DIY website builders are a way for regular people to design and build their own websites without using code. Technological knowhow is no longer an obstacle to you getting online, whether you’re an entrepreneur or a hobbyist.
They’re being used more and more people. Industry leader Wix now has over 119 million registered users, over 3 million of who are paying customers. That’s a whole lot of websites.
This piece will cover everything you need to know about DIY website builders — what they are, what they’re capable of, and which one is the best fit for you (if you want to give one a try).
If you want to cut through the noise and learn more about specific website builders, we’ve got you covered. Some of the best DIY website builders currently around include:
Follow the links for full reviews of each builder. Or check out this summary table of our top three:
As for the rest of you, read on for the complete lowdown on DIY website builders.
DIY website builders are a way of doing a website yourself. Shocker. That’s it in a nutshell, but there is more to it than that. Like anything else they have their strengths and weaknesses — and history.
Early websites had to be manually written using html. Dreamweaver was one of the early pioneers, while some of you may remember GeoCities from back in the day. Although the latter folded in 2009, its spirit lives on in Neocities, a superb platform for those looking to learn about website building at a coding level.
That said, a lot of us don’t have the time or inclination to learn code and build a website from scratch. Nor do we have the money to pay a professional to do it for us. Today’s website builders exist to fill that gap. They’re about providing the flexibility of code without having to do any yourself. They’re about the freedom not to build a website from the ground up, to focus on the bigger picture.
They do this by providing templates and letting you customize them as you see fit. If you want to enter basic details and leave it there, fine. If you want to change everything about it, you can.
This is all done online.You don’t download website building software and make a site on your computer; you go to the site in question, log in, and manage your website there. This lends itself to the catch-all approach of most website builders. They can take care of all the technical stuff (hosting, domain name, etc.) if you want them to.
Convenience and control are the bread and butter of DIY website builders. They allow you get fully functional websites up and running quickly. You can get one going in one hour, as our video shows below.
Believe it or not, that video is legit. You really can set up a fully functioning website in under an hour on most website builders. Anyone passionate about their site would devote a bit more time to the project than that, of course, but builders like Wix ensure time and expertise are no longer a barrier to entry.
As Wix co-founder Avishai Abrahami puts it, website builders “simplify web creation for everyone”. That’s the long and short of it.
Who are they for?
What’s great about website builders is they’re effectively for everyone. Amateurs and professionals alike can use them to set up websites for business or pleasure. Our own research has shown two-thirds of websites are made for personal use. Don’t feel like only businesses need websites. They’re in the minority! DIY website builders are for just about every type of site.
Templates are designed to cater to a wide variety of site types. Want to set up a site for your restaurant? There’ll be a selection of templates just for restaurants. Photography portfolios? Yes. Blogs? Yes.
A growing number of DIY builders are explicitly focused on ecommerce — selling things online. They provide the framework you need to get an online store started. Shopify and BigCommerce are the big dogs at the moment, with platforms like Sellfy looking to keep them on their toes.
In short, website builders are for limited financial and technical resources. As we found out ourselves, the cost of building a website is a constantly moving target, with a lot of scope for getting out of control. The fixed rates of website builders mean you can foray into the world of web design without burning a hole in your pocket.
What can they do?
The main value of DIY website builders is allowing you to focus on design and function. They tend to take on one of two forms: drag and drop, and generated.
Drag and drop builders do what they say on the tin (if they’re any good). You simply position the elements of the page where you want them and style as you see fit. Generated sites will ask you a few questions then make a site for you based on your answers. You can still customize the results and add or remove elements, but they’re usually a more structured experience.
In the backend they help you manage search engine optimization (SEO), giving your site the best chance possible of ranking well on Google and Bing. Many also offer analytics, which allows you to see how many people are visiting your sites, what they’re doing, and where they’re coming from.
The number of builders is growing all the time, and not all of them are terribly good. As the market grows it’s only natural for pretenders to try and climb on the bandwagon. What good website builders are available is the real question.
It depends on your wants and needs. There is no one-size-fits-all ‘best’ website builder. It doesn’t exist, and never will. There are too many variables. Rather, there is a selection of top DIY website builders that meet different demands.
You can get an at-a-glance idea of what we’re talking about over at our website builder comparison chart, but we’ll go into a bit more depth below.
Easy to use website builders
We wanted to offer more than an opinion on this, so we’ve conducted research on all the top website builders. User experience tests have been collated with features, support, and pricing to collate a list of the easiest website builders to use.
With that in mind, the following website builders are for people with no coding background. They are easy to use with good support and intuitive interfaces. They don’t always offer as much backend control as their advanced brethren, but if you want to make your own website with as little hassle as possible these are the way to go.
Wix is the best drag and drop builder out there right now. It offers you complete control over how your website looks. Want your logo to be there? Move it there. Want that paragraph to be upside down? Knock yourself out. The interface can be a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get to grips with it Wix is one of the easiest builders to use.
For those new to the web design game and eager to learn, Wix is a fantastic option. The freedom it provides invites you to learn about the basic principles of web design: how to present your homepage, what to put in your navigation bar — all that good stuff.
Our user testing showed Wix’s combination of ease of use and customer support is currently peerless. Novices and pros alike enjoyed using it. We ourselves think it’s one of the best options for those new to web design. It lends itself better to simple websites, but then most websites are simple.
This performed really well in our user testing. GoDaddy provide a more guided building experience, and they do it in a way that’s intuitive and easy to follow. To get a small, polished website off the ground quickly there may be no better builder than GoDaddy. They also provide domain registration and hosting, so with them you can do everything in one place.
Advanced website builders
Further along the bell curve there are DIY website builders that are trickier to use but which offer more control and scalability. These hit a nice sweet spot where your website building efforts are supported but there’s also opportunity to develop your technical skills.
Squarespace is the suave, mysterious, slightly pretentious website builder smoking in the corner. They’re far and away the most stylish platform in the game at the moment, and their backend is sophisticated enough to handle large, high-demand sites like magazines.
Squarespace’s wealth of elegant templates mean you can focus on the content of your website, which is ultimately the most important thing. It’s not quite part of the drag and drop club, but it’s still one of the best builders for customizability.
This added functionality does mean you need to be comfortable with some coding to get the most out of Squarespace, but it’s a fine option for those keen to learn what goes into making a large site tick.
This is a whole other world — it barely even qualifies as a website builder. WordPress.org is an open-source content management system (CMS). If that didn’t make sense to you, you may be better off using a website builder. Still, it’s the platform to use when you want to take a site to the next level. Nearly a third of the internet is built on WordPress.org foundations.
A CMS is basically a website builder without the hand-holding. You need to be able to code, to take care of things like web hosting yourself. It’s not as technical as you might think, but you certainly lose the DIY convenience of website builders.
Also, just to be clear, WordPress.org is not to confused with WordPress.com, a superb though otherwise limited blogging platform.
Ecommerce website builders
Some website builders are focused on online retail. If you want to set up an online store with relative ease, these are the way to go.
Shopify launched in 2006 and has grown exponentially in recent years. As more and more people take to the internet to sell things, they’ve needed somewhere to sell them. That’s where Shopify has stepped in. They’re effectively an ecommerce website builder, providing a superb framework for setting up shop online.
Customer experience is at the heart of what they do. In fact, it was founded by three friends trying to sell snowboards online. Unimpressed by the options available to them, they made their own. Their mission today is to provide users “a hassle-free platform to build their retail business.”
General purpose website builders like Wix and Shopify offer ecommerce via plugins. This is fine to a point, but large-scale online stores need dedicated platforms. Shopify is the best of them at the moment, especially for those of you just starting out.
BigCommerce provides you with more tools ‘out of the box’ than Shopify does, the tradeoff being it’s clunkier to use. Read our comparison of Shopify and BigCommerce for a complete breakdown of how they compare and which one is likely to be a better fit for you.
Like anything else, website builders aren’t perfect. Knowing what their weaknesses is just as important as knowing their strengths. Websites are a serious business and you don’t want to saddle yourself with the wrong platform.
Here are some of the potential shortcomings of DIY website builders:
Limits on customization. Some website builders can be quite restrictive when it comes to customizing your site. It’s the price you pay for structure and convenience. Drag and drop builders of the Wix variety strive to give you as much control as is reasonably possible, but even they have their limitations. For truly unique functionality and presentation there’s no way of sidestepping HTML and CSS. All roads lead to code on the world wide web.
Shared hosting. Websites need a place to be stored where anybody can access anywhere at anytime. This is called hosting. Most website builders do this for you, but you’re site will be sharing resources with other sites in the system. This is called shared hosting. It’s seldom an issue for small websites, but as they scale up there’s a risk they won’t be able to cope. Sites on shared hosting risk slower loading speeds or even complete outages if enough people are trying to visit it.
No backups. With the exception of Weebly and IM Creator, website builders typically don’t let you backup your site. This makes moving from one platform to another very difficult. Website builders aren’t charities. They want to keep you as a customer once they’ve got you, and this is one of the main ways they do it.
They don’t scale well. This isn’t universally true, but it’s the case often enough to flag. The bigger your site gets the less suited to a website builder it’s going to be. For small sites they’re ideal, but if you have dreams of a large, complex site you may be better off going with WordPress.org from the outset.
Many of you will never be confronted with any of the above. They’re small hurdles, but it’s worth being clear website builders are not without their drawbacks. Most of them offer free trials or freemium services, so there’s ample time to weigh things up for yourself before spending a cent.
If you’re starting out, there’s a strong case to be made for website builders. They’re an introduction to the world of web design. Even if you outgrow your site and look to something more advanced, your experiences will leave you much better equipped for that journey.
The long and short of it is DIY website builders are only expensive if you choose to go with the expensive plans. There are no tricks, no underhand fees. A basic site will only require the resources of a basic plan, and that’s all you’ll need to pay for. An advanced site with more demands will require the resources of an advanced plan.
For what it’s worth, our research ranked the following three builders as offering the best value for money:
Handily, they each offer quite different website building experiences. Wix is drag and drop, Strikingly is simple and structured, and Weebly hits a balance of both. They all offer free trials, so there’s ample opportunity to see which one clicks with you.
If you’re just starting out, the last thing you need to do is throw money around. Choose an affordable plan and scale up as your website grows.
Programmers no longer have a monopoly on web design. DIY website builders have made it possible for anyone to build a presence online that is stylish and functional. You could push out a website in a day if you really wanted to (though we don’t recommend being quite that gung ho).
There are plenty of excellent website builders, but there is no ‘best’ website builder. That depends on your needs. If ease of use is important to you, sign up for a free trial with the likes of Wix or GoDaddy. If you want to develop your technical knowhow as you build, something like Squarespace may be more up your alley. Give them a spin and see what clicks. It costs nothing to try.
Website Builder Expert aims to provide you with honest data. That’s why we conduct our own research and obtain direct, personal insight. Analyses and graphics in this article are based on authentic sources cross-validated by our in-house experts. We take great care to ensure the information we publish is reliable and accurate. However, WBE takes no responsibility for any inaccuracy in information supplied to us by users, research participants, or other entities.
Please note the insight contained within this article is for general information purposes only. We’re glad to answer any questions you may have about this article and its supporting research. For further information, please contact Website Builder Expert directly via email at [email protected]