Do-It-Yourself website building tools have been around for a long time (or at least as long as Microsoft Word has offered the “save as web page” option!), but lately they’ve become more visible, with extensive advertising campaigns. It’s not a coincidence: Having a web presence has for years now been the expectation for virtually all businesses, but in the world of Web 3.0, it’s also important that your site look good. If you’re starting out and have a small budget for development, a do-it-yourself site builder may seem like a good plan. To help you get more of a handle on what it’s like to go that route, here’s an overview — with the good and the not-so-good — of some of the most popular platforms for DIY websites. There are many more out there; these are just some of the most highly visible sites that are marketed to businesses as web design solutions (as opposed to site-building options like Blogger which are primarily focused on letting you create a blog-based website).
This article, which was originally published in August 2014, was updated to include new information to reflect updated prices and website building features.
Update: Their lowest-priced offering is still the same, and the most expensive plan — Wix VIP –has only increased in price by two cents per month. Their middle plan — Wix Unlimited — is the best value. At $14.00 per month, it has everything the VIP plan has except for a dedicated support line and an additional 10 GB of storage for nearly half the price. Also, except for the lowest-cost plan, all plans now include a domain name that’s free for the first year.
The bigger news with Wix is that they’ve done a major update, and that’s improved the site builder substantially—it’s easier to use than it was before, and even someone who’s not a computer pro can create a highly customized site.
Costs: Including connecting your domain, costs from $5.00 to $25.00 per month, based on a one-year contract.
Pros: Wix offers a large number of templates that are customizable and optimized for mobile devices. They also have a sizeable library of stock photography you can use. You’ll still need your own branding — though you can choose from their recommended palettes, you’ll want your own logo and hues that fit your business.
Cons: The drag-and-drop site builder isn’t quite as user-friendly as claimed — some of the ins and outs are not intuitive. It’s definitely something that someone with no web experience could use, but be prepared to click their “help” buttons a lot (luckily, they’re everywhere). Once you’ve chosen your template, you’re stuck with it. You can’t just change templates automatically (as you can with many other platforms) — you’ve got to start over. While the site’s website building tool is free, actually having your own domain name — a must for a business site — will cost you (and the lowest-priced $5.00 option means your site will display prominent banner ads for Wix). Extras like e-commerce are only available with the highest-priced options, and though hosting is included, storage and bandwidth (how many files your site can house, and how fast it performs) are limited on most plans.
Update: No pricing changes, but it is notable that Webs has beefed up the number of template options available. They now have hundreds of mobile-optimized templates to choose from, but a big downside still remains — you can’t actually edit the template, so you’re limited in terms of how much you can actually customize your site.
Costs: From $5.99 to 22.99 per month, based on a two-year commitment (though they do offer a 30 day money-back guarantee). A shorter stint will cost you more. A custom domain name is included.
Pros: The drag-and-drop editor is pretty easy to use, though you’re likely to encounter bugs along the way. You can choose from a range of templates and do a fair amount of customization (though if you know a bit of HTML or CSS, you won’t get to use it — you can’t touch the source code, so full customization is limited). They have an app library that lets you add third-party widgets, in addition to their built-in options for pages such as photo galleries.
Cons: If you’re hoping to have a large or complicated site, Webs probably isn’t a good option. You’re limited to two sub-levels of navigation. The blogging feature is also fairly limited, so be prepared for spam (you can’t moderate comments). The biggest issue, though, is the crash-prone interface. It’s better than it used to be, but still, you want a drag-and-drop page editor to make building your site easier, not more frustrating.
Update: A custom domain is free for your first year if you sign up for an annual account. Their basic plan (“Personal”) now starts at $12 (up 4 dollars from 3 years ago), but the maximum price (a “Business” plan billed month to month) has gone up two bucks to $26 per month. Also worth noting, if you’re thinking Squarespace for an ecommerce site: Even with the “Business” plan, you can only sell a maximum of 25 different products, and Squarespace takes a 2% fee. (The “Personal” plan lets you sell a single product, and there’s a 3% sales transaction fee.)
Costs: Monthly prices, based on a one-year contract, range from $12-18.
Pros: With beautifully designed, mobile-friendly templates, Squarespace is a good option for artists, boutiques, photographers, salons, and other businesses that have a strong aesthetic orientation. If clean and minimalist is the look you’re after, you’re going to love these sites. Plus everything’s responsive — so if you resize your browser window, all those gorgeous photos won’t be cut off.
Cons: If a designer aesthetic doesn’t fit with your business, Squarespace probably isn’t the space for you. A site for a physician, law practice, or electrician is not likely to mesh well with their template options. Also, if you’re selling on your site, you’re selling on Squarespace — the ecommerce options don’t let you link up elsewhere. Even though it’s highly customizable, the options can get overwhelming. Squarespace has updated its drag-and-drop editor, making it more powerful, easier to use, and ditching the edit-versus-preview problem we noted before.
Update: The costs haven’t changed, and in more good news, now all but the Free plan also include a free domain for one year. After the first year, you’re charged $19.95 annually for use of the domain. One nice option: If you’ve already got a domain, transfer it to your Weebly site and they’ll extend it so you still get “one year free.”
Weebly now also supports ecommerce on their paid plans. Their most expensive plan (“Business”) lets you sell unlimited products without Weebly taking a cut (for other plans, it’s 3%) and have customers check out on your domain (with other plans, checkout goes through Weebly).
Costs: Monthly prices based on a one-year contract range from free (!) to $25.
Pros: If you want a basic website, Weebly will work for you. At the lowest level (without a domain name), it’s totally free — no paying now or paying later — and rather than having a banner ad, there’s just a little Weebly ad down in the footer. (That’s definitely the least amount of real estate you’ll have to give to any free site builder.) The interface for editing your site is easy to use. There aren’t a tremendous number of templates or tools, but there’s definitely enough to build a reasonable website.
Cons: If your needs are beyond the basics, Weebly isn’t for you. The quality of the templates is not as strong as with other sites. The blogging functionality is limited, as is social integration. They actually have fairly robust ecommerce options, but given the other limitations, if you’re serious about putting your store online, you probably need to go with a more professional tool like Shopify. Last, while Weebly starts out as inexpensive as it gets, adding “extras” that many consider necessities — like using your own domain name or having email accounts — adds to your bill.
Update: GoDaddy has actually dropped the price of its most expensive, non ecommerce plan (“Business Plus”) — it’s gone from $9.99 monthly to $7.99 per month with an annual contract. This plan starts free for the first month. If you continue your plan after the initial trial period, prices go up — the free plan jumps to $5.99 per month, and the Business Plus plan goes to $14.99. While you get a free domain for the entire length of your initial plan (you can choose up to 36 months), many of the extras — like email — are not free after your first year. Also worth mentioning: With the lowest cost plan you choose from a more than 50 template options, and even with the highest cost plan there are still only 300 templates to choose from.
Costs: $7.99 per month with the first month free and a one-year contract, including a domain name.
Pros: GoDaddy continues to try to be your “go-to-for-everything-Internet-company,” not just a domain registrar. Naturally, their website building tool includes a free domain name, and as a nice touch, email accounts are included. You can choose from a number of stylish, modern templates that are divided by industry (making it easy to find something that will suit you) and can be customized for mobile. Once you’ve found a template though, we hope you really love it — if you switch your template, you lose all your content.
Cons: GoDaddy might advertise with racecars, but their website editing tool is more like a jalopy. It’s clunky and hard to use, and support from GoDaddy is not exactly known for being fast (again, despite the racecars!). If you want to sell products, it links you up to a PayPal store. There’s no blogging either — you can only integrate a separate blog, like a WordPress or Blogger feed. If you want to get your hands dirty, no dice: you can’t edit the source code. Last, while the prices start off super low, after your first year you may experience sticker shock. GoDaddy has a well-deserved reputation for keeping startup costs low, only to nickel-and-dime customers for features and upgrades over time.
Costs: Free… well, the WordPress content management software is free. Everything else is going to cost you, with plans that go up to $299 per year.
Pros: How could we not have WordPress on this list? After all, we use WordPress to build websites! WordPress has literally all of the features that you could want, and because developers are constantly building new plugins, if there’s a feature that doesn’t yet exist you can bet it’s right around the corner. WordPress is open source, so the possibilities are unlimited: Anyone with the right skills can view the code and create a fully custom solution to any website need. You can adapt WordPress to suit any kind of business website, and indeed, giant corporations and small businesses alike have websites that were built using WordPress.
Cons: Like we said, the WordPress software itself is free. That’s it, though — at an absolute minimum, you’ll need to pay for a domain and hosting. Otherwise, the free plan requires you to have a wordpress.com domain name, gives you just 3 GB of storage, and means you may have ads on your site that you don’t have control over. That could work for an amateur blogger, but it’s not a smart plan for a business. Unless you want to pay at least $99 per year for one of their premium plans, WordPress is really only suitable for DIY if you are 100% comfortable using an existing, free template completely as is, or if you yourself are already skilled at graphic design, CSS, and web development. (We said you can adapt WordPress to suit any website, not that you can easily adapt it.) Sure, many aspects of the WordPress interface — like the blogging tools — are extremely user-friendly even for a total noob, and most themes will give you a few options that you can turn on or off with the click of a button. But after that, there’s a steep learning curve. To truly customize a WordPress website, you need a strong technical background, and the patience for a lot of trial and error. Updates to plugins, and even to the WordPress core, have a tendency to create mayhem. The obvious solution, from their point of view, is to sign up for a WordPress Premium plan — at which point your website isn’t really DIY, since they’re doing a lot of the work for you.
Costs: Starts at free, but you’ll need to pay the equivalent of at least $7.50 a month (they bill annually, in advance) to have your own domain. Still, the most expensive plan is only $240 per year.
Pros: The free version of Jimdo is pretty similar to what you get with other DIY site builders — in other words, it’s not a good bet for a business site (limited storage, no custom domain, ads you can’t control). That said, even their starter offering (JimdoPro) is pretty robust, and their highest-level plan (JimdoBusiness) is surprisingly inclusive, with everything from unlimited storage space to no transaction fees or ecommerce limits. In fact, it’s the least expensive top-tier plan offered by any of these site builders. In general, Jimdo has all of the basics — including site stats, which Wix lacks — but the tools aren’t as comprehensive as those offered by other site builders. The one exception would be the mobile interface; it’s easy to manipulate and then activate a responsive version of your homepage. If you aren’t looking for a high level of customization or performance, Jimdo is a fairly user- and budget-friendly option.
Cons: Though Jimdo’s drag-and-drop editor is really easy to use, you’re somewhat limited in terms of what you can actually do within the editor. For example, you’ll want a separate program for editing images, since all you can do within the interface is rotate your pics. Though it does have some add-ons and integration options, if you want anything especially fancy you may be out of luck. There aren’t as many people out there developing add-ons (or even templates) for Jimdo, so there aren’t as many options. Last, if it’s ecommerce you’re looking for, be aware that even though Jimdo will let you have as many product listings as you want with JimdoBusiness, the only payment option you’ll be able to offer your customers is Paypal.
Costs: Starts at free, goes up to $29 per month (the highest-end cost based on paying month-to-month for a plan that includes ecommerce with more than 100 different products). They also offer a flat-fee, $299 “site for life” version of their Business+ plan.
Pros: The newest of the bunch, Duda is all about being mobile-friendly. Duda was offering responsive templates back when most, if not all website building tools were not offering them. In addition to responsive websites, with DudaMobile they also offer the option of having a mobile-only website (that’s right, a site without a desktop version). Duda also recently began offering inSite, a tool that lets you customize what your site’s visitors see depending on a wide range of factors. It’s especially powerful for driving mobile conversions — for example, if the site detects that a user is nearby, you can choose to display a click-to-call, a maps button, or a special coupon. Beyond pop-ups, you can also create different variants of your site depending on what URL a visitor used to reach you. It’s the only site builder that has anything resembling this kind of landing page capability built in.
The other element that makes Duda stand out is that it tries to be friendly to non-techies and total geeks alike. Those in the former category can use a one-click system to import content from another site (like your business’s Facebook page). For those in the latter category, their developer mode lets you directly edit your site using HTML5 and CSS3. For everyone in between, their drag-and-drop editor is fairly straightforward. The biggest asset design-wise is the ability to customize every element of a webpage depending on what device the user has — you can create a tablet version of your site, for example, without automatically changing what a desktop user would see.
Cons: Their lowest-cost plan — which beats out the free version by virtue of letting you have a custom domain — isn’t as great a deal when you consider that you’ll still have Duda ads on your site. You need to upgrade to at least Business+ to go ad-free. It’s also important to know that the space that Duda’s giving you isn’t its own — your site will be on the Amazon Cloud. Even though you can customize your site, Duda really pushes you toward having a certain look and feel. Similarly to Squarespace, the templates have a relatively uniform aesthetic (think modern and photo-heavy) and though there are navigation options, they prefer you to have a flat user interface. Flat’s great for landing pages, but for your business’s main web presence it may not be smart. But the biggest drawback? No native blogging — you’ll have to blog elsewhere and link it to your Duda site.
Costs: From $29 to over $299 per month, depending on what options you choose. If you want to use Shopify to power your bricks-and-mortar operation, you’ll be paying an extra $40 per month for their Retail Package.
Pros: Shopify takes the mobile payment system concept to the next level, allowing merchants to sell items both online and IRL using a single integrated system. At the lowest level, you don’t even need a website — you can use their tools to sell on Facebook. All of Shopify’s more robust offerings take social integration even further, letting you sell your items not only in person and in your online store but also through Twitter and Pinterest.
Of course, none of that matters unless you can get your Shopify site up and running. Like WordPress, Shopify lets you choose among both free and paid themes. (Also like WordPress, unless you’re a design whiz and good with Ruby on Rails, you’re only going to get so far with customization). The good news is that the Shopify content management interface is really user friendly, and it’s easy to set up your products with all of the attributes (sizes, colors, you name it) that you need. You can offer your customers secure shopping and checkout, and if you use Shopify as your gateway (as opposed to Paypal, for example), you don’t pay an additional transaction fee.
Cons: As the name implies, Shopify is really all about retail. Though you could use it to power other kinds of business sites, unless commerce is your bread-and-butter you’re paying for features you don’t need. It would make more sense to go with a solution that’s not specifically geared toward selling.
If you are looking for a retail solution, Shopify is pretty awesome — but it’s not cheap. In addition to the monthly usage costs, you should also figure in the costs that you’re going to pay in transaction fees and credit card fees. Though these go down in cost the more you pay per month, take the time to do the math — depending on what kind of sales volume you’re looking at and where your customers shop (in person or online), it may or may not make sense to use Shopify for all of your commerce operations.
The bottom line: If you’re thinking about taking the DIY route for your business website, there’s one important cost to consider that’s not taken into account in website builders’ pricing plans. That cost is your time. If you’re already proficient with computers and design, building your own site might be pretty painless. But if you’re like most small business people, there’s going to be a learning curve. Even though almost all website builders promise you the ability to build a website “in minutes,” to create a truly powerful business website that will attract customers and boost your bottom line… well let’s just say that’s going to be many, many minutes. If you’re weighing the costs of DIY versus hiring a web developer or designer, don’t forget to put a dollar amount on your time in building the site. Investing in a pro may save you cash (and headaches), besides freeing you up to spend your time on what you do best — running your actual business. Plus you’ll likely be much happier with the end result.
Want to learn more about what you should consider when launching your business website? Give Vital Digital a call at 760-670-4845, or contact us and we’ll reach out to you.