What's the best website builder? I rank 4 from best to worst for amateurs

Disclaimer: This article contains my opinions based on experience designing websites on each platform.

Choosing a web builder is a crucial part of making a website. If you choose the wrong one, you might be faced with glitches, be empty-handed when you need certain capabilities, or be scratching your head because it’s all just too hard. Choosing the right one means a blissful website-making journey and the awesome feeling of having full control over your work.

I use four key web builders in my web design: Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify. Today, I’m going to rank these in order from best to worst for the amateur web users who form the bulk of my clients: small business owners and sole traders.

How it works: I’ve made a breakdown about my feelings on each provider and included a paragraph on my overall verdict at the end. Each aspect is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 – no half marks – with an overall average rating at the bottom.

Let’s get into it!

Tied 1st Place: Squarespace

Squarespace Homepage

Ease of use for the average person: 3/5

Professionalism: 4/5

Ability to customise without code: 3/5

Fully responsive: Yes (5/5)

Cost: From $150 per year, no maintenance needed (3/5)

Security: 5/5. All managed by Squarespace.

Content: 5/5 - you own your own stuff and can migrate it elsewhere.

Overall rating: 4/5

The verdict: You won't believe it, but we've had an exact tie for first place. However, I'm starting with Squarespace first because I believe it's much easier to use, and the odds are that will mean it's more appropriate for you.

Squarespace is a beautiful platform with a lovely look to it. It’s also fairly easy to use once you get used to the system. However, I find it a bit restrictive. I feel that a lot of the templates (or starting themes) have a similar look, and it’s not as easy to customise as I would like. Oftentimes, when I find a site that’s been built on Squarespace, I can tell because of the feel of the design. Most web developers who use Squarespace have to use code to customise it fully.

What I can do: Make a Squarespace site using the available design elements and a little custom code, or refer you to a developer who exclusively uses Squarespace and custom code to build bespoke sites. There are some REALLY good ones out there, but it will increase your budget. You can also take a look at some resources like Amber Ladd’s Code Shop for some snippets of code you can use to add extra functionality to your Squarespace site.

Where you can test it: Create a site at Squarespace.com and you’ll start a 14-day free trial. Your site will be deactivated if you don’t upgrade by the end of that period.

Tied 1st Place: Wordpress

Wordpress homepage

Ease of use for the average person: 1/5

Professionalism: 5/5

Ability to customise without code: 5/5

Fully responsive: Yes (5/5)

Cost: From about $60 per year including hosting and domain – but needs regular maintenance (5/5)

Security: 2/5 - you have to manage it with plugins and external assistance

Content: 5/5 - you own your own stuff and can migrate it elsewhere.

Overall rating: 4/5

The verdict: Wordpress is the industry standard for web building. If you want a professional website that will be getting lots of visits and dealing with big-name clients, Wordpress is probably the go for you. It's open-source, meaning it's built on a massive library of plugins made by developers - and that means the potential for design is infinite.

However, it is really, really, honestly, insanely hard to use. I spent two years on and off training in this system before it clicked for me, and while all my web developer friends swear by it, I think their evaluations are clouded by their natural talent for maths and IT. The drawback of the extensive open source library is that there are also a couple of security issues, so you need to make sure you're doing regular backups and have security help from your host or extra plugins.

If you don’t have potentially months to dedicate to learning how to use this platform, or aren’t willing to pay someone else to make edits for you, I would recommend using something else. Wordpress also needs a lot of maintenance, meaning you’ll probably be paying for help for a long time to come.

What I can do: Make you a Wordpress site by customising existing themes and using web building plugins, refer you to a web developer who integrates custom code into their Wordpress sites, and/or design the actual website layout for someone else to code up using Wordpress.

Where you can test it: I highly recommend downloading the free app Local by Flywheel and launching a Wordpress site exclusively on your own computer. It will take you through the steps to set up for free, and your site won’t be published on the internet. The perfect zone to experiment with the technology.

2nd Place: Wix

Wix homepage

Ease of use for the average person: 5/5

Professionalism: 2/5

Ability to customise without code: 4/5

Fully responsive: Only partially (3/5)

Cost: Free, but you need to upgrade from $150 per year* to remove Wix ads. No maintenance needed (4/5)

Security: 5/5, all managed by Wix.

Content: 2/5. Wix reserves the right to use your content in their own marketing materials, and your site is stuck there - you can't migrate it. But I give them an extra point because I think they've got the easiest and most visually-pleasing way to manage/add/delete photos and videos.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

The verdict: Wix is so easy to use that it’s my go-to recommendation for anyone who needs a really simple website and wants complete control over their own content. It is, to my knowledge, the only web builder on this list where you can actually put elements wherever you want on the page, not in predetermined blocks. For this reason, my current site is actually built on Wix as of May 2020 - but I'm in the process of moving to WordPress.

The problem is, Wix is not fully responsive – meaning it doesn’t shrink as the screen size becomes bigger or smaller – and depending on how your site is designed, it can look really DIY. It can also be slow, affecting your Google ranking. Finally, Wix is limited in capabilities - sometimes you'll look for help on how to do something, only to find the feature doesn't exist and the community is voting to hopefully see it in the future. If we do a Wix site together, it’s really important that you have enough copy written in advance so we can segment up the site in an orderly and aesthetically-pleasing way with the features they do have.

What I can do: Make you a Wix site, compressing your images and testing the speed to try to eliminate the drawbacks above.

Where you can test it: Make a free site at Wix.com. You won’t have to pay for anything unless you choose to upgrade.

*Note: Wix’s subscriptions cost more for eCommerce.

3rd Place: Shopify

Shopify homepage

Ease of use for the average person: 3/5

Professionalism: 4/5

Ability to customise without code: 2/5

Fully responsive: Yes (5/5)

Cost: From $350 per year, plus a transaction fee, plus whatever you pay for themes (1/5)

Security: 5/5. All managed by Shopify.

Content: 3/5. You can export some content like products. You own your own content.

Overall rating: 3/5

The verdict: While I’m least familiar with Shopify, I can say the following: It’s quite expensive, but very well-trusted around the globe for eCommerce whereas Squarespace and Wix are not eCommerce specialists. If you sell your products using Shopify, you will have consumer trust and the knowledge that teams of people are constantly working to keep your shop online and running as smoothly as possible. Shopify is probably the hardest to customise, because there are options hidden in all sorts of places (eg. settings 4 items deep from the sidebar) and functions will or won’t be possible depending on what theme you’ve chosen. You’ll also often find you need to buy a premium theme externally to get closer to your desired look – it’s not really a design-focused builder.

What I can do: Set you up a Shopify site and edit as much as I can within the constraints of your chosen theme.

Where you can test it: Start a free 14-day trial at www.shopify.com.au.

It's also worth saying that despite Shopify coming "last", it's still a great platform! Heaps of online stores are built there and they've got loads of capabilities for analysing your traffic and managing your sales. It's just that it's quite a learning curve, and their visual customisation isn't as good. After all, they're built for selling, not design.

Here's a summary of the results.

So what do you think? Have you chosen a website builder to set up your online business? Perhaps this guide has helped you settle on a decision. That's great stuff! You've got the power to do this all on your own.

But - if you think you need help setting up a website for your business, get in touch and we can start preparing you a beautiful online presence that attracts clients and makes you money. Just send me an e-mail and we can get started!

1 comment