10 Best Website Builders for 2020
Comparing Website Builders by Building Real Websites
Every website builder promises to be the simplest, the fastest, or the most flexible. But which ones actually live up to their claims? I built real websites to find out which website builders are the best, so you don’t have to waste your time on one that won’t work for you.
If you’ve been trying to figure out the best website builder for your needs, you’ve probably noticed a lot of different claims by the most popular ones. The easiest free website builder! Build a site in 3 simple steps! Get a site running in minutes!
But is it actually possible to build a functioning website in literal minutes? Which website builder is truly the easiest to use? Just how many steps are there to building a website with any of these builders?
These are exactly the questions I had, and I’m sure you have them too. Lucky for you, I tested these website builders to give you the answers you’re looking for.
I’m not a web designer. I have a background in digital marketing, specifically SEO, so I’m familiar with how websites should look and function, and I’m trained to pay attention to user experience.
I’ve built a couple of personal websites, but I need just as much help on design and technical setup as the next person. I’m well-positioned to assess both the simplicity of these website builders to the average person and whether the websites they create are functional and useful for businesses, bloggers, and more.
To get the best testing experience – and one that most closely aligns with what you will experience as you build a website – I tested a paid version of each website builder. This gave me access to more features and the ability to test whether paying for a plan is truly worth it.
Let’s start with a quick summary of my impressions of each website builder.
- Best for full creative freedom
- Over 500 templates to choose from and customize
- Most intuitive site editor
Wix promises that you can create exactly the website you want, and it certainly delivers. You can adjust any element any which way with their drag-and-drop editor, and the hundreds of template options give web design newbies like me a strong starting point for a website layout.
There are also hundreds of pre-made blocks, buttons, galleries, and more, to help you add photos, video, or whatever you have in mind. The process is so intuitive that it almost feels like by thinking about an element, you make it appear on your site.
It took literally one click each to add the blog and the online store apps from the App Market, which has hundreds of free and paid apps to provide tons of extra features. These range from Wix-created apps that allow you to add forms, live chat, and appointment bookings, to integrations with important business tools from Google, Amazon, and social media platforms.
One caveat: if you only need a simple site, Wix might prove overwhelming. Sometimes it seems like the builder is overdoing it, and nobody could possibly need this many options. But if you want to be sure that you can modify your site exactly the way you want, Wix is the site builder that will let you get it done.
- Best for beginners & single-page websites
- Preset layouts make design easy and beautiful
- Fast site load speeds
SITE123 feels at times like a simplified version of Wix, which may make it a better choice for you if you’re just starting out. This website builder has more than 180 mobile-responsive templates and a strong selection of apps to expand your site’s functionality.
Instead of a drag-and-drop editor, SITE123 has a point-and-click editor, meaning you’ll just be clicking a series of buttons and prompts to design your site within a predetermined framework. You can’t adjust the placement of elements down to the pixel, but you can add and reorder content sections to your liking. This type of editor also ensures that your designs are always perfectly aligned.
When I tested SITE123, there was a bit more of a learning curve than for some other builders on this list. That said, once I figured out a few quirks, I was able to build my site much more quickly than on Wix. There are some cool automatic features like breadcrumbs navigation, auto-categorization of products in the online store, and a super easy contact form builder that were a nice touch and made the process easier overall.
- Best for a blog + store combo
- Stunning designs and templates
- “Assistant” tutorial to help you with first steps
Squarespace is truly a beautiful website builder, both in the sites it creates and in the interface itself. It’s most similar to WordPress.com, with a block editor and similar navigation layout between pages and other design facets. However, I found the experience of building a site on Squarespace to be much smoother, like Wix, with everything a bit more connected in the interface.
Where most website builders emphasize either content or e-commerce more strongly, Squarespace manages to shine in both aspects, making it a great option for e-commerce stores of any size that also want to prominently feature their blog. (You can do this on other builders too, but Squarespace has strong functionality for both, at a greater scale than say, Wix.)
Squarespace doesn’t have a free plan (although it does offer a 14-day free trial), but you can access the majority of essential features on either of the lower tier plans, which are comparably priced to the other builders on this list.
- Best for small businesses that want to grow
- Robust built-in blogging platform
- Thousands of plugins to expand functionality
WordPress.com is the packaged website builder version of WordPress.org, an old-school giant of content management and website creation. Using WordPress.org requires self-hosting and more advanced web development knowledge, but the WordPress.com website builder makes this strong platform accessible to beginners.
That said, I found that there was a pretty steep learning curve for most of the features and functionality, and the plans and pricing make things even more complex – for example, you can only add plugins on the relatively pricey Business plan. I placed WordPress.com highly on this list due to its near limitless capabilities and opportunities to expand, but it’s definitely not the easiest or the cheapest website builder to use.
The WordPress block editor is a relatively new feature, and a big departure from the old way of building pages on WordPress, which I am more familiar with. There are lots of block options, including columns, spacers, and other layout-related blocks. But I found them a bit finicky at times, with awkward alignment that I had to completely redo to get it just right.
- Best for restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers
- Integration with Square for online and in-person purchases
- Block editor for blog posts
Weebly was recently acquired by Square, which has led to two different website editors: there’s the classic Weebly, which functions as a simple block editor, and the Square e-commerce builder, which has extended online store features but lacks a blog management system.
In testing both of these builders, I found the Square e-commerce builder to be superior, particularly for brick-and-mortar businesses that are already using Square to expand to selling online, without having to change or add payment processors. (You can still use Square with other website builders, however.)
I found the classic site editor to be a solid tool that was simple to use. It’s similar to Jimdo and SITE123 in experience, but has fewer design customizations options. The blog editor is a simplified block editor, much like Squarespace, but also with limitations on design. You can add e-commerce functionality to the classic Weebly editor, but it’s not as smooth of an experience as with the Square builder.
- Best for short-term sites, such as events
- Great tutorial to help you start building
- Fastest website builder
Jimdo is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of website builder. It will either be exactly what you need – simple, fast, and pretty – or you’ll quickly hit its limitations and find yourself wishing for more functionality. Jimdo has simplified both the content blocks and design customizations you can make. I was able to build my site very quickly, but I wasn’t able to customize in as much detail as I would have liked.
Although Jimdo has e-commerce and blogging functionality, it’s better suited for small sites with static landing pages. On all but the highest-tier plan, you are limited in the number of pages you can build, so it’s not ideal for sites that have a strong but undefined growth trajectory in mind.
I think Jimdo could work wonderfully for events, like weddings, parties, and fundraisers. Small businesses that just need a handful of pages with the most important information could also use it easily.
- Best for a basic, well-designed site
- Pairs fonts for consistent design aesthetics
- Bare bones site editor for simplicity
SimpleSite truly lives up to its name: this is a no-frills website builder, start to finish. But lacking bells and whistles doesn’t mean it’s all bad. This is a quick and easy way to get a nice-looking site when branding doesn’t really matter, such as for a portfolio or other personal site.
A key caveat here is that I was only able to test the free plan, as the payment portal failed several times and customer support was unable to solve the problem. The premium plan comes with extra design options and unlimited pages, but based on the core functionality of the website builder, I don’t see how it would provide all that much more flexibility.
- Best for managing a high volume of products
- Beautiful, image-forward templates
- No online transaction fees
Volusion is an e-commerce website builder, so its focus is on building a robust online storefront: most of its features are related to selling products online. These features are plentiful and intuitive, allowing you to edit products, track inventory, orders, and customers, and a lot more.
The website editor is the most intuitive of the three e-commerce builders on this list, with lots of options for colors, fonts, and content layouts in a block format. However, there are some annoying limitations. For example, there’s no contact form block (if you want a contact form on your site, you have to add it in HTML). Still, Volusion is the clear winner if the purpose of your site is to sell and track a lot of products beautifully and efficiently.
- Best for selling through multiple channels
- Significant shipping discounts
- 1 hour of free design support with a plan upgrade
What I like about Shopify is that you can sell products on more than just a website built with the platform: you can integrate Shopify with WordPress or other site builders and even sell on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. If the way you sell your products changes, Shopify can keep track of all your products and allow you to move them where you need them, when you need it.
You can also build a full site on Shopify itself, drawing on solid customization options and thousands of apps to build out a functional site. I didn’t think it was the smoothest site building experience, as there was a different editor for the homepage versus all other page types, but I built the site fairly quickly and was pleasantly surprised with what the platform would let me do.
- Best for large online retailers or dropshippers
- No transaction fees
- Robust product management options
BigCommerce is great for managing and selling a high volume of products. You can import and export as needed, assign product variants to multiple products at once, and add product filters to your category pages. Customers can even leave product reviews directly through the site interface. It’s packed with juicy e-commerce features.
If you’re planning to build out your site beyond just product pages, however, it gets difficult pretty quickly. It’s not the most intuitive site builder, and I don’t find the non-product pages to be particularly appealing design-wise. But a lot of BigCommerce’s faults can be forgiven if efficient product management is crucial to the success of your business.
What I Looked For In The Best Website Builders
These rankings are based on three main criteria: ease of use, design flexibility, and pricing. There are some additional considerations as well, particularly when site builders are on nearly equal footing with the above. Here’s what I mean by each of these criteria:
Ease of Use
A good website builder will be intuitive, clear, and even enjoyable to use. Nearly all of these builders have some kind of tutorial or checklist to get you started. Once you are past the setup phase, all the tools you need should be pretty much where you expect them to be.
The most crucial elements of a website need to be easily accessible for editing, not hidden behind several layers of navigation. Additionally, the support options should be clear and robust, and provide near-immediate answers.
Bonus points for autosaving your work and continuous prompts for important steps, like publishing your website or connecting a domain.
If your site is going to stand out, it can’t look like it was built from the same template as hundreds of other sites out there. You’ll need to start from a template no matter what, but the best website builders will give you a wide variety of templates to choose from (Wix, for example, gives you over 500) and plenty of options for modifying that template to your brand or personal preference. Specifically, it should have:
- Plenty of initial templates to choose from
- Full control over color scheme
- A wide range of fonts
- Lots of options for page layouts and/or blocks
Drag-and-drop site editors like Wix’s tend to offer the most flexibility, which is reflected in the test results, but other types of editors offer a lot of customization as well.
This criterion isn’t so much about absolute cost as it is about value. A site builder may have dirt cheap plans, but if its most expensive plan has only half the features you can find with a different builder’s most basic plan, that’s not really a point in its favor.
A good value website builder will give you the most features for the lowest cost. It may have a variety of plans to choose from, allowing you to customize to your needs. Squarespace, for instance, may not be the cheapest builder out there, but since it has so much to offer, I consider it excellent value. You can click here to see its latest plans.
Often (but not always), the higher-tier plans are one of two things: more bandwidth and storage, or access to advanced e-commerce features. Having a sense of what your site will need will help you better assess the value of these plans as you read through the results.
While the criteria outlined above are the most important for assessing website builders, there are a few bonus features that I believe set one site builder above the others. Any of these individually wouldn’t warrant a builder a higher spot, but when combined with other strong features, make these builders even more powerful.
These additional considerations must be actually useful – not just a flashy claim to good features. Here are some other things I looked at:
- SEO capabilities: Most site builders help you optimize your title tags and meta descriptions, but the ones that have extra technical features, like auto-generating robots.txt files or sitemaps, are really helpful.
- Plenty of apps and integrations: This has more to do with function than design. A good site builder should be able to offer you the capabilities you need, ideally by integrating with other tools or software you’re already using, like MailChimp for email campaigns.
- A truly unique feature: Some builders have standout features that are unique to them and can’t really be compared with others. These are noted in the results for each builder.
E-Commerce Builder or Regular Builder with E-Commerce Features?
E-commerce builders, like the last three entries on our list, focus almost exclusively on the online store capabilities they offer. Their online store features surpass those of regular website builders by far, but you’ll find that nearly every other aspect of a website becomes somewhat unwieldy. (For example, it is not really possible to build a contact form on Volusion.)
Regular website builders with e-commerce capabilities provide these features as more of an add-on than a primary service – although some “regular” builders, like Squarespace, have started offering very impressive e-commerce features. With these, it’s much easier to have a robust blog, a series of landing pages, and a high quantity of photos or videos.
The type of builder you should choose depends on the primary purpose of your website. If your main goal is to sell products, an e-commerce builder can provide you with extra payment options, easier upload and categorization of products, and sometimes even shipping deals. You don’t have to be a large retailer to benefit from one of these builders – Etsy sellers and local shops or boutiques may find a lot of advantages in one of these builders too.
But if you’re running a blog or personal site like a portfolio with the goal of selling just a few products, such as books or online courses, a regular builder with e-commerce features will provide more of what you need while still keeping your online store in shape.
Many e-commerce builders offer some kind of integration with other platforms or website builders, so your site can have the best of both worlds. If you are primarily a retailer but want to expand your site into a blog or other content, this combination may be the right choice.
The Testing Process
To test these website builders, I started with a framework for a simple site that would include features covering what most websites would consider the essentials. Every site I built had to include:
- Static text page (About page)
- Blog post
- Photo gallery
- Calendar or event page
- Contact page
- Online store
In addition, I would test the following functions:
- Changing color and font schemes
- Adding images
- Embedding video
- Building a contact form
- Adding a button
- Editing a menu
- Updating alt text
- Testing SEO features
This allowed me to test the most common website builder features, while spending enough time with each builder to make a thorough assessment of its capabilities.
Prior to building any websites, I compiled all of my resources and had a clear outline of what each page would entail, so I could build the exact same site with each tool. This cut out any time wasted thinking about what I wanted to include, hunting down images, and other setup needs.
I did not read any guides or watch any tutorials prior to building these sites, although I did have varying degrees of familiarity with some of the builders. I had previously used Wix and WordPress.com, although not extensively, and had done some research on the features for Squarespace, Weebly, and SITE123.
As I was building, if I ran into any issues I couldn’t figure out within the builder interface, I first checked the knowledge base and then reached out to support on either email or live chat.
The Detailed Results: How Each Builder Performed
Now it’s time for the fun part: the real results from the website building tests I performed. I’ve provided a detailed analysis of my experience using each website builder below, graded on the above criteria, but first, here’s a quick chart comparing some of the most important features.
I used Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check which builders produce sites that just look pretty, and which are actually optimized for quick loading times. I tested the sites both on desktop and mobile. The scores you see here are between 1-100, with 100 being the highest possible.
|Free Plan||Templates||Mobile-responsive||Apps available||Time to Build My Site||Google Page Speed Insights Score (desktop/mobile)||Free Domain Name with Paid Plans||Free SSL|
|Weebly||✔||~50||✔||350+||45 min||58/18||Only on top 2 plans||✔|
|SimpleSite||✔||12||On paid plan||None||35 min||92/54||Yes, with Pro plan||✔|
|Volusion||✘||14||Some, not all||14||75 min||100/85||✘||✔|
|Ease of Use||10/10|
|Apps Available||55 free/300 total|
Ease of Use
The Wix website builder is truly the easiest and most intuitive site editor I tested. Everything I needed was in the first place I looked, and at no point did I feel frustrated or even need to check the support center for help. I was able to build about half of the site in just 30 minutes, and it took around 75 minutes to build my full Wix site.
To make it even easier, Wix has an Artificial Design Intelligence feature called Wix ADI. This wizard asks you a few questions about your site needs and then builds your site for you within minutes. The tool can even import content from your social media accounts to ensure consistent branding.
Wix ADI does have some design limitations, but you can always switch to the regular editor to put your personal touch on your site. Wix ADI also saves previous versions of your site, so you can revert back to an earlier version if you’re not happy with the changes.
With Wix, even more technical aspects like SEO are simplified. The Wix SEO Wiz generates a checklist of optimizations based on your answers to a few questions, guiding you through some SEO essentials without having to understand anything about what SEO is or how it works. I also love that Wix directs you to this feature by saying “Get Found On Google” – it makes it truly accessible to all.
One drawback is that templates are not mobile-responsive, meaning they don’t automatically display perfectly on mobile devices. The base version of each template is mobile-friendly, but if you make a lot of changes to the desktop layout, you may need to separately edit your mobile site to ensure it appears correctly on mobile devices.
Many other website builders on this list have completely responsive templates, so there’s no need to double edit. My Wix site also loaded quite slowly on mobile during my page speed tests.
Wix certainly lives up to its promise of letting you edit every element of your site to customize it exactly how you want it. There are plenty of options for colors, font, blocks, and layouts, and you can save color palettes and font schemes easily for sitewide application.
Built-in guidelines help you ensure your headings, images, and so on are aligned with each other. I sometimes had difficulty getting the drag-and-drop editor to do my bidding when fiddling with page height or other adjustments, but those are nearly at the pixel-level of adjustment and aren’t a big deal when considering the site design as a whole.
The huge number of templates helps you get this flexibility with less work upfront, since you are more likely to find a template that’s close to what you want on Wix than you are on another site builder. Unlike some other builders, most Wix templates are pretty distinctive, so you’re not choosing a template because of its colors, but rather because of its functionality. You also have the option to start with a completely blank template and design the whole site from scratch.
Once you start editing a template, you can’t switch to a different one without starting over, so be sure of your choice before getting too far in designing. That said, since there is so much flexibility within the editor, you should be able to create anything you want within your chosen template, or even reproduce a layout from a different template that catches your eye later on.
The Wix free plan gives you a lot of customization options, with access to all 500+ templates and a wide selection of apps. You’ll need to upgrade to a business plan if you want to connect a custom domain, accept online payments, and integrate with Google Analytics.
Although there are eight different plans, divided into Personal and Business/E-commerce, there aren’t huge distinctions between most of them. Higher tiers are a big price jump for a little more storage and what they call “VIP Support.”
There are a few other notable things about Wix that I loved:
- Online store: The Wix Store interface is really user friendly, walking you through every step of adding product information, shipping and payment options, and more.
- Advanced SEO options: Beyond Wix SEO Wiz, the advanced SEO settings include options for structured data, canonical URLs, and custom meta tags. These help Google better understand your site on a technical level, without you having to take on any complex technical work. You can also set up AMP pages for a faster mobile experience.
- Support center: Although I didn’t ever need the support center, I checked it out and it does have a ton of self-guided articles to provide answers to any question you might have.
|Ease of Use||8/10|
|Number of Templates||180+|
|Number of Apps||80+|
Ease of Use
SITE123’s editor is simple to use and makes it easy to adjust your pages…if you know how it works. My site defaulted to a single page site, and it took me a good 20 minutes to figure out that when you add a block, you have to adjust its settings to not appear on the homepage but to remain in the navigation menus. Once I figured this out, building my SITE123 demo site went super fast, and I was able to complete the whole thing in about an hour (including the 20 minutes of troubleshooting).
In general, the interface isn’t completely intuitive: you may need to click around a bit to find exactly what you’re looking for. But if you run into a problem, the live chat is pretty responsive and helpful – they answered my question in less than 20 minutes.
The interfaces for each feature, like the blog and online store, are pretty straightforward to use. They don’t feel quite as modern as say, Wix or Squarespace, but that’s not a reflection on the look of the site this builder can produce.
You cannot customize your site as liberally on SITE123 as you can on Wix, but you can still customize a heck of a lot. There over 180 design templates to start with, as well as 14 categories of page layouts, including text, photo galleries, events, and even restaurant reservations.
These page types can be further customized by adding blocks, but you do hit some limitations based on the layout you choose. For example, I had chosen an About page template but was not able to embed a video as intended. I asked chat support, and was told that embedding a video was only allowed on certain page types:
I ended up redoing that page as a basic text page, rather than using an About page layout, to remedy the issue.
What SITE123 lacks in design freedom is made up for in a few other significant benefits. The predetermined layouts ensure that your site is aesthetically pleasing, no matter what – you won’t mess up the feel of your whole site because something is misaligned by a fraction of an inch.
In addition, fewer places to change colors and fonts means you spend more time on your site content and less time wondering if this shade or that other one is closer to what you want. This simplicity also leads to faster load speeds on both desktop and mobile, which is critical for a good site experience.
SITE123 also has a fairly robust free plan, and the lowest-tier premium plan adds a lot more storage, a free domain name, and e-commerce capabilities. You’ll also find a lot more customization options if you want more design freedom. It’s a good value option for a lot of blogs and small businesses.
SITE123 doesn’t have a ton of extra features, but it does cover the basics that most site builders offer, and in a simpler manner than others. Here are some of those:
- SEO: You can add your title tag, meta description, and image alt text, but that’s about it. There’s also a keyword meta tag field, but that’s pretty obsolete in SEO, so more of an unnecessary inclusion than a real feature.
- Online Store: The online store is pretty thorough in terms of adding product information, and felt very easy to move through as someone who has never set up e-commerce sites before. It comes as a built-in page type on the premium plan or higher, so you don’t have to add anything extra to get started.
- Single-page Website: Although this feature gave me the most trouble at first, SITE123 is certainly the easiest builder for making a single page site with distinct sections and automatic navigation links throughout the page. It’s a great option for portfolios and resumes or event websites that only require a single page.
|Ease of Use||8/10|
|Number of Templates||~100|
|Number of Apps||60+|
Ease of Use
Squarespace is one of the easier block editors to use, bringing to mind a hybrid of Wix and WordPress.com. Moving between the different pieces of the block editor feels smoother and more natural than WordPress.com, and everything is a bit easier to find.
Upon starting, the Assistant feature gives you a checklist of everything you need to get your site started, and can be called upon or hidden as you need (or don’t need) it. It walks you through basic steps for website setup and links you to the relevant guide for as much information as you need. Most website builders have some form of tutorial, but Squarespace’s was certainly the most helpful.
One small but very helpful feature is the ability to bounce back and forth between the live site preview and editor in a single window, unlike SITE123 and other editors that open tab after tab any time you want to preview a change.
Squarespace has some of the best-designed templates in the industry, and they’re on par with the average WordPress.com theme in terms of design flexibility. You can’t change every single color like you can on Wix, and you have some natural limitations by way of the block editor, but overall you can do a ton of customization, and it’s built so that anything you do looks pretty spectacular.
One of my favorite design features is the color palette picker, where you choose three basic colors to match your site, and Squarespace generates broader color themes to be used throughout. Here’s the color palette for my Sqaurespace test site:
And here are the themes it generated:
You can edit these color themes more heavily, but sticking to them ensures that you have a designer’s eye on your color palette, even if you’re not a designer yourself. You don’t have to wonder if that color font looks good on that color background, because Squarespace is telling you: these ones do.
Squarespace doesn’t have a free plan, but you get a lot of features even on the lower tiers. You can also test it out with a free 14-day trial before committing to the paid plan. As you move up in price point, you’ll get more advanced e-commerce features, so smaller blogs and online stores can use Squarespace affordably. The advanced e-commerce plans are generally a bit more affordable than those of e-commerce-specific builders.
Overall, it seems like Squarespace is committed to ensuring you have the best possible site, and they know a free plan just won’t cut it to get you the best experience and website there is.
Squarespace’s strongest point is its designs, but there are a few other points worth noting:
- Online Store: Adding products is a bit less intuitive than the store setups on other regular site builders, but it’s on par with the e-commerce-specific builders. After testing all of these builders and learning a lot about online stores, I’ve noticed that the more advanced and capable e-commerce functions come with a steeper learning curve. That’s true of Squarespace as well.
- Built-in Email Campaigns: When you publish a post, you can start building an email campaign with their email feature directly from the post. This is easily the most integrated email capability out of any of the website builders – you don’t have to add any integrations or extensions to access this.
- Other Marketing Features: The SEO features are pretty standard for a website builder, but there are a few other standout marketing features. There are direct integrations with Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, and even a URL builder to help you track paid search campaigns.
|Ease of Use||6/10|
|Number of Templates||250 free/thousands available|
|Number of Plugins||~50K (third-party)|
Ease of Use
WordPress.com’s Gutenberg block editor is somewhat easy to use if you understand the concept of using blocks to create layouts. You can start building a page from an existing template for layout to streamline your design experience, and there are dozens of block types to choose from. These are helpfully categorized by their purpose, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time hunting for what you need.
More so than the other block editors on this list, I found this one to be a bit annoying. It sometimes placed blocks slightly off alignment for no reason that I could determine, meaning I had to rework parts of the page or copy existing blocks to get it to work correctly. This isn’t insurmountable, but happens just often enough to be annoying.
On the Business plan or higher, you do have the option to install Elementor, a plugin that creates a drag-and-drop editor experience.
While everything within the editor is clearly labeled, it often feels like you have to jump around a bit to get everything for a single page done. For example, to edit the background color, you have to leave the block editor and go to the customizer and then back, which feels a bit disjointed, especially compared to other website builders where every customization and change can be done in the same interface.
Customization options vary widely and are entirely dependent on the theme you choose. My first theme wouldn’t even let me change colors or fonts, but the second one I chose allowed far more options. In general, it seems that the more recent, WordPress-created themes will allow greater flexibility – I used one called Twenty Twenty for my WordPress test site – while third-party themes are hit-or-miss in those capabilities.
There are page templates available to jumpstart your design, but you can also start with a completely blank page and add blocks in whatever arrangement you like. There’s a good balance of freedom and guidance when it comes to design flexibility: if you’re building your first website, you won’t feel like you have to suddenly master web design, and if you’re an experienced designer, you won’t feel limited by existing templates.
WordPress.com’s flexibility extends to functionality as well, with thousands of plugins available to add analytics, contact forms, SEO, and almost anything you can think of. The plugins are largely compatible with the block editor, although as with the themes, those by third-party creators may have some limitations on what they can do. (Keep in mind that you do need a Business plan or higher to install plugins.)
WordPress.com has one of the widest ranges of prices (there’s also a free plan available), and there are significant distinctions between each plan. The lowest tiers are very affordable, and are sufficient for bloggers or freelancers who need a highly functional but low cost website. The Business plan is needed to access plugins, custom themes, and other advanced features, but with everything it offers, it is well worth the cost.
Plugins make up a lot of WordPress.com’s best features, but there were a few small built-in things that were convenient and I didn’t see in other site builders:
- Image attribution from Pexels and other stock sites are automatically added
- Videos can be directly uploaded
- Most import/export options between platforms
- Fastest load speeds on desktop and mobile
|Ease of Use||9/10|
|Number of Templates||50|
|Number of Apps||350+|
When I started building my test website, I was asked to choose between building a website, or building a website with an online store. I chose the online store option, and eventually learned that with this route, there is no built-in blog feature as a side effect of the acquisition by Square. You have the option to add a blog as an RSS feed, or create pages as standalone posts, but you won’t get any blog management tools within the platform.
If you choose the standard option, you’ll be directed to the classic Weebly editor. I built websites using both tools to understand the difference between the two, and have differentiated the results below.
Ease of Use
Weebly E-commerce Builder by Square
The Weebly e-commerce builder is extremely easy to use, following a similar setup to Jimdo and SITE123 with premade layouts that you add and rearrange in the sidebar. You can toggle separate elements of these layouts on and off, so you preserve the integrity of the original layout while still making it your own.
The online store setup provides a nice balance of extra features with a really simple interface to use. As I was building my Weebly online store, I found that I could quickly add products with just name, description, and image, or get more advanced and add categories, SEO, and more.
There are some unique layouts, like menu highlights, that make Weebly a good option for restaurants and coffee shops. You don’t have to add an app or integration to use this feature – it’s built right in.
Classic Weebly Site Builder
This builder was more difficult to use in comparison to the e-commerce builder. It’s more similar to Squarespace in functionality, but offers far fewer options. You can add preformed layouts instead of building from scratch, but you need to individually delete each element of a chosen layout on the page itself, rather than toggling them on and off in the sidebar, making the process of building my Weebly demo site a bit longer than I would have liked.
One particularly nice feature is that the block editor applies to blog posts as well, so you have extra flexibility in how those look. One particularly annoying feature is that for several things, like changing font styles or adding products, you have to navigate to a completely separate sidebar or interface, which takes a long time compared to how quickly everything goes in the e-commerce builder.
Weebly E-commerce Builder by Square
In general, the design flexibility is limited. There are fewer color, font, and template options than on other website builders (and compared to the classic Weebly builder), and while you can toggle certain elements of layout blocks on and off, there’s still not a lot of wiggle room.
The advanced design options for color and such offer a few more options, but are still far simpler than what you’ll find elsewhere. If you have unique branding or want to have a lot of design freedom, Weebly likely isn’t your best choice.
Classic Weebly Site Builder
What the classic builder lacks compared to the e-commerce builder, it makes up for in additional design flexibility. It’s still not as customizable as other website builders, but you have far more color, font, and layout options, including picking your own color rather than a preset one.
Weebly is very affordable, with its essential features available even on the free plan. The main advantage of upgrading to the lowest paid plan is connecting a custom domain, and you’ll need to upgrade further if you want to remove ads and add shipping capabilities. Overall, it’s a great value for local businesses and restaurants.
|Ease of Use||8/10|
|Number of Templates||none – site generated based on questions|
|Number of Apps||none|
Ease of Use
When you start building your Jimdo website, you’re asked to answer a series of questions about your site goals, color scheme, and a few other things. It then prefills your website with your chosen colors, important site pages, and page layouts it thinks you’ll like, so you can jump right into adding content.
This was the most thorough start to a site out of all the builders on the list, because it actually completed some of the first steps for me, like choosing colors and adding pages, rather than giving me a list of things to do myself.
I later learned, however, that Jimdo has two different website editors, each with slightly different capabilities: Dolphin is used to build basic websites and online stores, while Creator has blog functionality and allows for custom code. (Read our breakdown of these two editors here.)
You’re directed to an editor based on your answers to the type of site you’re trying to build, so unless you know the difference ahead of time, you might find yourself lacking important functionality. During some additional tests I ran after discovering the site I was building on Dolphin couldn’t host a blog, I found that by choosing “Blog” as your website type you can add a store and other features, but you can’t add a blog if you choose “Website” or “Store.”
Jimdo Dolphin wins the prize for fastest website builder: everything you see on the Jimdo test site, I did in just about 30 minutes. Granted, I did a bit of a blog post workaround because of the issue mentioned above, but you can still do a lot very quickly.
Jimdo Dolphin is similar to Squarespace in that it lets you choose a starting point for your colors and fonts, and then automatically generates the styles you can use throughout. This makes design simpler, faster, and more aesthetically pleasing, but it also means you won’t get as much variation as you can on Wix.
The color palette creator lets you use a slider to choose the tone of your site, which gives you more flexibility than other editors while still keeping your design colors cohesive.
The available blocks are more like page layouts than true blocks like you find in WordPress.com or Squarespace. You can add or remove elements from a specific block, but there are limitations to what you can change.
I didn’t run a full test on Jimdo Creator, but in my initial set up of a blog-centered site, I was asked to pick a full template to work from. The design options there appeared to be similarly flexible.
Jimdo does have a lot of options, and the setup does make everything go quickly. It’s hard to imagine needing a layout that you couldn’t piece together in Jimdo.
You’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan faster on Jimdo than you would on another website builder, because you’re limited to five total web pages on the free plan. Only the Unlimited plan lets you build as many pages as you want, even though there’s a lot of storage available on lower plans, so it’s a strange pricing setup that isn’t really useful for sites that may want to grow their blog or store beyond these limitations. You’ll get the same features as the unlimited plan, plus extras, for a lower price on most other website builders.
Jimdo doesn’t have a ton of flashy extras, but there are a couple of features worth noting:
- Legal Text Generator: On the unlimited plan, you can use their legal text helper to create privacy policies and other legal text to help you remain compliant with GDPR and other regulations.
- Automatic SEO: Jimdo claims to take care of SEO necessities for you, but there’s not an easy way to see what they’ve changed or why. The “optimized” meta titles are just the page name appended with the site name, so it doesn’t really lend itself well to true SEO strategy if that’s your goal.
|Ease of Use||5/10|
|Number of Templates||12|
|Number of Apps||none|
Ease of Use
SimpleSite uses the same core editor functions as many other website builders, where you add content sections to your page. You can only edit them in a pop-up, not within the sidebar, so you can’t see your changes as you make them, causing a lot of back and forth in the editor. The basics are simple to figure out, but building my SimpleSite test site was not the smoothest editing experience.
On the free plan, design options are the bare minimum. You can choose preset fonts and color schemes, but have no ability to edit them. There are only a handful of content layouts to add to your pages, although it does offer dividers and spacers, which is something I only saw on WordPress.com and Squarespace block editors during this test.
The premium plan unlocks more design options, but due to payment processing failure on SimpleSite’s end, I could not test these.
SimpleSite seems a little pricey for what it offers. You have to pay for unlimited design flexibility, which you can get for free on Wix and several other builders. There aren’t any special add-ons at higher tiers, like analytics or SEO assistance, and it’s toward the higher end of prices for the most popular monthly plan.
They did offer me one month of the Pro plan for just $1, but since I wasn’t able to actually test it, I can’t assess its value.
|Ease of Use||6/10|
|Number of Templates||14|
|Number of Apps||14|
Ease of Use
I like a lot of things about the Volusion website builder: the sidebar is easy to navigate and use, the product adding process is thorough but streamlined, and it’s easy to find how to track orders, inventory, and more. Each navigation item in the dashboard is also color-coded and has a unique icon, so the interface is visually appealing and easy to navigate.
As I was building my Volusion site, a few things became more difficult. Volusion has no built-in blog features, so you have to integrate one from WordPress or another blog platform. This was simple enough in theory, but it wasn’t obvious that you have to omit the “https://” from the beginning of your blog URL.
You also can’t directly add a contact form, which I found pretty absurd. I asked the live chat support about this and was told it might be possible to add using custom HTML, but they couldn’t tell me for sure. Although support was helpful and quick overall, having to get really technical to add what is a standard feature on every other website builder (and something that’s crucial for e-commerce sites) is really inconvenient.
Lastly, while the individual places to edit your site are smooth and intuitive, navigating back and forth between the editor itself and product management tool felt like an unnecessarily long process to make quick edits on the store layout.
Volusion has a lot of design capabilities, up there with some of the top website builders on this list. You can completely customize your color selections. There is a small but strong selection of content blocks, and you can edit the default block layout and save it to use again somewhere else on your site. There are plenty of options for fine-tuning each block, all with simple drop-downs or toggle bars to flip back and forth.
Volusion’s e-commerce interface is colorful and fairly straightforward. It guides you through each step of adding and categorizing products, tracking inventory, and managing orders, with each section naturally leading you to the next. It’s also the easiest for tracking product variants, automatically combining multiple variants and creating a list form which you can track inventory on a variant level.
E-commerce builders are always more expensive than regular website builders, because they include far more storage and analytics capabilities. Volusion is comparably priced to the other e-commerce builders at any plan level, but it’s only worth your money if you’re consistently selling a high volume of products. There is a 14-day free trial, so you can see if it’s right for you before you commit to a plan.
|Ease of Use||7/10|
|Number of Templates||8 free/64 paid|
|Number of Apps||4000+|
Ease of Use
Shopify has many features that are easy to use, but the style of editor changes depending on what you’re working on, which isn’t an ideal experience. The homepage editor is a block-type editor like SITE123 or Jimdo, but every other page is edited in a text-based format that’s reminiscent of the pre-Gutenberg WordPress editor.
The product manager and editor has a similar feel, so it doesn’t come across quite as modern as the e-commerce options on other builders. The app I used for the photo gallery on my Shopify test site had an even more outdated feel, but as with most external apps, that could have just been chance.
Despite the older feel of some of the editing options, it’s still fairly simple to navigate and find what you need. Blocks and apps are well-categorized and clearly labelled, and you can sort and filter your products by a lot of different criteria.
Shopify also has a robust support section, so anything that is more difficult to accomplish can be easily found in the help center.
Shopify has a lot of color and font options to customize your theme, as well as a strong selection of blocks from which you can build your homepage. The layout flexibility doesn’t extend to other pages, but a handful of the thousands of available apps are page builders which may provide additional design flexibility to some store pages. (However, if you need a lot of site content and a lot of online store capability, you likely need a different website builder anyway.)
Shopify’s e-commerce features are intended to benefit brick-and-mortar retailers as well, so they have some cool features for adding locations and tracking inventory at each store, as well as transfers to and from locations.
Beyond that, they offer ways of tracking products, inventory, and variants that are similar to Volusion and BigCommerce, but more robust than e-commerce features on a standard website builder.
All of the e-commerce builders have similar pricing structures, but Shopify gives you a bit more bang for your buck (there’s also a free trial). You can get massive shipping discounts, the ability to add store locations, and a few other goodies for a similar price as Volusion.
|Ease of Use||4/10|
|Number of Templates||12|
|Number of Apps||750+|
BigCommerce is probably the least intuitive website builder on this list. While the product management tools are fairly easy to navigate, moving back and forth between the product listings and the site designer is confusing and long.
There are also two different page editors: one for text and basic settings, and a block-like editor akin to SITE123. The only way I found to get to the block editor was by clicking on “customize theme,” which doesn’t really make sense to me. Once you make it to the site designer, it’s fairly easy to use, with pretty standard design options that are clearly labelled.
The product listings, on the other hand, are truly easy to use. There is clear navigation to find what you need, and you never have to go hunting for whatever it is you want to change, add, or track. You can add a ton of information on a product in a single screen, and then make changes on a larger scale for product variants, sale prices, and more.
There are truly a TON of customization options on the global theme, and they are all listed in one place so it’s easy to make sure you’re consistent in your choices.
There are pretty limited layout options in general, and while my BigCommerce test site looks nice, I don’t find what you can build with the site designer to be all that impressive. The product and category pages are the best-looking of the bunch, but you can’t alter them – they’re automatically created as you add products.
BigCommerce has a number of advanced e-commerce features that start to make up for the lack of flexibility in design. In addition to the robust product information inputs, you can save product variant options to be quickly applied to multiple products and add specific brands to track inventory by that criteria. There’s also a built-in product review feature.
On higher level plans, you can access even more, like product filtering and price lists for extra categorization and functionality for your customers.
As with the other e-commerce builders on this list, pricing is fairly similar. BigCommerce has the most disparity in its plans, however, with some of the coolest features (like product filtering) reserved for the higher tier plans. If your goal is to manage a huge number of products and ensure the best shopping experience for your customers, BigCommerce will be worth whatever plan is in your budget. You can take advantage of the 15-day free trial to take it for a test drive.
What I Learned and What Surprised Me
Before taking on this project, I hadn’t given much thought to just how different website builders can be. This testing process showed me just how much range there is, and how you truly do need the right website builder in order to have the best experience for both you as the person building the site and your visitors.
What surprised me the most was seeing the trade-offs of design flexibility and other factors in action. In general, website builders that offer more flexibility, like Wix, took longer to build and have slower page load speeds, while those that limit your options make the site build go faster and are more guaranteed to have good design (because you can’t mess it up by deciding your DIY layout is better).
After testing so many website builders and creating actual websites, here’s the main advice I’d give to those deciding on a website builder:
- Know your site goals ahead of time. Do you want to sell products or run a blog? Both? This will help you pick the right website builder, as they all have different strengths. Opt for a more flexible one if you aren’t sure.
- Cheap (or free) isn’t always better. Some website builders have really great value plans, but overall, you get what you pay for. You and your visitors will have a better experience if you’re willing to pay for a plan.
- It’s okay to rely on pre-made designs. Lots of website builders want you to know you have a lot of flexibility, but doing a lot of DIY design has the potential to go poorly quickly. If you know you don’t have an eye for design, choosing a builder that has strong guidelines built-in, like Squarespace, can be really helpful.
There’s a lot of personal preference that goes into choosing a website builder, so think carefully about what you need from one before committing. If you need more help in making your decision, read through our extensive reviews on each website builder for more information.
If you hire a designer, you’ll find yourself paying more for their time and experience (although you can use Fiverr to find inexpensive options), but you’ll get a stunning professional design that is unique to you.
On average, the most popular plans are between $12-$25 per month, if you purchase the annual plan. Paying for a year upfront will save you money overall, but will require a higher payment initially.
Don’t miss our ultimate guide to Wix pricing.
If you don’t have a pressing need for a custom domain, upgrading to a paid plan will depend largely on your site needs and the builder you choose. As soon as your site needs to outgrow the free plan, you should upgrade – but that could be when you need more than 5 pages on Jimdo, or when you need more than 500 MB of storage on Wix.
Most website builders will offer a free domain name with a yearlong subscription to a paid plan, which is typically the easiest option for obtaining your domain name. You can also find domain names from domain registrars or web hosting providers. Check out our guide to choosing a domain name if you need more help.