Your Guide to Understanding Website Builders

By Kate Loyola | Last Updated: November 17, 2017

On today’s internet, websites live and die by their design. However, the cost of most professional website design services can run into the thousands of dollars. Does this mean success is reserved only for those with hefty budgets?

With powerful tools like Wix and Squarespace, that needn’t be the case. These website builders allow you to create and launch your own customized website, often with no need for coding skills and at a fraction of the cost of professional designs. How do they do it? Can you really use a website builder to whip up a snazzy site of your own? Read on to find out!

Form and Function

Online website builders like Wix and Squarespace are designed to be used without technical knowledge, usually swapping the typical panels of code in favor of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) drag-and-drop interfaces instead. This also sets them apart from popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal, which still require some level of technical know-how when it comes to implementing third-party extensions or updating system versions.

Typically, you’ll have a gallery of themes and templates to start with. Choosing one will give you a basic skeleton for your website, though most themes are designed to be fully usable even without customization.

For users who want more say over their website’s style and functionality, though, website builders often also offer point-and-click customizations and modular extensions. Changing simple elements like colors, font choices, and more is often as simple as clicking through a ready pop-up of options. As for functions like media galleries, chat systems, and more, you’ll often find an array of modules and applets.

Think of most online website builders as a Lego project. You can bolt on or snap off any modules you like, simply by dragging and dropping them onto the page. Some services include access to all of their available modules with their user plans, while others will charge separate fees for premium modules. Since these modules are offered and ultimately administered by your website builder service, you won’t need to concern yourself with manually updating each feature you add to your website.

Codes, Content, Convenience

Some website builders also offer direct access to your website’s underlying code. This is handy if you’ve got some coding experience and would like to tweak elements of your site’s HTML, CSS, and so on. Source code editing expands the range of customization possibilities available to you, and it’s your best bet if there are some unique functions or designs you’d like to implement on your website.

Hand-coding certain tweaks might not be your only recourse, however. Many good website builders also feature integrations with other services that complement its target audience’s needs. Musicians who might want more powerful gig calendars than their website builder’s default module, for example, can seek out a website builder that supports embedding and automatically syncing details from Bandsintown.

Third-party extensions and integrations like these also mean that a good website builder can adapt to your needs, as broad or as narrow as they might be. You can use the same builder to build your personal blog and, later on, the site for your online business—though you might be creating completely different websites, you won’t need to learn completely new systems. Freelance web designers or small firms can also lean on this dependability and speediness to crank out websites for their clients without sacrificing quality.

Once you’re done building your site, many website builders will also provide domain name registration and site hosting for you. Most will include these in your plan, while others might charge separately. You can also expect technical support from your website builder’s staff–always a reassuring option to have in your back pocket, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hand.

A Few Caveats

That ready utility and ease of use is a hallmark of the best online website builders, but it highlights a weakness of the online website builder models too: while these tools work well with conventional functions, features, and design aspects, they’re bound to fall short if you’re looking to build a site with novel, unique, or ambitiously complex elements.

Similarly, the convenience of having access to your website builder from anywhere through the internet can also present its own difficulties: if you don’t have access to the internet, you won’t be able to work on your website.

On that note, some website builders might also restrict your options when it comes to web hosting. This might not be much of an issue if you don’t have particular hosting preferences or requirements. However, if you’re set on hosting the website yourself, or if you need the flexibility to use different web hosts for each website you create with the builder, this can be a deal-breaker.

For all the convenient widgets, extensions, and drag-and-drop options a website builder might offer, the possibility of encountering similar limitations when it comes to design remains. Working off a canned template or theme might leave your website looking too similar to others made with the same builder, though the better services out there will offer enough style options to help you create a look that’s truly yours.

The Bottom Line

Online website builders offer a wealth of convenience and possibilities, mostly thanks to beginner-friendly interfaces, extensive selections of themes and widgets, and convenient features like ready hosting and dedicated customer support. While these tools are often cast as beginners’ systems, they also have a lot to offer to advanced users—especially those looking for a quick, reliable way to create numerous websites without breaking the bank.

Whether you’re a novice looking to start an eye-catching new blog, or an experienced user hoping to launch a new online store within a limited budget, consider checking out a few online website builders. From Wix to Squarespace and beyond, excellent choices abound—ready to help you build stylish, full-featured websites at far less than the usual costs.