Thanks to website builders, a lack of web design skills or development prowess is no longer a barrier to getting a site online. These platforms sit somewhere between content management systems like WordPress and old-school blogging tools, bundling webspace and optional domain registration with a set of easy-to-use tools with which you can create your own site. There’s no need to mess around with servers, code, security updates or complex admin panels, but you can do a whole lot more than just blogs. You can make a slick website to promote your business, publish articles, videos and podcasts, share your art or photography, or even start your own online store. With ready-made templates and themes taking the brunt of the design work, the results can look fantastic.
What’s more, website building doesn’t have to be expensive. Even the premium options tend to start at around £10 to £13 per month, with discounts if you pay annually. Some of the best website builders also have free plans if you just want to try them out.
READ NEXT: The best webcams to buy
What should you look for in a website builder?
The most important factor for any website builder is ease of use. If you want precise control over every element on every page and the maximum number of features, then you’re better off with more traditional design tools or a WordPress installation. Website builders put a limit on your creativity; you have to work within pre-designed templates and often piece your pages together, block by block.
Yet the upside of this approach is that you can build something really quickly, and you know it’s going to work and look good. It’s still possible to create horrific websites with awful fonts and clashing colours, but the preset styles and templates generally steer you in the right direction. Some have automated design tools, which will ask you what you’re trying to do and request some images or simple guidelines, then build the basic website for you while you wait.
Some of the best website builders give you a little more control over your design, so that you can choose specific fonts and colours or switch between ready-made themes, while most allow you to move images and text boxes around to some extent or add or remove components. Crucially, most support responsive designs, so that a website you build to be seen on a PC screen will also look good on a smartphone or tablet.
The other crucial issue is features. Most leading website builders have features to share updates or blog posts on social media, and components to share feeds from Instagram, SoundCloud or Flickr. They have components for playing podcasts or YouTube videos and for subscribing to a channel. Many have sophisticated tools for buying and selling products through your site, while some give you more advanced features for search engine optimisation, site-boosting and traffic analytics, so you can tune and optimise your site and content. In some cases, you can expand the built-in features through an app store.
For a lot of users these features will be overkill, but they enable you to slowly transform a simple website into a serious operation. Similarly, tools to manage and edit media, particularly images and photos, can be a real timesaver when you’re adding new content.
READ NEXT: Our guide to the best budget monitors
Is there anything else worth looking out for?
If you’re going for a low-cost or free plan, check for any restrictions or limitations. Your website may appear as a subdomain of the company’s website – which is fair enough on a free service – or you may have to carry their branding on every page. Some plans may limit you to a small number of pages, or restrict you to a certain amount of storage space and/or web traffic per month, and you may not get the same level of support as on a premium plan. These things may not be a dealbreaker if you’re just building a personal site, but if your plans are more ambitious, you may need to upgrade later on.
It’s also worth noting that most prices you’ll see advertised on the website builder’s website don’t include VAT. We’ve added VAT on our listed prices, but these are subject to change – and it’s worth looking out for discounts.
The best website builders
1. Wix: The best all-round website builder
Price: From free to £26.40 per month | Visit the website
Wix dominates the world of website builders with over 200 million users and, if you try it, it’s not hard to see why. Even with a free account you get a great set of design features, a huge array of templates and expandability through a built-in app store. What’s more, Wix seems to have all the bases covered. No design skills but want to get a website online fast? Answer a few questions, pick a theme and a couple of page designs, and the Wix ADI tool will handle the rest for you. Looking to develop something more ambitious? You can rework your template, hit the app store and install some extensions, or even embed custom code.
Wix’s design tools take a more direct drag-and-drop approach than most of the competition, and while you can’t position every component exactly where you’d want it, you still get a lot of flexibility. It’s easy to add image galleries, edit text and colour themes and upload media, and the integrated photo studio means you can adjust your images in situ. Wix also has a slightly different take on responsive design, optimising your desktop website for mobile screens but expecting you to effectively edit two versions. It’s extra work, but a sensible way forward if you’re focused on looking good on smartphones.
The only real downside with Wix is the storage and bandwidth limitations on the free and cheapest plans, alongside some hard-to-ignore Wix ads and branding. These aren’t seriously restrictive, though, and Wix is as easy-to-use and versatile as website builders get.
Key specs – Storage: 500MB to 50GB; Bandwidth: 500MB to unlimited per month; eCommerce support: y (Business plans only); Free version: y; Custom domains: y; Free domain: 1 year (Premium and Business plans only); Automated design: y; App store: y; Support: 24/7 live chat, guides and tutorials, callback service
Visit the website
2. SquareSpace: The best website builder for business
Price: From £12 to £44.40 per month | Visit the website
SquareSpace doesn’t have as many templates or options as Wix, but it’s still the top website builder for making slick, professional-looking, business-ready sites. Although it’s not as flexible or open to customisation, the limitations practically push you towards a solid design. The central Site Styles menu takes a bit of getting used to, but it makes it easy to switch text or colour schemes and still get a great result. Not everything’s intuitive – handling text wrapping around an image took a quick visit to an FAQ – but you soon get used to the approach. You could produce something ugly in SquareSpace, but you’d have to work at it.
Other plus points include the detailed site analytics features and a strong set of tools aimed at professional and business users and online stores. You can embed Google maps or an Instagram or Soundcloud feed, and users of the Commerce and Business plans can also add their own custom code. There’s an argument that SquareSpace sites have a distinctive SquareSpace look, but that’s not the worst thing in the world when it’s a look you associate with leading brands. And while SquareSpace is expensive, the style and features are well worth the investment.
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; eCommerce support: y (Business and Commerce plans only); Free version: n; Custom domains: y; Free domain: 1 year (annual plans only); Automated design: n; App store: y; Support: Videos, guides, live chat (business hours) and email support
Visit the website
3. GoDaddy SiteBuilder: The best web hosting and site-building combo
Price: From free to £23.99 per month | Visit the website
We’ve long rated GoDaddy as one of the best options for web hosting and domain names, but it also makes it easy to add website building to your package. Getting started is simple, and while there’s no long-term free plan option, you can trial SiteBuilder free for 30 days. It comes with a good selection of templates covering most types of business or personal website, not to mention blogs or online stores, although to make the latter work you’ll need to sign up for one of GoDaddy’s eCommerce plans.
Once you’ve selected a template, the design process is modular; you just add blocks with new components by clicking on the plus buttons attached to existing blocks. The options cover everything from YouTube and Twitch streams to galleries of featured content, podcasts, menus, pricelists and on-site PDF viewers. What’s more, GoDaddy has some clever features to pull in data from Google Analytics, Facebook and Pinterest. We also like the page preview features, which allow you to check the desktop and mobile versions of your website side-by-side. Our only serious niggle is that some useful features are reserved for the more expensive Creator or Professional plans. Still, if Wix and Weebly give you more features and control, SiteBuilder has some strong blogging features. It turns GoDaddy into the top one-stop shop for getting a good website up and running.
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; eCommerce support: y (Ecommerce plans only); Free version: y; Custom domains: y; Free domain: n (from 1p per year); Automated design: n; App store: n; Support: Guides, 24/7 live chat and email support
Visit the website
4. Weebly: The best website builder for easy design
Price: From free to £33.60 per month | Visit the website
Owned by global payments company, Square, Weebly has a lot to offer anyone setting up an online store, but it’s a good option for just about anyone. It’s trick is that it gives you a great balance between ease of use and real control. It has a drag-and-drop interface much like Wix, but with slightly more block-based layouts. This means adding new components is easy, while you can still tweak text layouts and adjust image alignments with more precision than many other website builders allow.
Weebly can’t quite match Wix for its variety of templates, but you still get a good selection covering most needs, along with a wide range of apps and extra features, with many focused on sales and marketing. You can add social feeds, accordion widgets, ads, counters and more, and Weebly’s blogging game is strong as well, with a host of useful design options. Weebly supports responsive design for mobile devices, with instant preview switching to check how your site will look across desktop and smartphone screens, and you also get effective admin controls for optimising SEO and allowing multiple editors to work. Media management could be better – with no central library you have to upload every image or video separately – but this is a great alternative to Wix.
Key specs – Storage: 500MB to Unlimited; Bandwidth: 500MB to unlimited per month; eCommerce support: y (Ecommerce plans only); Free version: y; Custom domains: y; Free domain: n; Automated design: n; App store: y; Support: Knowledgebase, guides, live chat (business hours) and 24/7 email support
Visit the website
5. 1and1 IONOS MyWebsite: The best for website builders on a budget
Price: From £1.20 to £24 per month | Visit the website
If you’re looking to get a website up and running on a budget, it’s hard to beat 1and1 IONOS. Its MyWebsite plans start at just £1.20 a month for the first year with a free domain, after which you’re looking at £9 a month and whatever your domain normally costs. This lets you loose with the basic MyWebsite Now tool, which makes up for a lack of options by being incredibly easy to use, with a bunch of business-ready templates you can customise and some stock art ready to use. You’ll find it limits you in what you can do and the kind of content you can add, but for a design portfolio, small business showcase or personal site, it might be all you need. In fact, the templates make it childs play to set up that kind of thing, and the results look good across both desktop and mobile.
If you want more control, you can upgrade to the Plus and Pro packages, with the more powerful MyWebsite Creator and Creator+ tools. These add some comprehensive blogging tools, social media integration, photo galleries and visual effects, and enable you to create more sophisticated sites. Pay the extra for the Shop versions, and you can also have eCommerce features, with product listings, payment and shipping all in place. Other builders have more features and more options to make your site your own, but with MyWebsite you’re looking at a minimal outlay to get started, with room to move upwards as your needs and confidence grow.
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; eCommerce support: y (Ecommerce plans only); Free version: y; Custom domains: y; Free domain: 1 year; Automated design: n; App store: y; Support: Knowledgebase, Guides, 24/7 live chat and email support
Visit the website