Whether you want to promote your business or make a presence for yourself online, the best website builders will get you up and running
The best website builders make it easy even for complete beginners to build their own website from scratch.
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.
In this article, we’ll explain all the key features to look out for, and suggest some of our favourite tried-and-tested website builders. If you want to learn more about each website builder, then we’ve provided links to our full, in-depth reviews below each of the mini-reviews. If you’re just after a speedy recommendation, then the at-a-glance list above provides quick links to our favourite website builder services across a range of different categories.
How to choose the best website builder for you
How much do website builder services cost?
Not as much as you might think. Even the premium options tend to start at around £10/mth to £13/mth, with discounts if you pay annually, and some have free plans if you just want to try them out and start experimenting.
READ NEXT: How much does a website cost?
Are there any good free (or cheap) website builders?
Yes, but watch out for the following restrictions and 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.
- Some cheaper ecommerce plans may have restrictions on how many transactions you can handle or how much sales income you can take before you have to move up to a more expensive plan. Most will also charge you a fee per transaction, and these fees are often higher on the budget plans.
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.
READ NEXT: How long does it take to build a website?
What should you look for in a website builder?
Ease of use is by far the most important factor for any website builder – ideally, everyone should be able to create a good-looking website, regardless of their ability level.
Most builders force you to work within pre-designed templates and you often need to piece your pages together, block by block. You may be able to change fonts or colours, but your options will be limited to combinations that work harmoniously together. This means you can build something quickly and know it’s going to work and look good.
While it’s still possible to create horrific websites with awful fonts and clashing colours, the preset styles and templates will generally steer you in the right direction.
If you’re a more advanced user who wants precise control over every element on every page and the maximum number of features, then this kind of hand-holding may not be welcome. It’s worth asking the question of whether your needs would be better served by more traditional design tools or a WordPress installation.
If that sounds like it describes your needs, then our best web hosts article may be a better place to start.
What kind of features are useful to have?
For a lot of users these features will be overkill, but they enable you to slowly transform a simple website into a serious operation:
- Most leading website builders have features for blogging, or features to share updates on social media – and showcase feeds from your own social media accounts. They may have components for playing podcasts or YouTube videos too.
- Some website builders will give you more advanced features for search engine optimisation, site-boosting and traffic analytics, so you can tune your site and content to reach a wider audience. In some cases, you can expand the built-in features through an app store.
- Tools to manage and edit media, particularly images and photos, can be a real timesaver when you’re adding new content.
- Ideally, you want your website builder to produce a responsive design, as this ensures that a website you build on a PC screen will also look good on a smartphone or tablet. You’ll often see phone or tablet preview options to help you preview how the design will look on smaller screens.
What if I want to build an online store?
You’re in luck. A number of website builders have shifted focus towards creating business websites and online stores, while several specialist online store builders have been designed from the bottom up to do the job. Keep an eye out for the following features:
- Inventory management: These services don’t just give you the tools to make your store, but also the tools to add and manage a large catalogue of products and market them to customers around the world. Whether you want to make and see hand-crafted products or start your own retail business, there are services that can make the job much easier.
- Payment handling: As they work with leading payment service providers, you won’t even have to handle the messy business of taking credit card payments and securing the customer data – though you will still have some responsibilities if you collect any information during the sales process.
Finally, 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.
How we test website builders
We test website builders by signing up for each service as a normal customer, and then building a test website using a combination of automated tools and templates, plus custom design features. We run through all the site customisation features available, adding new page elements and changing colour schemes, using any included tools for adding images or uploading video, as well as trying out the social media or blogging features.
We always review the test site in both desktop and mobile format, and look at how well the tools work to build something that looks good, whether displayed on a 27in widescreen monitor or a 6in smartphone screen.
Wherever the website builders offer ecommerce features, we use these to build a simple online store, and add a series of items, then check the controls for pricing, sales, discounts, and more. We also try out any SEO or marketing features. Finally, we run some queries through their online support to see how quick and effective any help or feedback is.
READ NEXT: Wix vs Squarespace
The best website builders you can buy in 2023
1. Wix: The best all-round website builder
Price when reviewed: From free to £27/mth | View offers at Wix
With its feature-packed free plan and its affordable Connect Domain and Combo plans, Wix makes a great platform for personal sites, or even business sites, thanks to the low-cost Business Basic plan. Its wizard-based approach makes it easy to set up your site, but has enough templates and customization options to please anyone looking for their own distinctive look and feel.
The built-in image editing tools enable you to tweak and enhance images without leaving Wix for a dedicated app. In fact, with features for nearly every type of content, you have the flexibility to develop almost anything you want. So, whether you’re looking to create a portfolio site to show off your photography, or build a news and reviews site for you to discuss video games or movies, Wix has got you covered, and includes some good tutorials to help make the most of the platform and its features.
It’s a strong choice for businesses too, with add-on apps for making and taking bookings, and a good range of features for online stores. While more specialist website builders might give you better options for product pages and inventory management, Wix compensates for this with its excellent SEO and marketing tools. Overall, it’s the best website builder for anyone who wants something stylish without it costing the earth, but still with a feature set and ecosystem that means it can do a whole lot more.
Key specs – Storage: 500MB to 50GB; Bandwidth: 500MB to unlimited/mth; Ecommerce support: Yes (Business plans only); Free version: Yes; Custom domains: Yes; Free domain: 1 year (Premium and Business plans only); Automated design: Yes; App store: Yes; Support: 24/7 live chat, guides and tutorials, callback service
2. Squarespace: The best website builder for businesses
Price when reviewed: From £12 to £43/mth | View offer at Squarespace
SquareSpace has always been a slick website builder, capable of creating professional-looking websites in a flash, even for those with little experience. However, with the release of its new FluidEngine editor, it’s become even more flexible: you’re no longer limited to the existing templates, and can customise layouts, fonts, colours, and page elements with ease. Its grid-based system makes it easy to keep things consistent and aligned, and you can pull off some great animated effects that should wow visitors to your site.
It’s also a great choice for business and ecommerce, with features for adding and managing products in your inventory, if you’re selling physical goods, along with tools to manage sessions or appointments, if you’re offering consultancy or services, either online or off. The social media tools are exemplary, and though the SEO features aren’t as user-friendly as those of Wix or GoDaddy SiteBuilder, they’re still good and backed up by comprehensive analytics and reporting tools.
What SquareSpace won’t give you is the near-instant websites you can get with Wix, 1&1 Ionos or GoDaddy, and it is slightly frustrating that you can’t switch templates once you’ve started building; however, users with a little design expertise can pull off some impressive results, and it’s difficult to create something ugly. You’ll need a fairly substantial budget, with even the entry-level plan coming in at £12 per month, but if you’re happy to spend out on a website builder, this is an excellent choice.
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited (30 minute video upload limit); Bandwidth: Unlimited; Ecommerce support: Yes (Business and Commerce plans only); Free version: No; Custom domains: Yes; Free domain: 1 year (annual plans only); Automated design: No; App store: Yes; Support: Videos, guides, live chat (business hours) and email support
3. GoDaddy SiteBuilder: The best web-hosting and site-building combo
Price when reviewed: From £3.99 to £12.99/mth | View offers at GoDaddy
While it faces stiff competition from the likes of Wix and 1&1 Ionos, nothing beats GoDaddy when it comes to getting something online fast. It’s cheap and will work with existing domains – whether from GoDaddy or anyone else – or you can just publish your site with a godaddysites.com suffix and link to another domain later.
The templates are primarily designed for business and ecommerce users, though you’re free to customise them with different layouts, fonts, images and colours. The editing interface is one of the most intuitive around as most elements can be edited with a click, with context-sensitive floating menus covering the available options. Wix and SquareSpace do give you more in the way of design control, but it’s not hard to stamp your own look and feel on a GoDaddy site, especially with its Next Steps button, which does a good job guiding you through the process.
The premium ecommerce plan gives you a solid set of features to sell online or real-world services, or to create a small-scale online store, with GoDaddy Payments, Paypal, Square and Stripe to handle payments. GoDaddy also has some useful extra features for SEO and designing ads. While other website builders may be more flexible or versatile, GoDaddy is perfect for anyone who simply wants to take their business online with the minimum of fuss.
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; Ecommerce support: Yes (ecommerce plans only); Free version: Trial only; Custom domains: Yes; Free domain: No (from 82p per year for the first year); Automated design: No; App store: No; Support: Guides, 24/7 live chat and email support
4. 1and1 Ionos MyWebsite: The best for website builders on a budget
Price when reviewed: From £9 to £50/mth | View offers at Ionos
You’re probably aware of 1&1 Ionos from the TV ads which focus on its website builder, and its ability to create business-ready websites in a flash. Not only does Ionos’s excellent My Website Now tool do just that, but the £9 per month starter package – just £5 for the first year – makes it one of the least expensive options out there. However, we’d recommend going for the £15 per month Plus plan if you want a little bit more creative control, not least because Ionos currently offers it for just £1 per month for the first year.
You don’t get a huge range of templates to work with, but the ones you do get are well designed and easy to customise, with great features for scaling and shifting the focal point of images, not to mention creating some surprisingly advanced effects. Responsive design and preview tools make it simple to create effective desktop and mobile versions, though there are times when fixed elements prove difficult to edit and prevent you from getting the look you want.
True to the ads, 1&1 Ionos does a good job of building online stores and, though it’s better suited to those selling physical or digital goods than services, you get plenty of control over how your storefront looks. The dashboards for reporting and analytics are clear and usable, while the built-in guides can take you through advertising on Facebook or Google, or hooking your site up to Facebook and Instagrams’ shopping services. IONOS isn’t the best service for any one specific job, but it’s a good all-rounder for building business sites – especially if you find GoDaddy restrictive, or SquareSpace slightly intimidating.
- Read our full 1and1 Ionos MyWebsite review for details
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; Ecommerce support: Yes (ecommerce plans only); Free version: Yes; Custom domains: Yes; Free domain: 1 year; Automated design: No; App store: Yes; Support: Knowledgebase, Guides, 24/7 live chat and email support
5. Square Online: The best website builder for new online businesses
Price when reviewed: From free to £64/mth | View offers at Square Online
One of the biggest names in digital payments, Square entered the website builder market in 2018 after buying Weebly, using Weebly’s technology in a new ecommerce builder, Square Online. Where Weebly was all about flexibility and creative control, Square Online is focused entirely on building online stores, with tools and templates designed to help you build and manage your business and get it up and running fast.
The template designs look professional and the features for setting up and managing your product catalogue are extremely good, though Shopify has a few more features to cater for larger businesses. You can set up promotional emails and sync your store with Facebook and Instagram shops, and Square Online also integrates with Square’s physical point-of-sale terminals, so that you can manage a bricks-and-mortar store and an online store from the same place.
Perhaps the best thing for new online businesses, however, is that Square has a free plan with most of the same features as its premium plans, so you can get set up with minimal costs. You’ll pay Square transaction fees, but that’s not unusual even with paid-for rivals, and it’s not expensive or difficult to upgrade if you feel you need more features or marketing tools. Squarespace gives you more in the way of design power, but if you care more about keeping costs down and ease of use, then Square Online is the way to go.
- Read our full Square Online review for details
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; Ecommerce support: Yes; Free version: Yes; Custom domains: Yes (paid plans only); Free domain: Yes (paid plans only); Automated design: No; App store: No; Support: Knowledgebase, guides, live chat, 24/7 email support
6. Shopify: The best website builder for ecommerce
Price when reviewed: From free to £344 per month | View offers at Shopify
Shopify is designed to do one thing and one thing only: build and manage online stores. As a result, it feels different to other website builders, with you developing the back end of your store – the catalogue, payments and shipping – before you get to work on the storefront and its look and feel.
The tools for adding, categorising and managing your product inventory are top-notch, and you also get comprehensive features to help you keep track of customers and understand how they found your store and what they’re looking for. These come with equally excellent marketing tools and features for creating sales, discounts and promotions. It even has useful integrations with social media and services like Printify, that can help your business reach a larger audience and extend the product range.
The downside is that you don’t get the flexibility or creative tools that you find on other website builders, with Shopify prioritising usability and consistency. It’s also not always clear how you tweak or customise some page elements or use certain features – though Shopify has some useful guides and videos to help. For these reasons, smaller businesses might want to stick with Square Online, Squarespace or 1&1 Ionos. However, if you have big ambitions for your online store, then Shopify comes built to scale up as you grow.
- Read our full Shopify review for details
- What is Shopify? We explain everything
- Check out our guide to Shopify pricing
Key specs – Storage: Unlimited; Bandwidth: Unlimited; Ecommerce support: Yes; Free version: No (trial only); Custom domains: Yes; Free domain: No; Automated design: No; App store: Yes; Support: Knowledgebase, guides, 24/7 live chat, 24/7 email