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If you want a website and aren’t a total tech-head, and aren’t ready to shell out thousands to a web designer to build your site, don’t worry — today it’s easy to find a well-designed, customizable, largely-automated “Website Builder” which will allow you to quickly create a great-looking, full-featured website or online store at a small fraction of what it would cost to hire someone to do it.
Best Online Store Builder (Ecommerce)
we use it for client sites
15-day free trial
$24.95/mo and up
try Big Commerce free
very slick design templates
drag & drop customization
works with PC or Mac
$8/mo and up
try Squarespace free
rock bottom pricing for simple websites
30 day guarantee
$4.99/mo and up
Largest Collection of Starting Blocks
2000+ design templates
massive image library
30-day free trial
$7.99 – $19.99/mo and up
try Intuit free
#1) Big Commerce (Best Online Store Builder)
15-day free trial
Note: Big Commerce is only recommended if you’re building an online store — if you’re not selling products on your website then skip to the next review.
Big Commerce is a dedicated ecommerce solution — they focus solely on ecommerce and provide the functionality and support that you need if you want to build a full-featured online store (we highly recommend against building your store on a regular Website Builder that has a “store widget” or add-on). After years of working with many Online Store Builders, Big Commerce has emerged as our web design company’s favorite hosted, all-inclusive ecommerce platform. When a client hires us to build them a store, Big Commerce is our go-to solution, and I also think it’s the best option for non-web-professionals trying to inexpensively launch their own store. First-off, Big Commerce gives you very clean, nicely-designed starting blocks (ie, store templates and other elements) which is absolutely key if you’re not keen on designing your store from scratch. If you like one of the free default store designs (90+) that Big Commerce offers, you can alter that a little bit and have a great-looking store running very quickly. Big Commerce has a drag and drop layout-customization editor, something we almost never see on an online store builder — this gives you the ability to make a lot of changes to the look and layout of your store without dipping into any code. Their ecommerce feature set is huge, and this becomes very important as you develop your store and business — they allow sophisticated search engine optimization of each page, single-page checkout, good product variation functionality, inventory tracking and a host of other options (check their site for the full list of features).
In terms of price, the first thing to celebrate is that Big Commerce takes no percentage of your store’s sales (unlike Yahoo, ProStores and many other ecommerce platforms). As your store grows this can translate to a huge monthly savings. Big Commerce charges a flat monthly rate, with 5 different Plans that allow progressively larger product catalogues and file storage. If you have 100 products or less you pay $24.95/month, $39.95 for up to 500 products, etc. There is a one time setup fee of $49.95 that is often waived. Your account also comes with a free domain name and a chunk of Google AdWords advertising credit. If you’re considering Big Commerce, take a look under the hood — they offer a 15-day free trial — and you can very quickly get a look at the design templates, user interface and range of features.
Again, at our web design company we build a lot of stores for people, and as clients often come to us with a preexisting ecommerce platform we’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on with a lot of online store builders. Big Commerce is user-friendly, full-featured, very competitively priced, and well-backed by a good in-house tech support staff. We also feel that they’re very forward-looking, and respond quickly to new developments in the world of online selling — frequent updates to their system add functionality like facebook integration, mobile device optimization, etc. All things considered it gets our vote as the best out-of-the-box ecommerce solution. It’s what we most often build with, what we recommend to our clients, and what we’d recommend to our friends if they wanted to build a store themselves.
#2) Yahoo SiteBuilder (Best Inexpensive Website Builder)
Search engine giant Yahoo is also one of the biggest providers of website building & hosting. When you sign up for their basic hosting plan ($9.95/month) you get access to 2 solid Website Builders – the extremely easy-to-use Yahoo Site Solution and the more complex and feature-rich Yahoo SiteBuilder. Yahoo also offers a completely separate program for large-scale ecommerce sites called “Yahoo Merchant Solutions” which we review further down this list.
For very simple websites Yahoo Site Solution is one of the most user-friendly and attractive Website Builders we’ve used. You’re led step by step through an easy ‘wizard’-type interface – first you select from one of 60 site design templates (I found a few clean, good-looking templates I liked), then you add an unlimited number of pages, then add & edit content (text, photos, audio files, etc). One thing I particularly appreciated was the wide choice of page templates which do the groundwork of formatting different types of pages on your site – news page, photo gallery, FAQ page, contact page, Paypal-linked product page, etc. Yahoo Hosting also gives you unlimited storage space so you can put as much material up as you’d like. When you’re ready you launch your website with the click of a button. You can return and perform simple edits to the website at any time from any computer with the online interface.
If you’d like to have full control over the design of your site and take advantage of a much larger feature list, a free download of Yahoo’s full SiteBuilder (PC-compatible only, Mac users should use a completely browser-based solution like Squarespace) gives you a much more complex and powerful website-building interface to work with. Again, you start building your site with a simple wizard that leads you through selecting a design template (out of several hundred) and setting up your first pages. From there you can really customize your website as much as you’d like. With the SiteBuilder software you have full access to Yahoo’s large feature set, including audio and video placement, photo gallery, Paypal integration, Yahoo-powered search functionality, maps, and directions. Yahoo’s website-building interfaces are clear and intuitive, and they offer a lot of help along the way in the form of video tutorials and ample documentation.
At $9.95/month Yahoo offers you unlimited hosting space, free domain name (you.com), custom email addresses, nice-looking website templates and 2 feature-rich Website Builders. For the amount of space and functionality offered, we feel Yahoo is the best low-cost Website Builder option we’ve seen. They also offer a 30-day guarantee, so you can safely try it out and see for yourself if it works for you.
#3) Intuit Website Builder (Largest Collection of Initial Building Blocks)
$4.99/mo. (Personal Package)
$19.99/mo. (Business Package)
$49.99/mo. (Pro Package, includes $30/mo. Google Ad credit)
30-day free trial (try Intuit free)
Recently the large software company Intuit (makers of Quickbooks software) merged with Homestead (one of the most established & well-known Website Building Companies with over 12 million sites built on their system) to create the Intuit Website Builder. The new Website Builder has all of the same features and programs as the original Homestead plans, and Intuit has brought some new business features and software integration to the mix. With a massive library of website templates (2000+) and royalty-free images (250,000) for you to start with, Intuit offers the most extensive starting blocks of any Website Builder that we’ve reviewed. They have a very inexpensive $4.99/month Personal Package that gives you up to 5 webpages and access to all the starting blocks and both SiteBuilders. This, however, will probably be inadequate for any but the smallest, simplest websites, and you’re probably looking at the Business Package at $19.99/month as the least expensive viable option.
The Intuit Website Builder uses a simple online interface for basic edits to your site (their “SiteBuilder Lite”) and a much more feature-rich downloadable interface (the full “SiteBuilder”) which works on PC’s (not on Macs, again for Mac-users we recommend Squarespace). If you download the SiteBuilder software you can access all the functionality this Website Builder offers, including search, video, mailing lists, guest books, polls, chat rooms, blog, maps, photo gallery, YouTube integration and Paypal integration. Our best advice is to try Intuit yourself – they have a 30-day free trial and within a few minutes you could take a firsthand look at their library of designs and their administrative interface. If you find the perfect design for your site, then that might greatly affect your decision. Start with a trial of the least expensive Personal Plan ($4.99/month) – if you decide you like Intuit you can upgrade at any point. If you know you’ll definitely need more than 5 webpages and want to stay in the $10/month or lower price range we suggest you also consider the Yahoo Website Builder (reviewed above) which offers fewer initial design templates than Intuit but has a more or less comparable feature list. However, if all you need is a 5-page website, or you’re willing to pay a bit more to upgrade to the business plan, then Intuit offers one of the best combinations of starting blocks and website-building features we’ve found.
#4) Squarespace Website Builder (Best Mac-Compatible Website Builder)
Squarespace is what I would consider a ‘Next Generation’ Website Builder — it combines some of the slickest design templates we’ve seen with an intuitive drag & drop content editor, a first-class blogging platform (if you’d like a blog on your site), great integration with social media outlets (facebook, twitter, etc) and a slew of other very cool features. Compared to Squarespace, many older Website Builders seem downright clunky. Squarespace offers a 14-day free trial (no credit card required) — if you like the system then you can sign up for one of 3 Plans. You can pay by the month (with no contract) or pay a discounted rate for longer periods. The Standard Plan starts at $12/month and includes a custom domain name (you.com) and up to 10 pages. The Advanced Plan starts at $20/month and offers unlimited pages and some added functionality.
The free trial whisks you into the Squarespace editing interface and quickly gets you oriented with good video documentation. I had the basic hang of things in minutes. In your website’s backstage area you switch between 3 editors — one for website content (text, images, etc), one for structure, and one for design. Squarespace’s 60+ design templates (which serve as a starting point for the look of your site) are really first-rate. Some other Website Builders offer far more initial templates, but often the bulk of them are pretty lame. What Squarespace lacks in design template quantity they make up for in quality & originality. In the Squarespace structure area I found it pretty simple to add new pages and widgets (search boxes, social media links, contact forms, photo galleries, maps, discussion areas, etc). When I did get a little lost linking up my facebook page with the site, a quick trip to the Help section cleared it up immediately. The interface for customizing your website is completely browser-based, which means that you don’t need to download any software (you do for Yahoo & Intuit) and that both PC & Mac users can use it. If you’re on a Mac computer this is definitely the website builder I would recommend.
Squarespace is not the cheapest Website Builder out there (you’ll pay about $18/month for a Squarespace website with unlimited pages versus about $10 for a Yahoo Website Builder Plan with unlimited pages). However, if all you need is a 10-page or less website, then for $12/month Squarespace is very competitive with Yahoo in terms of pricing. If you need more than 10 pages and a few extra dollars a month isn’t a huge issue, then I think the high quality, attention to detail, and advanced functionality of the Squarespace system is probably worth it. If I were building a website for myself using an all-inclusive Website Builder, I would probably build it on Squarespace (at our web design firm we don’t use all-inclusive Website Builders, we build almost all of our standard websites using the method described here). But if you want the ease of an all-inclusive Website Builder with 24-hour ticket-based tech support in case you get lost, it doesn’t get much better than Squarespace. I think you’ll be happily surprised with the quality of website that you can create there.
#5) Yahoo Merchant Solutions (Second Choice for Ecommerce)
30-day free trial
Yahoo has more online stores running on their system than anyone else – I recently saw a statistic that said 1 in 8 onlines stores on the web have been built through Yahoo, including some big names like Ben & Jerry’s. They are the giant in the market, and this can be good in some ways, not so good in others.
Yahoo has a very different payment structure than Big Commerce, our overall preferred ecommerce provider, but in certain cases the Yahoo plan might be a better fit. With any Yahoo plan you can basically load in as many products as you like (up to 50,000). However, they charge a per transaction fee of up to 1.5% on top of a monthly charge. If you sell $1000 of goods per month, that’s an extra $15/month to Yahoo, if you sell $10,000 worth of goods per month then you might be giving Yahoo an extra $150/month. If your store has an immense number of products, but you don’t sell a large volume of product per month, then maybe this scheme makes sense for you.
Yahoo’s Starter Ecommerce Plan runs $39.95/month ($29.97 for the first 3 months), with a 1.5% transaction fee on sales, making it a relatively inexpensive entry option. Their Starter package is, however, missing a few features you might soon find desirable – including real-time shipping integration, advanced statistics, cross-selling & gift certificates. For these you’ll have to graduate to their Standard Plan, at a steeper $120/month (with 1% per-transaction fee).
Overall, I find the Yahoo user interfaces and coding environment (if you ever delve there) a little less clear and straightforward then I’d like. On the upside, the Yahoo environment can be a bit more flexible than most ecommerce platforms, and it can be easier to incorporate other non-ecommerce elements like, say, a blog, directly into your site. They offer a robust, time-tested ecommerce package and might be worth considering.
#6) SiteCube (Good Flash Website Builder)
10-day free trial
SiteCube offers an easy-to-use Website Builder that allows you to create customized, personalized Flash websites. If you’re not familiar with Flash, it’s a popular software used to create interactive animated websites. Whenever you see something moving or animated on the web, chances are it was built with Flash. At our web design firm we build many unique websites using Flash and we love the creative freedom that it gives us. While Flash sites are usually a little more complex and expensive to have custom-built by a web designer, SiteCube gives you the opportunity to create a Flash website very inexpensively.
SiteCube has nice try-before-you-buy 10-day free trial, and if you think you might like a Flash site, I’d jump in and give it a spin. The sign-up for the trial is simple and you’re quickly whisked into the SiteCube Website Builder interface. Before I first used SiteCube I had expected that a Flash Website Builder would be a little more complicated to use than a static Website Builder – however, the SiteCube interface turned out to be one of the most user-friendly I’ve used, with all the web-building components close at hand. I have to admit that SiteCube is kind of fun to play with… first you choose a theme (a background, more or less) or upload your own and then you choose a design (the main animated elements of the site) from several hundred possibilities. The designs are almost like little movies, and I found several I liked. Once you have the basic elements set, you add pages, text and images using simple online tools. Help is readily available in the form of documentation, videos and live chat with SiteCube support. Once you’ve created your site you can return to edit it at any time from any computer.
One thing SiteCube really excels at is media options – they are set up to incorporate photos, music and videos in some really slick ways. They have great photos albums & media players, and for an added fee you can even hire them to create a kind of virtual spokesperson who appears on your site (these virtual helpers also appear at a couple places in the backstage administrative interface). The one note of caution I would give is that with all the bells and whistles available it can sometimes be easy to go overboard and create a gaudy website – however, it’s easy to strip away site elements you don’t need if you feel the urge to tone things down a bit.
There are a number of plans to choose from ranging from $4.75/month to $23.75/month, the premium plans allowing you more pages, more media and store functionality if you need it (they have a Special running now and all Plans are discounted). All come with web hosting, personalized email accounts and a free domain name (or you can point your domain name to SiteCube if you already own one). If you’d like a Flash website, SiteCube is definitely worth a try – click here to visit SiteCube and go for the free trial. They give you all the tools you need to create a sophisticated, media-rich website you can upkeep yourself.
#7) GoDaddy (Cheap Option for Simple Websites)
no free trial
click here to visit godaddy.com
they offer web hosting, domain name registration and their Website Builder – “Website Tonight” under “Site Builders” in the menu at the top of the page
GoDaddy is a very popular and heavily advertised provider of web hosting and domain name registration, and they are known for their low pricing. However we’ve found comparably-priced alternatives to their web hosting and domain name plans that I’d recommend more highly (Lunarpages for raw web hosting and Namecheap for domain name registration) and for a low-cost hosted Website Builder I would definitely recommend Intuit’s-Homestead’s Starter Plan at $5.99/month (with free trial) or the Yahoo Plan at $9.95/mo.
With that said, GoDaddy’s Website Builder is called “Website Tonight” – the cheapest plan ($4.49/mo if you pay for a year at a time, even less if you pay for a longer duration) comes with a small amount of storage space and one email account (you have to pay for the domain name separately). I personally find navigating GoDaddy administrative menus & pages a bit of a headache – there’s a lot of advertising squeezed in among the content and things can easily get confusing. On the positive side I can attest to the fact that GoDaddy offers reasonably good customer support, which is critical regardless of who you’re building your website with.
#8) Web.com (Not Recommended)
no free trial
Two things immediately put me off to Web.com: First, when you go to their website, you have to sign up and pay before you can learn anything meaningful about their SiteBuilder service – and there’s no free trial. The second thing that gave me pause was the number of customer reviews for Web.com peppered across various other websites and forums that just trash Web.com’s service. They are so overwhelmingly negative that I would never choose to risk it here when there are other Website Builders that have consistently positive track records in terms of professional and customer reviews. Tellingly, Web.com has no press or reviews section – there are a few “customer success stories” but no credible independent reviews. We found nothing in their actual offerings that would move us to ignore the negative warnings from so many of their customers.
To sum up… if price is key and you need more than a few pages on your website (and you’re not on a Mac computer), then Yahoo offers unlimited pages and space at the best price we’ve found. If you want to check out the largest set of initial design templates we’ve seen, then take advantage of Intuit’s 15-day free trial.
If you use a Mac computer, or if you want the slickest template designs, then I’d check out Squarespace. Finally, if you’re building an online store, then our first choice is definitely Big Commerce, our favorite dedicated ecommerce website builder.
The Pro Website Builder Review is authored and updated by the staff of Good Bear Productions, professional web developers with over a decade’s experience building and managing websites and consulting with clients on the best options for bringing themselves and their businesses onto the web. If you have any feedback or would like to see another Website Builder reviewed here email us at feedback@ProWebsiteBuilderReview.com.