The 8 Best Free Website Builders: We Expose Their Strengths and Weaknesses
Creating a website has become a fun, relatively pain-free experience in recent years. Forget coding, cryptic words like HTML and FTP. These days, the main challenge is to find the right website builder among the enormous selection available on the market.
As you can guess, plenty of site builders offer free plans for you to build your own website. And because they are hosted in the cloud, you don’t even have to worry about web space. All you need is a computer and a web browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? But it’s worth taking a closer look at the web builders pros and cons. We decided to save you some work and do it for you.
So which free website creators are worth checking out? Here are some details on the free plans offered by eight of the best website builders.
- Video Overview
- Who really pays for these plans?
- What do you miss out on with a free site builder?
- What about SEO?
- Is it possible to create an online store too?
How do I create a free website step by step?
For all the website builder we list here, the creation process always consists of these 6 steps:
- Sign up for a free website account
- Choose a template you like
- Add pages to your website
- Customize your content (text, images, video, etc.)
- Optional: Manage the SEO settings
- Publish your site
Now it’s time to find the website builder that is right for you:
Webstarts – Best Free Option?
When it comes to Marketing, Webstarts is not exactly shy. With almost 4m users, they claim to be the #1 Rated Free Website Builder (without actually saying who rated them). To be fair, Webstarts’ free plan is a solid choice. It includes access to all the important features such as the blog, and you can even activate the online store.
The product feels similar to Wix – in that all the elements can be moved around quite freely. However, it also shares a few of Wix’s downsides: the template, once chosen, cannot be replaced with a completely different one. And although there is a smartphone-friendly version, their templates are not fully responsive, meaning that it might not always look perfect on all screen sizes.
The URL you will get for free: customname.webstarts.com
What we liked: Generous 1GB storage space, online store includes 10 products for free, SEO settings can be edited for all pages. The footer advertisement isn’t very intrusive and can be closed by your website’s visitors.
Where they should improve: SSL encryption should be added without charge (it’s outrageously expensive at $8 per month). The backend could use a revamp, it’s starting to show its age a bit. Also, their email marketing can be a bit … intense.
Free Trial: www.webstarts.com
Jimdo – Website Editing (also) via App
The good thing about Jimdo is that it won’t cost you an arm and a leg even if you decide to go premium one day. Their cheapest paid plan at $7.50 per month includes a domain name, an email address and, obviously, the website maker. But even if you have no intention of ever upgrading your Jimdo website they offer a pretty nice package.
All their templates are not only free but fully compatible with smartphones and tablets (responsive). There’s also a mobile app that you can use to build and edit your site. And in contrast to most other site builders, Jimdo also lets you use the online store – up to 5 articles for free. Be aware that the SEO settings can only be edited for the home page in Jimdo Free.
The URL you will get for free: customname.jimdo.com
What we liked: the free plan shows only a small ad. They give you 500MB web space, which should be more than enough for most sites. There is no page limit and a blog is included as well. Includes SSL encryption.
Where they should improve: their template selection could be better. Also, there is no app market and they should let you edit the SEO (search engine optimization) settings for all pages.
Jimdo Video Review
Free Trial: www.jimdo.com
Webnode – Modern Editor with Some Limitations
A short while ago Webnode completely revamped their editor, making it very modern. The themes they added are stylish and responsive. A pity you can’t choose a completely new theme after your initial choice. Working with Webnode is very intuitive and also here (surprise) you have the option of upgrading to a paid plan.
Webnode offers a low-cost variant at $3.95 per month (which they fittingly call Limited) essentially allowing you to use a domain name you already own and to contact their premium support. The small ad will stay with this option. Unfortunately, there is no ecommerce option and also the blog is very basic.
The URL you will get for free: customname.webnode.com
What we liked: the small ad of the free plan and their responsive templates. No page limit. SEO settings can be changed for all pages.
Where they should improve: adding/improving their features (blog, ecommerce). Also storage isn’t very generous at only 100 MB in the free plan. SSL encryption should be added too.
Webnode Video Review
Free Trial: www.webnode.com
One.com – Gratis for One Year, Very Cheap Thereafter
Admittedly, One.com is not quite as free as the other site creators mentioned here. While classic freemium plans are permanently free, this one is only for one year. After that they charge a pretty reasonable $2.45 per month (paid yearly), which then also includes a proper domain name – not just a free subdomain! Initially, you might also get charged a setup fee. The website is ad-free. There’s only one snag: you are limited to 5 pages, otherwise it’s getting rather expensive.
If all you need is a small, ad-free website with its own proper domain name, One.com could be a great fit. Oh, and if you’d rather use WordPress instead of their own site builder you can do that too. Best of all, there won’t be any page limit!
The URL you will get: customname.com (.co.uk, .net, .org, etc.)
What we liked: the fact that you are quite flexible: either use One.com’s own site builder or WordPress. It’s a great option to get started professionally for very little money. All templates are responsive and look modern.
Where they should improve: the limit to 5 pages isn’t great. Their own website editor certainly isn’t the best in the market but it gets the job done.
One.com Video Review
Sign up (15 days money-back guarantee): www.one.com
Mozello – Free Multilingual Websites
This Latvian company is one of the smaller players worldwide. What strikes us about Mozello is that they allow you to create a multilingual website for free – something you won’t get anywhere else. The range of features includes a blog, an online store and decent SEO options. Fortunately, the advertisement is just a link in the footer that most of your visitors won’t even notice. 500MB of free storage are included and should be enough for most of us.
The downside is that the editor, albeit easy to use, is really limited compared to its competitors’. Certain elements like a gallery can only be added to a specific gallery page-type, for example. This makes Mozello rather inflexible.
The URL you will get for free: customname.mozello.com
What we liked: the almost unnoticeable ad and the possibility to create a free multilingual website.
Where they should improve: the editor needs to become much more flexible and feature-rich.
Free Trial: www.mozello.com
Weebly – A Great Website Builder with One Downside
Weebly is one of the largest site creators out there and hits the top spot in our ranking table. But since we are mainly looking at the free plans here, we have to judge our contestant with slightly different criteria. The free plan is where Weebly doesn’t shine quite as bright, mainly due to the large ad in the website’s footer that even sports a mouseover effect.
In general though, it’s a very decent product, which offers great usability. There’s even an App Center with additional features. Paid plans start at $8.
The URL you will get for free: customname.weebly.com
What we liked: their responsive themes and the app center with third-party add-ons. Also there’s 500MB of free web space. No limit on pages. SEO settings can be edited for all pages.
Where they should improve: the only downside is the very visible footer ad. Oh, and it still lacks SSL encryption in the free plan.
Weebly Video Review
Free Trial: www.weebly.com
Wix – The International Heavyweight
The biggest of them all is Wix. They have more users than any other site builder and it’s easy to see why. It’s packed with unique features and great templates. An excellent choice to create a paid site – but what about a free one? Does it fare just as well in this arena?
Well, the short answer is no. Just like Weebly, their advert is far too visible. We should actually say adverts, plural, as they don’t just occupy your website’s footer but also add a button to the top-right.
The URL you will get for free: accountname.wix.com/customname
What we liked: their spectacular selection of themes and the flexibility of their editor. Also they have an extensive app market and 500MB free web space. No page limit. Full SEO customization.
Where they should improve: the Wix ads are far too visible. The free URL is too long and not easy to remember.
Wix Video Review
Free Trial: www.wix.com
Webs – Can Free Still be too Expensive?
A (once) hugely popular free website builder that has constantly been losing market share to the competition. They feature a simple editor with plenty of themes. But the big issue with this product is that it hasn’t received a major update since 2012. And it shows. Everything (editor, themes, features) seems pretty outdated and on top of that they limit the free plan to 5 individual pages.
The URL you will get for free: accountname.webs.com
What we liked: that’s a tough one. We would have said the simple editor but it seems to be quite bug-ridden if we can believe the feedback we’ve received.
Where they should improve: they should send a sorry note to their users, burn down the current version of the product and rebuild everything from the ground up. When they are done with that they can continue by making the Webs advert slightly smaller and drop the limit to 5 pages.
Webs Video Review
Free Trial: www.webs.com
Best Free Site Builder Overview
|Webstarts||Logo in footer||Free subdomain||1 GB||Great free option: very small ad, access to all SEO options, decent templates and an online store.|
|Logo in footer||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||Solid product with unlimited pages. Minimal advertising. Limits the SEO options unfortunately.|
|Logo in footer||Free subdomain||0.1 GB||Could do with more storage, otherwise very good. Unlimited pages.|
|No ad||Proper domain name (.com, .org, .co.uk etc.)||25 GB||It’s a cheap web builder, which is only free in the first year. Thereafter it’s $2.45 per month. You can use their own website builder (limited to 5 pages) or WordPress.|
|Mozello||Footer link to Mozello||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||Great for multilingual websites. Features decent templates but the editor isn’t very flexible.|
|Logo & expandable sign-up form in footer||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||The ad-bar at the bottom of the page could be less intrusive.|
|Logo in footer and Header||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||Good product, but very intrusive logos both in the header and the footer of the page. Bandwidth limit of 1 GB per month.|
|Logo in footer||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||The free plans are limited to 5 pages. They keep the most modern-looking templates for premium users.|
Free web site builders: video overview
So who really pays for these free plans?
It’s true that the best things in life are free, but this generally only applies to the intangibles. Hosting a website, on the other hand, clearly costs the provider money. They have to cover the cost of running their servers and marketing their services, not to mention ongoing development.
Free web page builders are almost always based on a freemium model. This means that the free, entry-level plan is funded by those customers who go on to purchase a paid (or premium) plan.
What do you miss out on with a free business website builder?
You won’t get a proper domain name, because .com or .net domains always come at a cost. As you have seen, most providers will give you a subdomain such as yourname.providername.com.
This may be fine for a personal website, but a subdomain is not recommended for professional or commercial sites for the following reasons:
- It looks unprofessional.
- You’re not doing yourself any favors in terms of search engine rankings (see next section).
- It’s not easy to remember such a long name
In addition, many providers will run advertisements for their own or other businesses on your free website – again, not a professional look.
Then there are the providers who offer only dated or unattractive layouts on their free plans, and keep the good designs for their paid plans. Also, some free web page builders will keep their most advanced features for paying customers.
What about search engine optimization (SEO)?
In order to rank highly in Google it’s not only important to provide decent content but also to be able to manage certain settings on your website. For example, you should be be able to set a page title and a description for each of your pages. Fortunately all the tested site builders, with the exception of Jimdo, provide this.
As we’ve learnt before, all of the free packages have one limitation in common: you won’t be able to use a proper domain name. The domain name also has an important effect on SEO and most of the time subdomains don’t reach the top spots in search engines. Another factor that can have a minor influence on your rankings is whether your website uses SSL encryption (https). This will ensure that data submitted through a contact form, for example, is safe. Jimdo and Wix are the only two providers so far that have already switched all of their websites to SSL.
If you are serious about ranking your site on Google you should consider opting for an affordable paid plan (e.g. One.com or Jimdo). Find more information on SEO here.
Is it possible to create an online store with a free website builder?
Now that we’ve seen it’s possible to have a website at no cost, you might be wondering if you can also create a free online store. We’ve taken a look at these four tools and checked their offer:
|Webstarts||Complete online store||Webstarts not only lets you add up to 10 products, but you can also accept credit card payments through Stripe, WePay or Authorize.net. Inventory management is included and there’s even an option to sell digital goods. The only downside is that you are limited to 20 sales per day. But hey, then you should really think about a paid upgrade. The only downside: SSL encryption (https) is not included.|
|Complete online store||Jimdo does not offer the most advanced online store features. However, you will be able to create a complete online store for free. Payments go through PayPal and you’re limited to 5 products.|
|Mozello||Complete online store||Allows up to 10 products and supports payments via PayPal. Although the store is quite limited, they also support a multilingual setup here.|
|Add-on for existing websites||This plugin will turn your current website into an online store. Be aware that the free plan is limited to 10 products. You can also add Ecwid to one of the aforementioned free site builders.|
In a nutshell, if you’d like a really simple, free ecommerce site, our recommendation would also be Webstarts. Feature-wise they offer much more than all the other store builders in this test.
Another option is Ecwid, but you’ll need to already have a website to add this ecommerce plugin. Also, we would only recommend a free store if you have means, other than Google, of getting traffic to your website. Without being able to use your own domain name, it will be rather difficult to receive organic search engine traffic. For more information, check out our article about online store creation platforms.
Free site builders: Our conclusion
Webstarts does indeed make a convincing free website builder. Storage space is generous and the site maker’s features should be good enough for most use cases.
But it’s important not to be blinded by the word “free”. If you can afford it, stay away from free plans for your business site, even if it’s a small business. Of course, if the alternative is no website, then a free one is still better than nothing. But free plans come with certain restrictions that can give your business website an unprofessional look, such as strange domain names and an obtrusive advert.
Once you’ve built your website, moving it to a new provider can be quite a hassle. So remember to take your future plans into consideration when weighing up your options, especially if you might want to get a proper domain name, matching email addresses or an ad-free version of your website at some stage in the future.
So if your plan is to upgrade to a premium package in the nearer future, you should also check out our paid favourites Weebly and Wix. While their free plans have certain downsides, they are more advanced when it comes to the complete product.
For more details, please also take a look at our website builder ranking chart.
I hope this article was useful! For questions and feedback please leave a comment!
Update 20 June 2017: Full update of the article, adding Webstarts and Mozello.
Update 18 May 2016: Weebly Free’s storage is limited to 500 MB.
Update 13 Apr 2016: General update. Ecommerce free site included.
Update 4 Apr 2015: It is not longer possible to use an existing domain name with your free Webnode site.
Update 9 Jan 2015:We included Wix.com in our selection; it provides a free plan, which is excellent for creative people. We added a new video with all the updated information.
Update 17 Jul 2014: Webnode states on their pricing overview that you can’t connect an existing domain name to a free Webnode site. However, this only applies in a few cases, generally it should still be possible. If it doesn’t work in your case please let us know and we will check it for you.
Update 10 Jun 2014:Weebly’s free plan continues to deteriorate: now there is an ad bar in the footer with a Weebly sign-up form.
Update 24 Oct 2013: It’s no longer possible to use an existing domain name with your free Weebly site. That’s why they are only second in our ranking now.