When it comes to web design, this is the question I get asked the most. There are so many website builders on the market, how do you know which one is the right solution for you?
Well for me, there is actually a single answer, but before I just give it to you, let’s look at some of the best options.
Before even comparing the top website builders, I recommend that you write down what you want to do with your website? What are your goals and what features would you like your website to have. For example, you may want features such as: a blog, photo gallery, online store, reservation system, contact form, animations etc.
If you are unsure about what you want, then check out your competitors or other websites for inspiration.
Next, you need to consider your growth options. Will you be adding regular updates to your website? Will your business be evolving? Would you be selling more products on your website in the future? You need to make sure that the website builder you choose is capable of handling your needs as your business grows.
Now for the most part, any of the these platforms will do the things you want or need which is why I've not just made a chart comparing the features – the real differences in understanding which platform is best for you, is in the structure of the platform itself, the form and function of the builder.
That being said, let’s take a look at the top website builder platforms to make your website.
For those that want precise control - the foremost important difference between Wix and other website builders is that Wix is an unstructured editor.
Most website builders limit you to dragging and dropping within a pre-designed grid. Wix is different. Wix's unstructured editor enables you to drag and drop elements anywhere you wish on a page. No constraints.
The upside to Wix's unstructured editor is clear: freedom. But I've also found the unstructured editor may result in tedious work and challenges - and it is the reason I only give Wix a 3-star rating. Wix provides you with plenty of options for your website. There are over 500 themes, lots of features and an App marketplace for even more features and integrations.
I recommend Wix to a specific style of user: people who don't desire to feel constrained - you're more liberal to do what you need.
But this means really understanding what you want and the way to attain it.
Weebly is a wonderful, easy to use website builder - but it is currently also transitioning to a replacement editor called Square.
The Square editor is significantly less customisable than the old Weebly editor. As an example, you cannot add individual elements, you add sections instead. So you can toggle individual elements on and off within a section but you cannot actually remove them. This feels like a big step backwards in flexibility. The old Weebly editor allowed you to add sections but also allowed you to feature individual elements. With the Square editor you'll be able to only add sections.
It's unusual to see an site builder purposefully remove options. The new Square editor is additionally left wanting for several features that the old Weebly editor covered: no blog, no app store, no video backgrounds and no membership system. You can still use the old Weebly editor but Weebly is shifting users towards the new Square editor. And while the new Square editor is simple to use (especially for ecommerce) it's too limited to allow Weebly more than 3 stars.
Squarespace is the Apple of website builders. It's intuitive, curated and thoughtfully designed. I highly recommend it.
Squarespace templates are fresh, sophisticated and share an analogous look and feel: plenty of whitespace, bold typography and room to showcase photography.
In my opinion Squarespace has a number of the most beautiful templates of any website builder but they are all a bit same-same.
Squarespace also has excellent features - they have the most effective blogging, podcasting, audio players and photo galleries of any website builder. Plus, their eCommerce may be a viable alternative to pure eCommerce website builders like Shopify.
It's a very fine choice.
Shopify is the best eCommerce builder, hands down. If you're building a pure eCommerce website, I highly recommend Shopify. But even if you're not eCommerce, keep reading.
Shopify has come to dominate eCommerce software by constantly innovating and improving - while always remaining clear and simple to use. It's a magical balancing act that's unusual within the world of software.
The App Store is it's biggest difference. The Shopify core covers what 80% of online stores will need and the app store covers the other 20% - that way the core doesn't get bloated with features most stores don't need. Shopify isn't the sole website builder to supply an app store but they have significantly more apps than any competitor.
Besides the app store, Shopify has continually launched innovative features like Shopify Payments, Shopify Point of Sale and Shopify Augmented Reality that really push the industry forward and make for a seamless way to mix you online and offline sales.
Beyond features, the thing I most frequently hear from users is that they love that Shopify is very easy to use. It's clear, simple and intuitive.
So if you are eCommerce or a real store moving online as well, Shopify is the clear winner.
But it does so much more, I have built Professional Services, Artist Sites, Trades, Health and more on Shopify - it does it all.
What really, really, really sets Shopify apart though is it's robustness (it's unbreakable) and the ease in which it can be modified through access to the code. While other builders have some ability to customise the templates, whatever you can imagine, Shopify can do.
What about WordPress I hear you ask?
And that’s a good question because WordPress is that the world’s most well-liked website building platform. Over 35% of all websites on the net are powered by WordPress.
Before we start, it's always pertinent to point out that here are two versions of WordPress available - there's self-hosted WordPress.org and WordPress.com. I’m not even going to talk further about WordPress.com.
So, WordPress. Well, first of all, WordPress is actually a content management system (CMS) and not strictly a website builder.
Now, a CMS like WordPress is definitely flexible but features a much steeper learning curve whereas website builders like Shopify, Wix and Squarespace are less flexible (although the gap gets narrower every day) but far easier to use.
I can't deny that WordPress gives you complete control on every aspect of your website and online presence. It can be used to build any kind of website - eCommerce, community forums, a social network, a membership website, personal website, and more.
But there are so many moving parts.
Hosting for example, is included with most website builders. But with WordPress you have to use a third party host which means more cost and more complexity before you've even begun.
And yes, there are thousands of pre-made WordPress themes that you just can use for your website’s design. And it also has amazing drag and drop page builders like Beaver Builder and Divi which permit you to simply create your own page layouts employing a drag-and-drop editor. But again, it starts to get complicated – so now you either have to code your own pages or choose and install a separate page builder.
You’ll also get access to some 55,000 free WordPress plugins. These are like apps for WordPress that add additional features and functionality to your website. But unlike the other builders, you need to use Apps even for core functions. And in order to configure almost every plugin, you have to enter WP-Admin. WP-Admin is the interface for Wordpress - it’s the most unfriendly user-interfaceyou will ever see.
But my biggest bugbear? Once you've installed your plugins, you will have to keep up with their updates.
All of this is why developers love it and will push you toward it, because it’s hard to use so you’ll keep going back to them to make even small changes - it’s a great recurring revenue stream.
Now, some people at this stage (especially the Wordpress advocates) will be crying, "But what about SEO? Isn’t Wordpress best for SEO?"
Then the next question is which website builder has the best SEO?
The real answer is none of them, and anyone who tells you different, is making it up.
Choosing between any of the website builders on this list will not rank your business any differently in Google.
Yes, there are important technical SEO requirements that a website builder must have - but every website builder on this list covers them. Some go a little further than others (for example: Squarespace supports Google AMP pages) but in practice choosing a different website builder will have no meaningful impact on your SEO.
So here’s the thing – if you don’t know which is best, choose Shopify.
Because whatever you want to do, it can do. Whatever you might want to do in the future, it will be able to do. And on top of that, it’s easy to use, it’s the most robust infrastructure I’ve ever used, it’s secure and it's here for the long run.
There is one caveat to all of this – each of these builders will allow you to build a website all by yourself – simply, easily and cheaply.
However, unless you're a web designer that doesn’t mean it will look amazing and convert like crazy.
But that's a whole other discussion.