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Free vs Paid Website Builders: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Free vs Paid Website Builders: Weighing the Pros and Cons

More and more people are looking to create their own websites these days, whether for personal blogs, small businesses, online stores, or other purposes. However, building a website from scratch can be a daunting task if you don’t have coding skills. That’s where website builders come in – tools that allow you to create a website by dragging and dropping content blocks and selecting themes and templates.

Website builders make the process of creating a website much easier. But should you use a free website builder or pay for a premium builder? There are pros and cons to each option. In this article, we’ll compare free and paid website builders so you can decide which is best for your needs.

The Pros of Free Website Builders

Let’s start with the benefits of using a free website builder:

  • Cost – This is the most obvious advantage. Free website builders let you create a site without spending a dime. Many free builders offer ample features and storage space for basic websites.
  • Easy to use – Free website builders are designed to be user-friendly and intuitive. Even if you have no web design experience, you should be able to figure out most free builders without problems. They provide templates and drag-and-drop interfaces to streamline the process.
  • Get online quickly – With a free website builder, you can get your site live in just a few hours or days. You don’t have to wait around or pay someone to get your site up and running.
  • Own your site – With free builders, you own your website and can export the content and take it elsewhere if desired. Some paid builders lock you into their platform.
  • Expandable resources – Many free website builders allow you to start for free and then add premium features or storage space as your site grows. So you can get started for $0 but still have room to expand.

Limitations of Free Website Builders

However, there are some downsides to using a fully free website builder:

  • Limited features – Free website builders provide enough features for a very basic website. But if you want ecommerce capabilities, extensive design customization, powerful forms, and other advanced features, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan or premium builder.
  • Limited storage – Free plans typically offer 500MB to 3GB of storage. This is enough for a dozen or so pages with some images and videos. But it won’t be enough for ecommerce sites with hundreds of product images or many pages of content.
  • Advertisements – Most free website builders display ads on your published website. These can be annoying for visitors and detract from your brand image. Avoiding ads requires upgrading.
  • Subdomain – Free plans often require you to use a subdomain of the website builder’s domain. This looks less professional than using your own custom domain name. Getting your own domain requires a paid plan.
  • Lack of support – Paid website builder plans come with much more robust customer support. With free plans, you’ll largely have to rely on self-service troubleshooting using documentation and forums.
  • No custom code – Free website builders don’t allow you to add custom HTML or CSS code in most cases. So you can’t tweak the design beyond what the builder allows.

The Benefits of Paid Website Builders

Paying for a premium website builder starts at around $5 to $10 per month. What do you get for paying? Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Robust features – Paid website builders offer many more features beyond the basics, like ecommerce capabilities, membership sites, mailing lists, advanced forms, popups, reviews, blogs, and much more.
  • Unlimited storage – With paid plans, storage is typically unlimited so you never have to worry about hitting a cap as your site grows. This extra space is important for media-heavy sites.
  • No ads – Paid accounts let you remove ads from your published website for a cleaner, ad-free, professional site.
  • Custom domain – You can use your own custom .com domain with paid plans rather than a subdomain. This improves branding and credibility.
  • Better support – Paid users get VIP support with quick responses, screen sharing, and dedicated reps. This makes it much easier to get help when needed.
  • Advanced design customization – Paid builders allow tweaking site design with custom CSS, themes, layouts, and templates for complete control over site appearance.
  • Sell products/services – Paid accounts unlock ecommerce features for setting up an online store and selling products or services through your site.

Drawbacks of Paid Website Builders

Of course, paid website builders also come with some downsides to consider:

  • Recurring fees – You have to pay your website builder every single month or year. These recurring fees can add up over time.
  • Locked into one platform – Some paid builders make it difficult to export your content and leave the platform. So you can get stuck paying them indefinitely.
  • Learning curve – Paid builders pack in a ton of features. While powerful, all these options can overwhelm beginners and have a learning curve.
  • Overkill for simple sites – If you just need a simple site of a few pages, a paid builder may be overkill. The extra features likely won’t get used.
  • Lose access if you stop paying – Once you stop paying those monthly or yearly fees, you lose access to your site and all its content. So you must keep paying to maintain access.
  • Difficult to switch later – Transitioning an existing site from a free builder to a paid one, or between paid builders, can be difficult due to proprietary features and exporting issues.

Best Uses for Free Website Builders

Free website builders work best for:

  • Hobbies – Building a site for your personal hobbies, passions, or clubs where you don’t need advanced features.
  • Small organizations – Small local clubs, groups, teams, or charitable organizations can benefit from a free website.
  • Personal sites – Sites for your family, travel adventures, portfolio, or other personal uses typically don’t need robust functionality.
  • Small business sites – Some local businesses like services, consultants, agencies, and retailers can get by with a free website builder.
  • Getting started – Those who are brand new to websites can start for free to get comfortable with the technology before upgrading.
  • Testing – Free builders allow testing website creation before committing to the paid tier.
  • Short term sites – If you just need a website for a specific short term purpose or event, a free builder can work during that period.

Best Uses for Paid Website Builders

Paid website builders work best when you need:

  • Ecommerce – If you want to sell products or services online, you’ll need the ecommerce features of paid builders. Free plans don’t accommodate ecommerce sites.
  • Custom design – Paid plans are required if you want full control over site design and customization with CSS, themes, fonts, and other tweaks.
  • Media-heavy – Sites with extensive images, videos, podcasts, and other media require the unlimited storage and bandwidth of paid plans.
  • Memberships – To create a membership site where users can register for accounts and access gated content, a paid builder is a must.
  • Blog – For regularly updated blogs and content publication, paid builders provide key tools like blog templates, comments, and newsletter integration.
  • Client sites – Web design agencies managing multiple client sites will require the robust features and customization capabilities of paid builders.
  • High traffic – If you expect more than 10,000 visits per month, the resources of paid plans will handle traffic better.
  • Long term investment – Those committed for the long haul are better off with a paid builder with full features and support.

Recommendations for Free Website Builders

If you want to try a free website builder, these options are among the best:

  • Wix – Extremely user-friendly drag and drop interface. Provides 500MB free storage.
  • Weebly – Integrates well with email and payments. Provides 500MB free storage.
  • Webnode – Very easy for beginners. Has a desktop site builder application.
  • Site123 – Provides professional looking modern templates. Offers 1GB free storage.
  • Jimdo – Good for blogs and portfolios. Includes 500MB free storage.
  • Webflow – More advanced for custom designs. No storage limit.
  • Strikingly – Best for simple one page sites. Very intuitive.
  • Zoho Sites – Integrates nicely with other Zoho apps. Offers 1GB storage.
  • Google Sites – Extremely easy if you use Google Workspace.

Recommendations for Paid Website Builders

Here are some top picks for premium paid website builders:

  • Wix – All-in-one platform great for beginners through advanced users. Plans from $14/month.
  • Squarespace – Beautiful templates make gorgeous sites easy. Plans from $12/month.
  • Weebly – Easy to use with powerful ecommerce features. Plans from $6/month.
  • Webflow – Robust design flexibility for advanced customization. Plans from $12/month.
  • WordPress.org + Hosting – Very open and flexible. Self-hosted unlimited WordPress from $5/month.
  • Shopify – Best for running an online store. Plans from $29/month.
  • Kajabi – Specialized in membership sites and digital products. Plans from $119/month.
  • BoldGrid – Adds a front-end to self-hosted WordPress for ease of use. Plans from $5/month.
  • Gator – Hosts and supports WordPress sites. Plans from $5.25/month.
  • Bluehost – Top hosting with 1-click WordPress installation. Plans from $2.75/month.

The Final Decision

Choosing between a free and paid website builder depends on your specific needs. Free website builders offer an extremely low barrier to entry and require no ongoing fees. They work well for basic brochure-style sites. However, to sell products, customize designs, and access robust features, paid website builders are worth the investment.

Carefully consider which features are essential for your goals. Analyze what level of traffic you expect. This will help determine if starting free makes sense or if you should opt for paid right off the bat.

Building your first site on a free website builder to learn the ropes isn’t a bad idea. But don’t stick with it forever if your needs outgrow its capabilities. Migrating from free plans to paid ones takes effort, so think about your long term needs upfront before committing to any platform.

With the right builder for your purposes, you can create the professional website you need whether you opt for free or paid. Both options empower anyone to build a web presence easily these days. Do your research to determine if an affordable paid builder or fully free DIY builder makes the most sense for your situation.

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