There many reasons why you might decide to launch a website. It could be an extension of your offline business (i.e. a company website with ‘about us’ and contact pages), a business in itself (such as an online store or service provider), somewhere to provide your profile (perhaps you are a freelancer or person of public interest that needs to market themselves), or even just a personal blog or hobby site.
Whatever the reason – to stand the best chance of success your site should look professional, have its own domain name (i.e. yoursite.com), be functional and user-friendly (every feature works and all pages load quickly), be fully accessible via mobile devices, and optimized so search engines can crawl and rank the pages.
But how do you ensure this is the case? How do you even make a website?
How to Make a Website?
The obvious answer to the above question is to hire a professional to take your idea and make it a reality, while ensuring all of the basic requirements are met. Depending on the scope of the project you might choose a single freelancer who can whack up a few cool looking pages, setup a blog or store; a small agency that can utilize several experts in design and other areas of web development; or a more advanced web development company that can take on a large corporate project and build your idea from the ground up.
Of course these are generalized options (each freelancer and company may have varying levels of skill and services available), but in essence you pay for what you get. For example the simplest of sites may cost just a few hundred dollars, while a particularly large project handed to a top end developer is likely to enter the thousands.
The other option which is becoming increasingly popular is to do it yourself. In the past this would have required enough knowledge of web design and web coding to make a competent effort, along with the help of software to do some of the boring bits and give you a basic skeleton to work from. Today however the trend has moved toward online website builders, the best of which require little to no coding or design knowledge and operate via a beginner friendly ‘drag and drop’ editor, where you choose a base template and then design elements and features are simply selected and placed where you desire on the canvas. New pages and written content is then added via a self-explanatory control panel, where all you need to do is fill in the title, enter the text, and upload and insert any media.
If you can use Facebook or post on a message board, then you have the basic skills to create a website using a website builder.
Why Choose a Website Builder?
Ok, a website builder is an option, but why would you choose that option if you can hire a professional? Maybe it’s your first website; you’re genuinely interested in the process and want the pride and accomplishment of doing it yourself. Once you know your way around a website builder and have a better understanding of how sites function in general, you might then try something a little more advanced. Having played around with the builder you might also conclude that an idea you had is worth pursuing now that you’ve had a test run, even if you choose to hire a professional anyway.
However not all of us want to be a web developer or get our hands dirty with a website builder. The most common reason people turn to such solutions is the cost benefit. Yes you will have to pay a relatively small monthly fee to unlock all of the features the builder has to offer, but because you’re doing the actual building yourself you do not have to pay the kind of prices associated with a freelancer, agency or larger web development company. Part of the monthly fee is going towards hosting, and you would have to pay that no matter what solution you chose.
Builders help you create sites with little or no knowledge of design and coding, making it easy for beginners to create something professional. If you are on a tight budget then this is all the more reason to choose such a solution.
A website builder also makes sense if you only require something simple (a basic blog or just a few promotional pages) and you have some spare time to do it justice.
On the other hand large projects such as a site that has thousands of pages and lots of features, or that must function for users in a unique way (i.e. if you were creating Yelp or Craigslist), are better suited in the hands of a dedicated team and is likely beyond the scope of a website builder.
How to Choose the Best Website Builder
If you think a website builder is the route you wish to take, note the irony that not all builders are built the same. Some are out-dated and frankly useless; others offer everything a beginner could need to create a modern and professional site. Some are easier to use than others, and some have more features than others. When deciding which service to sign up to there are many things worth considering.
Fortunately we’ve done the hard work for you and tested 10 of the most popular website builders against an extensive list of categories. Here’s the lowdown:
What themes are available and how far can you customize these templates?
No website will reach its potential without an intuitive layout and an eye-pleasing design. Website builders generally operate by letting you choose a theme, which is a base template that can be customized to varying degrees. The variety of themes, scope of customization, and how easy everything is to accomplish is important. Wix was by far the winner in this category – it was very easy to use, had the most number of theme designs to choose from (510), and these were easily customized by choosing from a range of options and dragging and dropping the elements you desire. There was also a blogging solution and portfolio themes for creative professionals. In second is XPRS, which offers roughly 242 themes. Ironically Strikingly was strikingly limited, providing just 11 themes and little design flexibility.
What do you get for the monthly fee, is there a free trial, and what about extras?
Obviously price is an important factor when choosing a website builder, but you must also take in to account what you actually get for that price. How much bang do you get for your buck? Again Wix takes the victory here as it is overall one of the cheapest options, but is also one of the easiest to use with the best features. It has four plans starting at just $4.08 and reaching $16.17. There is no need for any added payments once you’ve chosen a plan (unless you upgrade) and if you’re not entirely happy you can get your money back within a 14 day window. This essentially gives you a free trial. You can also test the builder for free, but you won’t have access to all the features and you’ll need to pay for a plan to use your own domain name. Yolas was also an affordable option (plans from $6.95 to $29.95), and provides a free trial and a money back guarantee.
How fast do pages load and does the site do well under the pressure of many users?
To give a little insight in to the performance of each service, we tested websites that were built with them via a common speed analysis service. The fastest of the bunch was a site made with Voog (2.8 seconds) and the slowest was Wix (18.6 seconds), however due to various factors (size of page) and limited nature of testing (small sample size) we don’t believe any service was so slow that it should be written off completely. It might be wise to do your own tests with sites of a similar size to what you plan to create.
Is the site you create accessible from all major devices?
In today’s world of smartphones and mobile devices there’s no excuse for not having a site that can be accessed and is fully functional on all major devices. We tested each website builder’s ability to accomplish this. All of the others created functional mobile-friendly pages by default that worked on mobiles at 320px-374px, 375px-424px, 425px-767px, and on Tablet at 768-1024px. The exception was Weebly which we failed to test using all of our testing devices, but their promotional material and other reviewers assure is that it is mobile ready.
Types of Websites
What types of website can the builder create and how many can you host?
It’s no good choosing a website builder if that builder is incapable of creating the type of site you desire. Wix, XPRS, and Site123 stand out here because not only do they support various types of site from a functional standpoint (creative portfolio for example), they also have multiple themes that aesthetically appeal to certain industries (health, fashion, education etc). We give Wix the edge here because it has the widest selection of themes, but also has functional solutions for blogging, eCommerce, and creative portfolios. Of course how this all applies to your project is what’s important.
Search Engine Optimization
How well optimized for search engines is the site and how easy is it to accomplish optimization?
No matter how good your site is, if it’s not optimized for search engines it is not going to get the amount of organic traffic it deserves. Wix, Weebly and Strikingly offered the most in the SEO category, allowing you to customize urls with your keywords and titles, edit meta tags, and edit the alt description tag for images. It was this latter option where the others missed the boat and might cause you to lose traffic from the image search results.
Can your site integrate with important third party services?
To make your website feature rich it is important that you can use third party services and code, as well as have access to add-ons that can be easily installed to expand functionality. For example it’s no good having a blog or content rich site that provokes debate if you can’t integrate it with your favourite commenting platform. Most of the builders we used allow you to add your own code in some form (even if it’s just limited to a box or the sidebar), but Wix had the most extensive list of add-ons (300 to 500) via its marketplace. Some of these are free and others are premium. SquareSpace, Weebly, and Site123 also had a respectable amount of add-ons to choose from.
If you make a mistake in the builder, can you easily go back?
There’s going to be a certain amount of trial and error when you’re building your website, so the ability to ‘undo’ or go back to get rid of mistakes and things you don’t like is crucial. Weebly is king in this category as not only can you just use the keyboard shortcut for undo (Ctrl+Z) to go back on your latest action, you can also restore deleted blocks, pages, blog posts, and even an entire site. This essentially works like a recycle bin in Windows. Site123, XPRS and SquareSpace are similar, but the latter only stores pages in the bin for 30 days.
Can you get fast and adequate help if you’re stuck or need a question answered?
There’s nothing worse than being sold that a service has good customer support, only for the person on the other end being unable to help you or to wait days for somebody to reply to the ticket at all. We gathered which support options are available for each builder and put email and live chat to the test where applicable. Strikingly has the most support options, including email, live chat, and phone. Their live chat response was also just one minute – the fastest of the bunch. For everyone else live chat responses were always a matter of minutes, while responses that came by email were always within a few hours. Unfortunately Weebly and SquareSpace failed to respond to support emails, while Voog failed to respond to live chat.
Is there a blogging solution and how advanced is it?
If you want to create regular content you could in theory just keep adding new pages, but blogging has a distinct style that includes the author’s name and date the post was published, and is often separate from the other pages of the site. We checked our 10 builders (all which had dedicated blogging solutions) for the ability to schedule posts (write them and have them go live at a set time), send a newsletter to followers of the blog, and whether there were different levels of editing (i.e. admin and contributor). Wix, SquareSpace and Weebly passed with flying colours; while Yola, Strikingly and XPRS could only accomplish the newsletter; Duda could schedule and edit, Voog could send a newsletter and edit, and Site123 could only schedule posts.
What features are there to encourage user-interactivity?
If you want to engage with your site’s visitors and build a lasting relationship, there needs to be ways in which they can interact. The most common method is having a commenting system where they can discuss pages and posts with each and even you (if you decide to chime in). All of the builders we tested had commenting systems and some allowed third party systems like Disqus through add-ons. Another way to encourage interactivity is to allow a more advanced membership system. If a user is part of a club, they’re more likely to return. Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly, and Duda all allow users to register accounts. If you want to create welcome message or some kind of call to action, Wix, Yola, Weebly, XPRS, and Duda all allow you to serve a popup on the homepage. Wix, Weebly, and Duda offer all three options.
How easy is the builder to use and how long does it take to build an average website?
The easier a builder is to use, the faster you can make your site. However building a site quickly is meaningless if there aren’t many options and the end result is subpar. Strikingly fell in to this latter category, and we advise to use this only if this is your first site and you’re not looking for anything advanced. All other builders can range between a few hours (if you stick to the base templates) to a few days, depending on how much you wish to change, how many features you want to add, and the overall scope of the project. Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace offer the best overall experience in terms of ease of use, while also offering enough features to create most types of site efficiently.
Pros and Cons
In light of our experience with each builder and the categories outlined above, here’s our overall opinion of each service:
Wix is one of the most popular website builders and for good reason – it is very easy to use, has the most affordable pricing structure, and overall the most features. Beginners will get by just fine, but the sheer amount of templates, add-ons and options to choose from could overwhelm if you don’t have patience. In that sense it could take you longer to create your site (but you will benefit for it in the long run). Wix is perfect for regular sites, blogging, basic eCommerce, and industry themed sites (business, health etc), due to its range of themes.
Our Rating 9/10
Another giant in the industry, Weebly is easy for beginners to pick up and learn but it may take a while to fully appreciate the more advanced options. You can even create your own template from scratch, but of course this is only a benefit if you know how to code or hire an expert. We found email support completely lacking, but there is a large community that are willing to give you guidance. Weebly can accomplish virtually any type of site, including a blog and online store.
Our Rating 8/10
SquareSpace is growing in popularity thanks to a savvy marketing campaign, but in most cases they do live up to the hype. They offer one of the easier to use interfaces of the bunch and have a few unique perks like the ability to preview the mobile version of the site and extra tools for marketing. What we did find annoying was the inability to restore deleted blocks and the fact that pages are deleted from the recycling bin after 30 days. We also did not get a support response by email and found it hard to get the issue solved over live chat. That being said this builder can accomplish a wide variety of sites, including impressive online stores (though this costs extra).
Our Rating 7/10
We like Voog because it’s one of the few builders that supports multi-language sites and password protected pages. The simple text and image editor is also great for beginners. For the more advanced users you can even get access to a developer toolkit and API. That being said it is still somewhat limited, with rigid templates and a focus on splash/ landing pages. Some changes also require knowledge of HTML.
Our Rating 6/10
Duda has some great features (the ability to allow visitors to book appointments, sublime text editor, site backups, blogs and online stores, and the ability to create a backup site), but they don’t quite pull it all together like some of the more popular builders. There also aren’t many add-ons and we found a bug that prevented us from clicking the ‘edit’ button when working with an image.
Our Rating 6/10
XPRS is not as complex as Wix or Weebly, but does have a few perks such as password protected pages, an automatic image filter and basic image editor, and the ability to add effects like hover to your links and design elements. On the downside it’s not the easiest to work with and their FAQ is poor. The builder also took a long time to load and could be described as ‘laggy.’ XPRS is ok if you are just messing around or don’t need anything complex, but many of the others are simply better.
Our Rating 5/10
Site123 is one of the easiest builders to use as every step is wizard-led or self-explanatory. You can have a competent site made in just a few hours, but even though you can add code to the header and footer it’s still extremely limited. It’s an ok option if you need a quick temporary site, splash page or basic blog, but other solutions are better for more complex sites.
Our Rating 5/10
Each website builder has its pros and cons, but overall we feel Wix is the most versatile and cost effective of the bunch – open to both beginners and those that are a little savvier. However if you’re going for absolute simplicity and don’t need a very complex site, one of the others might be quicker to use.
Now you know all about online website builders and the 10 most popular solutions, have fun creating the site you always dreamed of!