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.

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.

Best Designed WordPress and Bootstrap Themes

Designmodo Shop

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.

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.

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

With this purely professional, competent website builder, the sky’s the limit for you. Whether you are up to creating a clean simple minimal page, or content-intensive website that will have a modern sophisticated appearance based on flat style graphics, you definitely stumble upon a hoard of treasure.

Not only has the Startup Framework included a huge bunch of pre-made components such as:

  • sliders;
  • pricing tables;
  • multimedia players;
  • buttons;
  • and even pre-assembled logical divisions such as: header, footer, “testimonial” area, etc.

but the team also offers you a handy generator that lets you construct your own website brick by brick simply placing necessary functional blocks from presented list to your project area. Satisfied with what you got? Then proceed straight to the work by just exporting design and getting a fully working HTML/CSS/jQuery website that can be easily uploaded to your server.

Breezi

Breezi

This advanced website builder is chiefly focused on providing essential tools for building up micro sites for various purposes: whether you want to create a pocket-sized event/conference/business/iPhone app website or any other minimalist online project you will definitely be quite content with the Breeze. Though there is no habitual drag-and-drop editor, yet there is an extensive library of video tutorials that show how to solve various issues as well as prototype different kinds of sites. The basic functionality involves:

  • scrolling effects;
  • SEO friendly content;
  • payment through popular services;
  • Google map integration;
  • valid HTML tables.

However, it is worth mentioning that if you are a non-tech savvy person without a spare time then Breezi won’t be definitely your cup of tea whereas the rest will truly take pleasure in it.

Square UI

Fast prototyping is what this all about. However, in this case “fast” does not mean bad-quality or something made rough-and-ready, indeed everything is quite the opposite. With this advanced and elaborated GUI kit you will be able to put together a professionally-looking modern design of any kind of website in short order without loss of quality.

The product comprises every basic component you can imagine and even more; the selection embraces navigation, typography, social media, icons, widgets, modules and of course, essentials such as buttons, combo boxes, sliders etc. So forget about idle and boring process of building up your interface designs, give Square UI a try and enjoy your workflow.

IM Creator

IM Creator

If you are on a track of finding a perfect service for creating topnotch, edgy and stylish website powered by feature-rich backend, then your painstaking searches is over. IM Creator is exactly what are you looking for. Here the design and functionality go hand in hand, providing you with extensive toolkit that covers instruments for constructing a firm base for your next website as well as prettifying it quickly, easily and freely.

The builder offers:

  • drag-and-drop editor;
  • automatic adjustment for copy and images;
  • constantly updated templates;
  • great responsive behavior;
  • support for old browsers.

There is only one drawback, you need to create everything from a scratch; the service provides you with a blank page, which you should populate with functional blocks.

Basekit

Basekit

This advanced website builder claims out that Do-it-Yourself stuff does not seem to be so difficult at all. Being targeted at medium-sized companies, start-ups and those who run small business, Basekit is a really easy-to-use instrument for establishing yourself online over a short period of time and almost for nothing. The service provides a great flexibility in terms of customization: its library has numerous predefined stylish templates that are open to experiments with coloring, fonts and backgrounds. The selection of standard options includes:

  • PayPal integration;
  • local maps;
  • drop-down menus;
  • galleries and slideshows for displaying images;
  • contact forms.

Yola

Yola

Strive to finding a harmonious balance between design and functionality then addresses to this high-end website builder. The free options allow building up a first-rate website design with a strong businesslike appeal that lets you:

  • publish your content to smart phones, tablets and even Facebook;
  • choose from a great deal of well-crafted styles;
  • watch on your business growth via in-built site statistics;
  • utilize a drag-and-drop system for easy and time-saving customization.

Moreover, if you are not satisfied with free possibilities, you are always welcome to extend them through premium features.

Moonfruit

Moonfruit

Consistent with its corporate message of “pick a design and build your website”, this cutting-edge online service encourages you to do only these 2 things. With more than 5 million active projects behind it, the website builder has definitely something to offer even for sophisticated clients.

The list of features is quite long and comprehensive, yet for majority of us there are several vital options that we are looking for such as:

  • natural integration with social media;
  • an ability to look good on any device;
  • automatic optimization for search engines;
  • great support through mail, forum and FAQs;
  • a whole bunch of constantly updated pre-defined themes.

And if your business starts growing up you will be able to satisfy your new demands through modifying your website with a help of numerous premium features.

Squarespace

Squarespace

Breathed life into millions of websites, this efficient website builder won’t leave you indifferent. Though the service implies only free 14-day trail, yet that is quite sufficient to make up your mind about Squarespace. It includes such distinctive characteristics as:

  • simple and intuitive style editor;
  • custom domain with everything pre-installed;
  • popular payment options;
  • social integration;
  • exceptional blogging tools;
  • 24/7 customer service.

The builder enables you to create e-shops, blogs, creative portfolios, online galleries, one-page sites, corporate websites and even such specific projects as websites of musicians, restaurateurs and those who are going to marry.

LifeYo

LifeYo

Building a website with LifeYo is simple as ABC: choose a theme, add content, publish and that’s all, the developers team tries to make a creation process look really hassle-free. Moreover, the service offers a free secure hosting with relatively huge storage for your website. There are also other helpful features that are aimed to enrich and enhance your website:

  • photo galleries and slideshows;
  • social media integration;
  • video support;
  • Google maps;
  • contact forms;
  • SEO optimization.

Conclusion

Nowadays DIY websites are associated with a really pleasant, time-saving and thrifty solution that is accessible to everyone. Thanks to advanced, feature-heavy yet surprisingly easy-to-use online builders you can obtain spectacular results. Majority of listed above services cover all important options: mobile-friendliness, flexible customization, valid code, handy editor, constantly updated themes/styles, 24/7 support and much more. So that all you have to do is decide on which plan and offer fit you most.

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
    0
    • 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
    +1

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