In a growing market, the best website builders allow virtually anyone, regardless of experience, to create their own website. You can do it in just a few hours, and popular paid options from manufacturers like Wix and Weebly often come with free plans, packed with great features and tools. There are also the best free blogging sites created just for this purpose.
With so many website builders out there, some free options are attractive and functional, while others aren’t even worth considering. However, with limitations and restrictions on a range of website factors, how do free website builders stack up against the premium competition? This is the question we are trying to answer.
We take a look at features, support, ease of use and more, with direct examples from some of our favorite free and paid website builders.
Free vs Paid Website Builders: Features
As you would expect, premium subscription-based website builders usually come with much more advanced features than the free ones. Free plans usually come with a lot of limitations, including the size of your site, the storage and bandwidth you have access to, and the use of advanced tools to build a website.
In most cases, you won’t be able to connect a custom domain name if you’re using a free website builder. For example, Wix’s free builder limits you to a wixsite.com subdomain, which might seem a bit unprofessional for a professional site. On the other hand, upgrading to a paid plan will allow you to connect a custom domain. And some premium website builders, like HostGator Website Builder, even add a free domain with every new subscription.
Most free website builders also come with some sort of advertisement for the platform you are using. For example, Weebly’s free plan and its cheapest premium plan come with advertising from Square, its ecommerce partner. You will need to upgrade to the second most expensive premium plan, which costs $ 12 per month, to remove these ads.
Again, we see that the free website builders are underperforming here with most having very limited storage and bandwidth. For example, Site123’s free plan includes only 250MB of storage and 250MB of bandwidth. Its premium plans are also a bit limited, but still much more generous.
In many cases, you will find that free website builders just don’t offer the tools to sell items or services through your new business website. A small percentage offer very limited online store features, but you will generally need to go for a premium paid subscription for all ecommerce features.
Free vs Paid Website Builders: Performance
To compare the performance of free website builders and paid services, we took a close look at the editing interface and ease of use of three of our favorite options.
On the one hand, Wix offers a selection of free and paid plans. And unlike many of its competitors, there is no limitation on who has access to which website builder features. Premium users can upgrade their SEO and marketing packages, but free users have access to all other design and editing tools.
On the other hand, Site123’s free website builder is very limited compared to the paid alternatives. A lot of advanced editing tools are only available to premium users, which can be quite frustrating when trying to create an attractive professional site.
For example, you won’t be able to add plugins or custom snippets to integrate tools like Google Analytics, which many believe are essential for a successful website.
Another popular free website builder, Strikingly, is even more limited. While its premium plans are designed for those who want to create a simple yet attractive website, its free plan is disappointing to say the least. With it, you’ll be limited to a single page site with very basic eCommerce tools, and you won’t be able to add custom snippets or even a site search bar.
Ultimately, most free website builders come with some pretty limited editing interfaces. There are a few exceptions, such as Wix, but it’s critical to make sure you do a decent amount of research before selecting a platform.
Free vs Paid Website Builders: Support
At the end of the day, the support services you get access to depend a lot on the website builder you use. However, we can safely say that the free builders (and the free plans of the paid platforms) generally have much poorer customer service than the paid alternatives.
Usually, free users will have access to a full knowledge base, community forums where they exist, and in some cases, email or phone support. However, live support tends to be reserved for paying customers, which can make it difficult to get help if you’re using a free option.
Free vs Paid Website Builders: Pricing and Packages
Free website builders are usually 100% free, forever, while the price of a paid membership can range from a few dollars a year to tens or even hundreds a month. However, free website builders usually have a few limitations, and a premium option will likely be the best choice for your business.
When it comes to paid website builders, the builder HostGator offers some of the best value for money plans we’ve seen. For just $ 3.84 per month, you’ll have access to pretty much all of the features needed to build a fully functional site, and you’ll even get a free domain name and the ability to build a small ecommerce store.
Meanwhile, Wix’s paid plans range from $ 14 to $ 49 per month, and Weebly’s cost between $ 6 and $ 26 per month. As you can see, it is possible to save a significant amount of money if you decide to use a free website builder. But then again, it’s not always worth it.
Free vs Paid Website Builders: Verdict
Comparing popular free website builders with paid builders tells an interesting story. Of course, most free builders are less powerful than their premium alternatives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t useful.
Unfortunately, we simply cannot recommend using a free website builder to build a business site. Typically, they come with more limited functionality than paid vendors, little to no e-commerce support, only basic customer support, and constraints on bandwidth and storage.
Sure, you’ll benefit from saving a few dollars a month if you use a free builder, but in the end, it’s really not worth it.
Further reading on website builders
Be sure to read our reviews of the website builders mentioned in this article, including Wix, Weebly, HostGator, Site123, and Strikingly, as well as our guide to the best cheap website builders.