Best Website Builders for 2019
The Most Comprehensive Website Builder Comparison Ever Performed
In my 15+ years working as a web designer, I’ve had the opportunity to build a lot of different types of sites. I know what makes a good site – and a bad one. For this comparison project, I decided to test all the major website builders out there to bring you a detailed breakdown of their features. I built a real website with each of the platforms to give you a better understanding of what you can achieve with each.
This list is not a popularity contest, and the builders are not ranked according to how many users they have or how much they pay to be promoted (that kind of list you can find literally anywhere). It was important to me to use my own experience as a web designer and developer to help you make an informed decision about the best website builder for your needs.
Jump straight down to see the websites I built (don’t miss the cat photos!) and read about my experiences, or keep scrolling to find out which website builders are really the best ones out there.
- Over 500 professionally designed templates
- Beginner-friendly drag-and-drop editor
- Sell online easily with no commissions
As an old-school web designer, using Wix was a pleasant surprise for me. The amount of flexibility it offers is incomparable, and with just a few clicks, it gives you superpowers that usually require weeks of late-night coding to achieve.
Building my site with the Wix editor was easy, but if you don’t have the time or the patience, you can opt to use Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) for an even quicker start – just answer a few simple questions, and it will actually build your website for you.
On the Wix free plan, you get access to 500+ fully customizable templates and hundreds of free and paid apps on the App Market. If you only need a small, personal website, I’d recommend this route.
However, if you need a more serious site, you’ll want to upgrade to one of the paid plans. I personally recommend the Unlimited plan for regular sites and the Business Unlimited plan for online stores. The pricier plans are not worth the difference for most users.
- Build a website in three simple steps
- Simple e-commerce tools for beginners
- Highly responsive 24/7 live chat support
I was a bit disappointed to find out that Site123 didn’t give me as much design freedom as other builders on this list. If you’ve built websites before or if you already have a clear idea in mind of how you want to design your site, it might not be the best option for you.
However, if you’re a beginner, or if you just need to get a website online as soon as possible, Site123 is one of your best options. With its simple interface, my building experience was smooth and quick. There was no confusion, no fuss, no messing around with different site elements. It really is as easy as they claim.
All you have to do is choose from 100+ templates or have the platform create a custom layout for you. Then, you can personalize your site by changing the layouts of different pages and sections individually. My favorite part is that these templates are all mobile-responsive – meaning your site will look great on smartphones, tablets, and any other device.
- The most powerful and versatile site builder
- The best platform for professional blogging
- Special features and plugins for business sites
I must admit, I’m a bit biased towards the freedom WordPress.com provides. This platform is flexible enough to use for any type of website, from a simple personal blog to a complex e-commerce shop.
But with this freedom comes a bigger learning curve than other builders on this list. WordPress.com won’t build your website for you, it doesn’t have a drag-and-drop interface, and it might take some trial and error to find everything you need in the editor. That said, I think it’s totally worth the extra effort.
The free plan, which includes 3 GB of storage space, allows you to select from over 100 themes. If you upgrade to the Business plan, you can choose from thousands of premium themes from WordPress or third-party marketplaces. More importantly, the Business plan allows you to install plugins to enhance your site’s functionality, and from that point on, the sky’s the limit.
- Beautiful collection of customizable templates
- Powerful e-commerce tools for small businesses
- Built-in marketing features and integrations
What can I say, I’m a sucker for a smooth, clean interface, and Squarespace offers just that. It’s easy for me to see why it’s so popular among creative types and online businesses. Much like the editor itself, Squarespace’s 100+ templates are beautifully designed. They are easy to customize and hard to mess up (like with some other builders that allow their users a bit too much freedom). Not only that, but they’re fully mobile-responsive, meaning whichever one you choose, it will look perfect on any device.
Squarespace comes with many advanced features, including appointment scheduling, restaurant reservations, and Amazon product blocks. You don’t have to go to a separate app store to add these enhancements to your website – they are all available as built-in features in the easy-to-use Squarespace editor.
Although it doesn’t have a free plan, you can take advantage of Squarespace’s 14-day free trial to experiment with the editor and see if you like it as much as I do.
- Personalized SEO guidance for better ranking
- Supports 7 languages + localization settings
- Build a simple shop with basic e-commerce tools
As I was getting started with Jimdo, it offered me two options: the standard “Coder” editor or Jimdo Dolphin, an AI (artificial intelligence) wizard that can get your site up and running in as little as three minutes. As you can imagine, I couldn’t resist trying them both.
The “Coder” editor was my favorite of the two, as it allows experienced users some added flexibility. For some reason, Dolphin managed to mess up the layout of my site’s text… but I still think it’s a decent choice if you’re building your first site. It’s so easy, literally anyone can use it to get a site online in no time.
Jimdo’s templates are all mobile-responsive, and I especially liked the fact that you can preview them in desktop mode and vertical and horizontal phone displays. This really gives you the ability to be extra nitpicky about every detail of your site. And nitpicky I am.
- Guided setup wizard, perfect for beginners
- Huge range of free/paid apps and integrations
- E-commerce and marketing features for SMBs
Weebly may not be the most advanced site builder out there, but it was one of the platforms I most enjoyed using during my experiment. I was able to build the exact page layout I wanted, and the whole process was quick and easy.
As far as I’m concerned, everything this website builder lacks in features, it makes up in simplicity and ease of use. The simple drag-and-drop editor is great for beginners, and there’s even an interactive step-by-step guide when you first start building your website.
The template selection is a bit limited, and I’m not too crazy about that. But you can customize the designs, and change your template at any time, which is a big plus. You can also add extra features by installing any of the 350+ free and paid apps, even on the free plan, including pricing tables, Facebook Messenger, and pop-up marketing tools.
- Full mobile optimization across all devices
- Unlimited images/video minutes on paid plans
- Sell up to five products on the free plan
SimpleSite, the most simple-to-use website builder, certainly lives up to its name. The point-and-click site editor is a decent option for complete beginners, but I believe most users will find it a bit too simple, and that’s saying it lightly.
SimpleSite doesn’t let you choose a template (what’s up with that?) Instead, you provide your site name and industry, and get a pre-made site layout to work with. You can customize this layout a bit, but you will soon find that your options are very limited. Sure, this all means you can get your website online very quickly, but it’s probably not going to be the website of your dreams.
SimpleSite comes with basic e-commerce features, and surprisingly enough, you can sell up to five products on the free plan (although you won’t be able to receive online payments). If you do decide to upgrade, you get a free domain name and the ability to sell unlimited products.
- Easiest e-commerce platform for beginners
- Fully responsive and customizable templates
- Over 100 payment gateways, plus Shopify Payments
Shopify lets you create an online store quickly and easily. Unlike other dedicated store builders, it quite a lot of flexibility for an e-commerce site builder, which made it one of my personal favorites in this experiment.
You can manage your products, set up payment gateways, and analyze your sales using its clean dashboard. Shopify stores are automatically optimized to help you achieve high conversion rates.
There are additional features you can add via the App Market, which I found to have a particularly good selection of marketing and customer service apps – making Shopify suitable for you whether you’re a beginner or a more confident user.
- Most comprehensive e-commerce platform around
- Multi-channel selling with more integrations
- Almost limitless product variations and options
BigCommerce is perhaps less well-known than its rival Shopify, but as a platform for e-commerce, it actually has more to offer, especially for larger online stores.
When testing it I was glad to see that despite its robust feature, it’s absolutely beginner-friendly at the same time as appealing to advanced users. When you first get started, your online store will be pre-populated with dummy products, making it easier for you to build your store and understand product variants, options, categories, and more.
The only thing I found disappointing is BigCommerce’s templates – there are only a few free options, and plenty of paid templates – but you can customize any of the templates easily, and they’re all fully mobile-responsive.
- Best e-commerce plugin for WordPress websites
- Free to use, with tons of free/paid extensions
- Fully flexible, with unlimited product variants
I love WordPress. WooCommerce is a WordPress-specific plugin. It could be a match made in website-heaven…but it wasn’t. Being nothing but a store plugin, WooCommerce doesn’t really let you design your store page. Most of the design is determined by your WordPress theme and settings.
This isn’t a bad thing, though. WooCommerce is easy to use, and is 100% free and simple to install. The downside, of course, is that you can only use this (and any other) plugin on WordPress.com Business or eCommerce plans or if you’re using self-hosted WordPress.
My favorite part about WooCommerce is that you can add unlimited products, create unlimited product variants and options, and add unlimited images and videos to showcase your products. WooCommerce works with most WordPress themes, so you have access to a huge selection of designs, too.
- Extensive and powerful e-commerce features
- Hassle-free online store setup process
- Intuitive dashboard to monitor and manage sales
Volusion is geared at more advanced users than other e-commerce platforms. It offers outstanding analytics and reporting to help you learn more about your customers. If you’ve got some experience with building or running an online store, you’ll really appreciate Volusion’s unique features, including search functionality and product category pages.
While the page design experience with this platform is less-than-exciting, I did like the fact that you can also integrate your store with other sales platforms like eBay and Amazon Marketplace for more online sales.
Project: I Tested 11 Site Builders – Here’s What Happened to My Site (and Brain)
What I did: What I just said. I created a website using a lot of different site builders, all at once… more or less.
Why I did it:
- To provide you with up-to-date information about the best site builders out there, and to help you choose the right one for your business.
- To see if the human brain can handle that sort of thing.
- So you don’t have to.
That first reason is the most important one. We want you to know the key differences between these site builders. What you’ll find here is not an in-depth review of each one (I’m not sure anyone has the time to catalog that much information), but a summary of the basic information you’ll need to narrow down your options.
Once you’ve trimmed my list of 11 down to three or four, you can go and read the in-depth reviews of the site builders that catch your eye. See? We’re all about saving you time and money. That’s really what’s at stake, after all: If you pick the wrong site builder to start, you could spend hours upon hours (not to mention money upon money) learning how to use it, only to find out later that another one does what you need better and faster.
The stakes are even higher for people who’ve never built a website before. Building websites is one of those skills you learn by making lots of mistakes. You don’t want to be making those mistakes again and again as you try different site builders, when you’re supposed to be making money off your site.
Which Are the Top Website Builders Available in 2019?
One problem when choosing a site builder is that many of the best-known builders are pretty good, or at least pretty good at one thing. To separate the best from the rest, we looked at three main criteria:
- Ease of use: How easy is it to learn to use the site builder? How easy is it to build a website quickly?
- Flexibility: How many different kinds of sites can you build?
- Pricing: Everyone wants more value for their money.
These criteria formed the backbone of a simple process I used to narrow dozens of options down to a more manageable list.
To get a sense of ease of use, I had to start by taking a quick look at the actual “builder” part of each service. I’d ask questions like: Is everything where you’d expect it to be? Can you move things around the page quickly and easily? How much does it feel like you’re fighting the software to get what you want?
To assess flexibility, I took a look at the overall feature set:
- Does the platform include blog functionality?
- A way to add custom forms?
- A way to customize basic parts of your website’s theme?
- Can you add a membership system?
All of these factors determine the kind of site you can build. Just remember that increased flexibility often means increased complexity in building your site.
As for pricing, this is where I had to start making some deeper comparisons between site builders. One might be more expensive than another, with fewer features. That seems bad, but those features might be better and easier to use. Or they might not. The value of a product is all about getting the most things you actually need for the least amount of money.
By asking all these questions, I trimmed my list of a lot of site builders down to 11. Here is a quick list. Read on for all the details and a look at the site I created with each one.
Choices 8-11 are e-commerce specialists, while the others are more general site builders. But I didn’t just look at some key features of each service and call it a day. No, that would be the easy way. I had to test all these site builders to get a proper idea of how they work, and what they can be used for.
If You Want to Test a Website Builder, You Have to Build a Real Website
Well… real-ish, anyway. For this project, I created a company called “Cleocatra’s Pawfect Pictures.” It’s about as real as any TV show with the word “Housewives” in the title.*
* Except for Desperate Housewives, which was totally real.
I wrote out some content, grabbed some pictures of my cat (who really is named Cleocatra), and put together a basic page template. It was designed to get people to sign up for my entirely fictional newsletter full of cat pictures, which, now that I think of it, might actually be a good business idea.
My editor did tell me that I could choose a different website topic, but I decided to go with something tried and true. Maybe next time I’ll design a belated fan page for The Nanny.
Below is the page template, in wireframe form.* My goal for each site builder was to create a decent-looking (if not very colorful) copy of this layout in as little time as possible. I did not try to copy the exact layout, just this basic structure:
- The header image
- Text that describes the service
- The benefits of the service
- The call to action
- The disclaimer to keep myself from ever getting sued
* Wireframes are what designers use to determine the basic layout of a page or user interface. They are not used for getting into details like colors, fonts, imagery, and generally making the site look pretty.
The process was about the same for most of the site builders: Sign up/log in, answer a couple of questions about the site I wanted to build, hunt for a theme or template that looked about right, and start building. It usually took me at least a few minutes to get used to the user interface and find the options I needed, and then I got to work.
My web page was designed to be just that – a page. Not a whole big site, just a one-pager, what some people might call a “landing page.” The strategy for the design is simple: make you look at kitty pictures, then encourage you to sign up for more kitty pics (but not really).
I expected most of these site builders to be easy to use, and in general they were. But that’s partly because I already knew exactly what I was looking for, and I’ve had some practice with web design. For people who don’t do this for a living, the learning curve will be a bit more gradual. Still, you’ll find the process pretty simple. That speaks well of the people who made these products.
Many of the site builders were rather similar, varying only in the details. Some were more intuitive to use than others, some were more flexible, and some just had more features (e.g., a couple of them don’t have a built-in newsletter sign-up function).
Here are links to all the pages I built on site builders that have a proper free plan. The rest I can only share as screenshots because, well… no free plan. I ain’t made of money.
- Wix: https://ezequielbruni.wixsite.com/cleocatra
- Site123: https://5d8af068a51ba.site123.me/
- WordPress.com: https://cleocatra181981853.wordpress.com
- Jimdo: https://cleocatras-pawfect-pictures.jimdosite.com/
- Weebly: https://cleocatratoebane.weebly.com
- SimpleSite: http://cleocatra2.simplesite.com/
What Did I Look For in the Best Website Builders?
Beyond just building a page with each of these site builders, it was my job to look at the services and identify “the best one(s).” To dig deeper into our three main categories of Ease of Use, Flexibility, and Pricing, I looked at these specific criteria:
- Cost-to-value: How many useful features do you get for the money you pay?
- Functionality: How does the site builder app perform – any annoying glitches? And how complex of a site does it allow you to build? Can you add a blog, a forum, or even an image-based slideshow?
- Templates: How many are there? How good are they?
- Add-ons and apps: Does the site builder allow you to integrate third-party tools and apps to extend its functionality?
- Customization: How much control do you have over how your site looks and works? How many details can you change easily?
While I have my opinions about which ones are the best, you should be looking for the best site builder for you. Your specific needs might not be the same as mine or Cleocatra’s. To help you make your own decision at the end of all this, I’ll give you as much information as possible that might help.
For starters, here’s a table listing some of the basic features of each website builder.
|Free Plan||Templates||Drag & Drop Layout||Addons & Apps||E-commerce|
And Here’s How All the Site Builders Performed
And here it is, the culmination of all those hours I spent testing site builders. This is what I broke my brain for.* You’re welcome. I don’t do it for the fame, or the applause, but I wouldn’t say no to a parade in my honor.
* To be fair, my brain already had some mileage on it, and I haven’t been great about doing scheduled maintenance.
First off, Wix was fast, both in performance and in the time required to design my page. It’s reasonably intuitive to use, and has loads of option for… everything. With over 500 starting themes and lots of free and premium add-ons and apps, Wix was almost overkill for my purposes. I had this page up and running in short order:
If you want to learn more, read our full Wix review.
Site123 does not have templates in the usual sense. Instead, you get collections of components. There’s some nice flexibility with this system, but it can be hard to keep your colors and typography consistent. All in all, I found it a bit clunky to use, with fewer customization options than I’d like. I’m less than happy with what I built. And no, I couldn’t make the small images not circular.
Read more on our Site123 expert review.
WordPress is, in my personal opinion, more of a traditional content management system (CMS) than a site builder. It was designed above all to handle large volumes of content. Even so, WordPress’ content editor has a lot of layout functionality. I was able to build this site quickly and easily, based on one of its free themes:
Learn more in our in-depth WordPress.com review.
Suarespace has excellent, smooth, snappy themes, though admittedly it doesn’t have many of them. The page builder might take a bit of time to learn, but overall I’m quite happy with how my site came out. Squarespace has been in the business a long time, and you can build almost anything you might need. A simple page like this was no problem:
Want to learn more? Read our Squarespace expert review.
Jimdo is interesting because it actually has two site builders. The simple, smooth, fast “Dolphin” builder allows you to build pages from predetermined layout components, like Site123. However, the components all automatically use the color palettes and fonts you choose for your whole site, so it’s easier to maintain a consistent look.
The text near the top of my page got a bit messed up, and I don’t know why. Here’s how it was supposed to look:
The “Coder” version of Jimdo is more advanced, and uses a classic template system. It has 40+ templates, plus variations on each one. It also allows you to generate forms, integrate with Mailchimp, and edit some of the actual code, if you have the know-how and inclination. Here’s what I built with Coder:
To learn more, read our in-depth Jimdo review.
Weebly is flexible, simple, and chock full of features. I was able to build the layout I wanted pretty easily and quickly. The drag and drop is strong with this one, and it offers quite a few useful add-ons and apps for both paid and free plans. I’m pleased with how this page turned out, although I perhaps should have taken the trouble to add some color:
Read our expert Weebly review to find out if it’s right for you.
I found that the free version of SimpleSite didn’t do Cleocatra justice. (Did I mention that she’s amazing?) I couldn’t make the kind of page I wanted to, because SimpleSite just isn’t designed for complex layout. The signup form I came up with is a modified contact form, which could technically work, but isn’t great:
Learn more in our full SimpleSite review.
Shopify is… interesting. The site builder feature is not the main focus of the service, since Shopify is about creating a storefront first and foremost. However, unlike the other e-commerce specialists listed here, Shopify does have proper site builder functionality. Unfortunately, there is no drag and drop; everything is handled via a sidebar – content input, layout, colors, everything. That said, I was able to build exactly what I wanted to build.
Read our in-depth Shopify review for more information.
BigCommerce is e-commerce software, through and through. Like Volusion, it’s designed for you to build a shop, and that’s it. There are no drag-and-drop design features by default. If you want to completely change the design, you have to install a new theme. Of course, you can do small things like switching out images or deciding if you want sliding images on the home page, stuff like that. But your options are very limited.
There is a separate page builder available as an app, but I did not test it. I only tested the base software of each site builder for this project. Based on my tests, I can say that BigCommerce is fairly easy to use, and suitable for building high-volume and high-traffic online stores. So if that’s what you need, give it a look.
This is the page I managed to build with the default functionality:
Read our BigCommerce expert review to find out if it’s right for you.
WooCommerce is a different animal from all the others on this list. It certainly can help you build a site, and quickly, but like BigCommerce and Volusion, WooCommerce is all about the store. And here’s the thing: it’s actually a WordPress plugin.
That means WooCommerce can be used on WordPress.com if you pay for a Business plan, or on a self-hosted WordPress site (as in, hosted on your own server) for free. Yeah, the actual plugin is just totally, actually free.
I set up a test site to try it out, and discovered that you really can’t design your own page. Layouts and other design elements are determined by your settings and choice of themes. That said, WooCommerce is simple and easy to set up, as WordPress plugins go. So if you need an online store at the low price of free, WooCommerce isn’t bad at all.
Learn more in our in-depth WooCommerce review.
If you’re going to use Volusion, you better want to build a store, because that’s what Volusion does… stores. Sorry, Cleocatra ain’t for sale. Volusion advertises drag-and-drop capabilities, but I never found them. You can customize the fonts, colors, and the slideshow at the top of your home page, but that’s about it. Now, you can edit the HTML and CSS of your theme if you wish, but that sort of defeats the purpose of a site builder. Here’s what I got:
To learn more, read our Volusion expert review.
And the winner is… Wix!
Confession: I’m an old-school designer. If you ask me what my favorite way to build a website is, I’m going to say, “with raw HTML and CSS, in a glorified text editor like Visual Studio Code.” What can I say? I never do things the easy way. Ask my wife.
I also have a lot of history with WordPress, and love it. I liked Weebly. And I almost wish I had things to sell because in spite of its limitations, I liked Shopify, too.
But Wix has a whole lot to offer that made it really shine in this side-by-side-by-side test. With its sheer flexibility, wide selection of apps and add-ons, and just… all the stuff you can do, Wix takes the prize for overall functionality for the price. And it does all that while still being pretty easy to use. You can build exactly the design you want (well, unless you want to use some really obscure font), and that is usually what matters most.
Now again, what’s best for me isn’t necessarily best for you. But if you’re looking to build a simple personal or business site on the cheap with precisely the design you want, and with as few hassles as possible, Wix is most likely the way to go.
Quick Summary of Features
I’ve thrown a ton of information at you here, so here is a summary of the features of each site builder.
|Template access||Add-ons Access||Bandwidth||Storage||Pages|
|Jimdo||All||N/A||2 GB||500 MB||5|
First-tier paid plans:
|Domain||Template Access||Add-on Access||Bandwidth||Storage|
|Site123||1st Year Free||N/A||All||5GB||10GB|
|WordPress.com||1st Year Free||Limited||✗||Unlimited||6GB|
|Squarespace||1st Year Free||All||N/A||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Jimdo||1st Year free||All||N/A||10GB||5GB|
|Volusion||✗||Only the free ones||Yes, but not free||Unlimited||100 Products|
What I’ve Learned from This Experiment
After trying out all of these site builders to build my test page, I have to say that we’re in a bit of a golden age of website builders. Once upon a time, if you wanted to build a design the drag-and-drop way, you had to use Dreamweaver or Frontpage, and the code they generated was horrible. None of the site builders listed here will ever win awards for HTML and CSS optimization, but they don’t need to in order to give you what you need.
They’ve found a way to deliver pretty good websites for a variety of purposes, sites that you can build quickly without writing your own code. I would say that at this moment, the people doing it best are the people at Wix, but you might find that one of the other services fits your purpose even better.
And what, exactly, did this project do to my brain? Well, it took some time, coffee, and video games, but I’m alright now. I just have a powerful urge to go code a website the hard way for a while. But that’s a “me” thing.