Website builders have come a long way since the earliest days of internet. Those of you who are familiar with the names Dreamweaver or Frontpage know what I’m talking about. These two proprietary software packages were the first popular attempts at What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) drag-and-drop website editing. Dreamweaver was eventually purchased by Adobe and remains a popular builder for experienced developers who don’t mind the steep learning curve, while Frontpage, which used to be included in Microsoft’s Office suite, was discontinued around 2003 because nobody liked it. Seriously. Nobody. Liked. It.
Luckily for online entrepreneurs everywhere, the site building industry kept evolving because the masses 1) did not want to learn how to code, and 2) paying a legitimate web developer to build your website is pretty freakin’ expensive. Recent years have seen an explosion in both selection and functionality of drag-and-droppers, though there is a vast quality difference between the best of the best and what you might find in the picked over rest.
The problem arises that a layperson – perhaps such as those reading this article – are not familiar enough with the spectrum of site builders to be able to tell at a glance which are quality products and which are not worth the time it takes to open an account. Our mission with the following reviews is to help uncover the sneaky good builders and avoid the ones almost guaranteed to cause grief should you be unfortunate enough to get trapped in their DIY website development hell.
But first, I’m pretty sure you want to ask me a question, so go ahead…
Is It Better to Hire a Web Developer?
- 1 Is It Better to Hire a Web Developer?
- 2 Are You Qualified to Use a Site Builder?
- 3 The Review Process
- 4 1. SiteBuilder (one of the good guys)
- 5 2. Wix (marketing has created interest in this one)
- 6 3. SquareSpace (not great, not bad)
- 7 4. BoldGrid (cheap but with a steep learning curve)
- 8 5. Weebly (should be better than it is)
- 9 6. Jimdo (VERY sparse theme selection)
- 10 7. Doodlekit (fun name – not much else)
- 11 8. Webs (expensive and inefficient)
- 12 9. Yola (another horrible choice)
- 13 10. Web (as bad as it gets)
- 14 Let’s Summarize All This…
Better? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. There’s no question a qualified web developer can crank out a professional-looking website. There’s also no question you will likely pay anywhere from $2,000 and up, depending upon the features and functions you need. If you have more money than time, by all means pay a pro to build your web presence, but don’t lose track of the reality that you will probably pay again and again for maintenance and content updates at whatever the hourly rate is, which could easily be in the $50 to $100/hour range.
Now before a horde of web designers/developers get their undies in a bunch, I’ll be the first to say that they provide a necessary service and obviously one that is valued enough that an entire industry has sprung up around the idea. The presumption would be that if some dude or dudette is charging $5,000 to set up a website, there’s a market of people on the other end willing to pay it.
The often overlooked other side of the equation is that a quality DIY website builder can get you the same end result – a professional website – for less than twenty bucks a month (generally), and you could update the thing any time you wanted at no extra cost. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the modern site builder.
Are You Qualified to Use a Site Builder?
If you have a pulse and are over the age of two, there’s a good chance you have all the necessary intellect and hand/eye coordination to build a website with a drag-and-drop editor. Seriously, if you can turn on a computer and navigate your way to the any website, a DIY website builder should be well within your skillset. In fact, plenty of entrepreneurs in the following fields have already made use of site builders:
- Small business owners
- Pet groomers
You get the idea…
I could go on wasting more pixels with an even longer list, but I bet you see where I’m going. It doesn’t matter whether you want to create a simple personal blog, full-blown eCommerce site, or something in-between; good site building software can get you from idea to execution in short order.
The Review Process
How did I evaluate all these website builders? My, you’re full of questions today, but I don’t mind telling. Here is the process implemented with each builder on the list.
- Narrowed my targets to 10 by perusing legit sites like PCMag.com
- Opened an account with real money
- Built a quick website to put the builder though its paces
- Monitored (ongoing) each test site’s speed and uptime – some are downright terrible
- Checked each builder’s REAL cost – not just the advertised nonsense
Regarding that last point, the website builder industry, like every other industry in the world, loves to quote a bare bones price that is technically feasible but leaves you lacking many critical options and features. My analysis includes the actual cost to get a usable website online. Keep in mind I’m not here to shout from the rafters that every builder is full of charlatans. They call it a business because eventually they have to earn money. Charging a fee for service doesn’t make them bad; I just want you to know the costs involved in finishing and uploading a website you can actually use.
And for the short attention spans in the reading audience, here’s a snapshot of the comparison chart for the 10 site builders on the list. Below that we’ll get into the reviews.
Full Disclosure: This article contains referral links. Some people call them affiliate links. What it means is that, if you click on one and end up buying a product or service afterwards, I earn a small commission. Before you fly off the handle and swear I’m Satan’s lapdog, please remember I’m spending my own money to test these website builders so you don’t waste yours on a bad product. It also helps me stay motivated to bring you awesome unbiased reviews. Know that don’t recommend anything I haven’t tried. I highly value my online integrity and transparency.
1. SiteBuilder (one of the good guys)
- Good uptime and page loading speed
- FREE domain and email account
- 1,200 templates
- Easy blog functionality
Let’s get the suspense out of the way. Siteground is the top dog of site builders IMHO. They’re not looking to reel you in and forget you. The company realizes that they don’t succeed unless their customers do, and this philosophy is reflected in the intuitive nature of the builder and the heap o’ plenty quality templates.
Pros: $80/year is a good price
Cons: Slow account activation on the weekend (3 hours) was a little irksome
2. Wix (marketing has created interest in this one)
- 300+ quality templates
- Huge knowledge base archive
- Ad-free option at only $8.50/month
- Fast sign-up and activation
No longer a novelty among website builders, Wix has evolved beyond the hobbyist playground into a place where real, live websites intended for actual use are produced daily. The editor is easy to figure out and there are customization options out the wazoo. A REALLY good place to get your website going cheaply.
Pros: Probably the best signup experience – quick and painless
Cons: Websites look great but add-on prices could kill you, especially $5/month email
3. SquareSpace (not great, not bad)
- 40 very modern templates
- Great for visual businesses
- 24/7 live chat and email support
- FREE domain and privacy settings
To be totally honest, SquareSpace is probably suited for visual artists more than any other demographic. The templates are good but to you’ll need access to a steady supply of high-resolution images for best results. Like Wix, you’ll have to cough up an extra $5/month for email. A fully loaded website runs about $18/month, which is higher than most on this list.
Pros: Excellent uptime and loading speed; fast account activation.
Cons: The builder’s learning curve can be challenging
4. BoldGrid (cheap but with a steep learning curve)
- Build ANY type of website
- Choose from 3,000 WordPress themes
- Very low cost ($4.17/month)
- FREE domain, email, eCommerce
The VERY interesting thing about this builder is that it runs on the WordPress framework, which gives it the myriad of customizations inherent with this massively popular CMS platform. Great for any kind of website – online store, website, or just a blog. Pretty excited to see how this one develops in the future.
Pros: Thanks to WordPress, design options seem endless
Cons: To repeat, the learning curve can be frustrating
5. Weebly (should be better than it is)
- FREE email
- Instant signup and activation
- Multiple methods of support
- Comparatively low cost
Thanks to the miracle of marketing, Weebly enjoys high name-recognition, but the editor comes up short in regard to features and functions. Thanks to these limitations, it might be hard to come up with a website that wows people. At $12/month, the price is good. Can’t go with a glowing recommendation, but I can say you could do worse!
Pros: Dead simple editor to please the technophobes
Cons: At $25/month once you go over 25 products, the eCommerce store leaves an expensive taste in my mouth
6. Jimdo (VERY sparse theme selection)
- Fast page-loading and uptime
- Clean builder interface
- Email and eCommerce included
- $7.50/month price
Jimdo has 17 themes to choose from. That’s not a typo. In a world where other site builders offer hundreds and even thousands, I’m not overly impressed with this paltry selection. To make matters worse, the themes included are basic and hard to work with, which completely undermines the reality that the editor isn’t too bad. For anything other than a basic website, this one does not come recommended.
Pros: Best uptime (99.96%) of any site builder on the list
Cons: The basic plan only supports a 15 product online store – more than that requires the $20/month plan
7. Doodlekit (fun name – not much else)
- 170 themes
- FREE domain and unlimited email
- eCommerce functionality
I thought I had crash-landed in 1995 when I started looking at the themes. Yep, they’re that bad. Plus the editor is as unintuitive a piece of software as you’re likely to find. Everything feels old, musty, outdated, and forgotten. Don’t believe me? Take advantage of the free trial period and tell me you don’t agree.
Pros: Price = Reality
Cons: There was a two-day wait for account activation
8. Webs (expensive and inefficient)
- 500 themes to choose from
- eCommerce functionality
- FREE domain and 3 email accounts
- 10% annual discount off advertised price
Another trip into the mists of prehistory. The 500 themes offered by Webs are brutally unimpressive. Nothing about this editor caught my attention in a good way either. Though features abound, none of them are anything anyone would actually want to use. To increase your eCommerce to anything over 25 items costs $22.99/month.
Pros: The premium plan earns you 24/7 support,which you’ll probably need
Cons: Loading speed makes a sloth look positively speedy
9. Yola (another horrible choice)
- 215 templates
- Instant sign-up and account activation
- 24/7 live chat and tutorials
- $8.33/month price is on the low side of average
Testing site builders has become pure torture at this point, but I’m not going to stop now. As we continue down to the bottom of the list, themes continue to look uniformly bad. Have you ever used a software where it’s easier to start the entire project anew than make a change? That’s Yola.
Pros: At least it’s not #10
Cons: The add-ons and upsells never stop
10. Web (as bad as it gets)
In the interest of complete honesty, I didn’t actually test Web after a bit of preliminary research. I feared it would be like lighting my money on fire or just giving it away. In lieu of a review, let’s call this a Public Service Announcement. Web is horrible. Here is my evidence.
- Unhappy customer stories are everywhere online. ‘Nuff said.
- You have to call to cancel an account. NOBODY does that anymore.
- No plan details on their website. You have no idea what you’re getting.
- 2,500 themes seem to have been stolen from failed kindergarten art projects.
- Did I mention you have to CALL to cancel?!
Conclusion: You’d be better to cash out your retirement plan and let it all ride in Vegas before giving Web a single penny.
Let’s Summarize All This…
On one hand, SiteBuilder is a solid choice if you want good all-around experience at a reasonable price. On the other hand, run as far away from Yola and Web as you can (Don’t forget to check out our expanded article on bad web hosts). The others in the middle have their good points and bad. A lot depends on what kind of website you’re in the market for. For example, Wix is a good eCommerce choice, while SquareSpace might fit your needs if you’re into visual design.
There you have it. The mysteries of website builders revealed for your consideration. Good luck!