Building a website has come a long way since the neon-text-on-black-background days of MySpace and Angelfire. Now you can easily and professionally present your business or services without knowing HTML or looking like a middle schooler’s online manifesto.
The website builder industry has grown a lot over the last 10 years and can be overwhelming for first-timers. But that growth and complexity also means that consumers have more choices than ever and can find a builder tailored to their needs. It’s true that a few clear favorites have emerged — and those sites are usually a good place to start — but even the frontrunners aren’t ideally suited for every scenario. To make it easy for you, we’ve compiled all the information you need to make a good decision and get to the fun part of designing your site.
*Starting price doesn’t include cheaper plans if they are ad-supported. Some vendors offer free domain hosting for the first year on some plans as well.
These services are independently chosen by our editors. CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
To compile the list below, we researched the prices, plans and features of over 12 different website builders and scoured reviews from almost 10 review sites, including PCMag, Wirecutter, WebsiteToolTester, SiteBuilderReport, WPBeginner and more, to see where there might be any consensus. We also surveyed the CNET staff, and ultimately spent time building some test sites using the tools below (if we weren’t already users). We paid particular attention to the categories that not only differentiate one site from another, but that actually matter to business owners, artists, and creators.
If, by the end of the list, you’re still not sure which direction to go, we’ve included a guide at the bottom, including key questions you should be asking yourself as you start your online venture. Finally, if you already have a website and just need a host or you’re interested in building a WordPress site, check out our list of Best Web Hosting Services.
Jump to: How to choose a website builder
Best overall website builder (and best free option): Wix
Wix is the clear frontrunner in the race for website builder dominance. It’s the biggest player, with over 110 million websites built, and boasts the greatest quantity of tools, capabilities, and freedom.
Like many competitors in this space, Wix offers a basic free version that lets you create a starter site with ads. If you like what you see, you can spend up for a premium, ad-free site. Pricing falls within industry standards with a $13-per-month “Combo” plan that covers most needs for a personal website, up to a $49-per-month “Business VIP” e-commerce plan. Those prices do not include a domain, so you’ll need to account for that separately. And if you’re interested in stats and analytics, you’ll either need to get a paid Google Analytics account or another third-party tool, as Wix doesn’t have its own.
Despite being the clear favorite among most reviewers, Wix does have a few drawbacks. Wix was one of the few builders that has data limitations for each of its plan tiers, so if you want to upload endless photos and videos, or expect more than 5,000 visitors a month to your site, make sure you do the math before choosing a plan.
Also, the editor’s freedom and range of options can be overwhelming for folks who don’t have the time or inclination to make lots of little decisions, and the design flexibility means you’ll need to be more hands-on with the format and layout, as opposed to more structured or limited editors where you can’t draw too far outside the lines.
See at Wix
Best prepackaged design: Squarespace
Squarespace strikes us as being the cool kid in high school — flashy and hip on the surface but lacking a bit of substance underneath. We found it to be in between Wix and Weebly in terms of ease of use, though it did get consistently positive marks from reviewers for the quality of design. Where we think it really might shine is for small- to medium-size businesses who want a nicely designed page and room for e-commerce growth with lower transaction fees.
The Squarespace editor isn’t as intuitive as Wix and Weebly, requiring a little bit of work until you get the hang of it. It has a fair amount of add-ons, templates and tools, and the universal style editor and strong photo editing are helpful. The responsive editor means that your site will always look good on mobile, but you won’t be able to make mobile-specific edits like with Wix or Duda. We also found consistent high marks for helpful and responsive customer service, which should put business owners’ minds at ease.
Squarespace starts off with a $12-per-month “Personal” plan, which includes unlimited storage, bandwidth and a domain, and offers an $18 “Business” plan that includes unlimited contributors, a Gmail pro account, and e-commerce capabilities. If you go for an “Online Store” plan, you can choose between $26 and $40 a month, the latter of which includes a few final touches like abandoned shopping cart recovery and gift cards. It’s important to note that the $26 store plan, while maybe slightly above the market rate for e-commerce, comes with no transaction fees. So depending on your sales volume on a given month, those savings could really add up.
Overall, Squarespace’s website is a good analog for what you get with their products: clean, professional and inviting design, but without the layers of design power or freedom you get from other builders.
See at Squarespace
Easiest to use: Weebly
Weebly flies under the radar relative to Wix with 50 million websites created, but offers some excellent options depending on your needs. If you want a simple and easy-to-use editor, a large site (more than 25 to 30 pages), unlimited storage, site portability, and/or affordable yet powerful online store capabilities, Weebly plays a good David to Wix’s Goliath.
The editor is one of the easiest to use, and the low learning curve still nets great-looking sites. That ease-of-use means the editor is more limited in terms of add-ons and design flexibility, and it doesn’t have the range of options or mobile customization that a builder like Wix has. Still, in our testing, we never came to a point where we found those constraints to be limiting. For a high-octane designer, though, it could come up.
Weebly’s prices are similar to competitors like Wix or Squarespace, but their free option is one of the most generous, and for just $5 a month you can get up and running with your own domain name (albeit with Weebly ads). Their $12-per-month plan will give you an ad-free site with analytics and commerce capabilities, while the $25 plan gets you more store tools, like tax and shipping calculators, inventory management and discounts.
Weebly is a good option for those who may be more limited in terms of their time investment, and their commerce options outshine competitors like Wix and Squarespace. For those who are wary of committing to a website builder knowing that you won’t be able to pick up and leave later on, Weebly also offers the ability to download site files so you can move to another host, a rarity in the site builder landscape.
See at Weebly
Best for building a customized experience: Duda
Duda is a smaller player compared to the other builders above with around 15M websites built, and it focuses on a specific market segment: designers and design agencies. It caters to individuals and groups that make a lot of sites, but with a powerful and easy-to-use builder and a number of differentiated offerings, it’s emerged as a good option for anyone looking to develop an online presence.
Duda’s builder boasts a number of features that set it apart, including mobile site customization, detailed data analytics (e.g. advanced metrics like form submissions, time on page, and bounce rate), and user personalization so you can easily display specific messages or offers to users based on the time of day, their location or their browsing history. They’re also known for their multi-language support and a free e-commerce add-on that allows you to sell up to 10 products.
Duda’s pricing is a little bit higher than its main competitors like Wix and Weebly, starting off at $14 per month for the Basic plan. At $22, you can add up to four editors for your site (instead of only one with Basic), access advanced analytics, and begin using Duda as a white-label/custom-branded builder, another one of Duda’s selling points. Their “Agency” plan at $74 per month is geared toward web designers who are building pages for multiple clients, and includes eight websites and the ability to download site files for portability.
Duda is a little expensive, but fills some of the voids that the main players have, like analytics, multilingual capabilities and better personalization and mobile customization.
See at Duda
Best For basic, no-frills websites: GoDaddy
GoDaddy is best known for its domain names and web-hosting services, so it makes sense that it also offers a website builder. The problem is that it very much feels like an ancillary service — it doesn’t seem like it’s put in the development time and effort that some of the mainstream players like Wix, Duda and Weebly have. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for simplicity, GoDaddy could be a good option.
The GoDaddy “GoCentral” builder is one of the simplest tools available, but it’s also the most restrictive. You can get a site live in an hour or two, and the rigid structures and lack of choices means it will look good, if not dramatically unique. It is a bit challenging to make specific site edits, as you’re generally restricted to adding a content “block” that has preset text, image and formatting, instead of being able to add, drag, or drop individual elements. The editor is more of a Madlibs-style fill-in-the-blank instead of a responsive, free-flowing experience.
It’s slightly ironic that it doesn’t include a domain name in its prices, given its core product offering, but other than that there aren’t too many surprises. The $6 monthly plan is straight-up basic; $10 gets you a PayPal option and SEO help; $15 tacks on e-mail marketing and social media integration, and its $20-per-month plan is for online store capabilities, which are actually pretty impressive. You get abandoned cart recovery, inventory management, discounts and promotions, and Amazon, Etsy and eBay integrations — most of which are usually only available at higher prices.
GoDaddy is a well-known name, but not for its website builder. Still, we like that there’s a super-simple and not-too-expensive option out there for those who don’t care about specific style placements and nuanced themes.
See at GoDaddy
Best for writers and bloggers: WordPress
When most people talk about WordPress, they’re usually referring to the free open-source software available through WordPress.org. The software is very powerful, but it takes some time to learn and still requires that you find a website host and domain name. If you’re interested in going the advanced route of WordPress.org, we recommend you check out a tutorial or guide such as those you can find on WPBeginner or WebsiteToolTester to learn how it works.
The WordPress.com website builder is something else. It’s similar to the other builders listed above and is primarily geared toward bloggers and writers. The editor is fairly limited compared to other services, but is easy to set up and has everything you need for blogging. We should also note that it’s not an intuitive drag-and-drop editor like Wix or Weebly.
Its pricing is fairly cheap, starting off at $5 per month to remove WordPress ads and giving you 6GB of storage. From there it goes to $8 for 13GB of storage and online selling capabilities, and finally a $25 option that allows you to use custom themes and add-ons. The $8 option seems like the best deal if you’re setting up a blog and thinking about monetizing it at some point.
Overall, WordPress caters to bloggers who don’t want or need to spend a lot of time designing a site, but it feels very limited for most other use cases. That said, anyone who’s looking for more robust off-the-shelf CMS (content management systems) options should consider Joomla and Drupal. Both are arguably less user-friendly than WordPress, but offer more customization options. At least one CNET editor also felt that Drupal and Joomla also offered faster page loading speeds.
See at WordPress
Best for basic e-commerce: Shopify
If Wix is the clear favorite for most website building needs, Shopify fills that role for e-commerce. The platform offers an easy and user-friendly way to get a store up and running online, and it supports business owners throughout the process. Shopify is a safe place to start for most “e-tailers,” though similar to Wix, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for every scenario.
Like most other commerce-focused builders, Shopify’s platform is geared toward your product and sales details. Fortunately for those without a ton of experience setting up a retail operation, Shopify’s process ensures you won’t miss an important step as it guides you through inventory, customer information, and tax and shipping rates. And if you still have a question, Shopify provides 24-7 phone and chat support and an active online community forum.
Given that its user base is fairly defined, Shopify doesn’t offer a plethora of plan options, and its prices come in above the market average. The “Basic Shopify” plan is $29 a month and covers most of the basic needs for an online store, while the $79-per-month plan offers gift cards and more staff accounts. From our perspective, it was hard to rationalize the $50 jump from basic to standard, but if you factor in the reduced transaction fees and shipping discounts, it might make sense. If you’re running a bigger operation, they also offer a $299-per-month plan.
The main drawback of Shopify is probably its pricing model. If you want the support, guidance and a builder that will take care of most of the technical details, the extra costs are worth it. And the many apps available are enticing, but can also add up if you’re using those that cost extra. If after considering the different features you’re still on the fence, we recommend you calculate the total cost of additional add-ons and transaction fees based on your sales, and then compare with competitors like BigCommerce, which offers more product variants and combinations and lower fees.
See at Shopify
Best for bigger stores: BigCommerce
BigCommerce lives up to its name — it’s best for medium- to large-scale online stores that can cash in on the lack of added transaction fees and unlimited product variants. The store builder might not be quite as easy to use as Shopify’s, but the amount of time you spend getting used to it could save you a lot of money down the road.
The editor has a lot of features and flexibility when you’re getting set up, but similar to Wix, that can be overwhelming for newcomers. If you have a little experience, however, those features and tools — like product variants and tax rates — will probably come in handy as you grow or if you’re already at scale.
BigCommerce’s price tiers are identical to Shopify’s at $29 (Standard), $79 (Plus), and $249 (Pro), but what you get at each level differs. Even the lowest BigCommerce plan at $29 gives its clients unlimited users, unlimited bandwidth and storage, unlimited products, and no added transaction fees. You can even link to eBay, Google Shopping and Amazon. Where the pricing gets a little tricky is with the sales thresholds: The Standard plan only supports annual sales of less than $50K, while Plus supports up to $150K and Pro up to $400K. So basically you save a lot of money on transaction fees the more sales you rack up, but if you have enough sales, you have to upgrade to the next plan tier.
As with all the online store builders, it’ll be worth it to do a little math based on your product inventory and expected sales. No transaction fees — they even have a discount deal worked out with PayPal where you can save an additional 0.5% to 1% — strikes us as a major deal-maker depending on your size, so if you’re a bigger operation, take advantage of the 15-day trial and give BigCommerce a shot.
See at BigCommerce
How to choose a website builder
Given the wealth of options and the fact that many website builders don’t allow you to pick up and move later on, it’s important to enter the fray with a clear idea of what you need. By first establishing your priorities and direction, it will be easier to find a match and avoid buyers’ remorse down the road.
In terms of pricing, most builders offer two to four different price tiers, each with a different set of features. This can make comparing services difficult, since they don’t easy to line up apples-to-apples, but that’s a big reason why we’ve created this handy guide!
Generally speaking, you can get a good individual website built for around $8 to $10 a month with an annual subscription. Most e-commerce plans range between $20 to $25 per month, and if you need an enterprise-style plan with multiple editors and VIP-level support, prices can go up to $300 per month.
Storage and bandwidth are usually unlimited, but there are exceptions like Wix, which scales its storage capacity according to the plan tier. And even its lowest tier plan has a decent amount (3GB of storage and enough bandwidth to support up to around 5,000 visitors per month).
After the big questions like price and storage, it all comes down to what you’re looking for. Below are some guiding questions to help ensure you’re ready to shop like an expert.
What is the purpose of your site?
Your first step should be to determine the primary goal of your web presence. Do you want to sell a product? Attract potential customers for your services? Build a portfolio page?
By first establishing your raison d’etre, you’ll be able to prioritize the tools and capabilities you want in your builder and not get pulled off track by a fancy add-on that isn’t actually helping you achieve your goal. If you’re primarily interested in racking up sales, start by looking at the e-commerce specialists, like Shopify and BigCommerce. If you’re a photographer or designer who wants a beautiful portfolio site, Wix and Squarespace are good places to start. Wix might edge Squarespace if you want more control over the design, while Squarespace might be better if you just want a stylish frame for your work.
If you just want something easy to use, Weebly and GoDaddy both offer intuitive builders, with Weebly offering more features and design finesse, while GoDaddy is much simpler and more limited. If you’re setting up a site or store and you want to present a customized experience to users or you have something specific in mind for the mobile version of your site, Duda offers the most customization capabilities. And if you’re a wordsmith who can’t be bothered by design decisions and fancy editors, WordPress can help you get your blog up and offers good ways to reach your readers.
How much time do you want to invest in building your website?
This obviously will vary depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is how clear of a design vision you have and whether you have experience building a website. That being said, each editor has a different level of usability or ease-of-use based on the features, flexibility and intuitive design of the editing interface. On one end of the spectrum you have a builder like Wix, which is very easy to use but also comprehensive — the sheer number of options and tools makes it hard to whip up a site quickly. On the other end, you have a builder like WordPress or GoDaddy, each of which doesn’t provide you with a ton of options when building your pages.
Most people will want to devote enough time to their site that it serves its purpose of representing you online in a good light, so we generally recommend you take the time to learn your editor and take advantage of the many options available.
How much design control do you want?
This goes hand-in-hand with time investment, since the more control you have, the more choices you have to make. There are builders like Squarespace that have a fairly rigid design structure, but still let you customize fonts, colors and content, and on the other end of the spectrum you have a site like Wix, that lets you place objects anywhere on your site (at your own risk!), or Duda, which allows you to customize the mobile experience or create custom user experiences based on browsing history.
How big is your site?
Certain editors are more geared toward large site structures (40-plus pages) than others, so it’s important to know whether you will have a ton of pages and sections, or whether it’s more in the realm of a glamorized digital business card or fancy work portfolio.
The number of navigation levels, for example (which you can think of like file folders (or Inception): a page within a directory within another directory would represent three levels of navigation), can be an important consideration. Most pages probably use two levels — sections and the pages within each section, but online stores and other types of sites might need more. Weebly and BigCommerce are probably the best examples of builders that support large site structures, while Squarespace and Wix limit you to two levels of navigation.
How important is e-commerce?
Every builder we researched has an e-commerce option available, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all up to the task. A site like WordPress isn’t really what you want if your plan is to sell products online, while a site like Shopify or BigCommerce is expressly focused on online sales. If you really just want to have a clean and easy-to-use online storefront, one of the dedicated e-commerce builders makes the most sense, but if it’s more of an ancillary service or simply nice to have, you can go with the builder that feels the best and sign up for its e-commerce option. There are even builders like Duda, which allow you to sell up to 10 products for free using another plan.
How big is your sales operation?
Transaction fees. While we’re not small business owners, we do like math, and this variable struck us as particularly important. If you sell $10,000 of products in a month with a 3% vendor processing fee, you’re spending an extra $300 every month. If you’re paying your website host an extra 1% to 3%, that’s another $100 to $300. Those numbers greatly eclipse the monthly rate you’re paying, and add up even more if you’re selling significantly more. So before you choose a builder, make sure you read the fine print about transaction fees.
Many builders don’t charge on top of the Square or Paypal rate (usually 3%), but some do. Shopify charges extra if you don’t use Shopify Payments, but if you do use its services, you can get a rate below 3%. Then there are sites like BigCommerce that doesn’t charge extra and even has a PayPal discount, but has sales limits for each plan.
We know you’re a smart and savvy business owner who pays close attention to the books, but we thought it would still help to remind you: do the math before signing up.
How flexible do you want to be with the host?
As we mentioned at the top, many builders lock you into their service, but not all. If you’re afraid of commitment or think you might want to switch as your business or services evolve, go with a service like Weebly or Duda that allows you to download your website files for easy use on another host.
The other big factor here is the free trial period. The industry standard is around 14 days, but some go up to a month, and others don’t have a trial period but will give you your money back within 30 days if you’re not happy.
Editor’s note: This story was originally posted earlier in June. It has been updated to better reflect the free option available at Wix.
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