The Best Website Builder
To create a beautiful website, you don’t need to know what CSS or HTML mean, let alone how to use them — the best website builders do the dirty work for you. So whether you need to create a C-level executive resume, an online storefront, or a one-page hub for your fantasy football league, your site is just a few drag-and-drops away.
To find the best website builders, our team spent nearly three weeks living and breathing the subject. We read over 30 reviews and guides, surveyed 449 people, and spoke with nine web marketing professionals. We learned that the DIY website-building industry is highly competitive, but there are only a few website builders that deserve your time: Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix. All three offer well-built, responsive templates and integrated blogging and e-commerce features.
After learning the ins and outs of the business, we compiled a list of all the website builders we could find (41 to be exact), analyzed their features, accessed their customer support services, and found the tools that met our criteria. Then, we tested each tool by crafting a business site for Art Adrift, a custom driftwood furniture company.
Free trial only
Cheapest Paid Plan
Customer Service Grade
How We Found the Best Website Builder
We began our search by reading a lot of reviews and watching tutorials. After getting a good sense for what the industry offered, we surveyed 449 people who built their own website, and interviewed experts from several marketing and design agencies about design, current trends, and best practices when creating a website.
Next, we compiled a list of every website builder we could find, and put them up against three main criteria:
We removed website builders that look like remnants from the ‘90s.
Some site builders, like Jigsy and One.com, have nice-looking product pages. But once you log in, it’s another story entirely — the sites look dated and their interfaces are a pain to decipher. If any aspect of a site builder’s design and features reminded us of websites from the ‘90s (remember the glorious “bounce in” animation?), we cut it.
We removed website builders that don’t offer mobile-responsive templates.
If your site has a “responsive design,” that means it’s built to offer a similar experience on a smartphone and on a desktop computer. If you aren’t completely sold on the importance of a mobile-responsive design, you should know that in 10 countries more Google searches take place on mobile than on computers and since 2014, the majority of shoppers at Shopify-powered stores have tapped buy from their mobile devices. Since a bulk of your site’s visitors will likely be on a mobile device, how well it looks and behaves on a smartphone is extremely important.
We removed website builders that don’t offer built-in blogging and e-commerce functionality.
During our survey, we found that 51 percent of people who’ve created a site with a website builder used its blogging features. We also learned that 60 percent of active DIY website builders have either built a business site or built a personal and business site. So, to make sure that our recommendations were capable of meeting the needs of most people, we only included sites that have built-in ecommerce and blogging features. Plus, working with an integrated tool is easier on the user than finding, installing, and learning a third-party plugin.
Website Builder Reviews and Testing
We knew we wanted to build a website with each of the top contenders so we used a team member’s custom driftwood furniture company, Art Adrift, as a guinea pig. Until now, the shop just had a Facebook page for a makeshift online storefront. We took the opportunity to partner with his business and built Art Adrift its first website — with 15 different website builders.
During testing, we focused on four key points: template variety and quality, the interface, search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing features, and the storefront. In addition to evaluating the available complimentary apps, we also put each site builder through a three-part customer service assessment that tested each one’s average email and live-chat response times, overall helpfulness, and FAQ center design.
Customer Support Scorecard
Average Email Response Time
Average Live-Chat Response Time
Overall Helpfulness Rating
FAQ Center Rating
*Average scores are based on three separate trials.
Our Picks for the Best Website Builder
Squarespace’s combination of top-notch storefront features and media-focused templates makes it the perfect choice for your web shop, portfolio, or big idea.
Squarespace has around 30 templates that are divided into seven categories (businesses, portfolios, stores, personal, musicians, restaurants, and weddings) and they’re all far superior to the competition. Each one is stylish, incredibly customizable, and designed for media — which is a big plus for photographers and artists. They don’t just look great, though; they also perform incredibly well on mobile; we didn’t experience a single issue viewing or navigating a site on a smartphone or tablet during our entire test. In fact, it’s the only site builder we’d give a “10 out of 10” for responsive design.
Each template has its own structure, but they’re all built around the same standard regions (header, body, footer, et cetera). Regions can be customized with a bunch of different content blocks, like an image, button, map, Instagram feed, or custom code. There’s also the option to add a wallpaper hero cover page to each template that includes support for stellar motion graphics.
A point of complaint for the previous version of Squarespace (Squarespace 6) was that its content and style editors were separate. Not so with Squarespace 7. Everything now exists under a single roof — a clean, simple sidebar on the left side of the page that is incredibly easy to use. From there, you can choose among five basic menus (Pages, Design, Metrics, Settings, and Help) and several other menus that are specific to the template category. For the store template, which is what we used during testing, there were four additional menus (Orders, Inventory, Discounts, and Payments), which led to simple and intuitive hubs focused on business features.
To edit certain aspects of the page that you’re currently viewing in the editor, like the page title or a content block, simply hover your cursor over the item you’d like to adjust and another set of menu options will appear.
In short, Squarespace’s “Commerce” feature is everything you need to handle a small-ish inventory. You’ll find built-in functionality for shipping (ShipStation), taxes, accounting (Xero), chargebacks, discounts, checkout, customer resource management — and none of it requires an upgrade. Squarespace also has the most extensive set of product-management features around, like product-specific “additional info” forms and “featured product” labels.
Users have the option to craft automated customer responses (like order-confirmed and order-fulfilled messages), adjust checkout options, or connect accounts for various services — like a ShipStation account for shipping, Stripe for payments, or Xero for accounting. Our single qualm is that Stripe is the only payment service Squarespace offers.
SEO and Marketing
In the Settings/Marketing menu, you’ll find controls for your site’s search engine description and format preferences for your item, collection, and homepage titles. You also get options for Facebook integration, “share” and “pin it” buttons, and Google AdWords. All in all, there isn’t a ton of built-in SEO control. However, the website builder has a thorough and helpful guide dedicated to improving your site’s SEO and metrics.
- It has a robust line of e-commerce and CRM (customer-relationship management) tools and features.
- The Basic commerce plan allows for an unlimited number of products.
- It offers four separate but useful mobile apps.
- It only supports Stripe payments.
- Annual payments are required.
Best Free Website Builder
Weebly has the best performing freemium templates available, and a decent set of e-commerce tools when you upgrade.
Weebly has a selection of 24 templates that offer an almost identical format (only one of them has a left-aligned sidebar menu). Each template can be populated with three types of pages (product, blog, or standard pages) and each page can be customized with a variety of drag-and-drop elements, like a poll widget, image gallery, contact form, or button. Aside from choosing which elements go where, there’s little to customize.
It’s important to note we observed a few issues on mobile platforms during our testing. The most common was a broken menu button on our smartphones and tablets; it just didn’t work. The issue persisted across multiple networks, devices, and templates. We also noticed parts of our “Contact Us” form were sometimes rendered beyond the edge of the page, making it impossible to read the entire message or submit a response on a smartphone.
Weebly doesn’t have the best raw templates, but when it comes to ease of use, it’s a close rival to Squarespace. The editor has a great layout that makes it incredibly easy to adjust your sitemap and create new pages. Element customizations can be brought up with a single click, and the menus are intuitive.
Weebly’s dashboard interface is another big plus. Here you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of all your sites and their stats, plus an email- and domain-management hub. There’s also a comments module that keeps you up to date on recent contributions to your blog.
SEO and Marketing
Weebly’s knowledge center left a little to be desired when it came to design. Finding exactly what we were looking for took some time, but once we found it, the information was thorough and complete. In terms of actually improving our site’s back end, the SEO menu was pretty easy to use, and like its competition, offered integration with Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools.
Weebly has a straightforward storefront tool that brings just the right amount of customizable options to the table. On the free plan, you can list up to five products on your storefront while paid options let you list more and grant access to additional features. But you’ll need to upgrade to the Business plan to get two of the primary features: shipping and taxes. With the less expensive Pro plan, we were able to upload up to 25 different products, manage orders, customize email receipts, and adjust the layout of the product matrix.
- It has a completely free plan.
- The interface is well-designed, and the elements are easily tweakable.
- Paypal checkout is available with the Business plan.
- Users have to submit a request to downgrade an account.
- Not all templates are mobile-responsive.
Best for Beginners
Wix has a ton of templates and a swarm of bells and whistles, but its controls take some getting used to.
Wix has more templates than you could ever use (not to mention a plethora of clip art and customizable doodads). And as long as you leave them be, they work pretty well. Once we started tweaking things though, the “responsive design” deteriorated quickly. Don’t stray from the basic template unless you absolutely can’t make do without that rocket ship sticker. It’s very easy to fall down the customization rabbit hole with Wix — and most of the time, it won’t add any real value to your site.
Another major downside to Wix’s customization is that templates can’t be changed. Instead, you have to create a new site — entirely from scratch — with a lot of copy and pasting. If all you need is a place to host your resume, manually creating a few sites for comparison isn’t a big deal. If you’re running a business, however, it’s a potential deal breaker.
Compared to Weebly and Squarespace, Wix’s editor is difficult to grasp and requires a ton of clicking to get where you need to go. The pop-up menus are plentiful, and there are too many moving parts for our taste. That’s not to say that Wix’s editor is less powerful than Squarespace’s or Weebly’s; it just has a more difficult learning curve.
However, we did enjoy using the Wix dashboard. All of the menus were intuitive, and there were dedicated hubs for almost everything (email, customer management, newsletters, Wix stores, SEO, and domain management). And unlike to the site’s editor, the controls were quite easy to figure out.
SEO and Marketing
Wix actually has a pretty novel approach to improving your SEO. First, its built-in “SEO Wizard” asks you for keywords that users might enter to find your site. Then, it builds homepage and site-wide reports that notify you of various problems that could affect your ranking. Our report notified us of two H1 tags and a subpar meta description (it was too short) that we needed to fix. Granted, there are online options that can be used to accomplish the same thing, but having an integrated tool was convenient and helpful.
We wouldn’t recommend using Wix for anything more than a small-sized inventory (50 items or so). That’s not to say Wix doesn’t have the necessary features for a larger store (like SKUs, categories, and such) but you can only edit details of one product at a time, so building up a larger inventory is still a risky, potentially time-consuming practice.
- It has a ton of templates for all sorts of scenarios.
- It features an “SEO Wizard” that builds a custom report for your site.
- A wide variety of third-party apps are supported.
- You can’t adjust a live site’s theme — an entirely new site must be created.
- The editor is difficult to navigate.
- You can only have two support tickets going at a time.
Other Website Builders Worth Considering
The following website builders passed our criteria, but didn’t stand out enough to earn our recommendation.
- Wordpress is one of the most popular website builders on the market. If you need a complete CMS-type (content management system) solution and have a little more technical aptitude (or access to folks that do), WordPress is hard to beat.
- SiteJam has a decent “Developer” mode for those who have prior HTML and CSS experience, but overall it isn’t much fun to use — each menu loads a completely new URL and the layout is slightly awkward. More importantly, it doesn’t offer any basic SEO or marketing features.
- Jimdo is a close second to the best free website builder, Weebly. However, its lackluster templates and lack of live chat support made us think twice about pinning a ribbon on it.
- Duda has pretty competitive pricing, but other than that, we found no reason to recommend it over Squarespace. The latter has far better templates, and its editor is easier to navigate.
- Zoho Sites offers an extensive degree of customization options for those who have a basic knowledge of code. However, it handles images poorly (which is a big no-no these days) and the templates are littered with cheesy stock photos.
- Adobe Muse is an impressive, versatile tool, but there are no pre-made templates or themes — every page must be made from scratch.
- LightCMS is an advanced-level tool that requires a certain familiarity with code and design to take advantage of it.
What You Need to Know About Website Builders
The right template is more than a pretty face.
The template isn’t just the way your site looks. It determines how the back end of your site works, too. So, if you need a storefront, picking a template with a storefront gives your site the structure and framework for supporting that feature.
We were honestly impressed with the versatility of some of the templates (especially those from Squarespace). But the number one way to succeed using a website builder is to find the template that most closely matches your vision right off the bat. From there, it’s nice to have the option to adjust things like page margins and content padding, but the closer the template is to your end goal from the start, the closer you are to being done even before you’ve started.
Watch out for mobile-optimized templates; they’re not the same as mobile-responsive templates, which is what you really want. They’re an older way to make your site work on a smaller screen. Instead of adjusting one site, mobile-optimized templates create two versions of your website — one designed for a desktop, and the other with a slightly tweaked design that’s usually worse, but works on mobile.
You can help your site show up in search.
There are a few simple ways to help your site show up in search, but there’s so much to learn about SEO that we’ll only begin to scratch the surface with these fundamentals. When you’re ready for more, we recommend reading The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from MOZ.
- URLs should be readable by humans. Google is built for humans, and the more readable your URL is, the better. Something like “http://www.example.com/blog/my-favorite-classic-cars” is worlds better than “http://www.example.com/blog/0001293u8.” Also, use hyphens instead of underscores.
- Name your visual media. The default image and video names your camera uses to save your files (like 23452.jpg) don’t provide Google with keyword relevance, and that’s bad. Make sure to rename your image files with descriptive words (like buttered-toast.jpg).
- Use embed players for video. Embed players like Wistia and Brightcove look much better than a site builder’s default video player and they offer more analytical features.
- Fill in all the fields. You’ll get a sense for what title tags and meta tags and H1s are as you go. Until you do, make sure you’re not just leaving them blank; that information shows up in search results and visitors are more likely to check out your site when they’re helpful and descriptive.
Author of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Secrets
These website builders provide you with enough resources to start a solid web presence and basic e-commerce store. They will not take you to the professional level, but they are the right fit for the vast majority of first-time website or online business builders.
President of drumBEAT Marketing, LLC
In a competitive or highly competitive vertical, I would not choose this type of development tool. The reason is simple: You must stand out in more than a visual way.
Visual Designer http://www.jonathanpatterson.com/
The power of an uncomplicated website with clear messaging and stellar work can easily outperform a website with all the latest bells and whistles.
- Make a list of what you need in a site. Do you need a storefront? A blog? A contact form? A photo gallery or portfolio of work? Look at sites that are similar to the one you want to build and get inspired by what makes them tick. Then, draw a simple framework of what your dream site looks like. It’ll make it easier to spot a template that’ll fit your needs and your vision.
- Experiment! All three of our tip picks — Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix — have free versions that you can start experimenting with right away. Pick out a template and just start building.
- Up your game. Once you’ve built your site, start digging into the other things that matter, like improving your site’s searchability with better SEO and adjusting the elements of your site so users can get the most out of it.