The Best Website Builder
I test every website builder so you don’t have to. These are my rankings of the best website builders in 2023.
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By Steve Benjamins | Fact checked by Juhil Mendpara | Updated Jan 3 2023
This is the ultimate guide to the best website builder in 2023.
And this is important:
This is not your average “best website builder” roundup post.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of real-life users, manage several websites made with website builders and have personally tested all 21 website builders in this guide.
I’ve been publishing my rankings of the best website builder every year since 2014 and my websites have been featured on HuffPost, Forbes, The Next Web and more.
Let’s get started…
Website Builder Rankings
Squarespace is the best all-around website builder. It’s intuitive, thoughtfully designed and has beautiful templates.
Squarespace is an excellent choice for all types of websites: small businesses, bloggers, portfolios, online stores and more.
- Templates — Squarespace is known for its excellent templates. I think they have the best templates of any website builder. Templates are clean, modern and mobile-friendly.
- Functionality — Squarespace has lots of features— many of which are better and more powerful than competitors. For example, Squarespace has the best template customization, blogging, scheduling software, donation system, photo galleries and more.
- Drag and Drop Editor — Squarespace has an excellent drag and drop editor. It’s easy to use and intuitive.
- Business and Marketing Tools — Beyond websites, Squarespace also includes marketing and business tools for managing your online presence. For example: scheduling software, email marketing, social media tools, memberships and more. Having all these tools managed by Squarespace means the integrations work seamlessly.
- Ecommerce — The most powerful ecommerce website builder is Shopify— but Squarespace is easier to use. Squarespace’s ecommerce is a good alternative for users intimidated by Shopify.
- Intuitive — Squarespace is like the Apple of website builders, it is intuitive and thoughtfully designed.
- Honest Pricing — Unfortunately some website builders have misleading pricing (example: Web.com). Squarespace does not have misleading pricing. You should expect that the advertised price is the same price you’ll find on your invoice. I appreciate that.
- Learning Curve — One way to make software easy to use is to make it simple and not very customizable. That’s not Squarespace. While Squarespace is not “difficult to use”, it does have too many features to be the “easiest” website builder— the easiest website builder is Square Online which is more simple but also less powerful. You should expect a small learning curve with Squarespace— similar to learning Microsoft Word or Google Docs for the first time.
Squarespace is my favorite tool for building websites. It’s also what I recommend to friends and family.
I use Squarespace for several websites: The Humanities, Steve Benjamins Music and JQB Therapy.
The reason I keep coming back to Squarespace is that the templates look great, it’s intuitive to use and everything just works.
Plus if I was in a rush, I could create a Squarespace website on a custom domain name in ten minutes! It’s that simple.
In the future, I would like to move beyond Squarespace’s website builder and try their business and marketing tools— like their scheduling software and email marketing. I like the idea of an all in one solution but I just haven’t had a project that required them yet.
Squarespace plans start at $16 per month on annual plans. There is no free plan but they do have a free trial— no credit card required.
Annual plans include a free custom domain name for one year. 👍
Shopify is the best website builder for online stores— it tames the complexity of ecommerce and removes many of the obstacles online store builders face.
I recommend Shopify for anyone building an online store that ships physical products.
- Sell Anywhere — Ecommerce happens across many different channels today: Facebook, Google, Etsy or even in person through a point of sale system. Shopify is the ecommerce platform that brings these channels together in one place— so you can have one store that sells across all these different platforms.
- Ecommerce Tools — If there’s specific ecommerce functionality you need, Shopify probably provides it. Shopify includes email marketing, live chat, local delivery route planning, point of sale systems, product reviews, dropshipping and much more.
App Store — The Shopify app store has over 6,600 plugins from third-party developers that you can use to customize your store. For example:
- Etsy Integration crossposts your Shopify products to Etsy.
- One Click Upsell lets you add upsells (like gift wrapping) to your shopping cart.
- Floating Widgets lets you add banners to your online store.
- Customizable — Shopify is extensible and customizable— so long as you’re a developer or you’re able to hire a developer. Want a specific look for your website? You can hire a developer to code a custom template.
- Themes — Shopify includes 10 free themes but most users will buy a theme from a theme marketplace— for example, Theme Forest has over 1,300 Shopify themes available!
Get Up And Running Fast — Shopify removes many of the obstacles that stand in the way of starting an online store. Here are two examples:
- Shopify Payments — You don’t need to connect to a 3rd party payment processor because Shopify includes a payment processor called Shopify Payments. But of course, you can also connect to your own payment processor if you’d like.
- Shipping Rates & Taxes — Shopify includes smart defaults for shipping rates and taxes (which you can change later). I’ve found the automatic shipping rates to be pretty accurate— though mileage may vary!
- Intuitive — It’s not correct to call Shopify easy to use— it’s too powerful to be simple— instead, Shopify is intuitive. Shopify’s interface is always organized and clear. This is really, really nice— especially when you compare Shopify to competitors like WordPress and Volusion which have disorganized interfaces.
- Learning Curve — Shopify is powerful but make no mistake: it has a learning curve. It will almost certainly intimidate less tech-savvy users. I’d recommend Squarespace or Square if you want an ecommerce website builder that’s less intimidating.
- Drag and Drop Editor — Shopify does not have a drag and drop editor. Instead, it has a WYSIWYG page editor that works more like editing a Microsoft Word document. It’s not user-friendly. I’d suggest Squarespace or Wix if having stylish content pages or blogging is important to you.
I use Shopify when I need to sell and ship products.
I currently use it for two projects: The Happy Burlap (an online store) and a merch store for my music on Spotify.
Ecommerce just works on Shopify — and this is a minor miracle because ecommerce is really, really complicated! Just think of everything that goes into an online store: taxes, shipping, fulfillment, customs, discounts… it’s a lot!
Shopify makes all that complexity feel manageable.
If I had to narrow down to two reasons to say Shopify was the best ecommerce website builder, I’d say this:
- Shopify removes the obstacles to starting an online store. I don’t want to waste time configuring payment processors or manually setting shipping rates— I want to focus on creating and marketing great products! I can always revisit these options later if I need to.
- Shopify’s app store is a huge competitive advantage. If I need a specific ecommerce feature I’m confident I can find it in the Shopify App Store. Plus Shopify’s App Store has a huge start over competitors (image credit: Shop App Report).
My one frustration? Shopify is not a drag-and-drop website builder— and so it isn’t great for creating blogs and stylish content pages. But if I need to ship and fulfill physical products, Shopify will continue to be my first choice!
Shopify has three main plains that cost between $29 - $299 per month.
Beyond that, there is Shopify Plus (an enterprise plan) and Shopify Lite (a $9 plan that adds Shopify’s ecommerce functionalities to your current non-Shopify site).
One criticism of Shopify is that there are often additional costs beyond the monthly plan. For example: you need may need to buy a custom Shopify template or an app from the Shopify app store.
Without a doubt, Webflow is the most customizable website builder on this list. If you can imagine it, you can probably make it with Webflow. Just be aware: Webflow has a learning curve.
Webflow is particularly popular with professional web designers or users with some technical experience. Understanding HTML & CSS will make learning Webflow much easier!
- Design Without Limits — Webflow is basically a user interface for HTML & CSS code. So if you can do something in HTML & CSS, you can do it in Webflow— which means Webflow offers far more customization options than any other website builder!
- Content Management System (CMS) — Webflow is the only website builder to include a full CMS. This is powerful! A CMS lets you create custom collections with fields like rich text, images, files and more. Plus they’ve recently announced Logic a feature that allows visitors to make submissions to the CMS!
- Tools For Web Design Professionals — Webflow includes a separate, friendlier interface (called Editor) that you can hand off to clients and teams. They also allow white-label client billing.
- Outstanding Tutorials — Webflow has some of the best Youtube tutorials around. Seriously. This is great because you will need some tutorials to get up and running with Webflow.
- Takes Time To Learn — Webflow does not shy away from complexity. Understanding the fundamentals of web design (HTML and CSS) will give you a head start.
- Expensive Ecommerce — I wouldn’t recommend building an ecommerce store in Webflow right now. Webflow’s ecommerce plans with no transaction fees start at $79. That’s way too expensive— especially compared to Shopify (which starts at $29) and Squarespace (which starts at $26).
Webflow is not for everybody, but those willing to learn it will uncover an incredible design tool.
The major difference between Webflow and other website builders is that Webflow gives you the power of code, without requiring you to write code.
But there’s a catch.
Webflow has a learning curve. I’m a professional web designer and it took me a few days to wrap my head around it!
But once I learned Webflow, I started wanting to use it everywhere.
I use Webflow for one project currently: the marketing website for Atlist, a startup I co-founded.
I chose Webflow because I needed a custom website design— so Squarespace wouldn’t have worked. Plus I found Webflow’s CMS to be perfect for creating our blog and documentation site.
I wish Webflow was around when I was still a freelance web designer a few years ago. I would have used it instead of WordPress.
In the future, I will definitely be building more websites on Webflow!
Note: One competitor to Webflow is Editor X— which is basically Wix’s version of Webflow.
Webflow has two types of plans: Account Plans and Site Plans:
- Account plans start at $16 and are for professional web designers who need multiple websites.
- Site Plans start at $12 and are for creating a single website.
They also have one of the better free website plans— though it can be a bit confusing to understand.
The main thing to highlight with their pricing is that the ecommerce plan with no transaction fees costs $79 per month— too expensive for building an ecommerce store.
Wix is the most popular website builder by market share. Its unstructured editor is its most defining feature— it allows you to move any element to any spot on a page. This allows for plenty of freedom.
It will work best for users who want to be able to control everything… and are comfortable with the risks that come with control.
- Drag and Drop Editor — Wix’s unstructured editor lets you drag and drop elements anywhere you want on a page— without constraint. You can see a video explanation here. Almost no other website builder provides a drag and drop interface like this— every other website builder has constraints (the Zyro website editor is one exception).
- Tons Of Functionality — Wix has more features than any website builder: forums, ticket sales, restaurant ordering, music distribution, appointment scheduling and more.
- 800+ Themes — Wix offers more themes than most website builders— though the quality is inconsistent. But if that’s not enough, you can also create your own theme from scratch.
- Template Customization — Wix’s unstructured editor means you can make significant changes to your Wix template.
- Plugins & Apps — Wix has an app store and a huge selection of widgets and plugins to add to your website.
- Small Business Tools — Wix includes several small business and marketing tools for managing online presence: CRM, social posts, email marketing, live chat and more.
- Drag and Drop Editor — Notice what I did here? Wix’s drag and drop editor is listed as both a Pro and a Con. Here’s why: while the unstructured editor gives users freedom, it also introduces bugs and workarounds that can get very frustrating. This is a complicated issue so I’d suggest you read my Wix review to go deeper on it.
- Learning Curve — This is a question of tradeoffs. Wix isn’t as difficult to use as Shopify and WordPress but you should still expect learning Wix to take some time. There are easier website builders out there— but those website builders don’t have as much functionality as Wix.
- Bandwidth Limits — A portion of your bandwidth is used up every time a visitor comes to your website. Wix’s two cheapest plans (Combo and Connect Domain) put limits on your monthly bandwidth— which is unfortunate. You shouldn’t have to worry about bandwidth in 2023 and every other website builder on this list includes unlimited bandwidth.
I don’t currently use Wix for any projects. I strongly prefer Squarespace— which is Wix’s biggest competitor.
I’ve tried Wix many times but I find the unstructured drag and drop editor creates more problems than it solves for me.
At first, all that control seems great! … But then my mobile website gets screwed up or I start missing content because it’s hidden behind an image.
This is best described visually— so see this video below:
I use website builders because I want things to just work. So I don’t like when the Wix drag and drop editor creates more work for me.
So does that mean you shouldn’t build a Wix website?
No. Wix might work for you— after all, it’s the most popular website builder by market share! So obviously it works for some users.
I specifically think Wix will work for users who get frustrated by the lack of flexibility in other website builders.
For example: most website builders can’t just nudge an image over by a few pixels. With Wix, you can. Personally I don’t mind giving up that level of control to know that nothing on my website will randomly break. But many users do want that level of control — and Wix provides it.
Wix pricing plans cost between $6.50 - $49 per month. They offer a free plan (see: free website builders) and free trials of paid plans— no credit card required.
Annual pricing plans include a free custom domain name for one year. 👍
Here are 3 things to watch out for when researching Wix’s prices:
1. Wix advertises the monthly cost of annual plans on their pricing page
You’re not able to see the actual monthly pricing plans on the pricing page. So for example, the Unlimited plan is advertised as $18 per month… but that’s on the annual term. The actual price if you’re on a monthly term is $23 per month.
2. There are bandwidth limits on their cheapest plans.
The cheapest plan with unlimited bandwidth is Unlimited ($23 per month). Every other website builder on this list includes unlimited bandwidth in every plan.
3. Wix’s cheapest plan (Combo) includes an advertisement on your website.
Here is an example of the ad.
Carrd is for simple websites that fit on a single webpage. It’s not for websites with multiple pages.
I love that Carrd is focused on the niche of one-page websites. This makes it a great option for landing pages and personal websites!
While one-page websites are not for everybody, Carrd does offer some wonderful benefits:
- Very Low Price — Carrd is much cheaper than competitors. Plans with custom domains and no ads start at $19 per year. Wix and Squarespace start at $144 per year.
- Purposeful Design — Carrd’s themes and features are just for creating one-page websites— there’s a sense of purpose in the interface. You can use other website builders to build one-page websites but it never feels as intuitive as Carrd.
I do find Carrd has a bit of a learning curve.
For example: you’ll need to wrap your head around concepts like containers and CSS classes. This isn’t intuitive for users who don’t understand HTML and CSS.
If you find Carrd too difficult to use but you still want a one-page website builder, I’d suggest checking out Strikingly.
Square OnlineTry Square Online
You can think of Square Online (previously Weebly) as a more basic version of Shopify — it’s best for ecommerce and small business websites.
Square Online is easier to use than Shopify but it’s also much, much more basic. And in the US, it is the same price as Shopify.
- Easy To Use — Square Online is what I recommend to anyone who doesn’t feel tech-savvy. Its cookie-cutter templates are very easy to customize. Just be aware: it is not very customizable.
- Strong Ecommerce — While not as powerful as Shopify, Square Online still offers an impressive suite of ecommerce features. It’s a good option for someone looking for an easy-to-use ecommerce platform.
- Great Free Plan — Square Online has the best free plan of any website builder. It includes plenty of features and even offers free phone support!
- Business Tool Integrations — Square has a suite of tools that support sellers— and Square Online has integrations with all of them: scheduling software, online ordering systems, team management, POS systems, loyalty cards and more.
- Very Limited Customization — Many major limitations that make Square online frustrating to use. For example you can only add sections to a page— you can’t just add individual elements.
- Expensive — In the US, Square is priced the same as Shopify — which is expensive, considering how much more Shopify offers.
From what I can tell, the philosophy of Square Online is sort of like this: users create pages, add content and Square takes care of the rest. Users can do some very basic design customization options (for example, choose a primary color) but not much else. In this way, Square is trying to save users from having to wade into the details of website design.
Theoretically this could work! But in practice I find myself constantly getting frustrated by arbitrary and annoying limits:
- No blog — Instead you add a Stories page that is exactly like a blog… except it can’t be named ‘blog’. Why?
- No good way to customize font sizes - The only way to customize a font size is to adjust the base font size. The base font size adjusts all fonts on the website except for the navigation font — which means your website starts looking out of proportion.
- Annoying footer — Customizing the footer of the website is just… bad. For example, I wanted for a simple footer with centered text for a recent project and it wasn’t possible.
- Obnoxious rounding on photos — Square gives photos in the photo gallery extremely round corners. There’s no way to turn this off.
How much are you willing to put up with these kind of minor limitations?
If you can let it roll off your back, Square Online might work for you.
If it’s going to annoy you (like it annoys me), than you’re better of with a different website builder.
Square has the best free plan of any website builder. Beyond that, its ecommerce plans are a little bit cheaper than Squarespace, Shopify and Wix.
Like other website builders, Square includes a free domain for one year on premium plans.
Weebly is a great website builder but it was acquired by Square in 2019.
Since then the Weebly team has mostly worked on Square Online— which is Square’s primary website builder.
I still think Weebly is a fine website builder (see my review) but I can’t fully endorse Weebly because Square has told me they are prioritizing Square Online over Weebly. So I’m concerned about the future of Weebly.
The GoDaddy website builder has steadily improved over the last few years— slowly shedding GoDaddy’s reputation for poor software!
GoDaddy is very easy to use. I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t feel tech-savvy.
It also includes a suite of business and marketing tools: appointment scheduling, email marketing, social media management, graphic design and a simple CRM.
One thing to know: there are some major limitations you should understand before choosing GoDaddy.
For example, you can’t add individual elements to a website and you’re often not able to make simple style customizations.
Here’s another example: checkout is not hosted on your domain for GoDaddy ecommerce.
This means that when customers go to checkout, they are redirected from your domain name to mysimplestore.com:
GoDaddy pricing is comparable to most website builders — plans start at $12 per month and get more expensive for ecommerce plans.
BigCommerce is an ecommerce website builder—similar to Shopify. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to recommend BigCommerce because as you can read in my Shopify section, Shopify is the clear leader in ecommerce websites.
I also found one consistent complaint after interviewing several BigCommerce users: it’s difficult to use:
- “I find it a little clunky and challenging.”
- “Not the most intuitive. “
- “Before signing up with Shopify, I started with BigCommerce and honestly it was more difficult to understand for me so I cancelled it. “
BigCommerce has an app store but like other ecommerce builders with an app store, it lags significantly behind Shopify:
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).
The upside of WordPress.com is that it taps into the WordPress ecosystem— you can install any WordPress theme or plugin if you are on their more expensive plans.
Another upside is that it has WordPress’s excellent blogging.
The con is that you’re constantly stuck in-between: when I use WordPress.com I find myself switching between the WordPress.com editor and the WordPress Admin editor.
Having two separate editors with overlapping responsibilities gets confusing— especially for users new to WordPress:
The thing to know with Duda is that it’s primarily sold through web design agencies and hosting companies who resell it.
You’ll find some of these companies (for example 1&1 ) on this list.
Curiously even though all these different companies sell the same software, they all price it differently!
When it comes to the user experience, I find the Duda editor to feel disorganized and overwhelming— there are many tiny, hidden menus and it can be hard to keep track of where-to-go-to-do-that-specific-task...
The upside to Duda is that it’s customizable. There are plenty of widgets and style options— though customizing styles isn’t always as intuitive as it is in a website builder like Squarespace.
Jimdo is easy to use but too simple.
Websites are made up of blocks— which are pre-designed collections of elements.
Adding and editing these blocks is easy— the problem is that you’re limited in customizing these blocks.
For example, you can hide elements within a block but you can’t add new elements to the block. This is very similar to GoDaddy and Square Online.
The same thing with theme customization: it’s too simple. You can only choose one color and it’s then applied scattershot throughout your website… but you don’t get to choose where exactly it is applied!
Google SitesTry Google Sites
Google Sites is free— there are no paid plans. Even still, Google Sites doesn’t top my list of free website builders.
- Free — Google Sites is completely free. You can even add a custom domain name— though it requires some technical understanding.
- Integrates With Google Products — For example you can restrict website access to members of your Google Apps organization and embed Google Calendars, Maps, Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms.
- Themes — Every Google Sites theme has the same layout with limited customization options. You can choose an accent color for your theme but not where to apply the accent color. No font choices.
- Missing Features — Features that would be standard on other website builders (example: blogging, ecommerce) are often not included with Google Sites.
Unlike the other website builders on this list, Site123 doesn’t have a visual, drag-and-drop editor. Instead, you edit your website by filling out forms.
- Editor — Instead of a visual editor, you edit elements with a lightbox form— so you have to switch between the editor and the website preview to get things looking how you want. Frustrating.
- Unusual Limitations — For example, the page title has to be the same in the navigation as it is in your actual page title. What?!
Clumsy and outdated, Yola’s website editor has hardly changed over the last few years— so there are few signs that this will improve.
Here are some of the cons I see:
- Confusing Interface — Inexplicable icons and buttons throughout the interface. Often unnecessarily confusing.
- Lightbox Editor — Making edits is done in a lightbox that also obscures your website— so you can’t see your changes as they’re being made.
Adobe MuseTry Adobe Muse
Adobe announced they will no longer develop new features for Muse and have ended technical support for it.
I would strongly recommend you use something else. You can find a list of Adobe Muse alternatives here.
Webs was acquired by Vistaprint in 2011. Since then it’s basically been abandoned.
So why did Vistaprint abandon Webs?
Well since 2011, Vistaprint has launched their own website builder. I guess they decided it wasn’t worth it to run two website builders.
Acquiring products and abandoning them is common in website builders. The unfortunate thing is that companies like Vistaprint never communicate this to customers— which sucks.
Don’t bother with Homestead. Their best days are long gone.
Homestead was acquired by Intuit in 2007 before being sold to Endurance International Group (EIG) in 2012.
EIG has a reputation for bad customer support and poor server uptime.
In 2017 Homestead began licensing its software from SiteBuilder.com— another EIG company— but oddly Homestead is actually more expensive than SiteBuilder.com.
So if you really, really want to use Homestead just save yourself some money and use SiteBuilder.com instead— it’s the same software!
I have had two separate incidents of 1&1’s billing system having “bugs.”
That’s a bad track record.
After reviewing 1&1 (and signing up with my own credit card), they invoiced me several weeks after I had cancelled. Customer support told me sometimes the system generates “crazy invoices.”
Billing systems should NOT generate “crazy” invoices.
I signed up again to test 1&1’s billing system. When it came time to try cancelling, the billing system wouldn’t allow me to cancel. It kept giving me a bug that said “no cancelable single items present!”
So I bought another product with 1&1 (rankingCoach Pro) and tried cancelling it. It also gave me the same error when trying to cancel.
So I called customer support and they explained that they send error messages if a customer tries cancelling in the first 30 days in case the customer accidentally cancels the product.
SiteBuilder.com is owned by EIG— a conglomerate that owns multiple website builders: Homestead, WebsiteBuilder.com and Sitey.
All these website builders run the same software— but some are priced differently than others. For example, Homestead.com is significantly more expensive.
What really bothers me is that WebsiteBuilder.com has automatically added items to customer shopping carts in the past without telling the customer.
This was happening as recently as 2018.
Here’s how it worked: WebsiteBuilder.com would add a “SiteLock” upgrade to your shopping cart without telling you. You had to notice it and de-select it:
No company should ever slip something into their customers’ shopping cart. That’s extremely customer hostile!
I’ve asked WebsiteBuilder.com to acknowledge that they did this in the past and they never do:
I won’t recommend a company that has been this hostile to its customers.
Web.com’s website editor is super frustrating— the sidebars cover large chunks of the website, which means I couldn’t even see my full website on a normal-sized laptop! But that’s far from the worst:
What Not To Like:
- 13 Months In A Year — If you read Web.com’s fine print you’ll notice their “monthly” plans are technically 28 days long— which means users end up paying for 13 months in a year. Wow.
- Poor Cancellation Policy — You need to phone support in order to cancel Web.com. When I called in they transferred me twice before I ended up in tier 2 support. Tier 2 support repeatedly asked why I was cancelling / how they could get me to stay / blah, blah, blah. I just kept repeating, please cancel my account.
- Terrible Password Security — In order to cancel an account Web.com requires users to give their password over the phone to customer support. This is VERY DANGEROUS. Databases are designed to encrypt passwords so that not even a developer can ever see it. Many people use the same password for multiple services so keeping passwords private is CRITICAL.
Before You Start
In this section, we’ll cover questions to consider before you choose a website builder and start building your website.
What is the purpose of your site?
Don’t build a website because you “need one.” Build a website because it helps you accomplish something.
A website can accomplish all kinds of goals:
- Small business owners will want to sell products.
- An online portfolio for a photographer can showcase work and generate leads.
- A non-profit may want to collect donations.
Before you build anything, decide on a purpose for your website.
A purpose helps clarify things. Almost every design question can be answered by asking: is this helping us accomplish our goal?
What is a website builder?
A website builder is a tool for building a website that requires no coding knowledge.
Website builders are like an all-in-one package. They include all the essential features: templates, a drag and drop editor, web hosting, customer support and anything else you might need.
Website builders are easy to use: you don’t have to learn how to code or how to setup web hosting. With a good website builder, everything just works.
But here’s the downside: because website builders are no-code tools, they’ll always be a bit more limited than coding. So a website builder may not be a good fit if writing your own custom CSS is important to you.
In the end, website builders are best for conventional websites.
For example a website builder is perfect for small businesses, ecommerce websites, portfolios, podcast websites and personal websites.
Website builders are less ideal for unconventional or complex websites.
For example — it wouldn’t make sense to build an entire universities website using a website builder.
Why use a website builder?
Using a website builder like Squarespace, Wix or Shopify is the best way to build a website in 2023— especially for a personal website, small business website, an online store and much more.
If you’re a beginner, you might choose a website builder because they have powerful functionality and intuitive drag-and-drop editors.
If you’re an advanced user, you might choose a website builder because they just work. You don’t have to spend time setting up a web host, configuring a domain name or keeping a content management system up to date. Everything just works.
How much design flexibility do you need?
Some website builders are easier to use than others— the tradeoff for ease of use is often design flexibility.
The easiest website builders tend to have limited customization options. Website builders with steep learning curves (for example Webflow) tend to have much more flexible customization options:
How much time do you want to invest in building your website?
Building a website takes time.
Try to be realistic with yourself: how much time do you really want to invest in tweaking and building your website?
Remember your website is not a work of art. It has a purpose and a goal. And sometimes the best way to accomplish that goal is to quickly choose a template, add content and launch.
You don’t need necessarily need to invest too much time!
Should I just use a website builder, or hire a web designer?
Think of a custom website design as a luxury item.
If you’re going to hire a professional website designer, make sure you have a budget of at least a few thousand dollars (plus ongoing costs).
Avoid trying to find someone cheap.
You need a web designer who you can rely on years to come. I have talked to so many people who hired someone cheap who just stopped their business after a few years.
The other option is to hire a website designer to build a website for you on a website builder. Almost every top website builder has a platform for this (examples: Squarespace Circle, Wix Partners).
Even though website builders are DIY tools, there are many freelancers who work with website builders and can help bring your business online.
You should expect your costs to rise considerably if you hire a good web designer— though I would caution against hiring a cheap web designer to create your website. Hire a professional who can deliver high-quality service and be there when you need them.
How popular are website builders?
Website builders are increasingly one of the most popular ways to create a website.
There are two ways we can look at this:
1. Market Share
The most popular way to build a website is to use WordPress. According to BuiltWith, there are over 30 million active WordPress websites (source).
By comparison, there are approximately 10 million active websites built with a website builder (source).
Market share isn’t a perfect measure because WordPress is free — while many website builders (for example, Squarespace) are not free.
2. Google Trends
Another way to measure website builder popularity is through Google Trends.
Google Trends compares the popularity of different search terms — and if compare Wix, Squarespace and WordPress, we can see that if you combine Wix and Squarespace, they are actually trending higher than WordPress:
WordPress is almost certainly the most popular way to build a website — but these days, website builders are not far behind.
What are the most popular website builders?
As I mentioned previously, Wix is the most popular website builder in the website building space— it powers 4.5 million websites.
Squarespace is the second most popular and it powers 2.5 million websites.
There’s an important caveat though: Wix has a free plan. Squarespace does not. So how many of those 4.5 million websites are on the free plan? Unfortunately, there is no way to know.
But either way, Wix and Squarespace are the industry leaders. According to my data, 53% of websites that are built with a website builder will be built with Wix or Squarespace (source).
You can read more about popular website builders in my annual State of Website Builders.
Are there website builders for specific industries?
There are website builders that are focused on specific industries. For example:
Though this is not as common as you would think. Honestly, the fundamental needs of a website are pretty consistent across industries. Good websites need excellent photos, good typography and easy-to-understand navigation.
Final Tip: Get Started NOW!
Building a great website is not about which tool you use.
Here’s the truth: there are good websites made with bad website builders and bad websites made with good website builders.
Good websites are made by people who get started and tweak their websites over time. No one gets it right the first time.
This website (Site Builder Report) has been redesigned over 20 times in the last ten years! That’s how you get a good website design — you redesign and tweak.
So if you find yourself overwhelmed by decision fatigue, just stop the research. Choose a website builder and get started. Stop worrying if it’s the best.
Make the most of a free trial and see how far you can get — you’ll learn lots! Plus I’ve seen some website builders (for example Squarespace) with a free trial period of 90 days!
Best For ____
In this section we take a closer look at the best website builder for specific use cases. For example portfolios, blogs and small businesses.
What’s the best website builder for a portfolio website?
Squarespace is the best website builder to bring a portfolio online.
It has lots of options for photo galleries and modern designs that will work for showcasing visual work:
Squarespace also includes a focal point editor that lets you specify where the photo should be cropped around— this is really helpful for things like square thumbnails.
For photographers looking for client proofing features, check out Format.
What’s the best website builder for small business owners?
The most lucrative customers for website builders are small business owners.
So there isn’t really the best website builder for small businesses, instead there’s just the best website builder.
My list of the best website builders will work just as well — there aren’t some unique features that all small businesses need.
What’s the best website builder for bloggers?
Squarespace is the best website builder for bloggers — whether you’re a professional blogger or just starting a personal blog.
It has more blogging features than almost any other website builder:
- Markdown support
- Podcast support
- RSS feeds
- Google Amp
- Multiple contributors
- … And more
Squarespace is good if you’re looking for blogging tools in an easy to setup, all-in-one tool. But if you need more blog features than that, it might be time to consider a content management system (CMS).
A CMS such as WordPress or Ghost will have a steeper learning curve but will allow you to customize everything and have advanced blogging functionality (for example: rich data markup).
What’s the best website builder for membership sites?
Membership websites are growing in popularity and many of the top website builders have launched or announced membership options that are coming.
I’d suggest trying Squarespace or Webflow.
There are also third party membership tools such as Memberspace that you can add to website builders. It supports tiered plans, coupon codes, forums, member emails and more. I haven’t tried it yet— but it seems interesting. Here are some more 3rd party options:
- Memberstack — Sell memberships on Webflow websites.
- Substack — Paid newsletters.
- Wild Apricot — Membership website creator.
- Memberpress — WordPress plugin that adds social network capabilities.
- Memberful — Sell memberships on any website.
What’s the best website builder for professional website designers?
I suggest professional web designers try Webflow.
Webflow has several features that make it a good competitor to WordPress for professional website design:
- White label branding — You can brand Webflow with your own logo.
- Editor — You can give your customers an easy, visual editor instead of the confusing WordPress backend.
If Webflow is too complicated, I’d take a look at Squarespace Circle which lets you build your web design company on top of Squarespace.
What’s the best website builder for SEO?
There is no best website builder SEO.
All of the top website builders I recommend have the important SEO functionality you’ll need to rank a website:
- Meta titles and descriptions
- 301 redirects
- Mobile-friendly design
Some website builders do offer more advanced SEO features— for example, Squarespace has support for Google AMP. But overall the differences won’t move the needle in SEO.
If you want to do advanced SEO— for example, you want to embed recipe JSON markup— then I would suggest you look at WordPress, not a website builder.
All this being said, there are definitely some website builders that have limited SEO capabilities. They are typically the lowest ranked website builder on my list.
Four Critical Features for SEO
To be simplistic, there are four SEO features that are critical in a website builder. Think of them as the minimum required for Google to notice you:
1. Mobile Responsive Themes
Google has been saying for years that having a good mobile version of your website is critical for SEO (source).
Mobile phones represent the majority of website traffic— so this makes sense.
Fortunately, most website builders now do offer mobile responsive themes. Some, like Wix, offer a separate mobile editor, though I do have concerns about that.
2. Customizable Meta Titles and Descriptions
You need this.
Yet surprisingly, some website builders still don’t offer this!
Meta title and meta description are what Google often 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.
SSL certificates give websites the “secure” icon in a browser and add an ‘s’ to the http— making it https:
This site is secured by SSL.
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 and some even include a free ssl certificate on free plans too.
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.
The two best tools to check your website performance is Google Page Speed Insights and WebPageTest.org — you can use these to test out which is the fastest website builder.
Which best website builder has the best themes & templates?
This is a subjective question— to a degree. But I think Squarespace has the best templates. I continue to choose Squarespace for my own websites because I think they’re the quickest, easiest way to make a stunning website.
Plus, they have lots of extra features such as animation and video backgrounds.
What about AI web design tools?
AI web design was a hyped technology a few years ago but it has mostly been a disappointment.
The most famous example of this was The Grid— it received lots of press but when it launched users were extremely disappointed:
“I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, at any time, for anything. It was a complete waste of money - a pure ripoff.”
“It’s a major disappointment in every possible way, in my opinion.”
“The system is garbage.”
It would be amazing if AI web design turned out to be a thing but I have found it mostly to be a buzzy marketing term rather than a real solution for website creators.
Today probably the most well-known AI web design tool is Zyro or Wix ADI. Both are marketed as “artificial design intelligence” … though I find it most useful as a setup wizard where you can define your preferred colors and fonts rather than a real “artificial design intelligence”.
Which website builder is best for ease of use?
Square Online is the easiest to use website builder. It’s great for beginners.
With the Square editor you create your website by adding pre-designed sections:
The only downside is that Square Online websites are not very customizable. These sections are cookie cutter. Customization is limited— you can toggle individual elements on and off but you can’t add additional elements!
Square Online is really user friendly for website building. It’s a good fit if you’re not particularly comfortable with technology.
Which website builder is best for basic websites?
The best simple website builder is Square Online. It’s a really easy to use builder. You can get a website up with minimal effort.
The best one page website builder is Carrd. Carrd is great for basic websites— for example landing pages or resume websites.
Which website builders have the most customizable designs?
Webflow is incredible. I use it for multiple websites.
It has a steep learning curve but once you learn it, it provides the same flexibility as front end coding. So if you can do it in code, you can do it in Webflow.
This means you get to design your website to look exactly how you want it to — no more searching for a design template that looks kinda like you want it to.
What about multilingual websites?
Here’s how my recommended website builders approach multilingual websites:
- Squarespace and Wix suggest that you create different versions of each page for each language.
- Square and Webflow suggest you use a Weglot, a 3rd party tool for language translations.
- Shopify lets your translate your online store content to multiple languages.
In general, you’ll probably want to avoid “automatic” translations. Visitors can already use their web browser to do that— a truly valuable multilingual experience requires content to be re-written.
Cost & Pricing
Website builders almost all have the same pricing model: different plans available on monthly or annual terms. If you choose an annual term, you’ll likely get a free domain name for the first year.
Here are some things to know about costs and pricing:
The starting price of most website builders is $12 / month (USD)
The world of website builders is highly competitive and customers are price sensitive— so website builders all price their premium plans somewhat similarly.
Typical website builder plans start at around $12 / month. Most website builders include a free domain name for one year if you pay annually.
If you compare the cheapest one year plan (with no ads) of my recommended website builders, you can see that they are all around this price:
Tricks To Watch For
Here is a few pricing tricks website builders will use to seem cheaper than they are:
- Annual Pricing That Looks Like Monthly Pricing — For example, Wix will advertise a per month rate that’s actually the annual rate divided by 12— very confusing!
- Introductory Pricing — Some website builders (example: Web.com, 1&1) will advertise a low cost for the first year. After the first year, the price will get much more expensive.
- Unnecessary Upsells — Some website builders will offer “security” upsells. For example, SiteBuilder.com sells a SiteLock upgrade for website security…. but shouldn’t your website should be secure by default? Why would you need to pay more for that!
- 28 Days In A Month — Web.com is the only website builder I’ve found that does this. Basically, if you read the fine print you’ll notice their “monthly” plans are technically 28 days long— which means users end up paying for 13 months in a year.
- Unlimited Storage — Unlimited doesn’t mean unlimited. You can’t upload GBs of files. Unlimited storage space mostly means the web host or website builder doesn’t set a hard limit but they will cut you off if they think you’re using storage unreasonably.
Free Custom Domain Name
Almost every website builder offers one year of a free custom domain name if you pay for an annual plan.
Just a heads up though: it’s often advertised as a free domain but it’s really just a free domain name for one year. Most website builders will begin charging you for the domain name in the second year even you if you continue to subscribe to an annual plan.
Money Back Guarantee
Most website builders will offer a money back guarantee. For example:
- Wix offers a 14 day money back guarantee for premium plans.
- Squarespace offers a full refund on your website builder subscription within 14 days.
- Webflow offers a 30 day money back guarantee.
Expect To Pay More For An Ecommerce Plan
Ecommerce plans tend to be premium plans for website builders. You won’t find ecommerce in a basic plan— with the rare exception of Square Online.
Expect ecommerce plans to start at around $28 / month.
What is typically included in a premium plan?
Website builders usually have a few features in premium plans that are designed to get you to upgrade from a basic plan. For example:
- Advanced analytics
- Advanced features like 3rd party integrations
To get all the features you’ll need to upgrade to a premium plan.
Are there good free website builder plans?
This may shock you: most free website builders don’t want to give away something for free.
Most free versions have annoying limits that are designed to get you to upgrade, such as:
- No SSL certificate
- Large, obnoxious ads
- Complicated subdomains
- No ability to your own custom domain name
What is the cheapest website builder?
Website builders are a great way to create professional looking websites for cheap. They’ll always be more economical than hiring a custom web designer.
You can find my list of the cheapest website builders here.
Website builders don’t really want to give away cheap plans. So the cheapest plans often have something very limiting included in them.
For example, Wix’s Connect Domain plan is only $5 / month but it includes this ad on your website:
Are website builders worth it?
Yes. It’s almost always worth paying for a website. You can build a website for free but it will likely have ads, bandwidth limitations and no domain name— not ideal.
Can I pay for a website builder with PayPal?
Unfortunately, you’re not able to pay with PayPal for most website builders. They often require a credit card.
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the transition of retailers into ecommerce stores. Now every retailer is expected to offer online shopping and curbside pickup.
Website builders saw this opportunity and invested heavily in ecommerce features.
As a result, there are actually a lot of great options for ecommerce website builders — Shopify is the leader in this space but Squarespace, Wix and Square Online are getting competitive on ecommerce features.
Here’s what you should understand about choosing a website builder for your ecommerce site.
What’s the best ecommerce website builder?
The best ecommerce website builder is Shopify.
If Shopify was a retailer, it’d be the 2nd largest online retailer in the US — Amazon would of course be first.
Shopify has grown because they’ve managed to combine intuitive software with powerful features— which is not easy to do.
Of website builders, Shopify is the most flexible ecommerce builder. You can build just about anything using Shopify.
The downside is Shopify isn’t always great for beginners: it has a learning curve and may require you to hire a developer. The drag and drop interface for building pages isn’t very easy to. use.
What ecommerce website builder do you recommend for beginners?
Squarespace and Square Online have ideal ecommerce tools for beginners.
You’ll need more features than you think
Expect the unexpected when you start an online store — it can be deceptively complicated.
The ecommerce features and functionality you need to tend to increase as you get successful. Think of all the features you might end up needing:
- Curbside pickup
- Tax management
- Inventory management
This is why it’s important for an ecommerce website builder to have an App Store or App Market that let’s you add features when you need them.
Transaction Fees vs Credit Card Processor Fees
There are actually two types of fees you may need to pay on top of transactions:
- Credit card processor fee
- Transaction fee
The credit card processor fee is inevitable. You need to pay a credit card processor fee in order to accept credit card payments. It typically starts at 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction.
You may be able to get lower transaction fees if you have a high volume of transactions but you’ll never be able to get no transaction fees.
The transaction fee is totally avoidable. Some website builders still charge a transaction fee on top of credit card providers but many stopped this.
For example, Shopify waves the transaction fee if you use their payment gateway, Shopify Payments.
Ecommerce plans are often more expensive
Yes, ecommerce plans are almost always more expensive for website builders.
Occasionally ecommerce is included in lower-priced plans but watch that those plans don’t also have transaction fees— which can make ecommerce even more expensive.
What about WordPress?
WordPress is not a website builder— it’s a content management system (or CMS).
It is the most used tool for creating websites but I stopped using WordPress about five years ago.
Here are reasons I think website builders are better than WordPress:
- Ease Of Use — Website builders typically have drag-and-drop editors that are easy to use. WordPress’s page editor isn’t quite as intuitive. And while there are WordPress plugins (like Elementor) that try to make it more like a website builder, they always feel like a halfway solution.
- Hosting — Website builders include hosting. You don’t even have to think about it. WordPress needs to be installed on a 3rd party web hosting service. That’s just one technical thing I don’t want to have to think about.
- Everything Just Works — Website builders typically just work and WordPress… rarely just works— especially when trying to integrate 3rd party WordPress themes and plugins.
- Security — You are in charge of keeping WordPress up to date— and it’s important that you do. Missing a security update can leave your website vulnerable to hackers. This is one more technical thing I don’t want to have to worry about and website builders automatically take care of security.
So why might you still want to use WordPress? Well if you’re comfortable with the learning curve, here are a few ways WordPress is better than website builder:
- Plugins & Templates — Since WordPress is open source there are tons of WordPress themes and plugins available.
- Flexible — WordPress is open source so you can code it to do whatever you’d like to— you could code your own template from scratch or even code your own ecommerce checkout flow.
- Move Your Site Between Hosts — With WordPress, it’s your own website. If you want to move to a completely new host, you can! You can’t do that with website builders (other than Tilda). Website builders provide hosting so you’re stuck with their host.
In the end, both WordPress and website builders may end up frustrating you— but for completely different reasons. Website builders just work but are less flexible. WordPress is more flexible but rarely just works.
If you’d like to read more, check out my Squarespace vs WordPress comparison.
Note: When most people say WordPress they mean WordPress.org — not WordPress.com. WordPress.com is a separate service built on top of WordPress that offers more of a website builder like experience.
Can I add a drag and drop editor to WordPress?
Yes — you can install plugins like Elemontor that add drag and drop visual editing to WordPress — making it feel more like a website builder.
Where do I find WordPress web hosting?
I would check out Kinsta for premium WordPress websites and SiteGround for entry level hosting.
Both hosts have strong reputations and include WordPress customer support.
I would avoid EIG owned hosts such as BlueHost and Dreamhost. You can learn more here.
In this section, we take a look at common marketing tools you might add to your website.
Google Analytics is the most common website analytics tool. It can be a bit intimidating to navigate but is more powerful than the analytics most website builders provide.
Some website builders only let you add Google Analytics in premium plans.
There is a growing privacy movement against Google Analytics — so you can explore alternatives such as Fathom Analytics that are respectful of privacy laws (like GDPR and more).
Website builders are no longer just for websites. Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, Square and Shopify all now include marketing tools like email marketing.
I’ve used emailing marketing in Squarespace and Shopify and was impressed with both! I think they would meet most business needs.
I still use Mailchimp as my primary email marketing tool because I like to customize my email designs in great detail. That being said, Mailchimp is also expensive!
Social Media Tools
Most website builders include some version of social media tools or logo makers these days— Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, Square Online and Shopify all do.
I’ve mostly found their social media may work for basic business needs but will fall short of more sophisticated tools like Buffer or Hootsuite.
SEO Tools That I Recommend
Here are some SEO (search engine optimization) tools I use:
- SEMRush — SEMRush is my most valuable SEO tool. I use it to check keyword volume and track my rankings in Google. It’s not cheap but it’s necessary if you want to do SEO. (It’s competitor Ahrefs is also really good. You just need one of them though.)
- Keywords Everywhere — Keywords are at the heart of any SEO strategy and this free Chrome plugin gives you keyword ideas as you browse the web.
- Google Analytics — You need website statistics software and Google Analytics is free and has deep functionality. Looking for a privacy-first alternative? Check out Fathom.
- Google Webmaster Tools — Another free tool from Google. Use Webmaster Tools to track how your website is performing in search engine results.
I generally avoid SEO tools that website builders offer— instead I use SEO tools from companies that purely focus on SEO.
Every website builder includes a contact form builder — but the power and flexibility differ between them.
These forms are commonly lead capture and sales tools. If you need marketing integrations you can always look at a third party provider such as FormSpree that integrates with automations from Zapier.
Live chat is extremely common on websites these days and many website builders (example: Shopify, Wix) have live chat you can add to your website.
The most important live chat feature is answering chats on a mobile phone. You never when you’re going to get a live chat message so being able to respond quickly on your phone is critical.
We live in a golden age of free stock photos! Here is a list of the best free stock photo websites.
Here’s how my recommended website builders approach multilingual websites:
- Squarespace and Wix suggest that you create different versions of each page for each language.
- Square and Webflow suggest you use a Weglot, a 3rd party tool for language translations.
- Shopify lets your translate your online store content to multiple languages.
In general, you’ll probably want to avoid “automatic” translations. Visitors can already use their web browser to do that— a truly valuable multilingual experience requires content to be re-written.
Great customer support can be difficult to get objective numbers on.
I’ve had fast, helpful customer support from Wix, Squarespace and Shopify. I’ve also had slow and unhelpful support from them. So it’s a bit anecdotal.
If phone support is important to you, know that not every website builder offers this— and mileage may vary on those that do. Wix includes phone support on their more expensive paid plans while Square Online includes phone support on all plans— even free plans.
3rd Party Tools
Website builders try to include all the elements you need in a website— but what if they don’t?
Fortunately, there are lots of 3rd party software providers that have add-ons and widgets that you can add to your website.
Here are a few examples that you can embed through a custom code:
Domains & Email
Should I register a domain name through my website builder?
I’d recommend most people register their custom domain name through their website builder.
If you want to be extra safe you can register your domain name through a third-party provider (such as Namecheap) but that will require DNS configuration— which requires some technical understanding.
In the end, it’s not like website builders can hold your domain name hostage. They are your domain registrar— not the domain name owner. So if you decide to move your website off of a website builder you should always be able to take your domain name with you.
How should I host email?
Most website builders provide an integration with Google Workspaces (the provider of Gmail). Each email address typically costs around $7 / user / month. (Google sets this price.)
It’s not cheap but it works— and so I typically do it that way!
Can I export my website off of a website builder?
This is a common question I get and admittedly, one of the downsides of a website builder.
It’s really difficult to move an existing website to another website builder without just manually copying text and images.
You might be wondering: Do website builders do this just to keep customers with them?
Not necessarily. There are good technical reasons why a website builder website can’t be moved:
- Modern websites aren’t documents — Modern websites are not files that you can simply move from server to server. Modern websites built with website builders rely on a constellation of technologies (example: content delivery networks). It’s unrealistic to imagine disentangling from them… In fact, part of what you are buying when you buy a website builder is the freedom from worrying about these underlying technologies.
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.