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Free website builders vs paid: what's the best option for your business?

free website builders
(Image credit: Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash)

Despite being relatively new to the tech market, website builders are taking the world by storm. With the best website builders, virtually anyone can create their own website. And what’s more, they can do so with next to no technical knowledge and in the space of just a few hours. 

Along with popular paid options such as Wix and Weebly, there are numerous free website builders available. Some of these are attractive and functional, while others are not even worth considering. 

But how do free website builders stack up against their paid competitors? 

In this article, that’s the exact question we aim to answer. We look at features, support, ease of use, and more, with direct examples from some of our favorite free and paid website builders.

Features

free website builder

Wix is a popular website builder with both free and paid options (Image credit: Wix)

As would be expected, paid website builders generally come with a much more advanced feature list than free ones. Free versions usually come with numerous limitations, including the size of your website, the storage and bandwidth you have access to, and the use of advanced tools to build your site. 

In most cases, you won’t be able to connect a custom domain name if you use a free website builder. For example, Wix’s free builder limits you to a wixsite.com subdomain, which can look a little unprofessional for a business site. On the other hand, upgrading to a paid plan will enable you to connect a custom domain. And, some premium website builders, such as the HostGator Website Builder, even throw in a free domain with every new subscription. 

Most free website builders also come with some sort of advertisement for the platform that you’re using. For example, both Weebly’s free plan and its cheapest premium plan come with advertising by Square, its ecommerce partner. You will have to upgrade to the second-most-expensive premium plan, which costs $12 per month, to remove these ads. 

Again we see free website builders underperforming here, with most coming with very limited storage and bandwidth. For example, Site123’s free plan includes just 250MB of storage and 250MB of bandwidth. Its premium plans are also a little limited, but still much more generous. 

In many cases, you will find that free website builders just don’t offer the tools necessary for selling items or services through your new business website. A small percentage offer very limited online store features, but you will usually need to go for a higher-end paid subscription for any ecommerce features at all. 

Performance

free website builders

Free website builders usually come with various limitations (Image credit: Wix)

To compare the performance of free and paid-for website builders, we took a close look at the editing interface and ease of use of three of our favorite options. 

For one, Wix offers a selection of both free and paid plans. And unlike many of its competitors, there are no limitations on who has access to which website builder features. Premium users can upgrade their SEO and marketing packages, but free users have access to all other design and editing tools. 

On the other hand, Site123’s free website builder is very limited when compared to the paid alternatives. Numerous advanced editing tools are only available for premium users, which can be quite frustrating when trying to create an attractive business site. For example, you won’t be able to add plugins or custom code snippets to integrate tools such as Google Analytics—which many would argue are essential for a successful website. 

Another popular free website builder, Strikingly, is even more limited. While its premium plans are designed for those who want to create a simple yet attractive website, its free plan is disappointing, to say the least. With it, you will be limited to a single-page site with very basic ecommerce tools, and you won’t be able to add custom code snippets or even a site search bar.

At the end of the day, most free website builders come with quite limited editing interfaces. There are some exceptions, such as Wix, but it’s crucial to ensure you do a decent amount of research before selecting a platform.

free website builders

With a free Strikingly subscription, you will be limited to a single-page website (Image credit: Strikingly)

Support

free website builders

Most website builders have knowledge bases that are open to all users (Image credit: Weebly)

At the end of the day, the support services you have access to will largely depend on the website builder you use. However, we can safely say that free builders (and free plans from paid platforms) generally have much poorer customer service than the paid alternatives. 

Usually, free users will have access to a comprehensive knowledge base, community forums where they exist, and, in some cases, email or phone support. However, live support tends to be reserved for paying customers, which can make it hard to get help if you’re using a free option.

Pricing and plans

free website builders

The HostGator website builder offers some of the best value for money we’ve seen (Image credit: HostGator)

Free website builders are generally 100% free, forever, while the price of a paid subscription can vary from a few dollars per year to tens or even hundreds of dollars per month. However, free builders generally come with quite a few limitations, and a premium option will likely be the best choice for your business. 

When it comes to paid website builders, the HostGator builder offers some of the best value for money we’ve seen. For just $3.84 per month, you will have access to virtually all the features required to build a fully functional site, and you will even get a free domain name and the ability to create a small e-commerce store. 

Meanwhile, Wix’s paid plans range from $14 to $49 per month, and Weebly’s cost between $6 and $26 per month. 

As you can see, it’s possible to save a significant amount of money if you decide to use a free website builder. But then again, it’s not always worth it. 

Free website builders vs paid: Verdict

Comparing popular free and paid website builders tells an interesting story. Of course, most free builders are less powerful than their premium alternatives, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t useful. 

Unfortunately, though, we simply can’t recommend using a free website builder to create a business site. In general, they come with more limited features than paid builders, little or no e-commerce support, only basic customer support, and constraints on bandwidth and storage. 

Of course, you will benefit from saving a few dollars per month if you use a free builder, but at the end of the day, it’s really not worth it.