*I am not promoting any one of the free website builders below, so the information here is unbiased from that perspective.
The best free website builder, isn’t what I always pay attention to because I build websites for people on a regular basis and I’m looking for the top quality level structure/ site, but for people with smaller businesses, organization, or interests it might not always be appropriate to buy a website from someone and pay them.
In this review of free website builders, I’ll give the run-down on Webs, Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, Moonfruit, and WorddPress.com and I’ll give you some information about each. Each of these allows you to add a domain to your site and publish to your preferred hypothetical-company.com, I should add, along with their other premium features.
On Webs it was hard to upload images in file format, customization is weak, and website template styles are a little out of date, though i was generally up and running fairly quickly.
Over-all Webs made it difficult at a couple key junctures and although the website looked ok, it would need a good eye to make these sites look modern. Last note – In webs, editing the footer is a premium feature and so are responsive templates (making sure your website looks good on mobile devices.) I’m not sure I want to live in a world where editing my website’s footer is a premium feature.
You can see my cobbled together masterpiece on webs at hypothetical-company.webs.com
Squarespace is free for 14 days. Let me tell you why you shouldn’t care and spend a little money on this. Even though you may be look for a free website builder, Squarespace is clean, easy to edit, and the clean, customizable design you can end up with even a decent design eye trumps most of these tools hands down. This from a guy who develops websites on WordPress – for the ability to add more features and deeper customizability.
If I wasn’t a web designer and wanted to make a website myself I’d use Squarespace. Drawbacks are that Search Engine Optimization is not very well reviewed, and for deeper customization and integrations there’s not a ton of designers, developers, and agencies who specialize in Squarespace. Big Pros: Gorgeous responsive templates right out of the box, the customization is decent enough for someone who’s not super picky about details, and by keeping the lid on deep customization Squarespace is able to keep your website looking very clean.
Wow. Wait, hold the phone a minute. Weebly has stepped it’s game up. Just tried Weebly for the first time in a long time and they are sincerely trying to copy or compete with Squarespace. You can check out my attempt at a Weebly site at Hypothetical-Company.Weebly.com.
The templates are clean, if not derivative of Squarespace, and their onboarding was super simple and easy to use right from the beginning, a huge win for product development and marketing. Images were fast and easy to upload, and the site is responsive right out of the gate with a big visual editor. Something I care about a lot, typography, was well taken care of and looked very well thought out.
Overall it does feel a little cheaper than Squarespace, but it also just that – free. Yes you have to have a link to create a free website with Weebly in the footer, and to me that would look tacky on any company website. So their business plan is partly that you have to pay to remove that, and make sure the website is focused on selling your products or services and not theirs.
The promotions for this one seem to be a little over the top on this one. There’s a link in the footer, yes, but there’s also one to the top right that commands a lot of attention. Even for a hobbyist, I’d find these elements a bit too much for me, and not classy. Check out my rugged site at: timbrown5.wix.com/hypothetical-company
Wix does allow you to edit your site in the mobile view separate from the tablet version, which I think is nice.
Off the bat, I’d say Moonfruit feels very hobbyist to me, even pretty cheap. In contrast with Squarespace and Weebly the template’s typography and design seems cobbled together out of the gate.
You can see my finagled masterpiece at timbdesign.moonfruit.com
(Apparently this service is only free for 15 days so after November 13 you won’t be able to view this.)
I noticed quirks in the editor, like I would change my background on the master template (nice they have a master template) and the background would change and then I’d save and preview and the background would be gone. On the plus side Moonfruit has alignment tools, send to front, send to back, tools like photoshop for those of you familiar.
All in all the editor feels more involved, with very specific tools for particular tasks so if you want more control perhaps Moonfruit is for you. However, the reason Squarespace and Weebly end up churning out nice looking sites it seems to me is that designers have already made a lot of decisions for you. If you trust that, and aren’t trying to do something crazy and unusual, perhaps going with one of them is your best choice.
WordPress.com was originally for bloggers, but now you can get free ‘themes’ that make your site into a respectable website, not just a publishing platform. You can check out my quickly made website at hypotheticalwebsites.wordpress.com.
WordPress.com offers more space and a custom domain for 99$ a year, and e-commerce functionality, premium themes and the ability to connect to Google analytics for $299. They are also offering premium themes on free plans from 59$ to 129$, which some might consider a bit steep if you’re trying to go the free route, and you have to do the work of setting it up yourself.
Your other options
This is what I do for a lot of websites I create, but it’s because there’s a designer and/or developer involved in the creation. This way we can create the website tastefully, with professionals involved. There’s a lot of bad websites built on WordPress out there because people besides real designers and developers make them, likely. So like I said, even though I make websites on Self-hosted WordPress I still suggest people creating their own sites that don’t need a lot of outside integration or customization definitely use Squarespace or Weebly. It’s just Safer for the end design. With that in mind, here’s why I create websites on Self-hosted WordPress:
- You have to pay for every Squarespace site you make so it’s hard to have multiple versions, duplicate a site to have a similar one for another purpose.
- If you’re a Squarespace developer (on a developer plan) and start from a template, you don’t get the normal support that would be received, or updates on that template even if it was a bug fix. More on that here.
- Self-hosted WordPress allows me to pretty quickly develop custom themes and easily spin them up and down via FTP. Squarespace and Weebly have there’s under more lock and key (which is good to keep you safe if you’re not a designer or developer!)
- WordPress is touted as one of the best solutions for Search Engine Optimization with many ways to supercharge it’s abilities in that area – for instance, Yoast SEO.
Shopify has a 15 day free trial, and after that it ranges from 14$ a month to 179$ and there are transaction fees up to 2% for the cheapest plan. Shopify is in eCommerce the easier to use competitor, like Squarespace to the more involved and customizable WordPress.
In eCommerce, my suggestion is to go for Shopify if you’re doing this yourself, and go with Magento if you have professionals you can use.
More Options: Joomla, Drupal and Concrete5
You’re mostly only going to use these if you are a developer. Drupal has fallen out of fashion, and I personally don’t see a lot of Joomla websites. Joomla, from what I’ve read is great more customizable and flexible elements for developers. I can only give you here-say on these 3, but Joomla is said to be better on the editing side than Drupal, but not nearly as much as WordPress Drupal is/was well known for it’s ability to create large scalable websites and still have that content management system backend built out already, with lots of modules/plugins.
Joomla, Drupal and Concrete5 are all free to use as developers or site-owners, but you have to use them on your own hosting, so in that way of course there is some expense. Likely if you’re looking for the best free website builder, these 3 aren’t going to be near the top of your list.
If you’re going it alone and it has to be free:
If you’re in search of the best quick website builder stick with your Squarespace and Weebly. These are however, respectable competitors to WordPress, it’s just a matter of preference or the specific needs of the project. My number one pick would be Squarespace.
If you do however want to build out and customize something, and have Search Engine Visibility in mind:
If you don’t mind hiring someone go with self-hosted WordPress or Joomla.
If you need a bigger eCommerce solution:
Go with Magento or Shopify if you need to do this on your own without a designer or developer.