I've been designing websites for over ten years. I've been featured in Wired, Huffington Post, Forbes and more. This is my guide to choosing the best website builder— supported by affiliate commissions. Read More »
Highly Recommended — Squarespace is like the Apple of website builders. It's intuitive, curated and thoughtfully designed. I highly recommend it.
Squarespace templates are fresh, sophisticated and share a similiar look and feel: lots of whitespace, bold typography and room to showcase photography.
It's of course a bit subject, but in my opinion Squarespace has the best themes of any website builder:
Squarespace also has excellent features. They have the best blogging, podcasting, audio players and photo galleries of any website builder. Plus, their ecommerce is a viable alternative to pure ecommerce website builders such as Shopify.
To top it all off, Squarespace has honest, up-front pricing. You won't be nickle-and-dimed further down the road— an unfortunate problem with many other website builders.
Easiest To Use — Weebly is what I recommend to anyone who doesn't feel tech savvy. It's just really easy to use. Everything feels simple and straightforward.
Even though Weebly is easy to use, it's not simple. Instead it's actually quite sophisticated. It has excellent ecommerce (it and Squarspace have the best ecommerce among website builders) and one of the best membership systems of any website builders.
Weebly also an App Center that lets you add all sorts of new features to your website: language translations, paid memberships, powerful tables and more.
Weebly has around 70 themes— and they're all quite good. If there is a shortcoming though, it's in theme customization. At times Weebly can be limited in theme customization.
Over all, Weebly is easy to use and has sophisticated features— it’s an impressive mix.
Best Ecommerce Website Builder — Shopify is the best ecommerce builder. If you're building a pure ecommerce website, I highly recommend Shopify.
Shopify has come to dominate ecommerce software by constantly innovating and improving— while always remaining clear and easy of use. It's a magical balancing act that's unusual in the world of software.
The App Store is it's biggest differentiator. The Shopify core covers what 80% of online stores will need and the app store covers the other 20%— that way the core doesn't get bloated with features most stores don't need. Shopify is not the only ecommerce website builder to offer an app stores but they have significantly more apps than any competitor:
Besides the app store, Shopify has continually launched innovative features like Shopify Payments, Shopify POS and Shopify Augmented Reality that push the industry forward— at a pace competitors rarely keep up with.
Beyond features, the thing I most often hear from users is that they love that Shopify is so easy to use. It's clear, simple and intuitive.
For those who want precise control — The most important difference between Wix and other website builders is that Wix is an unstructured editor.
Most website builders limit you to dragging and dropping within a pre-designed grid. Wix is different. Wix's unstructured editor lets you drag and drop elements anywhere you want on a page. No constraints.
The upside to Wix's unstructured editor is clear: freedom. But I've also found the unstructured editor can result in tedious work and challenges— and it's the reason I only give Wix a 4-star rating. (For more on this, see my complete review of Wix.)
Wix provides you with a lot of options for your website. There are 500+ themes, plenty of features and an App Market for even more features and integrations.
Wix includes plenty of elements to build your website with— even from scratch if you'd like.
I recommend Wix to a certain type of user: those who don't want to feel constrained. If Squarespace is like Apple, Wix is like Google or Microsoft— you're more free to do what you'd like.
Best For One Page Websites — One page websites are long single-page websites where the navigation scrolls visitors around the page. Strikingly is the easiest way to make this type of website.
One page websites have all their content on one page.
Technically you can build a one-page website with other website builders like Wix and Squarespace but it never feels quite as easy.
Strikingly was designed from the ground up to make one-page websites and so it's much more intuitive.
Strikingly's sections editor makes it easy to create one page websites.
You can build multiple page websites with Strikingly if you upgrade to their highest plan... but you’ll get the most out of it if you use it for one page websites.
Strong Blogging... But A Compromised Editor — Wordpress.com is not Wordpress— or at least, it’s not what most people think of as Wordpress. Most people know Wordpress as Wordpress.org, the popular open-source content management system (CMS). While Wordpress.com is built using Wordpress.org, it's not actually the same thing.
Confused? That's part of the problem.
Wordpress.com uses two different interfaces: one is a new Wordpress.com interface and the other is the old Wordpress.org interface— the result can be bewildering for those not familiar with Wordpress.
Some things you can't do in the Wordpress.com interface (blue) so you have to swap over to the Wordpress.org interface (black).
The best part of Wordpress.com is it's blogging. It's packed with excellent features: tags, categories, drafts, posts in the future, featured images, automatic post sharing, custom permalinks and a lot more. If you need a website builder for blogging, I'd really only suggest Wordpress.com or Squarespace.
In the end, Wordpress.com is probably best suited for bloggers or someone already familiar with the Wordpress interface.
Strong Free Plan — Ucraft is a good, block-based website builder. Pages are created by stacking blocks vertically on top of another— blocks are then made up of individual elements.
I wouldn’t recommend Ucraft if you’re just looking to grab a template and throw up a website. There aren’t enough pre-designed blocks to ensure your website isn’t too cookie cutter. Instead to get the most out of Ucraft, you’ll want to take advantage of it's design customization tools that let you build your own blocks from scratch.
If you're looking for a free plan, Ucraft has the best free plan of any website builder. It allows you to add a custom domain, has no limit on pages and has a pretty small ad that scrolls alongside websites.
Simple, But Too Limited — The promise on GoDaddy's homepage tells you a lot about it's website builder:
See the promise? Build a Website In Less Than An Hour? It's a nice idea, but GoDaddy's website builder is way too simple and limited. It mostly builds cookie cutter websites.
For example, there are only 8 themes with very little structural differences. There's really only minor stylistic differences between the themes. You that can't even customize the theme color— you're stuck choosing between a few preset colors.
GoDaddy's definitely lives up to it's promise— you can definitely build a website in less than an hour. It's just that it will be frustrating for anyone looking for something more than a mad-libs approach building a website.
Awful Billing Practices, Bad Website Editor — I would strongly recommend you don't use Web.com
For starters, monthly plans on Web.com are billed every four weeks— which means they actually bill 13 months in a year! Ridiculous!
Web.com also has enormous security problems. I try every website builder with my own credit card (to test billing practices) and in order to cancel my Web.com account I had to tell customer service my password over the phone. It's hard to overstate how huge of a security problem this is. It makes you incredibly vulnerable (remember: these agents can also see your email address!).
Beyond the awful billing practices, Web.com is just a bad website builder. There's no blogging and no ecommerce. The editor is painful and frustrating to use— I explain how tedious and buggy it is in my full review.
Poor Billing Practices — For years I've been pointing out that SiteBuilder.com add items to their customers shopping cart without telling them. Seriously.
For example, they add a SiteLock upgrade package during checkout— if you don’t notice it, it will automatically be added to your account.
Here's a confusing thing about SiteBuilder.com: it's the same website builder as WebsiteBuilder.com, Sitey and Sitelio. Of the four, SiteBuilder.com is the most well-known. (Suspiciouly, all four are often listed in the top positions on other review websites — even though they are same website builder.)
The actual SiteBuilder.com website editor is okay. It's similiar to Wix in that it is an unstructured editor— but it's a lesser version of Wix.
That being said, there are technical SEO features that you need in a website builder— it's just that most website builders include these features.
There are four SEO features in particular that are critical in a website builder. Think of them as the minimum required for Google to notice you. From there you will need links and quality content to outperform your competitors:
For many years Google had two indexes: desktop and mobile. The desktop index was for desktop users and the mobile index was for mobile users.
But that's all changed.
In March 2018, Google announced the beginning of the mobile-first index— basically Google now uses the mobile index for both desktop and mobile users. So the mobile version of your website is more important than the desktop.
This why it's critical that your website builder has mobile-friendly themes. Fortunately most website builders do.
Every page has a meta title and meta description that Google uses in their results:
Putting your keyword in the meta title will help you rank for that keyword— though putting the keyword in your meta description won't directly help you rank, instead meta description is important because it's an opportunity to entice searchers to click on your webpage.
Almost all website builders let you customize your meta title and description— but because it's so critical, it's worth being sure about.
SSL certificates give websites the "secure" icon in a browser and adds an 's' to the http— making it https:
Google announced SSL as a ranking signal in 2014— and when Google explicitly announces something is a ranking signal, it's usually good to implement it.
Most website builders include SSL in paid plans— but some do not. Check before you buy.
Google has said that site speed is a signal they use to rank pages. Fortunately, website builders tend to have good performance infrastructure— especially the major website builders such as Weebly, Squarespace and Wix which host millions of websites.
If you'd like to learn more, check out my SEO chapter in How To Make A Website.
Both cover all the features you need: tags, categories, comments, moderation and customizable URLs. Both have support for multiple contributors in different roles (editor, moderator, writer etc.) and both have beautiful post editors:
If I had to recommend one over the other I would recommend Squarespace— but only because it is the better over all website builder, not because it has better blogging features.
Best Free Plan
I recommend Ucraft if you need a free website. It's one of the only website builders to let you connect custom domain names (i.e.:
yourdomain.com) on a free plan— and that's a major plus.
Ucraft also offers a good free subdomain (example:
yoursite.ucraft.net) and doesn't have any unreasonable limitations— for example, you can add unlimited pages.
There are a number of runner-ups: Weebly offers unlimited bandwidth and a solid free subdomain (
yoursite.weebly.com), Google Sites let's you add a custom domain name and XPRS has no ads on free websites.
Advertisements are the major limitation of almost all free website builder plans. The only website builder without ads on free plans is XPRS). Otherwise they almost all display some kind of ad.
These ads range from the obnoxious...
WebsiteBuilder.com includes this intrusive ad on free websites.
... To the more tolerable:
Jimdo's ad is tucked away in the footer of the website.
To see more examples of the ads on free plans, check out my in-depth look at free website builders.
The other big limitation with free website builders is domain names.
Otherwise you'll have to use a free subdomain. Some website builders like Weebly offer simple, readable free subdomains (
yoursite.weebly.com)... While others like Wix are quite clunky (
Note: There is a way to add a custom domain to free website builders— it's not perfect but it works. You can read about it here.
The best ecommerce website builder is Shopify and it's not even close.
I did a survey of 944 real-life users of ecommerce website builders and found that Shopify had the highest customer satisfaction— at 97%.
Why is Shopify loved so much? Well, the important thing to understand about ecommerce websites is that they quickly get complex.
Ecommerce involves logistics, email receipts, taxes, automated shipping labels, integration with point-of-sale systems, refunds, discounts and much, much more. Shopify is loved because they make this complexity seem easy.
A major reason why Shopify is easy to use is it's App Store. There are hundreds of apps that will add specific features to your store. These apps cover shipping, marketing, retention, SEO, customer support and more. The App Store allows Shopify to maintain a simple core, while still allowing you to add sophisticated features when you need them.
Other than Shopify, I would also recommend looking at Squarespace for ecommerce— especially if you're looking for non-ecommerce features in addition to the ecommerce.
I'd also suggest trying WooCommerce if you're familiar with Wordpress.
Squarespace itself doesn't offer membership features but Memberspace is a 3rd-party software company that adds membership features to Squarespace. It supports tiered plans, coupon codes, forums, member emails and more. I haven't tried it yet— but it seems interesting.
Weebly lets you create private pages that require people to register with your site (this is handy for creating an intranet, or a conference portal for registered members). You can also add apps from Weebly's App Center that allow you to charge members for access.
Besides website builders there are other companies you may want to look at— though I haven't tried these:
Wordpress & Webflow
Wordpress is a Content Management System (or CMS). CMS's have a steeper learning curve but are highly customizable. They require you to setup a web host— though it's less intimidating than it sounds— many hosts offer 1-click Wordpress installations.
Website builders are easier to use but less customizable. They include hosting— so you don't have to set up a web host— but that also means you can't ever move your website off of the website builder and on to a new web host.
I hear great things about Webflow but I'm less familiar with it. My sense is that it is a powerful tool for people who want design their own themes from scratch. While Webflow doesn’t require you to learn how to code, it has a code-like environment— similar in complexity to Photoshop.
Moving Your Site
Unfortunately no, you can't. It's also really difficult to move on existing website to another website builder without just manually copying text and images.
This is a common question I get and admittedly, one of the downsides of a website builder.
You might think that website builders don't let customers export or move their website because it's a good way to lock them in, but there are actually some very good technical reasons why website builder websites can't be moved.
Plus, features that require server-side processing (such as forms, ecommerce) would not work.
If this is a problem for you, I'd suggest going to the next level in complexity and checking out a CMS like Wordpress or a front-end design tool such as Webflow. Both are more complex but will let you export and move your website.
Domain Names & Email
You can register a domain name with your website builder but you may want to consider registering it with a third party provider such as Namecheap— that way you are in control of your domain name no matter what.
It's a question of trade-offs. Registering the domain name provider at a 3rd party is a bit of a technical hurdle but it means that you always have control of the domain name. If the domain name is bought through a website builder, you'll have to work through them to move the domain name if you ever decide to change your website provider.
For email, most website builders provide an integration with Google Apps— which basically allows you to setup Gmail for your custom domain name. I highly recommend Gmail— for most users it's the right email solution.
In-depth comparisons help you decide:
Examples of inspirational websites: