Building a website has come a long way since the neon-text-on-black-background days of MySpace and Angelfire. Now you can easily and professionally present your business or services without knowing HTML or looking like a middle schooler's online manifesto.
The website builder industry has grown a lot over the last 10 years and can be overwhelming for first-timers. But that growth and complexity also means that consumers have more choices than ever and can find a builder tailored to their needs. It's true that a few clear favorites have emerged -- and those sites are usually a good place to start -- but even the frontrunners aren't ideally suited for every scenario. To make it easy for you, we've compiled all the information you need to make a good decision and get to the fun part of designing your site.
Starting price doesn't include cheaper plans if they are ad-supported. Some vendors offer free domain hosting for the first year on some plans as well.
These services are independently chosen by our editors. CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
To compile the list below, we researched the prices, plans and features of over 12 different website builders and scoured reviews from almost 10 review sites, including PCMag, Wirecutter, WebsiteToolTester, SiteBuilderReport, WPBeginner and more, to see where there might be any consensus. We also surveyed the CNET staff, and ultimately spent time building some test sites using the tools below (if we weren't already users). We paid particular attention to the categories that not only differentiate one site from another, but that actually matter to business owners, artists, and creators.
If, by the end of the list, you're still not sure which direction to go, we've included a guide at the bottom, including key questions you should be asking yourself as you start your online venture. Finally, if you already have a website and just need a host or you're interested in building a WordPress site, check out our list of Best Web Hosting Services.
Jump to: How to choose a website builder
Best overall website builder (and best free option): Wix
Wix is the clear frontrunner in the race for website builder dominance. It's the biggest player, with over 110 million websites built, and boasts the greatest quantity of tools, capabilities, and freedom.
Like many competitors in this space, Wix offers a basic free version that lets you create a starter site with ads. If you like what you see, you can spend up for a premium, ad-free site. Pricing falls within industry standards with a $13-per-month"Combo" plan that covers most needs for a personal website, up to a $49-per-month"Business VIP" e-commerce plan. Those prices do not include a domain, so you'll need to account for that separately. And if you're interested in stats and analytics, you'll either need to get a paid Google Analytics account or another third-party tool, as Wix doesn't have its own.
Despite being the clear favorite among most reviewers, Wix does have a few drawbacks. Wix was one of the few builders that has data limitations for each of its plan tiers, so if you want to upload endless photos and videos, or expect more than 5,000 visitors a month to your site, make sure you do the math before choosing a plan.
Also, the editor's freedom and range of options can be overwhelming for folks who don't have the time or inclination to make lots of little decisions, and the design flexibility means you'll need to be more hands-on with the format and layout, as opposed to more structured or limited editors where you can't draw too far outside the lines.
Best prepackaged design: Squarespace
Squarespace strikes us as being the cool kid in high school -- flashy and hip on the surface but lacking a bit of substance underneath. We found it to be in between Wix and Weebly in terms of ease of use, though it did get consistently positive marks from reviewers for the quality of design. Where we think it really might shine is for small- to medium-size businesses who want a nicely designed page and room for e-commerce growth with lower transaction fees.
The Squarespace editor isn't as intuitive as Wix and Weebly, requiring a little bit of work until you get the hang of it. It has a fair amount of add-ons, templates and tools, and the universal style editor and strong photo editing are helpful. The responsive editor means that your site will always look good on mobile, but you won't be able to make mobile-specific edits like with Wix or Duda. We also found consistent high marks for helpful and responsive customer service, which should put business owners' minds at ease.
Squarespace starts off with a $12-per-month "Personal" plan, which includes unlimited storage, bandwidth and a domain, and offers an $18 "Business" plan that includes unlimited contributors, a Gmail pro account, and e-commerce capabilities. If you go for an "Online Store" plan, you can choose between $26 and $40 a month, the latter of which includes a few final touches like abandoned shopping cart recovery and gift cards. It's important to note that the $26 store plan, while maybe slightly above the market rate for e-commerce, comes with no transaction fees. So depending on your sales volume on a given month, those savings could really add up.
Overall, Squarespace's website is a good analog for what you get with their products: clean, professional and inviting design, but without the layers of design power or freedom you get from other builders.
Easiest to use: Weebly
Weebly flies under the radar relative to Wix with 50 million websites created, but offers some excellent options depending on your needs. If you want a simple and easy-to-use editor, a large site (more than 25 to 30 pages), unlimited storage, site portability, and/or affordable yet powerful online store capabilities, Weebly plays a good David to Wix's Goliath.
The editor is one of the easiest to use, and the low learning curve still nets great-looking sites. That ease-of-use means the editor is more limited in terms of add-ons and design flexibility, and it doesn't have the range of options or mobile customization that a builder like Wix has. Still, in our testing, we never came to a point where we found those constraints to be limiting. For a high-octane designer, though, it could come up.
Weebly's prices are similar to competitors like Wix or Squarespace, but their free option is one of the most generous, and for just $5 a month you can get up and running with your own domain name (albeit with Weebly ads). Their $12-per-month plan will give you an ad-free site with analytics and commerce capabilities, while the $25 plan gets you more store tools, like tax and shipping calculators, inventory management and discounts.
Weebly is a good option for those who may be more limited in terms of their time investment, and their commerce options outshine competitors like Wix and Squarespace. For those who are wary of committing to a website builder knowing that you won't be able to pick up and leave later on, Weebly also offers the ability to download site files so you can move to another host, a rarity in the site builder landscape.
Best for building a customized experience: Duda
Duda is a smaller player compared to the other builders above with around 15M websites built, and it focuses on a specific market segment: designers and design agencies. It caters to individuals and groups that make a lot of sites, but with a powerful and easy-to-use builder and a number of differentiated offerings, it's emerged as a good option for anyone looking to develop an online presence.
Duda's builder boasts a number of features that set it apart, including mobile site customization, detailed data analytics (e.g. advanced metrics like form submissions, time on page, and bounce rate), and user personalization so you can easily display specific messages or offers to users based on the time of day, their location or their browsing history. They're also known for their multi-language support and a free e-commerce add-on that allows you to sell up to 10 products.
Duda's pricing is a little bit higher than its main competitors like Wix and Weebly, starting off at $14 per month for the Basic plan. At $22, you can add up to four editors for your site (instead of only one with Basic), access advanced analytics, and begin using Duda as a white-label/custom-branded builder, another one of Duda's selling points. Their "Agency" plan at $74 per month is geared toward web designers who are building pages for multiple clients, and includes eight websites and the ability to download site files for portability.
Duda is a little expensive, but fills some of the voids that the main players have, like analytics, multilingual capabilities and better personalization and mobile customization.
How to choose a website builder
Given the wealth of options and the fact that many website builders don't allow you to pick up and move later on, it's important to enter the fray with a clear idea of what you need. By first establishing your priorities and direction, it will be easier to find a match and avoid buyers' remorse down the road.
In terms of pricing, most builders offer two to four different price tiers, each with a different set of features. This can make comparing services difficult, since they don't easy to line up apples-to-apples, but that's a big reason why we've created this handy guide!
Generally speaking, you can get a good individual website built for around $8 to $10 a month with an annual subscription. Most e-commerce plans range between $20 to $25 per month, and if you need an enterprise-style plan with multiple editors and VIP-level support, prices can go up to $300 per month.
Storage and bandwidth are usually unlimited, but there are exceptions like Wix, which scales its storage capacity according to the plan tier. And even its lowest tier plan has a decent amount (3GB of storage and enough bandwidth to support up to around 5,000 visitors per month).
After the big questions like price and storage, it all comes down to what you're looking for. Below are some guiding questions to help ensure you're ready to shop like an expert.
What is the purpose of your site?
Your first step should be to determine the primary goal of your web presence. Do you want to sell a product? Attract potential customers for your services? Build a portfolio page?
By first establishing your raison d'etre, you'll be able to prioritize the tools and capabilities you want in your builder and not get pulled off track by a fancy add-on that isn't actually helping you achieve your goal. If you're primarily interested in racking up sales, start by looking at the e-commerce specialists, like Shopify and BigCommerce. If you're a photographer or designer who wants a beautiful portfolio site, Wix and Squarespace are good places to start. Wix might edge Squarespace if you want more control over the design, while Squarespace might be better if you just want a stylish frame for your work.
If you just want something easy to use, Weebly and GoDaddy both offer intuitive builders, with Weebly offering more features and design finesse, while GoDaddy is much simpler and more limited. If you're setting up a site or store and you want to present a customized experience to users or you have something specific in mind for the mobile version of your site, Duda offers the most customization capabilities. And if you're a wordsmith who can't be bothered by design decisions and fancy editors, WordPress can help you get your blog up and offers good ways to reach your readers.
How much time do you want to invest in building your website?
This obviously will vary depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is how clear of a design vision you have and whether you have experience building a website. That being said, each editor has a different level of usability or ease-of-use based on the features, flexibility and intuitive design of the editing interface. On one end of the spectrum you have a builder like Wix, which is very easy to use but also comprehensive -- the sheer number of options and tools makes it hard to whip up a site quickly. On the other end, you have a builder like WordPress or GoDaddy, each of which doesn't provide you with a ton of options when building your pages.
Most people will want to devote enough time to their site that it serves its purpose of representing you online in a good light, so we generally recommend you take the time to learn your editor and take advantage of the many options available.