Last update: 14 Dec, 2016.
To be honest, I had never used website builders before…
Having developed websites for a while, I’d rather dive straight into coding HTML, CSS and PHP; avoiding those drag and drop functions that website builders have.
I was pretty sceptical.
However, I was positively surprised by the ease-of-use and flexible customisation options that 1-2 website builders have.
Especially for the cost.Unfortunately, I also ended up trying website builders that were just outdated or used sketchy billing strategies (hint: #10).
Website builders vs. hiring a web developer?
A good custom website could easily cost $2000 (on the low end). Making changes or ongoing updates could still require a freelance designer or developer to help you continually update your site (additional $$$).
Yet for only a few dollars each month, some of these website builders below could give you almost everything you’d ever want at less than 1% of the cost.
Not to mention, you can easily login yourself and change copy, upload images, or add new pages within seconds (and without calling for tech support).
Website builders for Who?
Website builders are the perfect solution for individuals or small businesses with low budgets. Just to name few of them:
- small business owners
- wedding planners
- and so on…
Here’s What I Did To Uncover Website Builders:
As I stated before and unlike many other blogs you might read on the same topic, I really spent some money and signed up with them – so you know which ones are the best website builders.
My goal is to provide an unbiased review, by actually going through each product in detail, to help you make the best decision.
Here’s the process I took:
1. I signed up with the top 10 website builders (I paid for them).
Those that are recommended by the major ‘Review Websites’ like SiteBuilderReport.com, Reviews.com, PCMag.com and many others.
2. Setup a simple ‘5-minute’ test website.
After signing up with them, I decided to make a quick ‘5 minute’ website on my own domain name, like websitesetup-wix.com and websitesetup-yola.com etc..
3. Monitored each site’s uptime and page load times (6+ months, ongoing).
Over a period of 6 months (still ongoing) I monitored my websites uptime and page load times via PingDom.com tool. Some of my sites had more than 24 hours of downtime…(!)
4. Uncovered the TRUE cost of each website builder.
Many of these website builders trick you with their low introductory prices, like letting you set up a website for free. But once you want to launch it, you’ll need to pay. That’s why it’s VERY important to check pricing before you set up a website with them.
This last point is especially important because most website builders will claim to be ‘free’ even though you’re gonna be forced to take out that credit card at some point.
So before we dive into the detailed review of the top ten website builders, here are the gory pricing details.Read why...
Why MOST ‘Free’ Website Builders Aren’t Free
Most of these website builders reviewed claim to have some ‘free’ option.
Sounds perfect, right?!
That’s what I thought too initially. However, it’s also a little too good to be true.
Here are three problems I ran into.
Problem #1 – No domain name.
You’ve spent minutes (or hours) putting your brand new ‘free’ website together and you’re almost ready to hit the Publish button to make it live to the world.
Only problem is, you still need a domain name.
The ‘free’ option that most website builders provide you with are the amateurish looking web addresses like:
Think people will take you seriously? I doubt it.
Assuming this website is for some commercial or professional reason (i.e. you want to make money from it), credibility is key, and you’re going to want something that instead looks like: YourBusiness.com or YourSite.com.
Some of these website builders below do provide some ‘free domain name’ offer. But there are restrictions which we’ll explore soon.
Problem #2 – Plan Limitations.
‘Free’ versions sounds great. Until you read the fine print.
Basically, you’re going to be forced to pony up some cash for basically any type of extra or upgrade. For example:
- Want to choose more than 10 themes/layouts? You need to pay.
- Want to have a personal email account like You@YourSite.com? You need to pay for that.
- Want certain features like contact form, search box or videos? You need to pay.
- Want to add a small eCommerce shop? You need to pay.
- Get stuck or need help from their support? Pay.
- Want to add more than X number of images or see your site statistics? Pay.
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and on.
Website Builders commonly claim they’re free, only to then up-sell and cross-sell you to death until eventually you’re paying more than their cheapest plan in the first place.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. I learned all this stuff first-hand.
At first, I didn’t plan on spending a single penny in order to write this review. But I quickly found out that it was going to be an expensive review when all’s said and done.
Problem #3 – No control over your site.
This last problem is also the worst.
Let’s say you spend endless nights adding content, writing new blog posts or adding products to your eCommerce shop.
Everything’s finally starting to fall into place and look perfect.
Until one day you go to check in on your site and it’s gone.
Not just ‘down’. But gone, gone.
Panicking, you quickly reach out to customer support (and after waiting on hold for an hour), get a ‘canned response’ like the following:
“We’re very sorry, but your site violated our terms and TOS for free accounts, thus we had to disable it. If you want to get it live, you’ll need to pay for it.”
A good website builder might set you back anywhere between $5 to $20 a month. However, there are a few other considerations to make besides just pricing when choosing the next home for your new website. Let’s take a look at how they all compare, which ones you should choose, and which ones you should avoid like the plague.
Best Website Builders 2017 (Review)
Keep in mind that the usability is the most important factor of a website builder. Second is uptime, third is speed and the least important factor (for me) is price.
|6. Jimdo.com||$7.95/mo||404ms||99.96%||TOO LIMITED||★★|
|10. Web.com||–||–||–||BAD BILLING||★|
Without further ado, let’s dive into a detailed review of each website builder. Starting with the best, narrowing it down until we reach the ones to avoid.
#1. SITEBUILDER Review
(Easy to use, Professional & Reliable)
CONS of SiteBuilder.com:
#1. If you want an eCommerce store, you’ll need to choose the business account which starts at $17.95/month.
#2. It took 3 hours to activate my account on a weekend. Should be faster.
PROS of SiteBuilder.com:
#1. You get a FREE domain name and one email account
#2. There are 1,200 templates available to choose from. That’s A LOT – compared with others, especially with Jimdo that has only 17 templates/themes.
#3. SiteBuilder’s website builder was relatively easy and simple to use. It’s fairly intuitive, and the templates appear to be WAY more modern than previously reviewed options. You can simply click on a page element to bring up customization options.
#4. Advertised as $4.99/month, I paid exactly $59.88 for one year – making it one of the cheapest website builders on the market today.
#5. They have „Save History“ feature and ability to build a blog as well. Not many website builders have those features!
Do I recommend it? YES.
I really like their platform. Their website editor is intuitive. Very intuitive! Template options were at an acceptable level (compared with many others), appearing modern while still easy to customize.
SiteBuilder is simple, too: You can drag and drop the elements anywhere on the site.
They’re reliable (good uptime and load time).
They’re cheap (less than $60/year).
Should you give it a go? Yes.
Here’s my 5 minute test site. (best you can do in 5 minutes)
#2. WIX Review
(‘go-to’ website builder, easy to use)
CONS of Wix Website Builder:
#1. An email account will cost you an extra $5 bucks EACH!
#2. If you want to create an online store, you’ll need to choose the more expensive package which is around ~$17.70.
PROS of Wix Website Builder:
#1. Wix has around 300 templates, perfect for small businesses and freelancers alike.
#2. The website builder is pretty simple and easy to use overall. It’s pretty flexible, meaning you can make a substantial amount of site customizations. It’s also highly visual, which means changes can be made by simply pointing-and-clicking on a site element (i.e. no sticky back-end options to mess with).
#3. Very user-friendly and easy to use.
#4. Signup and activation was instant!
#5. Cheapest ‘Ad-free’ package is $9.25/month, I paid exactly $132.20 (VAT included).
#6. Super reliable (with fast load times & only minor downtimes)
Do I recommend it? Yes.
Wix is widely suggested as the ‘go-to’ website builder.
The template options and website builder were the best It was ONLY let down by the numerous annoying upsells and high email costs. For example, assuming I want 5 email accounts, I’d need to fork over $25 each month (and that’s just ridiculously high compared to other options).
Here’s my 5 minute test site. (not too bad, huh?)
#3. SQUARESPACE Review
(Another ‘good’ website builder. Best for photographers.)
CONS of SquareSpace Website Builder:
#1. SquareSpace costs around $18.00/month for a fully loaded site (which is on the expensive end of these sites listed).
#2. The SquareSpace themes are great to look at. And the website builder itself is actually pretty good. However, they can be a little difficult to edit for newbies so there’s a bit of a learning curve. They also require a lot of photography to look right, which is perfect for people with visual businesses (think bloggers, photographers, artists, restaurants, musicians, weddings, etc.) but not great for people lacking high-quality image assets.
#3. Each email account is $5/month (extra).
PROS of SquareSpace Website Builder:
#1. SquareSpace has a variety of 40 modern templates. These are probably the highest quality designs, with everyone being extremely contemporary and beautiful overall.
#2. Free domain name and privacy.
#3. You can create a blog, website or e-commerce site (with no limitations).
#4. Account signup and activation is instant. ‘Live by default’: https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/206536837-Is-my-site-live-
#5. Decent page loading times and uptime.
Do I recommend it? YES.
If your have tons of images that you’ll use on your website (hint: photographers).
SquareSpace looks looks great from the outside, but when compared with the rest of this list, can become very expensive.
Each of these templates require the help of a photographer or design touch in order to look the best too. It’s a GREAT option for a certain type of person or business case, such as photographers for example.
Check out my 5 minute test site. (To be honest, I kinda like it.)
#4. BOLDGRID Review
(cheap & very flexible, but too steep learning curve)
CONS of BoldGrid Website Builder:
#1. Signup and activation took 2 hours for them to activate my account, which was a bit slow.
#2. Biggest learning curve you’ll probably have. Takes a bit time to fully master it (but worth it).
PROS of BoldGrid Website Builder:
#1. BoldGrid boasts the largest template database in this review, with around 3000 quality themes to pick from (WordPress themes that are HIGHLY customizable).
#2. BoldGrid technically runs on-top-of WordPress. So while most of the other options we’ve reviewed so far are limited, the sky’s the limit with BoldGrid. There is a bit of a learning curve for beginners, but the upside is that you get almost unlimited customizations too.
#3. Pricing was as advertised as $4.17/month (CHEAPEST!), I paid exactly $57.53 for one year.
#4. You can create almost anything, including a standard website, blog, or e-commerce shop.
#5. You also get a free domain, unlimited email accounts and the ability to set up an eCommerce store. All the necessary stuff!
Do I recommend it? Yes..
BoldGrid is probably the cheapest and most straightforward website builder. It also boasts features that most other options we reviewed simply can’t compete.
The only thing that worries me is the learning curve that some beginners might have to deal with. I was also glad that additional domain or emails didn’t come at an added cost too.
Overall, I’m pretty positive and hopeful as it’s super-cheap and highly customizable.
Check out my 5 minute test site. (Looks OK..)
#5. WEEBLY Review
Just an average website builder
CONS of Weebly Website Builder:
#1. There are around 80 themes to browse, which are simply OK-looking (but nothing special).
#2. If you want an eCommerce store with over 25 products, you’ll need to pay $24/month which is pretty steep.
#3. While Weebly performance was on the good side (only 10 minutes of downtime). For some reason, Weebly reported fake (or error-prone) site statistics:
PROS of Weebly Website Builder:
#1. $12.00/month, I paid $144.00 (12 months upfront). It’s pretty cheap.
#2. Free email.
#3. Instant account signup and activation. Hooray!
#4. Weebly features drag-and-drop customization options from pre-built features (like one for adding an image + text, slideshows, and more). Changing these elements is pretty easy, but also fairly basic and limited. You can add images or text in a few seconds (really simple).
Do I recommend it? Nope.
Weebly is one of the most popular website builders, and the intuitiveness is a huge positive. However, theme or template options are merely so-so.
While they also charge extra for email accounts (each one will set you back $3.75/month) which can quickly add up. And after you signup, you’ll be constantly bombarded with up-sells that quickly become annoying.
Check out my 5 minute test site. (not too bad, huh?)
#6. JIMDO Review
(Too limited, only 17 themes)
CONS of Jimdo Website Builder:
#1. Jimdo comes complete with ONLY 17 themes. Yup, you need to pay $90/year to get access to ONLY 17 themes.
#2. You can easily change colour and add text or images. However, anything more sophisticated than that is difficult. Otherwise, the templates themselves are fairly rigid, making it difficult to make large-scale changes.
#3. If you’d like unlimited eCommerce product options, be prepared to pay $20/month (or $240/year).
PROS of Jimdo Website Builder:
#1. Pricing was advertised as $7.50/month and I paid exactly $90 for one year.
#2. Up-and-running in 30 minutes. Not bad!
#3. Best performance
Just take a look at the graph below (fast & stable loading times with over 99.96% uptime)
Do I recommend it? Unfortunately, no.
The initial design is very clean and neat, making it appear more contemporary than some of the ones we’ve already reviewed here.
I’m even OK with one email account and 15 eCommerce product limitation in the short-term. But it worries me that they only have 17 templates and your customization options are limited to only relatively basic changes.
Not recommended, unless you want to create a one-page-website.
#7. DOODLEKIT Review
(Very outdated experience)
CONS of Doodlekit Website Builder:
#1. Doodlekit comes with around 170 themes, but again most of them are old and outdated.
#2. I’ll be honest: it’s hard to find ANYTHING positive with this builder. The templates are horrible. Editing them is horrible. I couldn’t create a simple work gallery or portfolio. Pretty much the only thing I could do was add a few pictures (and even that was complicated as hell).
#3. If you want to build an eCommerce shop, you’ll need to pay $24.99/month (which is on the more expensive end).
#4. My account was activated instantly, but domain verification (which is free) took 48 hours. That’s slooooooow.
PROS of DoodleKit Website Builder:
#1. It comes with a domain name and unlimited email accounts (nice perk!).
#2. Pricing was as advertised at $10.00/month, I paid exactly $120.
Do I recommend it? No.
Using Doodlekit seems like I flew back in time (and not in a good, Marty McFly kinda way). Their design is outdated and I highly doubt you can create anything meaningful out of it.
Everything is extremely dated, which doesn’t make sense when there are MUCH better options available for just a few more dollars. However, for the sake of this review I paid for 1 full year upfront, so I’ll keep my test site up.
Again, not worth your time/money. But if you really want to dig, use their free trial to test the waters.
Check out my 5 minute test site. (How does it feel to be back to 90s?)
#8. WEBS Review
(Slow and unreliable)
CONS of Webs Website Builder:
#1. Webs has 500 themes, but most (again!) look old and outdated.
#2. The drag-and-drop menu makes things very easy to edit. However, the templates themselves are extremely outdated. Changes almost resemble word processor style editing, with clip art and poor stock photography options. They have some extra widgets and other elements available, but most have an amateurish look or feel.
#3. eCommerce stores are limited to 25 products. If you want no limitations, you’ll need to pick their more expensive package which is $22.99/mo – pretty expensive in my opinion.
#4. Took 4 hours to activate my site. Kinda on the slow side.
#5. The average load time came in at 1128ms (around twice the average!), with 26 minutes of downtime alone in June! Also, every site tweak/change takes 5+ seconds to load.
Pros of Webs Website Builder:
#1. Webs throws in a free domain name and three email accounts.
#2. Pricing isn’t too bad at $12.99/month. I paid $119.80 for 1 year (10% off the monthly price).
Do I recommend it? No.
The annual discount was a nice surprise. However, their admin panel is VERY slow, with each action taking 5+ seconds to load. The outdated design, limited customizations, and SLOW page loading times were also problematic. You’re better off looking somewhere else.
Check out my 5 minute test site. (Again, pretty awful…)
#9. YOLA Review
(Outdated and very weak…)
CONS of Yola Website Builder:
#1. While Yola has about 215 templates, most of them look old and outdated. Like really old – 2006 stuff.
#2. The design template options look very similar to Web.com (not in a good way). Customizations are also very limited. For example, I wanted to remove the website menu while building out the site, but it wouldn’t let me delete this option. Instead, I had to to start all over again with a different template..
#3. If you want to build an e-commerce shop, you’ll need to pay $10/month additionally (so it would be approximately $200/year). That’s a lot of money..
#4. If you want email accounts, you’ll need to pay $9.96/year for EACH email account. Sneaky marketing tactic that many website builder companies use.
PROS of Yola Website Builder:
#1. Advertised as $8.33/month and I paid exactly $99.95. On the cheaper side.
#2. Signup and site activation was instant. Always a good sign to start with!
Do I recommend it? No.
To be honest, I don’t like the Yola design templates and the website builder isn’t adequate.
I also found the excessive up-sells and ‘extra add-ons’ frustrating. While I initially was looking for an all inclusive package, I soon realized after signing up that there was no way around paying for extras, such as email accounts and the e-commerce feature.
Check out my 5 minute test site. (nothing to be proud of)
#10. WEB Review
(Bad billing practices, difficult to cancel)
Web.com was added to this list largely because of its wide promotion online.
However, it’s the only service I did NOT personally sign up for. Here’s why.
Reason #1. They have sketchy billing practices. The plan details are crystal clear (see #2 below), there were tons of upsells, and the only way to eventually cancel your plan is to CALL them (yes, this is still 2016).
Reason #2. There are NO plan details. The ‘Do It Yourself‘ option doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re signing up for, which is worrying considering how difficult it might be to back out of this decision in the future.
Reason #3. Despite having almost 2,500 website templates to choose from, virtually all of them look extremely dated (borderline Geocities for you Web 1.0 peeps).
Reason #4. Their website builder used to adjust or tweak each template looks very rigid and fairly primitive (think MSpaint-level customizations).
Reason #5. Finding these issues got me a little worried. So I decided to check around to read reviews from a few real customers to see if I was just being paranoid.
I wasn’t. Here’s one that accurately summed up my worst nightmare:
How do I get any Senior Executive at web.com to figure out what is going on with my website? It has been down for more than 2 weeks. 31 trouble tickets. Simple domain name changes and now no website, and apparently no archive, cache, or even record that I have been a customer since 2001!
Reason #6. At $22.00/month, Web.com is ALSO one of the most expensive website builder options available.
Conclusion: I decided not to test them.
Website Builders Conclusion
Phew. Made it to the end!
Time for a quick recap.
Overall, website builders are great for beginners or small businesses looking to get a professional (and affordable) option off the ground in a matter of days (instead of the weeks or months it would take for a custom site).
I put this review together to provide an unbiased look at what your best options are. I signed up for each of the most popular ones, paying for annual accounts in most cases while setting up a test site to try out the service and monitor it’s performance over the course of a few months.
So which website builder is your best bet?
Best all around option? Go with SiteBuilder if you don’t want to be disappointed and over pay.
Best option for Beginners or those needing eCommerce? Wix is your best bet.
Best for photographers, designers, or other visual businesses? Chances are you’ll love SquareSpace’s beautiful templates.