Creating a website by yourself without the help of a developer has become increasingly simple in recent years, and the best website builders enable you to come up with a professional product in a matter of minutes.
There are many options out there, and many of which you have to pay for - but could a free website builder provide you with the tools you need to achieve similar results?
In this article, we'll run through some of the key features available in some of the industry's leading free website building platforms. By the end, you'll know what to look out for, and when to choose a free website builder or opt for a paid-for alternative.
What can free website builders do?
Essentially, a website builder enables you to create a professional website regardless of whether or not you have any coding experience. Even paid-for website builders cost a minute fraction of what the price would be if you decided to employ a web developer to carry out the task.
Today, the top website builders are fully automated and use advanced AI techniques that enable you to create professional websites with just a few simple pieces of information. But can a free website builder ever compete with a paid-for alternative? We think it can.
Perhaps one of the best free website builders is Wix. Like many other website-building platforms, such as Weebly, Wix uses a drag-and-drop system which enables you to move elements to a page from a selection of pre-built options.
Using a premium free builder like Wix, you can design a website from scratch using a template. Once it’s onscreen, you can tweak the design to suit your brand, adding, removing, and redesigning elements to fit. Some free website building platforms include additional extras too, such as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates and SEO (search engine optimization) tools.
However, it’s important to note that a free service is always limited compared to paid-for alternatives, and the free plans for most, if not all, website building platforms are fairly basic.
In the next section, we’ll explain what some of these restrictions might be, when they matter, and when you should go ahead and create a free site anyway, regardless of the limitations.
When should you choose a free website builder?
One of the most significant limitations of a free website builder is the storage limit. Most have very small storage limits for text files, images, and other data; some even limit traffic too. So, if you are a large company that expects a lot of traffic running through the site, you’ll need to opt for a paid plan from the get-go.
Alternatively, if you want to create a site that will represent a small business and you don’t expect a lot of traffic, then a limit like this shouldn’t make much difference to you. On top of overall storage limits, there are also often limitations on certain types of content, such as videos and photo galleries.
Again, if you don’t expect to include a great deal of media such as this on your site, then this limitation won’t be a problem. However, it could become an issue if you want to turn the site into a blog. Although one of the world’s most popular blogging sites, WordPress.com, is very generous with its content storage allocation—3GB of storage regardless of the file type—many others aren’t.
This is a problem for bloggers who plan on using alternatives to WordPress.com to build a website, as much of their content is likely to be video- or image-based.
Another area you might struggle with when using a free website builder is promoting an ecommerce business. If you want all of the functions required, such as a payment mechanism and certain customer capture or booking forms, you generally need to pay for the privilege.
That said, free website builders are very useful for many other purposes, such as portfolios or landing pages. One platform that we were particularly impressed with as a means to create a personal or single-page site for free is Carrd. This platform provides users with the tools to create well-designed single-page websites in a matter of minutes.
The advantage of a single-page site is that you can easily display information, which works for content like a basic landing page or temporary site, and show off the best bits that you want to promote, such as a CV or working portfolio.
What you won’t get from almost any free website builder out there is access to premium themes: for this you will have to pay, well, a premium.
Are there any essential extras missing?
As we have explained, there are many use cases for free website builders. However, there are a few features missing from most free services that some, but not all, users will find essential.
Firstly, there is the issue of the custom domain name. In most cases, a free website builder doesn’t come with a custom domain option. This means that your website will end with the name of the company you have chosen to build your website with, for example tomsguide.wixsite.com. Many users will be put off by this, as having an off-the-shelf domain name lacks professionalism.
In many cases it’s possible to upgrade and receive a custom domain name in the extras, but it’s also possible to purchase one separately and use it alongside a free website builder. Although many people will find it essential to have a custom domain name in order to prove the legitimacy of their brand, others may not. It’s not essential, and some may not care about hiding the builder used to create their site.
Advert removal is another key area that many users will consider essential. Most free website builders enable you to create a site with all the fluidity and functionality of a paid-for alternative, but they will include branded ads as a consequence. However, it's usually possible to remove these by signing up for a basic paid plan, although some providers may require you to sign up for a premium option.
If you simply don’t care if there are ads or not, and feel that they have no effect on the purpose of your website, this shouldn’t be a problem for you.
A free website builder can be a great option for businesses or individuals who don’t have the budget to invest in an online presence, but want to make sure their brand is out there. However, as we have discussed, free versions of these platforms usually come with certain limitations.
The key is to weigh up these limitations and figure out if the savings are worth the sacrifices. That said, when it comes to functionality, the features available on a free website builder's platform are close to identical to those you’ll find on a paid-for alternative nine times out of ten.
However, sometimes a free website builder just won’t cut it—for example, if you need advanced features for a particular purpose, like an ecommerce site. That's a situation where looking for what you specifically need, such as the best ecommerce website builders, is key.
The most important thing is not to opt for a free website builder simply because of the cost benefits. If you do so without conducting any further research, you could soon find it will hinder, not help, the growth of your business.
Further reading on website builders
If you're looking to create a site for a small business, the best small business website builders are where you should start. If you elect to go with WordPress, you'll need one of the best website builders for WordPress alongside the best WordPress hosting; check that your chosen host is among the best web hosting services too.