One day, a woman named Suzanne had an idea. An amazing idea. Definitely the best idea she’d ever had. Her idea solved a problem literally hundreds of people have faced. She figured out a way to easily, inexpensively keep your parrot from pulling its own feathers out with its beak.
She calls it the Sock Buddy, and it looks something like this when it’s finished:
Then, she created a website for the Sock Buddy.
If you’ve also got a great idea and need a website, there’s a happy medium between shelling out tons of cash for a professional, bespoke design (hopefully not the route Suzanne took) and trying to build your own website from scratch.
Below I’ve compared three of the best free website builder software options on the market.
Keep in mind that, though the website building software might be free, you’ll need to buy a domain name and sometimes hosting. Both of these cost money.
Let’s start by going over some questions to ask yourself before you start comparing options in order to figure out what you really need.
Questions to ask
1. Do you need a whole website or just a landing page?
The only three things your website absolutely must have are:
- A way to get in touch with you (contact form, phone number, address, email address)
- A reason to get in touch with you (clear headline and copy explaining what makes you high-quality)
- A reason to trust you (list of clients, testimonials, address)
All three of those elements can easily fit onto one page. If that’s all you need, consider investing in landing page software instead of website building software.
Technically, a landing page is any page you are directing traffic towards. In practice, it usually means one, standalone page aimed at getting visitors to take some action. Usually the action is fill out a form, though it can be a phone call or a purchase or to watch a video or something else entirely.
For example, instead of building an entire website for your conference, concert, wedding, or other event, why not just a long landing page?
Quora user Vincent Naigeon recommends Splash for building landing pages (note that it’s not free). “You can make a page, pick up a place, set a date and invite the the guests to that page. You can also plug it to Twitter to see the events updates and talks. It will let you keep track of the different aspects of your events like budget management, and overall organization. Also available as a freemium model.”
For a free landing page creator, try ucraft. “It’s really easy to use,” wrote Tamara Štavljanin on Quora. “I would recommend it, especially small business owners, photographers etc.” You can even connect your domain for free. The other free way to create a landing page is to use WordPress and install a free WordPress landing page theme. (More on WordPress later.)
2. How much coding are you willing/able to do or pay for?
Whether you know how to code or have the ability to pay someone to code will determine whether you should use frameworks like WordPress.org that require coding or if you should go with a website builder with drag-and-drop tools.
This is a touch confusing to explain to people who’ve never used a website builder. But you technically CAN use WordPress without touching code or paying someone to touch code. You just shouldn’t. That is, if you don’t know what FTP means and don’t care to learn, don’t use WordPress.
3. Do you need a blog?
Slash, is your idea blog-based? If you really *just* need a blog, and not an entire website to go with it, I’d go with free blogging software like WordPress.com (totally different service from WordPress.org. Yes it’s confusing). Tumblr is another option. The benefit of both of these services is that you don’t need to code to get going.
4. Do you need ecommerce?
If you do need ecommerce, or think you might in the future, you should be prepared to pay for your website builder.
5. Is this for a portfolio?
If so, consider using a portfolio builder such as clickbooq instead of more general software.
Onto the big five!
“If you need a general purpose site builder with memberships I would use Weebly,” Quora user Julian Tai wrote. Websitetooltester calls it “easy-to-use.”
Weebly is a web-based, drag-and-drop website builder.
When fellow Capterra writer Cara Wood looked at free website builders, she found Weebly was the only one explicitly dedicated to helping users make sites that convert visitors.
Just like every landing page has a goal (to convert visitors), every website should have a purpose as well. This is generally some action you want visitors to take such RSVPing for an event or subscribing to a blog.
Weebly’s offers landing pages templates that Wood describes as “clean” and “strong.” Weebly’s template offerings for other kinds of sites aren’t bad either, complete with a selection of stock photos Wood calls “actually quite good.”
Quora user Vincent Naigeon recommends Weebly for those who want a general website builder for their personal website. Naigeon described the free version as “pretty good” and the paid version as “even better.” Connecting your custom domain name, deeper reporting, and premium support will set you back a whopping $4/month to start.
One thing Weebly does well is position its tools on the side to make it easy for users to find them.
But the focus on conversions is what ultimately sets Weebly apart.
Check out more websites built with Weebly.
“Make sure you actually ‘own’ your content,” Quora user Gabe Mays wrote. “By this I mean ensure you’re able to easily export your content to another platform if you need to. This is extremely important. At the time of this writing sites like Strikingly, Weebly, and Wix don’t let their customers easily export their content. That’s a bad deal.”
“When it comes to having a one-stop shop for all your web store requirements, nothing matches the completeness of Wix,” Quora user Brittani Johnson wrote. Johnson called the range of mobile-responsive templates “mesmerizing.” Wix offers more than 500 templates. Johnson says the website builder itself “makes it super easy for you to set up an online store that’s tailor-made for your selling needs.”
Cara Wood describes the Wix templates as “extremely chic and modern.”
“I’m a firm fan of Wix!” Quora user Betsy Jacobs wrote. Jacobs likes that some of the templates are truly drag-and-drop while others require some coding, but are more flexible, and the templates are labeled according to how advanced your skills need to be to use them.
Options like this make Wix one of the most robust, free, hosted website builder tools out there. Wood describes Wix as the most complex of the website builders she looked at.
However, with that customizability comes a tradeoff. Wix isn’t the easiest to use. For people with coding expertise, the WSIWYG editor is very intuitive. But, “it’s certainly not the drag-and-drop editor that I would recommend to someone with no design skills,” Wood wrote. “There’s a lot going on and it can be confusing if you have no idea what you’re doing.” For example, Wix hides its copious tools in menus.
Cara Wood writes, “Wix is a strong option for people who know what they want out of their site.”
“If you need newsletters I would go with Wix,” Quora user Julian Tai wrote.
In addition, Wix can help you setup your own Facebook fan page, and all Wix sites come with Google Analytics built-in.
Connecting a domain name and 500 MB of storage will cost you $4.08/month.
Check out more websites built with Wix.
Wix won’t let you easily export your content.
If you don’t know how to code and aren’t exactly sure what you want your site to do for you, I’d avoid Wix.
WordPress.com is popular. According to the site, users produce about 64.3 million new posts and 42.9 million new comments each month.
If the blog portion of your site is the most important part, and you are committed to neither learning to code nor paying someone to code for you, WordPress.com is your best option.
Sitebuilderreport put it best. WordPress.com is “Great for blogging— but otherwise lacks an identity.” For writing blog posts, the interface is great. The WYSIWYG editor for blog posts is well-designed and easy-to-use. For making other pages, creating forms, or embedding images in your design, WordPress.com is not the best. It’s clunkily designed and a little hard-to-learn.
You get 3GB of storage space for free. The template selection isn’t as wide as other the sites listed here. Plans that include connecting your domain, email and live chat support, and ad removal begin at $2.99/month.
I’m including this because anytime you start to talk about wanting to build a website for free, people are going to start yelling about WordPress. And they mean the .org. Yes, WordPress.org is amazing and awesome and I use it to power my personal website and this blog that you’re reading right here is built with it.
It’s the world’s most popular content management system, according to winningwp.com (possibly not unbiased!). They own around 50% to 60% of the content management software market and some estimate that it powers more than a quarter of all websites.
Here’s why, if you’re looking for a website builder, you don’t want to use WordPress.org.
WordPress is more customizable than any website builder. That’s because it’s not a website builder. It’s not a web-hosted, drag-and-drop service. It does not offer hosting. You’ll have to buy your own hosting and your own domain name through a third-party service like GoDaddy.
It’s a Content Management System. WordPress.org is open-source software you upload to your hosting server.
If you do code, keep in mind that WordPress.org doesn’t offer a WYSIWYG editor on the design/CSS side. The blog does, however.
Remember I said the other free way to create a landing page is to use WordPress and install a free WordPress landing page theme? For building a landing page for free, Brenda from Woocommerce recommends Onesie. “It’s a free template that contains all the necessary elements for a landing page. It condenses all the elements of a full website into one scroll-down page, hence the name. It takes just a few minutes to build a finished page modifying this theme. It doesn’t have navbars, posts or pages—just four sections: an intro, a portfolio, an about page, and contact information. The pro version includes drag-and-drop functionality that allows you to change the order of the sections on the front page without touching a single line of code.”
If you like the idea of an open-source, self-hosted option, but you don’t like WordPress, check out this list of WordPress alternatives for more options.
Have you figured out your metaphorical way to easily, inexpensively keep your parrot from pulling its own feathers out with its beak? Do you need a website for your Sock Buddy? Hopefully you’ve found a winner among these three free website builder software options.
Tell me about your website idea in the comments!