Small businesses and individuals who don’t have the expertise, time and money to setup a full web site from scratch often find site builders a great solution. But with so many options to choose from and each claiming to be the best, it becomes difficult to pick the right solution. There is another important question that needs to be addressed before committing for any subscription i.e. to use an ‘open’ platform such as WordPress or start building a website using a ‘closed’ system. This post discusses pros and cons of each and discusses some of the best site builders you can find in 2021.
WordPress vs. Site Builders
When referring to Site Builders here we mean the all-in-one solution i.e. the provider is responsible for hosting and maintaining a website while allowing users to easily design and build it themselves. WordPress here means the open source WordPress installation (WordPress.org, self-hosted), which is different from WordPress.com (hosted WP).
The main difference between WordPress and other site builders is that when using WP you need to separately buy the hosting services, which is a good and bad thing depending on who you ask. Many providers offer both services i.e. WordPress hosting as well as all-in-one solutions. Our main focus here is site builders, but we’ll also briefly go through WordPress to help people make a more informed decision.
WordPress (self-hosted) has evolved from being a blogging platform into an open source, full-fledge CMS (Content Management System) in a short span of time. It’s now one of the most widely used platforms for creating blogs, sites, e-commerce stores and just about anything else. Although it’s also one of the easiest to master, beginners need some time to get used to the technical stuff. While getting started with the platform is not much of a big deal, you need to be familiar with the basics of web programming such as HTML and CSS.
When it comes to plugins, themes and templates, WordPress has a lot to offer and is suitable for almost any project imaginable. Whether you are planning to design a responsive or a corporate website, WordPress has got you all covered. Compared to site builders WP is more affordable as there is no cost attached to downloading and installing the CMS. Another advantage WordPress has over site builders and ready-made solutions is data portability i.e. ability to move data from one provider to another, which is something you must consider beforehand.
WordPress hosting (purchased separately) is available in different forms such as shared hosting (most affordable), dedicated and managed hosting (expensive but better performance and support), VPS hosting (kind of a hybrid between managed and shared hosting) and free hosting (not recommended even for personal sites). Some of the popular WordPress hosting providers include SiteGround, WP Engine, Flywheel, Bluehost, Pressable, InMotion Hosting and Media Temple. Although you can also install various WordPress drag-and-drop page builders aka plugins, compared to full-fledge site builders they don’t offer a lot.
- Free and open-source
- A more cost-effective and affordable solution, especially in the long run
- Helpful community-based support
- Powerful e-commerce tools
- Very versatile and flexible
- Thousands of plugins, templates and ready-made themes
- Deep-navigation levels
- Better content versioning
- Better data portability and control over content
- Better optimization for search engines (debatable)
- Powerful e-commerce tools
- Rich snippets
- Multi-site, multilingual, can handle almost any project
All in One Site Builders
While it’s hard for site builders to match the level of flexibility and extensibility WordPress has to offer, they win when it comes to user friendliness. All in one (AIO) site builders offer everything right out-of-the-box and are easier to setup and use. This makes them a great choice for non-technical people who don’t have the time to deal with technical complexities. Selecting a site builder also means less maintenance, dedicated support, automatic updates and security and quicker delivery of services.
Site builders make it easier for users to get stated right away using the drag-and-drop interface and make creating sites a breeze. This allows users to focus more on the content instead of worrying about the complexity involved in creating and managing websites. That’s why many individuals such as photographers and other professionals who might not be familiar with web technologies tend to prefer an easy-to-use system. Compared to WordPress community support, site builders offer dedicated support, helping users get through difficult times without having to dig deep into forums.
However, migrating a website to another provider can prove to be a lot of hassle as either most providers do not allow moving the data at all or intentionally make it very difficult to do so. That’s why it’s very important to consider all the pros and cons before going any route, especially businesses that plan on running an online e-commerce store.
- Drag-and-drop interface
- Dedicated support
- Can be costlier in the long run
- Adding a non-native feature can be troublesome
Best Site Builders in 2021
Beginners often find themselves wondering which site builder to choose, probably because there isn’t a clear winner in all aspects. That’s why we have included the top (and arguably the most popular) site builders that make it easier to build your own website (in very little time). These might not be the most economical options available, but they do offer great value for the money, better security and customer support than most of the inexpensive providers. Here are out top picks:
Considered as one of the most user-friendly platforms, Weebly offers a drag-and-drop site builder, hosting services and customer support. The complete package takes stress out of the site designing and development process and offers all the essentials right out-of-the-box. Weebly also offers e-commerce solutions for small businesses, but they are rather expensive and can cost a lot in the long run. Weebly designs are optimized for mobile devices and performance, while iOS and Android apps enable users to make the most out of their investment.
Weebly takes more of a ‘walled garden’ approach when it comes to data portability and integrating non-Weebly tools. That’s also a good thing for non-technical users as they don’t have to optimize everything themselves, while the platform also ensures consistency of its own tools by closely monitoring them. The ‘walled garden’ approach also pays off when it comes to the user experience as different tools are tightly integrated to ensure that everything works as it should.
Since Weebly is based on a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, users can choose from a variety of monthly subscriptions. Although you’d also find a free Weebly subscription (displays ads, only 500Mb storage), it’s highly recommended to go the paid route if you are serious about your website. Pricing starts from $8/month (Started package, annual payment), which includes unlimited storage and a free domain. If you are looking for more advanced tools for your business, the Pro and Business packages offer great value and cost $12/month and $25/month respectively.
- Drag-and-drop editor
- Consistent user experience
- Tight integration between different tools
- Unlimited storage
- Site stats (built-in)
- Hosting and maintenance included
- Dedicated customer support
- SSL security on all plans
- All the essentials are available right out-of-the-box
Squarespace is another SaaS-based solution that offers different monthly subscription plans, including standard and developer-friendly options. Squarespace also takes a ‘walled garden’ approach for a more coherent user experience and suits users who don’t want to deal with broken code. Support is available via live chat, forum and user guides, while emails are usually answered within an hour. Beginners don’t have to tie bits and pieces together, thanks to the full-serviced package that enables everyone to design their personal website in very little time.
The standard plan or Personal plan costs $12/mo and works best for beginners who want to quickly get started with their small projects. Other plans on offer include Business ($18/mo), Basic Store ($26/mo) and Advanced Store ($40/mo). The monthly subscriptions include a drag-and-drop builder, hosting services, designer templates and dedicated support.
- Unlimited pages
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Unlimited storage
- Up to 2 contributors
- Site metrics
- SSL security
- Dedicated 24/7 support
In addition to being one of the most popular site builders, Wix is also known for its exotic marketing campaigns and hosts around 90 million websites. You can try it for free if you can bear the advertisements and non-customizable domains, but that’s not something pros would want. The code-free interface makes creating beautiful websites a breeze and works great for users looking for industry-specific designs (with sub-categories) such as photography and restaurants. The interface supports right-click context menus, which makes it easier to perform different operations like a user would on a desktop computer.
Pricing starts from $4.50/month, but the most basic plan displays ads and offers only 500MB storage, 1GB bandwidth and you need to connect an existing domain. The Combo plan costs $8.5/mo and includes a free domain, 2GB bandwidth and 3GB storage. Unlimited plan is probably the most popular plan and offers unlimited bandwidth, 10GB storage, free domain and Site Booster App.
Small businesses can choose the eCommerce plan for $16.50/mo that includes unlimited bandwidth, 20GB storage, free domain and an online store. The VIP plan costs $24.50/month and in addition to the eCommerce plan, also includes 10 email campaigns per month and professional site review. Although Wix is not among the most affordable providers, it’s still one of the most user-friendly and popular site builders that makes it easier for people belonging to different industries to get started with their projects.
- Industry-specific templates
- Limited storage space options
- Great customer support
- Regular feature and template updates
- Artificial Design Intelligence
- Less time-to-market
WordPress.com was created by Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, and is built on top of the same software. However, the user experience WordPress.com offers is different than the standard WordPress installation as the provider takes care of most things, including hosting, backups and security. The main advantage WordPress.com has over most other all-in-one site builders is that it allows you to use thousands of themes, plugins and templates available for open-source WordPress. The integrated customizer allows using widgets, navigation menus and adding site titles.
WordPress isn’t really a regular drag-and-drop site builder as it does not offer the same drag-and-drop functionality other platforms such as Weebly and Wix offer. Sure, you can customize designs pretty easily, but not without limitations. The main thing small and medium businesses need to be aware of is that WordPress.com lower and premium plans do not offer e-commerce features, while they also do not support 3rd-party ad networks,
You’d have to buy the Business plan that allows you to use WooCommerce and 3rd-party ad networks. But you still have to abide by the terms and conditions that can limit functionality of an online store. This makes WordPress.com more suitable for personal websites as it’s affordable and is powered by one of the most widely used CMSs.
The free-for-life plan has too many limitations and isn’t even suitable for personal sites. The Personal plan costs $48 (billed annually, 6GB) and comes with a custom domain and email + live chat support. The Premium plan costs $96 (billed annually, 13GB) and offers advanced design tools and CSS editing. The Business plan costs $300 (billed annually) and comes with support for Google Analytics, advanced design customization, unlimited storage, no WordPress branding and other advanced tools.
- Affordable plans
- Supports WordPress themes and plugins
- Built on top of WordPress
- Scalable builder
- Custom Domain Name
- Essential features (JetPack)
- Free Premium themes (Premium and Business packages)
- Support via email and live chat
While Weebly, Squarespace, Wix and WordPress.com are among the most popular site builders, you should not limit yourself only to these providers. You also have plenty of other options to choose from, including Voog (better known for its multi-lingual features), Strikingly (for single page sites), Ucraft (block-based site building), XRPS (fresh and modern themes) and Shopify (for online stores). Choosing the right site builder depends on your own requirements, including budget, required features and most importantly data portability.
Small and medium businesses are recommended to stick to WordPress (self-hosted), especially if they are dealing with a lot of web pages and customers (as WP makes it easier to switch providers). As far as ease-of-use and user friendliness is concerned, all-in-one site builders are a great option for beginners and people looking to build engaging websites in less time. For the most part, Weebly and Squarespace remain the strongest contenders for the best site builder you can choose in 2021.