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The 6 Best Website Builders

I try every website builder— so you don’t have to. Here’s what I recommend in 2020.

November 19 2020 Steve Benjamins

I’m a professional web developer but I don’t code most of my websites anymore. It’s stupid. It’s overkill. In 2020, it’s easier and faster for most people to just use a website builder.

My job is to try every website builder so you don’t have to. This is a roundup of my thoughts on the most popular website builders. Hope it’s helpful!

Note: My work is supported by affiliate commissions. Read more »

    Recommended
  • Squarespace

    • Best overall website builder.
    • Excellent templates.
    • Excellent features.
    • Intuitive and thoughtful design.
    Try Squarespace → Read More
  • Shopify

    • Best website builder for ecommerce websites.
    • App Store makes it powerful— without being overwhelming.
    • Innovative features that the competition hasn’t matched.
    Try Shopify → Read More
    Also Great
  • Webflow

    • Great for designing your own website from scratch— without having to code.
    • Recommended for freelance web designers.
    • Powerful CMS.
    Try Webflow → Read More
  • Carrd

    • Website builder for one page websites.
    • Much cheaper than competitors.
    • You’ll only want to use Carrd if it makes sense for your website to be one page.
    Try Carrd → Read More
  • Wix

    • Unstructured editor lets you move any element to any place on the page— which allows for more freedom than other website builders.
    • Huge amount of features.
    • Can be confusing.
    Try Wix → Read More
  • Weebly

    • Easy to use.
    • Not very customizable— you can add sections to your website but not individual elements.
    • Generous free plan.
    Try Weebly → Read More

The 6 Best Website Builders

I try every website builder— so you don’t have to. Here’s what I recommend in 2020. youtube.com

  • Squarespace is like the Apple of website builders. It’s intuitive, curated and thoughtfully designed. I highly recommend it.

    Curated and thoughtful, Squarespace is like the Apple of website builders.

    Curated and thoughtful, Squarespace is like the Apple of website builders.

    Squarespace templates are fresh, sophisticated and share a similar look and feel: lots of whitespace, bold typography and room to showcase photography.

    It’s of course a bit subjective, but in my opinion Squarespace has the best templates of any website builder:

    An example Squarespace template.

    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.

  • 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.

    Shopify is clear and easy to use.

    Shopify is clear and easy to use.

    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:

    Shopify has significantly more apps than their closest competitors.

    Shopify has significantly more apps than their closest competitors.

    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.

  • Outstanding Custom Design Design — Webflow feels magical. Go ahead, roll your eyes. I get it. I just called software magical. But let me explain.

    The big innovation with Webflow is their Designer tool. It’s the first tool to provide the flexibility of front-end coding without requiring you to actually code.

    Webflow's Designer provides the flexibility of front-end code without actually requiring you to learn to code.

    Webflow's Designer provides the flexibility of front-end code without actually requiring you to learn to code.

    It does this by not shying away from the complexity of code— to use Webflow, you need to understand the fundamentals of web design. This includes concepts like style hierarchy, box model, floating, absolute and relative positions.

    This makes it a categorically different tool than website builders like Squarespace or Wix. Squarespace and Wix aren’t designed for you to have complete freedom. They provide templates and smart defaults— they abstract you away from the complexity of code and they’re much easier to use.

    Webflow's Designer is almost like coding visually— web developers will notice that the style panel matches very closely to CSS rules.

    Webflow's Designer is almost like coding visually— web developers will notice that the style panel matches very closely to CSS rules.

    On it’s own, Webflow’s Designer is excellent but what takes Webflow to the next level is that you can integrate Webflow’s CMS into the Designer— allowing you to create custom, repeatable content types, something you can’t do in any other website builder!

  • Carrd is for simple, one-page websites— that’s it. All it’s themes are designed for one page websites:

    All Carrd themes are for one-page websites.

    All Carrd themes are for one-page websites.

    Because Carrd is only for one page websites, they can do things differently.

    For example, Carrd is way, (way) cheaper than competitors. Below is Carrd’s cheapest plan compared to the cost of the other 7 recommended website builders cheapest plans:

    Graph: cheapest plans with no ads plus the cost of a custom domain name.

    Graph: cheapest plans with no ads plus the cost of a custom domain name.

    Plus Carrd has the best editor and themes for one-page websites. You can technically make one-page websites with other website builders but their interace can feel hacked together. Carrd is exclusively for one-page websites so the interface is designed for that.

    You’ll only want to use Carrd if it makes sense for your website to be one page. If you’re not sure if one page works for you, I’d suggest just trying Carrd for 15 minutes— you might surprise yourself with how much you can fit into one page!

  • 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.

    Wix's unstructured editor lets you drag elements anywhere on a page.

    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.

  • Easy To Use But Going Through A TransitionWeebly is an excellent, easy to use website builder— but it’s also going through a transition to a new editor called the Square editor.

    The Square editor.

    The Square editor.

    The Square editor is significantly less customizable than the old Weebly editor. For example, you can’t add individual elements. Instead you add sections.

    So you can toggle individual elements on and off within a section but you can’t actually add additional elements:

    You can toggle individual elements— but you can't add any new elements!

    This is a major step backwards in flexibility. The old Weebly editor let you add sections but also allowed you to add individual elements. With the Square editor you can only add sections. It’s unusual to see a website builder purposefully remove options.

    The new Square editor is also short of several features that the old Weebly editor covered: no blog, no app store, no video backgrounds and no membership system.

    You can still use the old Weebly editor but Weebly has told me that they are shifting users towards the new Square editor. And while the new Square editor is easy to use (especially for ecommerce) it’s too limited for me to give Weebly a perfect 5 star rating as I have in the past.

Honourable Mentions

Website builders that I’m keeping an eye on:

Format

Format is an easy to use website builder focussed on a specific type of website: portfolios.

It’s loved by it’s users. A few years ago I surveyed 1,630 photographers who were using a dedicated portfolio builder for their website to see which had the highest customer satisfaction— and Format scored a whopping 97%.

Format is especially great for photographers— they include proofing features, watermarking and integrations with Adobe Lightroom and Capture One.

GoDaddy

GoDaddy’s website builder is best for anyone who wants to build their website fast. It’s not for power users who want to tweak the details of their website.

Overall it’s easy to use but limited. For example, here are two pretty major limitations:

  • Can’t Add Individual Elements to Pages — You build pages by adding pre-designed sections. You can toggle elements on and off within these sections but you can’t actually add individual elements.
  • Very Little Style Customization — You’re often not able to change individual font sizes or colors.

The upside is that GoDaddy’s website builder is really easy to use. I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t feel tech savvy.

You can read more in my GoDaddy review.

Ucraft

Websites in Ucraft are made up of vertical stacking blocks. There’s a bunch of preset blocks you can choose from or you can create your own from scratch.

Block-based website builders are common— for example JimdoGoDaddy are also block-based website builders. Ucraft is one of the more customizable block-based website builders— you’re not locked into cookie-cutter preset blocks. Instead you can customize blocks and even create them from scratch. There’s also plenty of control over grids, padding and even animations.

But with more power comes also more confusion: Ucraft is not always intuitive. The interface can be confusing. (For example, moving your mouse through the page reveals all kinds of small icons and it’s not obvious what each icon means.)

Wordpress.com

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). Even though Wordpress.com is built using Wordpress.org, it’s not the same thing.

The most obvious signal that Wordpress.com is different from Wordpress is that it has a different user interface— it’s a streamlined and simplified interface. More in line with what you might expect to find in a website builder.

Swapping between Wordpress.com (blue) and Wordpress (black).

Unlike most website builders, Wordpress.com is not a drag-and-drop, visual editor. Instead, it’s a form-based editor that separates the content of pages from the design. The downside of a form-based editor is that pages aren’t design within context. For example, when you choose a page template, you simply choose from a drop-down box. There is no preview— you just sort of guess and test.

With no live previews of templates you're stuck guessing and testing.

With no live previews of templates you're stuck guessing and testing.

Wordpress began as a blogging platform and Wordpress.com inherits the fantastic blogging features. They really have the best blog features of any website builder. (The only real competitor in blogging is Squarespace.)

Over the last decade, Wordpress has cultivated an ecosystem of third-party plugin creators. Wordpress.com lets you install any of those plugins (if you’re on the most expensive plan). These plugins extend functionality dramatically— there are plugins for everything: podcasts, membership systems, maps and more.

But here’s the thing: in order to configure almost every plugin, you have to leave behind the friendly Wordpress.com interface and enter WP-Admin. WP-Admin is the interface for Wordpress— it’s the unfriendlier interface, and avoiding it was the reason Wordpress.com was designed with a different interface from the start. Even common elements— such as forms— have to be configured in WP-Admin.

In the end Wordpress.com tries to do two things: it tries to simplify Wordpress and let users leverage the awesome power of Wordpress plugins. The result is a product that’s built on compromises— which I think will make it worth it for for two types of users: bloggers and people who are already familiar with Wordpress (because they won’t mind using WP-Admin).

Best For ___

Best Website Builder For Ecommerce

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 Shopify store dashboard.

A Shopify store dashboard.

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.

Shopify's app store is home to hundreds of apps— and a huge reason why users love Shopify.

Shopify's app store is home to hundreds of apps— and a huge reason why users love Shopify.

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.

Best Website Builder For SEO

There is no best website builder for SEO.

Choosing between Weebly, Squarespace or Wix will not rank your website any differently in Google. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

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:

1. Mobile-Friendly Themes

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.

2. Customizable Meta Titles and Descriptions

Every page has a meta title and meta description that Google uses in their results:

Google uses your pages meta title and description in their results.

Google uses your pages meta title and description 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.

3. SSL

SSL certificates give websites the “secure” icon in a browser and adds an ‘s’ to the http— making it https:

This site is secured by SSL.

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— but some do not. Check before you buy.

4. Performance

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.

If you’d like to learn more, check out my SEO chapter in How To Make A Website.

Best Website Builder For Blogs

The best website builder for blogs is a two horse race between Squarespace and Wordpress.com— no other website builder matches their features.

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 Website Builder For Membership Sites

Membership sites are growing in popularity— and so there are a number of options to consider. For website builders, I suggest Squarespace + Memberspace or Webflow + Memberstack.

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:

Best Free Plan

I’ve actually done a deep dive on which website builder has the best free plan in my in-depth look at free website builders. So you’ll want to read that.

Advertisements are the major limitation of almost all free website builder plans.

These ads range from the obnoxious…

Constanct Contact includes a large, bright blue ad on free websites.

… To the more tolerable:

Webflow includes a small ad on free websites.

The other big limitation with free website builders is domain names.

Only Ucraft and Google Sites allow you to connect a custom domain name on plans (i.e.: yourdomain.com).

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 (user12.wixsite.com/site).

Further Reading:

Common Questions

Can you move or export your website away from a website builder?

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.

Modern website are more complex than websites in the past. They aren’t just HTML, CSS and Javascript being passed from a server. Those assets are optimized, cached and accessed through special content delivery networks (among other things) to ensure performance. The reality of disentangling all of this from the website builder and moving into a third party host is messy and would require a level of technical competence that most users of website builders don’t have.

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.

Should I register my domain name with my website builder?

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.

Written By Steve Benjamins

I’ve been building websites for over 20 years and websites have been featured in Wired, The Next Web, Smashing Magazine, The Huffington Post and Forbes. Read More →