Nick Wolny is the senior editor of Financial Independence at NextAdvisor, in partnership with TIME. A self-employed…
A well-designed website is the digital business card that will make you money online. When it comes to website building, having a user-friendly experience both on a desktop computer and a phone can make or break your online efforts.
“As web designers, we want to make what’s most beautiful, which is usually the desktop version [of a website], and then kind of pare it down for the mobile version,” says Krystle Rowry, a web designer and brand strategist for entrepreneurs. “But it needs to be mobile first for most people. A lot of people are mostly on mobile.”
There are more do-it-yourself (DIY) website builder options than ever before (and even more website builder reviews) to help you get your online dreams off the ground, and you don’t need to hire a web developer to set up a website that makes an awesome first impression. The best website builder for small business owners, however, ultimately depends on what you want your online store or website to accomplish – and your overall goals.
We asked four experts to weigh in on what they think is the best website builder platform. Here is what they had to say.
In figuring out the best website builder for your circumstances, you’ll first want to decide whether or not you want to build your website on WordPress or on a more drag and drop interface. WordPress.org is a free hub for building your own website in any way you want; 43% of all websites on the internet are powered by WordPress, according to realtime reporting from W3Techs, a data collection company. WordPress is beloved for both its search engine optimization potential and its functionality as a content management system. After signing up for WordPress, you would then choose a website builder software and install it within your account.
In the 2000s, the WordPress learning curve was considerable. As a result, many new website builders began to emerge that required no coding knowledge and had far simpler interfaces; some of the most popular ones include Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly.
“For these drag-and-drop providers, some settings are kind of locked in because they don’t want you to change things around too much,” says David Yarde, a brand architect and software engineer with over 17 years of experience. “But you can be up and running within an hour or two if you already have your domain name.” A custom domain, web hosting, and certain ecommerce features are also factors to consider when choosing the best website builder for your professional website.
WordPress responded to its market competitors by adding its own drag and drop functionality. Now, “you can actually get started on WordPress with a shorter learning curve,” says Wendy Coop, a certified financial education instructor (CFEI) and owner of Creative Consulting LLC, a company that teaches individuals and organizations financial literacy.
The key factor to consider is your how your website fits into your overall business plan. A drag-and-drop website builder will help you get started quickly, but you may end up having to migrate your site down the road, says Jasmine Powers, founder of Jasmine Powers Multimedia, a creative agency that offers brand strategy, digital production, and systems management.
“Your website may need to be able to manage things like e-commerce or a community,” she notes. “Your site may need to be able to manage multimedia, marketing or SEO tools, or other aspects of the business.” If you anticipate wanting to add lots of bells and whistles to your website down the line, it might be better to choose WordPress over other website builders from day one.
If over 10 million websites have been built using your WordPress software, you’re doing something right. Elementor boasts excellent drag-and-drop technology and over 100 widgets to make your own website look exactly the way you want on all device types. There’s zero coding knowledge required, but features are also easy to customize, making the option attractive to both beginners and web developers who still want advanced features. Even better: There’s a free plan with limited features you can try out to see if you like the interface before spending a penny.
With an avid online community and customer education resources such as tutorial videos, Elementor ensures you’re set up for success on WordPress; it earned the “Best option for WordPress” vote from most of the experts we interviewed.
Most of our experts who’ve built websites for both themselves and others on WordPress named Elementor as their preferred website builder. With mobile optimization being so important for small businesses these days – 54.4% of all web traffic occurs on a phone, according to research from Statista, a data reporting company – it’s important to know how website edits will look on every device before pushing any updates through, says Rowry.
“It’s difficult to get exactly what you want for tablet and mobile outside of something like Elementor, where you’re actually going and looking at the design for every device size,” she says. “That’s why I go with Elementor. I love it.”
Coop agrees. “Elementor has a page builder that’s very simple to use,” she says.
Divi is also lauded by both consumers and web developers for its “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) interface and robust templates library. You’ll pay more for Divi if you choose the annual option, and the lifetime license option is attractive if you plan to be in the game for years to come. Additionally, your purchase of Divi also includes Elegant Themes’ other products in their product suite, including Bloom, an email list signup plugin, and Monarch, a social sharing buttons plugin.
Another attractive feature of Divi is that you get chat support regardless of which tier you purchase. In contrast, Elementor chat support is a VIP feature that requires a studio plan ($499/year) or agency plan ($999/year). If you anticipate asking questions often, and want your questions answered quickly, Divi may end up being the best website builder for your circumstances.
Another popular website builder option for those using WordPress is Divi, which is owned by Elegant Themes, a web solutions company (not to be confused with a cryptocurrency also called Divi). The template library is huge, and there’s an option to purchase a lifetime license.
“I go with Divi or Elementor for my WordPress websites” says Powers. In addition to impressive features, there’s also a vibrant online community and excellent education resources on their various social media platforms.
Powered by an impressive advertising machine, Squarespace feels like it’s everywhere. The website builder has fewer customization options than other providers, but its templates are so sleek and intuitive you may not even want to bother messing with the layout. Squarespace is increasingly popular for small business owners and creators alike who want to build a web presence on a simple website builder.
Squarespace also offers a more cost-effective solution; if all you need is a good-looking website to prove you’re the real deal, the platform may be a perfect fit for you.
If you don’t want to go anywhere near WordPress, a drag-and-drop website builder like Squarespace might be a better fit. Squarespace has been around for nearly 20 years and was the top website builder recommendation from several of our experts if you’re looking for a solution outside of WordPress that has maximum ease of use.
“For ease of use, you may want to go with something like Squarespace,” says Rowry. “But even with Squarespace, you’ll have to learn how to use the platform.” Squarespace doesn’t have the most robust template library, but the drag-and-drop elements work nicely in almost every template, making it a great option if you feel clueless on design but still want a polished website.
If you want to stay off WordPress, but like the idea of building your website exactly the way you want to, Wix may be the bset website builder for you. The platform has a huge number of templates to choose from and better customization options than most website builders. From photo galleries to contact forms to marketing and SEO tools, Wix has the widgets you need.
The company states it has over 200 million users, but most of them use Wix’s free plan, which has limited options. About 5.5 million users use Wix Premium, which has the features you need to establish a more credible online presence.
Wix is another popular drag-and-drop website builder that boasts over 500 pre-made templates. The template library is more extensive than Squarespace, but you might need to pay an additional fee for certain premium features or other marketing add-ons that other providers will already have built-in.
If design is your top priority, Wix will give you the complete control you need to make things look sharp. The website builder would be a great fit for creators and artisans who need to show off a visual portfolio. You can also start on Wix’s free tier and upgrade at a later date after you’ve determined you like the interface.
If you want to sell stuff on your website, Weebly is one of the best website builders for getting started quickly. The site builder draws its line in the sand as specializing in ecommerce, but you can also use the platform if you’re not an ecommerce entrepreneur.
Weebly also offers a free plan that you can check out to determine whether the platform will meet your needs before making any financial investments.
Acquired by payments technology company Square in 2018, Weebly is another drag and drop interface website builder that focuses more on ecommerce entrepreneurs. In addition to the website builder software, there’s also a mobile app that you can use to check inventory in your online stores or even make website edits while you’re on the go.
“Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, all of these [drag-and-drop builders] offer different pluses and minuses,” says Yarde. “But if you know what you want to accomplish with that platform, and if you anticipate that a lot of people visiting your website on a mobile device, you’ll want to make sure that the themes and design elements translate to mobile.”
In addition to the features mentioned above, here are some other elements to take into consideration when choosing the best website builder for your needs.
Top website builders said being comfortable with the platform you’re on will get you further than picking the “best” software and having no idea how to use it.
“You want to look for [a website builder] you can easily maintain until you can pay someone to do the maintenance in the building for you,” says Coop. “So if that means starting on Wix for most people, that would be fine. But you can also start on WordPress, and build up to it. As your site gets more and more robust, Wix is likely not going to be able to handle what you need. So you’re going to eventually be moving over to WordPress.”
A WordPress website can give you incredible creative power, but if you’re so intimidated by your WordPress site that you never want to log in, consider a simpler web builder with a drag and drop editor instead.
Your Hosting Platform
You could have the greatest website in the world, but if you haven’t set up web hosting services, your site won’t actually be live on the internet. Our experts recommended getting web hosting from a provider that is separate from your website builder; this will make migrating your site down the road way easier if you choose to do so.
Related: Best Web Hosting for June 2022: 5 Options to Ensure Your Website Gets Seen, According to Experts
Web hosting and website builder software packages often come with a free domain, but our experts advised against this. If you decide you want to migrate your site at a later date, it can be a pain to migrate over your free domain as well.
53% of mobile users will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, according to internal data recorded and published by Google. When building your website, aim for a user interface that is quick, light, and easy to navigate with just a few clicks. For many website builders, this might mean saving versions of images that are lower in file size while still maintaining the same visual quality, for example.
Check your web hosting and search engine optimization (SEO) settings so that search engines can find and index your site quickly; this makes your website more user-friendly and appealing. If you’re not sure how your website is performing, check your analytics tools within your website builder, and also be sure to set up Google Analytics if you haven’t already done so in order to see how many users are visiting your own website.
Everyone loves professional-looking websites, but as a small business owner you need your professional website to load quickly and efficiently.
Over half of all web traffic happens on mobile devices. Confirm that your web pages can be navigated on a phone just as easily as they are from a desktop computer.
When it comes to picking the best website builder, think about the amount of content you’ll need on your site to reach your overall goals. Powers advises prioritizing three pages when building a website: a home page, a services page, and a contact page. She also recommends including sections that tell visitors about you and capture users who want to sign up for your email list.
“You need to have a home page that details one to three calls to action that you want a visitor to take,” she says. “You need a contact page. And then you need a services page – it can be for products or services – where [visitors] can actually buy whatever you have that is available for purchase.” Powers adds that about pages and opt-in pages are optional, but that you would want that functionality somewhere on your website; these sections could live on existing pages or be part of your home page.
Your website is your online business card; it’s the corner of the internet where people can go to learn more about who you are and what you do. Familiarize yourself with the best website builder for your situation so you can spend less time tied up with tech snags and more time pursuing your online financial goals.
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At NextAdvisor we’re firm believers in transparency and editorial independence. Editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our partners. We do not cover every offer on the market. Editorial content from NextAdvisor is separate from TIME editorial content and is created by a different team of writers and editors.
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