Websites needn’t always be complicated affairs and many tools today aim to bring the creation process to a wider audience than just those who can code. They haven’t always had an easy ride, but website builders such as Squarespace are very highly regarded these days, even among web design professionals.
I’ll help you figure out which website builder is the best bet for your situation. This article is aimed at those of you who don’t necessarily have experience building for the web–the main criteria I’ve considered are:
- Ease of use: The learning curve for creating a website and the technical knowledge needed for maintaining it.
- Customization: Not everyone needs high-end features. Here we’ll cover the common ground and raise a flag when features run into overwhelm.
- Portability: How easy will it be to hire a developer for custom changes, or migrate to another platform when you outgrow your current site?
- Cost: While you value features and customization, your website builder has to give a generous ROI.
All the tools listed below (except WordPress) are drag ‘n’ drop website builders, with no coding experience required. They come with a standard set of tools for typography options, image editing and prebuilt templates you can use directly.
So let’s jump in.
Strikingly lets you create elegant, single page websites. Strikingly focuses on visual appeal with clean lines, smooth flow, and quality background images. Though it only has about a dozen templates, they are classy and easy to customize.
Strikingly is perfect for those who like the subdued sophistication of single page sites, with heavy emphasis on visual elements.
One catch is that Strikingly does not allow you to export the code, or even change the template at a later stage. This means you have to stick to the site you created, or lose it all. Also, even if you’re comfortable with code, Strikingly does not let you edit the HTML or CSS of the site so you can’t customize it fully, nor optimize it.
Weebly is a very popular website builder and has been around for over a decade. It has a very simple interface (perhaps the simplest for a new website enthusiast). Weebly comes with its own content management system (CMS) and website statistics. A basic e-store is included even in the free plan (great for those just starting out) while the premium Business Plan has a fully integrated inventory and sales management system.
Weebly allows you to edit the resultant code, export it, or even migrate to WordPress. This makes it a great option for DIY enthusiasts to experiment with during the initial phase of their business. If you want to move the site at a later date, or hand it over to a professional, it can easily be done. Weebly also provides free hosting on all their plans, even those with custom domains, so you do not have to shell out extra for hosting.
However, Weebly’s templates are not as sophisticated as you’ll find with other website builders, and there is a lot of code bloat.
Note: Wix is another basic website builder, similar to Weebly in many ways. However it has very prominent advertising on the free sites and does not allow you to switch between templates, hand edit code, or export the site. For those reasons I have not considered it for this comparison.
SquareSpace is great for creating elegant, professional websites, without having to code yourself. SquareSpace websites are primarily designed to tell a visual story, with an extensive collection of stock images (via Getty) and icons readily available.
Each website is responsive and even the basic plan has an integrated store (the Business Plan comes with a fully integrated e-commerce platform). E-commerce payments are facilitated by default with Stripe, but you can add custom code for a Paypal button if required. SquareSpace also has a built-in blogging platform, which is meant for a limited number of posts; it lacks a search function or other post management options.
Unlike the other website builders, SquareSpace has no free plans and no free hosting. You will have to buy your own domain and hosting with each plan.
SquareSpace also has limited export functionality; blog posts and galleries can be exported, but not products, albums or videos, making it difficult to fully migrate away from the platform.
The WordPress platform is open source and comes with hundreds of themes and plugins (both free and paid) for just about every feature you could need on a website.
You can create an awesome, fully functional WordPress based site and blog for nothing more than the cost of your domain name and hosting (which can start as low as $15 per year). You can even set up a fully equipped store with the free Woocommerce plugin, or choose from a bunch of others.
Many hosting services offer automated install tools for WordPress, and much of the management thereafter can be performed through its admin interface. It does, however, have a slightly higher learning curve than the builders listed above, but that’s because it has a very large number of themes, options and plugins available.
One potential drawback however, is that you need to pay attention to updates, equally for plugins, themes and the WordPress platform itself. With the other website builders you do not need to manage any upgrades. They’re done automatically in the background, by the service provider. The good news is that there’s a colossal community to reach out to if you ever get stuck with WordPress, plus myriad developers who can help you out for a fee.
If you’re looking at building a brand, or regular content marketing via a blog, WordPress is likely the sound choice. WordPress is simply the most accessible platform for dynamic, customizable, scalable websites–for any type of user or business.
Special Mention: Shopify
Shopify is not a website builder, but rather specializes in creating full online stores. Along with a great store front, they have integrated just about every tool and shopping cart feature you may need as you start to grow your online store.
Shopify has a large ecosystem of supplementary tools and apps to manage product inventory, full shopping cart customization, secure checkout with access to over 70 payment systems in different currencies and statistics to track customer behavior. Shopify provides a 24/7 support system and also has a team of experts available for hire to customize your store. If you’re serious about growing your online store, Shopify is a great eCommerce platform to use.
So far we’ve talked about website builders primarily targeting freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses. A new crop of website builders, rather website design tools, has come up targeting professional web designers. Webflow is arguably the strongest contender. Its interface even mirrors Photoshop, making it intuitive for designers.
What really sets Webflow apart is that the generated code is clean and compliant, unlike many of the other website builders we’ve seen so far. If you want to fine tune it, Webflow code can also be hand edited or exported to be further optimized by a developer.
However, Webflow is primarily meant for static websites. You cannot easily integrate a dynamic blog or an eCommerce solution. You would have to export the code, and use it as the basis to build fully with WordPress (or some other) CMS or eCommerce platform.
Which Should You Choose?
Now that you have a fair idea of the competing website builders out there, here is a summary of which kind of website builder works best in various situations.
Freelancers, Personal Sites and Creatives
If you want to create a website on absolutely zero budget, you might consider a free Strikingly site. It’s easy to edit, involves no maintenance, and will give you a visually end product. If you want a blog at zero cost, you’d be better advised to opt for a free WordPress.com blog. In both cases your site will adopt a subdomain like yourname.strikingly.com or yourname.wordpress.com, but that’s a small price for an otherwise free site.
If you’re just starting to sell your services or product from your website or want to experiment with an e-store, opt for Weebly or SquareSpace. Weebly is cheaper (starting $4 per month), but the templates are arguably not as well designed. Squarespace is a bit more expensive (starting $8 per month), but conveys sophistication and luxury.
If you’re planning to build a brand and want to regularly publish blog posts or other content, go for the self-hosted Wordpress.org. Easy blogging, SEO, tracking statistics, and plugins that integrate with your social media accounts make WordPress the best for building a brand online. Though it involves a more of a learning curve than the others, the setup and maintenance can be outsourced.
Online Business Presence
This kind of establishment primarily uses their website like a calling card, for example restaurants, hospitals, hotels etc. They may not need an online store, for example, so a static site will work just fine. A basic Weebly or SquareSpace plan will do the job - low costs, low maintenance.
If you’re a new entrant in the eCommerce space or if you just want to experiment with an online store, you might think about starting with Weebly. Its gradual learning curve and ease on the pocket make it a safe choice. If you want to develop a high-end luxury brand, opt for SquareSpace.
But if you’re serious about your online store and plan to take it further, go for Shopify, which is scalable and will be able to provide you the right kind of tools and support as you grow. Those who want to include a blog alongside the online store might opt for a WordPress based site and install the Shopify plugin or the Woocommerce plugins to manage their store front.
Web Professionals (Designers and Developers)
WordPress has been shaping designers’ careers for years now. It’s well proven as a reliable platform for building sellable websites, plus creating and selling WP themes and plugins is another very lucrative side industry.
For designers looking to create their own websites without writing code, I would argue Webflow is the best tool on the market at present. With a familiar interface, plus clean, compliant code generated in the background, it makes the process of building static websites easy for designers.
There are a few hundred examples of what can broadly be defined as “website builders” available in the market today (check out www.sitebuilderreport.com). It can easily get overwhelming when trying to decide which to use, especially when you’re just starting out. Focus on those listed above and evaluate which of them is best suited to your needs based on
- what kind of look, feel and features you want your site to have
- how much time, effort and money you’re willing to spend
- whether you’re just experimenting or want something that will last for years
I hope this article has helped you make a more informed decision. Which of these website builders have you worked with? Share your experiences in the comments!