How to Choose the Best Website Builder

The tools available to designers for creating websites have evolved a lot over the years. As trends and technologies change rapidly, the plethora of different approaches for designing, publishing, and managing websites can be overwhelming.

Of the countless options and tools out there, hosted website builder platforms have started to gain popularity in recent years, as a way to design & publish websites more easily than ever before.

Site builders typically require no coding, and give you a range of pre-designed templates or themes to pick from to start out. You can then customize the designs to varying degrees, depending on the tool.

Site builders start themes

Many designers have shied away from website builders in the past, because they’re far too restrictive on design customization, with cookie-cutter templates that don’t allow for much creative liberty. That’s quickly changing, though – people are demanding more flexibility and control, and newer tools are responding to this need with innovative solutions for designers.

Here are the top 5 considerations designers should weigh when looking for the best website builder to go with.

Pixel-Level Design Control

You shouldn’t be limited to templates with only basic customization. If all you can do is swap out default content in a template, and change basic variables like colors, fonts, and available background patterns and filters, move on. After all, you’re a designer, right? You need your websites to be unique and different from the thousands of template sites on the web…you need to actually design your website.

Avoid templates

It’s crucial to have ability to completely change the designs of pages, with granular control, to create the exact look and feel you’ve envisioned. You should be able to add custom backgrounds, have a wide variety of fonts to choose from, change spacing and margins in different areas, and apply drop shadows, gradients, borders, rounded corners, and more.

Always think ahead about how the website may need to be tweaked and modified down the road. You don’t want to face a complete redesign, just because the site builder you chose doesn’t give you enough flexibility over modifying the design. Bottom line, you shouldn’t be restricted.

Visual Editing User Interface

It’s important that you’re able to see the design changes you’re making as you go. Often times website builders create convoluted layers of abstraction, where you have to make design customization decisions in a separate mode, without being able to see the changes until after you’ve made them and clicked back to some sort of “preview” mode.

Visual design editing

Don’t tolerate having to jump through a maze of editing modes. Choose a tool that makes it easy and intuitive to make design changes, so that you can see the changes come to life on the fly.

Go With the Box Model Over Free-Form

Although print design adheres to a free-form model of design, where you can place objects and design elements freely anywhere on your canvas area, web design is a different animal.

In web design – because content often changes form – it’s best to approach design with the box model in mind. The box model respects the form of modern websites, and cleanly compartmentalizes different areas of a page into “boxes” (or divs). The website builder you choose should accommodate for this as well, as opposed to making you pin content at random coordinates on the page.

Box model design

In other words, you should still have the freedom to design your website just the way you’d like, but within a box model structure so your site can accommodate different types of content seamlessly.

Layout customization

Precise Layout Customization

The layout really affects the overall design of a webpage, so you don’t want to be locked into preset layouts. Especially given that content changes over time, you want the ability to easily modify layouts to showcase content the right way.
Make sure you’re able to fully customize the structure of your pages, with the ability to add, remove and change the width of columns, and split up different sections of the page easily and freely. If you are only given predefined layouts that you must conform to, consider it a red flag and you move onto the next website builder.

Simple, Flexible Content Management

Since content usually defines a large part of your website design, you need the ability to easily add and modify all different types of content, depending on your project. You should also think about content that may change in height (for example, blog post excerpts may vary in length).

Content editing

The site builder you choose should let you insert and modify videos, photo galleries, text blocks, social media feeds, navigation menus, and lots of other types of content. Think ahead about different types of content you’ll need to showcase on your websites, and make sure the site builder you’re considering will be able to adapt to your needs.

So what’s the best website builder in 2012 for designers?

Using the above criteria will help you narrow down your options for choosing the best website builder. And most tools offer a free trial or test drive option, so you can quickly experiment to see if it’s going to work for you.

With that said, I recommend trying the following site builders to find the one that best fits your needs. Not all of them perfectly meet the criteria I’ve outlined in this post, but this will give you a great start.

Startup Framework

Startup Framework

Breezi

Breezi

Square UI

IM Creator

IM Creator

Basekit

Basekit

Yola

Yola

Moonfruit

Moonfruit

Squarespace

Squarespace

LifeYo

LifeYo

Chris is the co-founder of Breezi website builder, which enables designers to easily create and manage websites with pixel-level control. He is also a technology and design enthusiast who loves clean, well-executed user experience design in web applications.

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20 Comments
  1. Moisés Stacke Aug 31, 1:17 pm

    you forget Wix.com
    Have a great themes, and a simply edit tools.
    but i like this collection! thanks

    Reply
    0
    • Chris Anderson Aug 31, 6:51 pm

      Thanks Moisés – there are many, many other site builders on the market, but this post was meant to serve more as a framework for how designers should evaluate site builders, and only recommend a few I feel best meet the stated criteria.

      Reply
      0
  2. Dave Aug 31, 9:58 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Good article and site. The problem is there are WAY too many website builders out there. And many of us have different needs and finding the one that can do everything you want is a JOB, because just when you’ve selected one, put time and effort into learning it you find it can’t do some important thing you want it to do. Like say you want to create a site like epinions.com. Would you be better off with Drupal/Joomla/Wordpress or going with one of the ones you have above. Can the ones you list create forms that talk to a database, have forms that do in-browser validation, come with templates, allow you to add on an e-commerce module, customize what you want, and if you can customize do you need to know PHP, Python, Java, .Net, etc. Man it’s confusing.

    Reply
    +3
  3. Simon Darby Aug 31, 11:44 pm

    Dot Silo http://www.dotsilo.com uses the Adobe BC CMS. Simple to design and build a site. Nice to have Adobe handling the back-room stuff too.

    Reply
    0
  4. julien Sep 1, 12:27 am

    Now whit wordpress + pro wordpress theme there is no way you cant build your own website.If you are able to learn how to use these sometimes really complicated website builder you are able to learn how wordpress work.

    They are a couple of hosting provider that can set-up wordpress database and instalation for you and for free when you subscribe to a .com hosting service package.

    Some wordpress theme include page builder just like these freebies, exept that its like 1000x better.

    Reply
    0
  5. Dave Sep 2, 7:22 pm

    Excellent! Thanks I’ll look into these.

    Reply
    0
  6. Emma Martin Sep 3, 11:44 am

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the great article. I especially liked the paragraph about the box model; It’s true that free-form design might cause problems, and people should be aware of that when they choose a site builder.

    I’ll also mention another builder that answers your criteria: http://www.exai.com

    Reply
    +1
  7. Nir Sep 4, 2:47 pm

    I too was missing Wix from the list.
    Still, very informative! Great writing.

    Reply
    0
  8. JamesR Sep 6, 9:34 am

    So, apart from the Templates and the Cost … we all want DreamWeaver features :-O

    Reply
    0
  9. Gen Sep 10, 5:31 pm

    The Breezi site builder has some serious glitching with Safari web browser.

    Reply
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    • Chris Anderson Sep 11, 2:19 am

      Hi Gen – could you please email me what specific issues you’re hitting in Safari: chris @ breezi.com

      thanks

      Reply
      0
  10. Sally Sep 24, 3:17 pm

    These are some great tools, but I personally prefer EXAI site builder. Instead of using pre-designed templates, it creates infinite combinations of graphics and content that correlate to your website details automatically.

    Reply
    0
  11. James Nov 18, 5:52 pm

    Thanks for a great article Chris! Just saw it now and started building my site with IM Creator.
    Cheers,
    James

    Reply
    0
  12. sofeeya Jan 14, 2:21 pm

    can you list some HTML5 website builders too!
    thanks

    Sofeeya

    Reply
    0
  13. IdanMezan Apr 23, 10:47 am

    I was recently referred to a new website builder called Webzai

    http://www.webzai.com

    It has just hit the market and offers some really impressive features and an astounding amount of design freedom, definately worth a look.

    Reply
    +2
  14. Wendy Moore Jun 19, 3:57 pm

    Very nice article, really worth reading. Want to share another tool with your audience as I see that there is a great interest on the topic and a lot of people out there who need to create a professional website. I recommend Puzl.com. The platform is 100% free, intuitive and user friendly, designs are good, no other ads appear on your pages after creating your content. What also impressed me is the timely and accurate customer service help that I were provided with! Definitely a platform worth trying!

    Reply
    0
  15. Barb Jul 1, 2:34 am

    I would like to create a simple website for our homeowners association. Can anyone recommend a simple user friendly way to do this? Thank you.

    Reply
    0
  16. Bert Jul 17, 3:25 pm

    There is one wonderful website creation site, which is cool and easy to work with for designers. No software or special skills required. You can do basically everything and create whatever you want. And the best part is – once you get it, it’s very simple and easy. I really recommend it. :)
    http://berta.me

    Reply
    0
  17. Sajo Oct 19, 1:30 pm

    I am telling you! Yola is not a good website builder. It is the worst. On the site builder, no such things as templates. Yola is not good.

    Reply
    0

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