The process of creating a new website is much more automated than many people realize. What once required having your own guru on-call can now be accomplished by anyone online. Dozens of website builders offer drag-and-drop design simplicity–if you have a rough idea in your mind of what you'd like your site to look like, you can make it happen. Even better, most sites are populated with outstanding professionally-designed templates to make your job even easier.
The more difficult task becomes figuring out which site is best suited for your needs. A little bit of planning goes a long way. What will you want your website to do for you? Are there any features you know you absolutely must have? What about in the future, are there things you'd like to expand into? Just having a basic outline of your requirements makes picking the best website builder all that much easier.
What Kind of Websites Can be Created With a Website Builder?
Website builders have come a long way in the past few decades, and today there is very little need for anyone to resort to actual coding of a website. Even people with extensive coding experience have to wonder at this point, what's the point of sticking it out alone? The best website builder will allow you to completely customize your page for an entirely made-from-scratch look while being drag-and-drop simple to make.
The key to finding the right builder for you is to narrow down precisely what you want your site to do. Some companies specialize in photographer portfolios, blogging for writers, or e-commerce for online shops. Most sites will offer all of these features, but sites always excel in a niche area first.
All website builders share a similar workflow. Once you've decided on the builder you want to use, you select your favorite template. You can then use the design function to customize that template as you need for your website.
This is where the real difference between companies comes out. How easy it is to change the template to suit your needs varies considerably from one site to another. You'll want to be able to change the basics, like colors, fonts, and images. You also want to make new pages, change the order of pages, and customize navigation.
But sometimes, you want to remove or add entire elements, like take out a textbox here or insert a video element there. That's where drag-and-drop website builder editors can shine. Some websites lack this ability completely, and you need to make what they have work. Others allow complete and total control over the design process.
How to Choose the Best Website Builder
The first and foremost decision criteria for choosing a website builder is the feature-set offered. Basically, will the builder allow you to build what you need to build? Starting with a clear mission and plan for your site helps, so you'll know in advance what features you're looking for.
This is an area where it pays to plan ahead a little bit. Where do you see your site in five or ten years? Of course, no one knows the answer. But think it through, nonetheless, and see what other features might interest you. You can migrate to another web provider or host, but if you've used a builder, it will nearly always mean starting the design process from scratch.
The best website builder functions, and some of the most frequently used features, include the following.
- Photo galleries
- e-commerce for product sales
- Email marketing plugins
- Advertising and marketing tools and plugins
- Traffic and social media engagement statistics
- Blogging tools
- Mobile websites
Design and Templates
Next, look at the design that has gone into making the website builder. There are two facets. First, look at how it looks from your standpoint, as their customer. Secondly, look at how your final product is going to look at from their point of view.
A little bit of digging is required for this phase. Hopefully, the web builder's site has sample pages that you can check out. The goal is to have a look at how well those pages integrate the features you need. How does the design look? Can you imagine your site working with their designs? If the designs don’t grab your attention, you should move on. There are plenty of website builders out there, so pick one with templates and designs that you like.
All of these sites feature numerous layouts, but some are better than others. Sometimes, if you need a particular feature that they offer, you discover that they only have one layout that uses that feature. If you don't like that layout, you'd better be ready to try something else. For example, many company’s say they have photo galleries. Upon further inspection, it’s not uncommon to discover only one gallery option that isn’t very customizable.
SEO and Marketing Tools
Most people understand that some websites are better for grabbing web search results than others. A lot of it has to do with the content on the site. Which keywords are chosen or how often they appear in what sort of content affect your search engine results.
But web designers know that search engine optimization goes even deeper than that. To make it happen, you need the right tools, and it's up to your website design company to supply that capability. So if you are interested in getting your page to rank well, and who isn't, you need to ensure that the designer you choose has the right features.
If you’re wondering how to choose the best website builder, the four things it should always include are the ability to customize all meta titles and descriptions easily, mobile-friendly themes, SSL certificates, and fast performance. These factors will help any website that has proper SEO built-in rank well. They're the things you really can't change later–you can always improve your metadata descriptions and titles, but you can't fix it if your provider's speeds are so slow they affect your rank.
The good news is that most of the major website builders meet these basic minimum requirements. Mobile-friendly sites might require upgrading to another price level, and meta info updating can sometimes be clunky and hard to find. But the good sites are fast, and SSL certificates are now the standard.
As you design each page in your template, you will need to update each page's metadata. This is an area where some builders can stand out. How easy is it to custom that data? Do you have to go into the code, or do they have a slick interface to make it happen faster?
There is more to marketing than SEO alone, however. One handy tool that some providers give you is access to abandoned carts, which happens many times in online sales. When a customer visits your site, starts buying something, and then fails to complete the transaction, the cart is considered abandoned. Being able to send a follow-up email and offer them an additional discount, or simply getting an alert to tell you that the cart was abandoned, is powerful marketing intel. Other common marketing tools that come in handy include mailing lists and pop up notifications.
Ease of Use
When it comes down to it, you're picking a website builder because it's easy to use. It's easier to use than coding your site from scratch and finding your own host. But exactly how easy is it to use in the end, when you’re laying out your webpage feature by feature? Most sites realize that this is going to be their measure of success, and they put a lot of time, effort, and money into making their process easier than everyone else's. The easier it is, the more customers they can attract. And the easier it is, the more customers complete the process and keep renewing their subscriptions.
Still, some are easier than others. You may find you have to find the right balance for your site. On the one hand, there is the site's ease of use, and on the other, there is its feature set. The easiest to use sites tend to be the ones with the fewest options and the least amount of customizability. In this way, website builders differentiate themselves as better for beginners, or better for more experienced website creators.
Besides playing around with the building tools and using free trial offers, it also helps to read reviews of the site made by actual customers. These sites are robust, with a lot of coding work that goes on in the backend. There are always bugs and glitches. How much time do people spend trying to get the thing to work as advertised? When there are glitches, are they addressed quickly by customer service?
Website builders' pricing plans are all over the map. There are free options available, but most of the best ones require a monthly subscription fee. Since you probably plan to keep your site live for a while, it makes sense to take advantage of any pay-up-front discounts. The monthly fee most sites quote is only valid if you pay for a year upfront, for example.
Can you build a professional website for free? Many sites offer free plans, but there is always some catch. From their perspective, a free plan is a way for you to try out the product. They know that it will entice a lot of people to sign up. The ones who like the service and find it meets their needs will upgrade to get more features or more bandwidth.
Free websites will have some crutch that will make them appear less than professional. For one thing, it might have ads. That might be fine with you, or you might want to put on your ads. Free sites might also be limited to only a specific and smaller set of templates. Each web builder does things a little differently, so before being drawn in the promise of a free website, do some research and see what the actual cost of "free" is.
Pricing tiers on website builders often require some careful reading to understand completely. Many have limits on the amount of data you can upload or the amount of bandwidth you can use every month. If you are limited on bandwidth, and your site takes off, you might have to shop for bigger plans sooner than expected.
There are many other ways companies make their pricing plans different. Simple features that you might expect to be included sometimes require a higher service plan. Take, for example, the simple idea of having a custom domain name. To do this on some sites, you need to have an upper-level plan.
The final thing that differentiates different website builders is their customer service. Can you always get a quick response to emails, or do they have a live chat feature? As you're setting your site up, you need problems solved quickly. If they aren't, the creation process can drag out much longer than it needs to.
Some providers have tiered customer service levels that depend on which pricing structure you subscribe to. They nearly all advertise 24/7 customer service, but you get priority handling as a bonus for subscribing to premium-level service. This usually means that while other subscribers are waiting for a reply to an email, you can access a live chat or a much fast response. That can be helpful if you're setting up your site.
Pixpa is a little different than most other website builders in that they have a particular customer in mind. Everything about Pixpa, from the ground up, is designed with the creative professional in mind. Most of Pixpa's galleries center around photography, with tools built with photographers in mind, like client proofing galleries. But other creative professionals can also get a lot out of Pixpa, too, including graphic designers, fashion designers, architects, and visual artists of all types.
Since its focus is clearly on the visual arts, it's unsurprising that Pixpa templates and sites are gorgeous. Here are the best examples of portfolio websites built on Pixpa, for your inspiration. Their designs are clean and modern, and they offer many features that others don't only because of the types of sites people make here. The client galleries are the best example, where an artist’s clients can be provided a log-in to access their photos. Clients can then select, share, or save their favorite photos in proofing mode. With simple e-commerce integration, photos can be purchased directly from the website in print or download form. Pixpa goes one step further and can even create a custom mobile app for clients to download to their devices.
In another clear homage to their customer base, Pixpa has spent a lot of time getting their templates and websites to look great on any size screen. All sites are mobile-friendly from the get-go.
Pixpa delivers stellar customer support, which means their representatives will help you navigate through any issue, and address the problem quickly.
Pros and Cons
- Specifically built for creative professionals’ portfolios and business models
- Multiple different types of galleries, including multimedia, Instagram, and slideshows
- Client proofing tools are unique
- Client-specific apps at the upper pay levels
- Many features allow you to add more functionality to your site, like blogging and e-commerce
- Responsive themes that look great when viewed on any screen
- Unlimited bandwidth and fast loading times
- Unparalleled support for selling digital products with instant downloads
- Integration with many popular tools and pages like Stripe, Paypal, Shopify, MailChimp, YouTube, Vimeo, and Google Translate
- Never any ads
- Geared towards creative professionals and portfolio, options limited for traditional storefronts
- Pixpa does not have a built-in ability to purchase a custom domain name.–you’ll have to use another website to do that, which isn’t difficult
Pixpa offers three pricing tiers, from $7 to $16 per month if billed annually. While all three share the same basic feature-set, some upgrades are worth looking into the advanced accounts.
The Personal account is limited in the number of pages or galleries it can contain, and the gallery is limited to 200 images. Both Expert and Business accounts are unlimited in this regard. If you have many pages you need to display, or you were hoping to put on more than 200 images, you'll want to look at the Expert level.
There are a few other differences between accounts. One of the unique things about Pixpa is their individualized gallery apps, created for your clients. Those are only available at the Expert-level, with 25 apps created, or the Business-level, with unlimited apps made.
Expert accounts add some incredible marketing tools, like basic marketing popups and announcement bars. Expert and Business-level accounts also have access to a Pixpa expert, who will help you set up your site and save you time.
Business accounts allow you to accept payments online. They also have more advanced marketing tools and more e-commerce options.
Pixpa offers a 15 days free trial so that you can experience first-hand their easy-to-use website builder. By testing the interface and seeing the theme options yourself, you can get a great idea of what the site is capable of.
Squarespace has built its reputation on having a clean, appealing design. Their templates are modern and look sharp. It has a fresh look, which comes from minimalist designs with lots of white space. Using Squarespace is a similar experience–it's well thought out and an easy website builder.
Squarespace is an excellent choice if you're looking for a website builder that can do it all. Squarespace can do blogging, podcasts, photo galleries, and e-commerce. While other sites may be great for one particular element, Squarespace is good at them all. Many professional websites are blends of one thing or another, so this option might be vital if you're looking to mix and match capabilities.
Pros and Cons
- Simple pricing structure, with no transaction fees and no future costs
- Good looking template designs
- Themes look great on any screen
- Excellent features for bloggers
- Lots of customizable options for bloggers or portfolio websites
- Plentiful and scalable e-commerce options
- Enterprise-grade infrastructure and security
- Not quite as easy to use as some others, but pretty good give the customization possible
- Limited payment gateways–currently only Stripe, Apple Pay, and Paypal can be accepted
- No backup or restore features
- No app market for external applications or automatic website integrations
Squarespace has four pricing levels, ranging from $12 to $40 if you pay for a year up-front. All plans include custom domain names and the SEO features you'd expect, plus 24/7 customer support.
Personal plans are limited to only two contributors, so they are uniquely suited to small businesses that don't have a large team working on their site. Personal sites also lack the e-commerce interface, so they have no marketing tools to speak of or the ability to take customer payments. For these options, you'd want the Business or Commerce plans.
The highest level, the Advanced Commerce account, has the most robust set to cart features, including abandoned cart recovery, discounts, subscription billing, and advanced shipping quotes built-in.
Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial, so you can set up your site and then decide if you want to continue using their service. It's an excellent way to get a feel for the interface and features.
Wix is a really popular website builder that is consistently rated as one of the best ones on the internet. With over 110 million websites created, it definitely has a track record. Their focus is and historically has been on easy-to-make websites, so it's no surprise that their Wix ADI requires minimal effort on the part of the end-user.
What is neat, though, is that they've expanded their offerings to allow much more customizability than you might imagine. On the other end of the spectrum, Wix can also accommodate websites built entirely from scratch for an unlimited customization level. That level of creative freedom in the Wix website builder is wonderful for artists with some design experience who want to dabble in web design but don’t want to code from scratch.
Pros and Cons
- Unstructured editor that allows you to drag-and-drop anything anywhere on the page, which is different than other design programs
- Lots of themes and options–over 500 themes available
- App market for other integrations
- Unlimited options in the editing process may make it seem more complicated to some users
- Pricing plans limit the amount of data you can upload and your bandwidth
- Difficult to change between templates after you’ve created your site
- Navigation doesn’t allow for extensive websites with many pages
- Some themes are slow to load, especially on mobile devices
Wix, having a broader audience than some of the other website builders on our list, breaks their pricing into two groups, one for professionals and one for businesses with e-commerce needs.
Professional website plans vary from $14 to $39 per month. The most basic Combo plan is limited to 3 GB of storage and 30 minutes of video hosted. Each subsequent level, Unlimited, Pro, and VIP, offers more and more storage space and video options. Most apps for analytics and customizable logos are also offered. All plans come with 24/7 customer care, but the VIP plan offers priority access.
Business plans start at $23 per month and go up from there. Enterprise plans for large-scale businesses are done with custom pricing agreements. Like Professional plans, these levels are based on the amount of storage you use. The Business Basic plan includes 20 GB and five hours of video, for example. Higher-level plans have other perks, too, like USPS discounts and automatic sales tax calculations.
CNet reviewed Weebly and found it the easiest to use, which probably sums up their business model pretty well. Weebly makes it dead simple to design a site, and no matter your skill level, it will come out looking great.
Whether that appeals to you has more to do with you than it does with Weebly. If you're looking for a website builder that requires the smallest learning curve and nets the quickest results, Weebly is the one. It's also inexpensive compared to others. The trade-off is the loss of a little bit of creative authority. It is a simple website builder, which means that its feature-set is more limited than other options.
Pros and Cons
- Best for beginners looking to get started fast
- Easy to create large websites with many pages
- Great looking themes that adapt well to mobile devices
- Extensive app center for adding extra functionality to your website
- Can download your files and move to another host easily
- One of the most limited editors around, with no blogging options and no app store, for example
- Ads on lower-priced plans
- Limited e-commerce abilities with transaction fees
Weebly has a simple pricing scale from their Free plan to a Performance plan. All of these are e-commerce options, which makes sense since Weebly is Square's e-commerce wing.
The most significant disadvantage of the Weebly Free plan is that it doesn't allow you to connect your domain name. That will put most businesses off, but for a portfolio or personal site, it may be a non-issue.
The upper-level Professional and Performance plans are ad-free. They include all of the great features you'd expect from Square, including shipping features and advanced site statistics.
Shopify is the king of e-commerce. If your website will be primarily used to sell goods, Shopify has the best mix of tools and apps to make that happen. You can do plenty of other stuff with their platform, like blogging, web galleries, or portfolios. But you'll never get past the fact that the system is built from the ground up to support e-commerce.
Shopify's typical customer is one setting up an e-commerce site for a traditional product. It might be for print-on-demand t-shirts or widgets hand-made in your garage, but there's a product that you want to sell. You can do plenty of other things too, but this is what the site is built around. If you aren't doing those things, you won't need the site's best features, like inventory tracking, shipping labels, and sales and logistics functions.
Shopify is a powerful website builder, though, mostly due to its extensive collection of apps. To keep their drag-and-drop editor easy to use, they rely heavily on the end user's ability to install a third-party app. This means that pretty much any site or service you want to use on your website can be integrated into Shopify, so long as someone has made an app for it.
E-commerce is complicated, and Shopify does a great job of making it approachable for the average web user. If you aren't selling products and are only looking to display work, all that extra complication will likely make the process more complicated than it needs to be. Other builders can provide you with basic selling tools on your website, but Shopify is the one-stop-shop if you need a serious, dedicated e-commerce presence.
Pros and Cons
- Large app store with many plugins–keeps web builder clean and simple to use, just install the other features you might need
- Many integrations with print-on-demand business
- Easy social media integration
- Extremely scalable
- Has built a reputation of keeping very complex e-commerce sites simple and easy to manage
- Shopify Payments to accept credit cards
- Transaction fees for every sale made
- E-commerce-only design makes setting up professional blogs or portfolios more limiting, and more expensive
- Higher pricing than other options
Shopify has three levels of service, though few businesses require advancing beyond the second. Basic Shopify is $29 per month, and it includes everything you might need to get an online store up and running. Staff accounts are limited to two.
The standard Shopify account is $79 per month, and it gets you five staff accounts. More reports are offered, better shipping discounts available, and lower fees charged for Shopify payments. The Advanced Shopify account is for larger businesses with 15 staff accounts and a plethora of reports offered. This plan has the lowest fees for payments accepted and the most options for international business.
If you want to use Shopify POS Pro in your brick-and-mortar store, it's another $89 per month. This service gives you a pretty much all-inclusive store management solution, however.
WordPress is known throughout the web design world for its open-source plugin design options. Many designers work with WordPress.org, and with it, you can make any website you'd like. Most web hosting sites allow you to install and WordPress plugin and get designing.
That version of WordPress is not very easy to use. There's a steep learning curve, almost like learning to use an advanced program like Photoshop for the first time. And unlike WordPress.org, this version includes its own hosting.
But they also have a website builder called WordPress.com. Like the others on our list, the WordPress website builder is a one-stop-shop solution that includes templates and drag-and-drop design. Instead of having a drag-and-drop website builder, WordPress.com uses a form-based system that's a little less intuitive to use. If you have experience with the standard WordPress admin site, WordPress.com still gives you access to that and all of the detail that it provides. WordPress has always been a blogging website builder, and WordPress.com continues with one of the best feature sets of blogging tools available.
Pros and Cons
- A streamlined interface makes it intuitive and easy to use
- One of the biggest feature sets for blogging available
- Form-based layout technique requires a little more trial and error as you build
- To use WordPress plugins, you need an upper-level plan and to use the standard WP-Admin interface, which is much less user friendly
The WordPress.com builder has inexpensive plans ranging from the $4 per month Personal plan to a $45 per month e-commerce plan. All include a free domain name and the ability to collect payments. Only the middle Premium and upper Business levels offer the ability to have videos, ad revenue, or Google analytics.
The Business plan also includes SEO tools and plugins unavailable to the lower plans. International shipping and payment collection is only available on the e-commerce plan.
Once you've narrowed down the sort of site you're looking to create and the features that you need to have on it, picking a website builder is a relatively straightforward matter of picking the one you like the best. With a clear set of goals in mind, one builder usually stands out above the crowd. You can migrate between builders, after all, though it is a time-consuming and labor-intensive endeavor. It's worth the time and effort to get it right the first time and pick a builder that you can stick with as your website and your brand grow.
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