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.
- Google Sites
- Additional 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. In the feature and template departments though, you'll find a lot less variety. And although Webstarts produces 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
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
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. The Connect Domain plan offers a relatively cheap entry level at $5 per month, which allows you to use your own domain name (ad supported).
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
Weebly – A Great Website Builder with One Downside
Weebly is one of the largest site creators out there and hits the top spots 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 per month.
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
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 Jimdo Creator plan at $7.50 per month and will allow you to use a proper domain. 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 Jimdo prevents free websites from being indexed by search engines.
Then there is also Jimdo Dolphin, which targets complete beginners. It comes with only the most essential features but promises to guide you through the website building process with ease and the support of their intelligent assistant.
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. Most importantly, free Jimdo websites don't get indexed by search engines such as Google, which is quite a disadvantage. Also, there is no app market.
Jimdo Video Review
Free Trial: www.jimdo.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
Strikingly – Free One-Page Layouts
“Don't lose your visitors under the weight of a heavy, confusing website” says Strikingly, a website builder from California. That's probably why they want you to put all your content on a single-page. If you'd like to create multiple pages, you'll have to upgrade to a paid plan. To be fair, they have some pretty decent templates to choose from and the website editor is easy to understand, even for beginners. If you ever leave the free plan, you'll be charged at least $8 per month (domain name included in yearly plans).
The URL you will get for free: accountname.strikingly.com
What we liked: great themes that have clear call to actions. There is a mobile iOS and Android app for mobile website editing. And what's fantastic is that you can access their live chat support – even in the free plan!
Where they should improve: Reducing everything to one page only can be quite limiting and is not the best approach in terms of SEO. And even though the templates look really good, there could be a bit more choice.
Free Trial: www.strikingly.com
000webhost – Your Website, 23 Hours a Day
000Webhost belongs to the same holding that owns Hostinger, a relatively well-known hosting company. They use 000webhost to offer free hosting services. Those are limited to 1 GB of space, 10 GB of bandwidth and a maximum of 2 websites. But if you don’t really want to use WordPress, they have a website builder with a free plan.
If you ever decide to go premium to remove limitations from the free plan, you’ll be looking to pay about $9 a month. Being completely honest, there are much better tools (like Wix or Weebly) that offer similar deals.
The URL you will get for free: customname.000webhostapp.com
What we liked: It’s cool that both their website builder and WordPress are supported for website creation. You can actually connect a domain name you purchased elsewhere with the free version. They have almost 200 templates to choose from and they are categorized by industry. Although their templates aren’t responsive, you can create dedicated versions of your site that will adapt to desktops, tablets and mobiles. Interestingly, they offer a way to easily create multilingual sites. And if you are a backup paranoid, be at rest: you’ll be able to download backups and even restore them.
Where they should improve: Some of their templates are modern and slick looking, but most of them look a bit aged. A big limitation of the free plan is that your website will go down, every day, for one hour; if you ask me, this is a no go. It has some of the basic features and add-ons, but there are key elements missing (e.g. a blog or on-site search). When you change to a new template, all the content you had will be lost.
Free plan: 000webhost.com
Bookmark – Websites created by AI?
The latest fashion in website building are intelligent assistants. Bookmark, Wix ADI and, to a lesser extent, Jimdo Dolphin, all promise to use some kind of magic formula to get your website right with the first draft. Using Bookmark’s AiDA assistant we were left wondering where the intelligent assistant should get the information of what to put on your website. All you enter is your business name and the industry. The outcome was not terrible but it’s also not better than a website created without an assistant.
What we liked: Bookmark has quite a lot of features and modules that you can add to your website. All the websites are responsive and the editor makes a lot of sense. An advantage is that AiDA teaches you how to modify design elements in a couple of steps. They also offer integrated email accounts for $2 per month.
What they should improve: The website we got didn’t look particularly attractive. It was very stock-image heavy. With this whole AI-branding, they raise very high expectations which, from our point of view, they can’t really meet.
The cheapest ad-free paid plan starts at $11.99, which seems quite high compared to more established platforms like Wix or Weebly.
The URL you will get for free: http://yourname.bookmark.com/
Free plan: bookmark.com
New Google Sites – (Very) Basic Website Creation
Google recently revamped their website builder Google Sites. Now it's a cleaner, more modern looking affair. After playing around with it for a few minutes, you will notice two things: 1) that it's super easy to use; 2) that there are hardly any features: you can choose from six templates that all look pretty bare when you start building as there is no sample content at all. Surprisingly, the new version of Google Sites doesn't support custom domain names, which is an essential feature if you'd like to go pro one day. It seems to be possible to connect a domain name via Google MyBusiness, but then you have to be a business with a physical address.
The URL you will get for free: sites.google.com/view/yoursitename
What we liked: unsurprisingly, really good integration with other Google products (Maps, Calendar, Docs, Slides, etc.).
Where they should improve: there should be more themes and design elements. There is no access to the SEO settings of the website such as page title and meta description (!!!). Their knowledge base is as basic as the website builder, so it can be quite frustrating searching for answers (especially when all you find are forum posts like this one).
Google Sites Screenshots
Free Plan: sites.google.com
Webflow – An Editor That Feels like a Cockpit
Webflow is a website builder that falls a bit out of line with all the other, beginner-friendly website builders. This one targets designers and developers. Their designs look really slick and it’s great to see that they actually created their own website with this tool. So we thought: “Hey, let’s give it a try!”
What we liked: Signing up is easy and doesn’t require a credit card. Their tutorial videos are fun to watch. And there is a tonne of options for better or worse.
Where they should improve: The free wireframe and blank themes aren’t very exciting if you are not a designer. Other templates are between $49-79 (one off), but it looks like the first template is on the house. The editor is very overwhelming and reminds us of Photoshop. No surprise here that they list NASA as one of their customers.
The URL you will get for free: http://check-out.webflow.io/
Free plan: Webflow.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
More Free Website Builders We Haven't Tested In-Depth Yet
Site123 – Easy as 1-2-3?
With Site123, we had a hard time finding any concrete company information. After searching the web for a while, our best guess is that they are based in Israel. They claim to be “by far” the easiest website builder, and while their tool is certainly not too difficult to use, we'd say that there are even more user-friendly ones. What's great about their builder is that they have some pretty good looking themes that are all responsive. Paid plans start at $9.80 per month and include an ecommerce store. Be prepared to receive multiple daily emails after signing up.
Free plan: www.site123.com
Ucraft – Connect Your Domain for Free
This is an interesting product as they are the only ones that allow you to connect an existing domain name for free! But there are downsides, unfortunately. Whenever you start changing the template, or even when just trying to add a new element to the website, you'll be prompted to upgrade. Apparently, for that you need the “Designer Tools” which cost $2.99 per month. Cheap, but not really free after all. The only thing you can change without paying is the dummy texts. All in all, not really a website building experience to write home about.
Free plan: www.ucraft.com
Zoho Sites – Feature-rich
There are plenty of template designs in Zoho's website creator. The downside is that only a small fraction of them are responsive. Also, they probably looked excellent five years ago but now have a bit of a dated feel. The editor itself is super easy to use and covers all basic features you can imagine. Using Zoho Creator you can even add dynamic content blocks to your site. Also, you have full access to the HTML and CSS of your website. All in all, a very decent product, especially if you work with other Zoho products.
Free plan: www.zoho.com/sites
WordPress.com – The Blogging Platform
WordPress.com is not to be confused with its bigger brother WordPress.org (read our beginners' guide). The latter is fantastic if you are not scared of diving into technical terrain, but surprisingly, the .com version is not that much easier to use and has a lot of restrictions. Having said that, if all you want is just to create a blog, WordPress.com could be a great solution for you. For a website, though, we find there are better solutions.
Free plan: www.wordpress.com
Mobirise – Installable Website Building Software
Usually, we're big advocates of hosted site builders that run in your web browser. But we do of course acknowledge that some of you are more comfortable with an installable Windows or Mac website software. Mobirise is such a program: you install it on your computer and within minutes you'll be able to start dragging and dropping a free website together – even when you're offline.
Their templates look quite fresh and offer lots of functionality. The choice is limited to a handful of designs. Also, most of them are paid ones that will set you back $19-$39 (as a one-time payment). It's also a pity we couldn't find any blogging functionalities. Once you are happy with your result, you need to publish the site to your own web space. Of course, that's a lot more complicated than with a hosted website builder as it requires you to set up a FTP connection.
Free Download: www.mobirise.com
Sitey, WebsiteBuilder.com, Sitebuilder.com – Triple Déjà Vu?
This is a bit of an odd company: they use three different brands that sell exactly the same site creator. And we couldn't find any company details as there is no ‘about' page on either of the three websites (even their own domain names seem to be registered privately). At first glance Sitey & Co. looks pretty sweet: they offer a vast number of flawless templates. Once you get to the editor you'll start to notice some similarities to another well-known player: Wix. Everything is really similar (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). However, we see little reason not to opt for the original. The free plan is limited to 5 pages only and their paid plans are all more expensive than Wix's.
Free Trial: www.sitey.com
Best Free Site Builder Overview
This table shows you our eight favourite website builders:
|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||0.1 GB||Could do with more storage, otherwise very good. Unlimited pages.|
|Logo in footer and Header||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||Good product with an incredible amount of features. Unfortunately, it shows very intrusive logos both in the header and the footer of the page. Bandwidth limit of 1 GB per month.|
|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. Other than that there's little not to like about Weebly.|
|Logo in footer||Free subdomain||0.5 GB||Solid product with unlimited pages. Minimal advertising. Won't let you index your site in Google, unfortunately.|
|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.|
|Strikingly||Overlay in footer||Free subdomain||Unlimited (10 MB max. file size)||Features modern and responsive one-page layouts. Multi-pages are only possible in their paid plans. Personal support is included in the free plan.|
Best Free website 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 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 learned 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 free online stores. We’ve taken a look at these two 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.
Best free website builder: 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 favorites Wix and Weebly. 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 Feb 2018: New site builders added – Bookmark, Webflow and 000webhost.
Update 18 Jan 2018: Added WordPress.com, Mobirise and Sitely.
Update 16 Jan 2018: Added Strikingly, Google Sites, Site123 and Ucraft.
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.