective buyers. Where Shopify differs from the rest of the website building pack is its extensive array of apps that can be plugged into your store including accounting, customer service, inventory management, marketing, and basically every other feature necessary for running a successful online shop. However, it can be trickier to code and customize as it uses its own coding language, and costs can rack up quickly as each Shopify transaction incurs a relatively high fee.
Easy to switch themes • HTML and CSS customization • Free option
If you’re keen to design your own site and know how to code (but also want a little helping hand along the way), Weebly covers all the right bases.
With the convenience of templates and the flexibility to code, this is an ideal option for users who know exactly what they want.
Free (with ads)
Weebly is a kind of middle ground for those who want to code and design their site, blog, or online store, but also want the flexibility and convenience of pre-built website templates and simple tools. Possibly their biggest plus is that, unlike other services, you can easily switch between themes and even download the site’s code as standard HTML/CSS for future reference. The drag-and-drop interface is a bit limited, however, and you can make customizations specifically for mobile sites. But, even with the free basic plan, you’ll be backed by free SSL security for safe browsing, a slew of free e-commerce tools, and no limit on the number of items you can sell on your site.
Easy to use • Free option
Bare bones features • Not really scalable
If all you need is an eye-catching landing page to get the word out about your biz, Strikingly is an excellent choice.
The perfect choice for creating a one-page site that’s fast, easy, and aesthetically pleasing.
as low as $7/month
as low as $11.20/month
as low as $34.40/month
Strikingly is a website builder that realizes not all sites need to be made of multiple pages. It’s perfect for creating a simple, one-page portfolio or a catchy landing page for a small business, either of which can easily look fantastic with absolutely no coding or design skills required. When it comes to plans, the free one is free forever and gives you unlimited sites, but you’ll only get 5 GB of monthly bandwidth and 500 MB of storage, and you can only sell one product per site. You’ll get a little more with a paid plan, but you’ll have to sign on to longer terms to score the best price.
No transaction fees for shops • Unlimited bandwidth and storage • Coding customization
Duda offers all the features you need for a robust, mobile-friendly site, including e-commerce.
Highly capable and user-friendly, it’s a great choice for online shops that crave mobile optimization.
Duda could have been just another website builder, but it really shines when it comes to the speed and ease of creating a really attractive site from one of their nearly 100 business, portfolio, and restaurant templates. Even better, before you choose your design, you can see how each website template will look on desktop, smartphone, and tablet screens all at once. This is especially good since you can’t change templates later, though you can tweak your design to be optimized on mobile. They also offer way more site traffic statistics than most of their competitors.
Multilingual capabilities • Easy e-commerce tools • Great for bloggers
Limited pay options for shops • Must provide translations
If you’re going global, Voog offers great reach for newbie users and experienced developers alike.
A great service with language detection ideal for global businesses.
Many sites have multilingual support, but Voog offers the best package for start-ups and entrepreneurs who need to speak to a global market by automatically detecting the language from the visitor’s location. Typical of other website builders, it has a simple-to-use editor with drag and drop elements that make it easy to get started, and layouts can be tweaked to a certain extent so that sites have a more unique look. E-commerce features are also simple to implement with a great degree of flexibility, although there are limitations to PayPal and MakeCommerce when it comes to payment. Though visitors can choose their language, you will need to provide the translated copy yourself as there’s no automation for that here (not that such services are particularly accurate anyhow).
What’s the difference between a web host and a website builder?
A web host provides its customers with space on a server to store their data and website information, essentially giving it the means to reach the public. Think of it as purchasing a plot of land, and your website is the house that will be built there for everyone to visit. Simply put, you must have a piece of this “land” on the web to have a functional website, and your domain name is the address you share to help people find your “house.”
A website builder, on the other hand, is a software tool that helps a user design and actually create their website from a visual standpoint. In the homebuilding metaphor, this can be equated to the array of construction materials needed to build a house, like wood and nails. Of course, you could build your home on the web with just your bare hands if you know your way around coding. However, it’s much easier to design your own website when you get a leg up from a construction crew (a.k.a. online website builders) in the form of pre-made website templates and easy drag-and-drop functions. You can think of them kind of like contractors: you get a say in how you want things to look and where you want them to go, but you don’t need to get your hands too dirty with all the confusing coding language on the backend.
When choosing the right website builder for you, your options can seem a little confusing because the line between web host and site builder gets a little muddied. Many web hosting services offer an integrated site builder to make it easier to get all your website-building tasks done in one place. And most, if not all, website builders will simply host your site on their servers as part of their whole package (even if you never encounter the words “web host” in the process — it’s sort of an unspoken thing).
How can you use a site builder to create a website fit for your visitors?
Remember to put yourself into the shoes of someone who knows nothing about what your company does. Your site should be less about what you are and more about how you can help someone get what they need.
A good website builder should offer you plenty of templates catered to your site’s needs. If you’re creating an online store, go with a template that shows your products up front. They’re the star of the show, after all, so potential customers shouldn’t have to dig to find them. If you offer a service, on the other hand, make sure your template has space to put customer testimonials on view to encourage trust and community. Furthermore, you may just need a minimalist landing page to act as a virtual business card for your company. A simple website builder template is ideal here for displaying your contact info, business hours, and other personal details front and center.
A great website should also be easy to navigate, with text distilled down to its most basic and direct form. When communicating on the web, shorter is definitely better.
We’re also a highly visual species, so the value of good photos and art cannot be overstated. If your budget doesn’t allow you to hire a photographer and shoot custom photos for your site, then don’t fret! A great website builder will include a database of royalty-free stock photos that you can use to spice up your site and make it incredibly appealing to visitors.
What about SEO and landing high in web searches?
Having a website is one thing. Making sure people can find it across various search engines is another thing.
It’s no secret that Google basically runs the show in the land of search engines, so do some work to find out how people are searching for the type of content or services you offer. Then make sure those keywords show up prominently on your site and are also built into your site’s metadata. Mastering a few key search engine optimization tips will take you surprisingly far when it comes to driving up your site’s viewership, and many website builders include some built-in SEO tools to give you a leg up.
It’s also a good idea to create service-oriented content that speaks to your expertise. If you’re a dog walker looking to use your site to find new clients, for example, consider adding a blog section to your site to offer dog training tips and advice. This fosters a greater connection between you and your customers, and offers them greater service. When it comes down to it, this is all about creating opportunities to showcase that you are the ideal person for the job, and your website makes the very first impression in that process.