Choosing the right builder to create and host your website is no easy task. It might surprise you to learn that there are easily over a hundred website builders out there. They’re all diverse in what they offer in terms of pricing, features, and their overall experiences.
So yes, you have many options, which is great! But that also might be overwhelming. You should feel confident from the very beginning that you made the right choice. An excellent strategy is to pose some important questions to yourself about the website builder you’re considering. The answers to these questions should illuminate how suitable a specific website builder is for your needs.
Question #1: What’s Your Budget and What are You Willing to Spend it On?
Depending on the builder you choose, there might be plenty of other costs associated with hosting on that platform. A good strategy would be to narrow down your search with the following questions in this article, and then see which builder provides the features you want or satisfies your requirements. If you don’t carefully consider your budget, you might start using a builder without being able to purchase all the features you need.
For example, some builders provide some (or all) of their templates for free. Both Shopify and BigCommerce have a limited set of free themes and a much larger collection of premium themes that cost upwards of $150. WordPress is unique in that it offers all themes for free with a Professional or Business plan, while Wix provides all its themes for free from the get-go.
Most platforms also rely on some kind of app or plugin market to provide more features. Depending on the platform, some of the features you need will be built in; on other platforms, you’ll need to make a purchase via an app.
Question #2: What’s Your Website’s Focus?
Different website builders have different areas of focus that will also play a role in which features they provide and what the quality of those features are. For example, some platforms, like WordPress and Squarespace, focus on blogging. Others, like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion, focus on e-commerce. Wix, on the other hand, provides a well-rounded service that you can tailor to your needs.
Different builders might also provide better features or templates for different niches. For example, Squarespace has a heavy focus on the fashion and lifestyle niche.
And even though e-commerce platforms might be more expensive, their blogging tools aren’t as great as those of blogging-specific platforms. The reverse is also true. So take a moment to ask yourself what type of website you want and make sure you pick a builder that’s strong in that field.
Question #3: Do You Need E-Commerce Capabilities?
The most significant distinction between types of website builders are those meant for online stores or e-commerce websites, and those that aren’t. Providing a platform for e-commerce is much more complex than for normal website hosting. Online stores tend to need more resources and have greater security requirements, and their customers need specialized technical support.
Therefore, e-commerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce are usually more expensive than their non-e-commerce-oriented counterparts. However, they also provide greater e-commerce-specific features. For example, Shopify boasts powerful point-of-sales (POS) integrations and APIs with third-party drop-shipping tools. E-commerce platforms also usually offer the best rates; support the most payment gateways; and have the best e-commerce templates, product management tools, and analytics tools.
Question #4: What Features Do You Need?
Although it’s a biggie, e-commerce is just one of the feature sets you need to look at when choosing a website builder. If you’re a blogger, for example, it might be important that you have access to the best-in-class SEO tools. For this, BigCommerce, WordPress.com, and Wix are some of the best, while Shopify lags a bit behind.
You can also look at their individual app markets for the range of apps available and how highly they’re rated. Apps might be your only way to add features that aren’t built-in, so it’s important to pick a platform with a big library of apps that are regularly updated.
Other examples of important features are integrations with other platforms, like social media such as Facebook and Instagram; an email manager; a drag-and-drop webpage builder; specific blogging tools; performance-enhancing features; live chat; advanced image or video galleries; and more. Ask yourself what features you need before you start building your website.
Question #5: Do You Want to Use Custom Code on Your Website?
If you’re thinking that this isn’t a factor for you because you can’t code, think again. Today, there’s a thriving industry of website developers and designers who specialize in building and maintaining apps for specific website builders. If you have the budget to pay for these services or the skills to do it yourself, there are two reasons why you’d want to do this:
- To implement unique features not available in apps
- To create a completely unique website design
Platforms differ in how much freedom they allow when it comes to using custom code. Some builders, like Shopify, allow you complete freedom to create your own templates and features. Shopify even provides its own language, Liquid, to do so. Most builders, like Wix and BigCommerce, allow restricted freedom, while others, like WordPress.com, allow very little.
If you want a custom implementation, you might be tempted to build and host your own website from scratch. However, website builders have multiple advantages that make them attractive options to most people.
Question #6: Are There Any Free Options, and Will One Work for You?
If you’re not ready to commit any kind of budget toward your new website, or you simply don’t have the budget, you might be wondering if there are any completely free options. The good news is that there are a number of free builders; the bad news is that they come with some heavy restrictions.
Wix, WordPress.com, and Jimdo are some examples of website builders with completely free plans. However, they all have the following restrictions:
- Your website will be hosted on a subdomain (e.g., yoursite.com or wix.yoursite.com)
- Ad space on your webpages will be used by the website builder and you won’t be able to monetize ads on your own
- Your website may display a mandatory banner (e.g., “Made with WordPress” or “Made with Wix”)
- You’ll have very limited access to resources and features (e.g., only Business users are allowed to install plugins on WordPress.com, and only certain Wix plans support e-commerce)
Other builders like BigCommerce and Shopify provide a 15-day and a 14-day trial, respectively. This trial allows you to build out most of your website with limited features, but you can’t make it live.
In short, most free plans or trials are great for testing out a platform, but not suitable if you have ambitions for monetizing or extensively building out your website. For more tips, read up on important things you have to know before building your website for free.
Question #7: Is the Website Builder Scalable?
There are a number of factors that affect the scalability of a website builder:
- How much storage you can use
- Monthly data transfer limits
- How many visitors you can have
- Limits on the number of sales, or the total amount of sales, you can make
- How many products/categories/pages you can have
- How many staff accounts you can have
The first two are standard limitations for almost all website builders. Storage and data-transfer caps increase the more you pay for your subscription. For example, Wix offers 1, 2, 10, or 20 GB of storage; and 1 GB, 2 GB, or unlimited bandwidth depending on your plan.
The last three limitations are mostly used on e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify with limited staff accounts, BigCommerce with a sales cap, and Volusion with limited products depending on your plan.
Usually, you’ll simply be asked to upgrade your plan if you regularly exceed the thresholds. And if you’re already on the top plan, you’ll be asked to set up a custom solution. You should carefully think about whether the limits imposed by a builder are suitable considering your ambitions for your website.
The Final Question: Are You Ready to Build Your Website?
If you’ve found a website builder that corresponds with the answers to most of these questions, then congratulations! You’ve found the perfect website builder to start building your website (or as close to it as you’re likely to get).
Of course, there are always special circumstances that might apply to your situation. Although I focused on the questions that will be the most relevant to most people, you should still take the time to really think about what you want and formulate other questions of your own if necessary.
At some point, you’ll just need to jump into the best available option and start building your website. If your website builder has a free trial, you’ll be able to get a good idea of how the platform works, and you might pick up some more pros and cons as you start exploring. If you subscribe and end up finding that the builder isn’t for you, you’ll still have learned some important lessons you can use as you continue to pursue your ideal website.