Are Free Website Builders Really Free?

free website builders

Yes, they are really free. But like anything free, you will not get premium services. Yes, you can build a website, but you cannot expect to have the same capabilities as those who pay for a plan.

The question you have to ask is: what website builder should you choose? Are free website builders any good? And should you use a free one or a paid plan?

Today, I will help you with these questions. I will cover the following:

What is a free website builder?

A free website builder is an online software that allows you to build and design a website. This should not be confused with hosting, but many companies offer both.

A website builder allows you to:

  • Design how the website looks like
  • Add content to it
  • Change the fonts, colors, font sizes, and others
  • Choose a theme or build one on your own
  • Standardize how the blog entries or product entries will look like

On the other hand, a web hosting service is a company that stores the digital code of your website, and it is the one that serves the website content if users access it.  

As I mentioned, many free website builders offer both. The best examples are Wix and WordPress.Com. Before we proceed, know that WordPress.COM is different from WordPress.ORG.

The .COM is a monetized website builder or content management system where you can also get a free account or plan. The .ORG is completely free, but your website will not run unless you install and use the WordPress CMS into your web hosting service dashboard.

WordPress.Com and Wix are both website builders where they also take care of hosting. They offer a complete package of tools that allow you to build a website.

Other website builders are plain builders. They do not host your website, and they do not have a content management system. Despite this, we cannot underestimate their power. They are really great tools that will convert your website into a professional-looking one.

These website builders are free, but you also have limitations. If you want to use more widgets and apps, you will need to upgrade. Examples of these are Elementor and Thrive, which I will discuss in detail later on.

What is the difference between a free website builder and a paid one? 

On the surface, the main difference is the cost. A free website builder allows you to create a website, launch it, and then do business. However, behind the scenes, there are many things you cannot do with a free website builder.

Below are some differences that you should consider. This should help you decide whether a free one is better for you depending on your situation.

  • User Interface – while free website builders are great, they are not really as good as the paid ones. The user interface is what you communicate with. It is the dashboard that you toggle so you can make changes to your website. Apart from this, free website builders do not allow you to build the user interface that you want for your users.
  • Support – you will never get support if you use a free website builder. And as you know, there are a thousand possible things that can happen to your site. These bugs and kinks will occur, and you will be left to figure it out on your own. The same thing goes for design. You will not be able to ask any support personnel how to do this or that.
  • Customization – free website builders are straightforward. You cannot add a lot of features to your website. If you want more, you have to pay more. For example, Elementor has a free website builder package. However, you can only do the following things:
  • Use the drag-and-drop editor
  • Use the responsive editing software
  • Have access to 40+ widgets only
  • Choose from 30+ templates only

This, of course, pails in comparison against the paid plans of Elementor. For example, you will not have access to 50+ pro widgets or the 300+ templates and kits. You also have no access to the theme builder, where you create your own theme.

  • Domain names – if you build a website, it is likely that you want your own domain. Most of the time, you cannot use your own domain if you use a free website builder. For example, let us say that your business name is ABC.COM. If you use a free website builder like Wix, your domain is going to be ABC.WIX.COM. If you do not want the domain of Wix, you have to pay. The same thing goes with WordPress.Com.

The alternative to this is to have your website hosted by another company, like Siteground and Bluehost. From there, you install WordPress, and then you append your own domain. However, you may not be able to do this with free website builders that also do their own hosting.   

  • Display ads – with free websites, it is not likely that you could display ads. Since you are not paying for the service, they will not monetize your website with ads. In some instances, you cannot turn it into a store.

One good example of this is WordPress.Com. If you get a free account, you can only build a blog, but you cannot display ads from Google, and you cannot install any plug-in.  

As you can see, there are many limitations to what you can do with a free website. It is great only for bloggers who want to publish their thoughts, but not for business purposes.

Some free website builder software programs are more flexible—you can advertise, and you can make them into a store, but there are limits to how beautiful you can make your website.

The top 8 free website builders you can use 

Now, let us take a look at the top 8 free website builders that you can use. What I have here are both free and paid. What I mean is that some offer free website builders, but at a disadvantage—you have to upgrade to a premium paid plan to get more services.  

1. WordPress.ORG and WordPress.COM

WordPress powers more than 30% of all websites in the world. As a free website builder, WordPress is basically a content management system. It is the software you need to upload your content, create pages, and publish blog posts.

There are two kinds of WordPress programs, but they function exactly the same, with little difference.

The .ORG is an open-source platform, but you cannot use it unless you subscribe to a hosting plan from web hosting service providers.

Most hosting providers offer a one-click installation of WordPress. With the .ORG version, you can use the entire power of WordPress. However, you need to have your website hosted.

On the other hand, the .COM version is already hosted. The free version allows you to build a simple website for free, but you cannot use all the power of WordPress.

Here are some examples of the limitation of a free WordPress.COM website:

  • You cannot put ads
  • You cannot install any plug-in
  • You cannot change the URL structure of your pages and blog posts

If you use WordPress.COM, you can still choose from a few free themes, but you cannot use the website builder’s full functionality. For example, there are many blocks that you cannot add to a page or a blog post.

2. Elementor

Elementor is a free website builder. However, you can only use it if you already have a content management system and a web hosting service provider. For example, you must have a WordPress website before you can use Elementor.

The way you use it is that you download and install it as a plugin. Once the plug-in is installed, you can now use the features.

Here are the features of Elementor:

  • 50+ Pro Widgets – widgets are things that you can add to your sites like timers, product prices, tables, sections, and many more.
  • 300+ Pro Templates – templates are ready-made pages that you can use instantly. There are different templates for email subscriptions, the home page, blog page, product pages, and many more. You can also edit these templates if you want.
  • 10+ Full Website Template Kits – this is like a template, but it is a template for an entire website. It is like a theme where all your site pages are uniform and have the same style.
  • Theme Builder – you can build a theme if you want and then use it again and again for different pages.
  • Form Builder – create different kinds of forms on your site, like quizzes and surveys.
  • WooCommerce Builder – this is a feature that allows you to customize your WooCommerce pages.
  • Popup Builder – create pop-ups for email subscriptions, downloads, and many more. You can use this form to get leads and distribute your lead magnets.

Elementor is free, but you will not be able to use all the services. What you have to do is to pay for the premium plans. There are three paid plans called Personal, Plus, and Expert. The free plan allows you to use Elementor on one site only, but the paid plans allow you to use the software on many websites.

3. Wix

Third on my list of free website builders is Wix. The free website does not allow you to connect a domain name. If you want to use your own domain, you have to pay at least $4.50 per month.

Wix comes in two major categories: Website Plans and e-Commerce Plans. Both have different pricing schemes and features. The Website Plans range between $4.50 and $24.50 per month. The e-Commerce Plans range between $17 and $35 per month.

Here are the things you can do with Wix:

  • Create a blog
  • Upload and store videos
  • Add professional logos
  • View your website analytics

For the e-Commerce plans, you will have access to more sophisticated features like:

  • Secure online payments – charge your customers online
  • Customer domain and a free domain for a year
  • Remove the ads of Wix from your site
  • Have a storage space of up to 50GB
  • Create customized reports for your business performance

Wix is great both for bloggers and those who want to put up an online store. However, it is not a good option for those who want to build a dropshipping store with no money. Also, only use Wix if you believe that you will stay on this platform for a long while.  

4. Weebly

Weebly is a free website builder that includes hosting. I recommend this to bloggers who are just starting out.

Here are the features of Weebly:

  • Free SSL
  • 500MB of storage
  • Free domain name appended with
  • Lead and capture forms
  • SEO tools
  • Chat and email support

There are many features that you cannot access if you have a free account. By the time you decide to expand your business, you can choose from Weebly’s three paid plans that range between $5 and $25 per month.

Here are the features you can get if you upgrade:

  • Unlimited storage
  • No Weebly ads
  • Add a site search function to your website
  • Make your site an online business or e-commerce
  • Add shopping carts and accept payments
  • Add item options and badges for your products and services
  • Integrate shipping labels
  • Add shipping discounts and create promotions
  • Access to advanced reporting
  • Create pop-up notifications
  • Access to phone support

Weebly is owned by Square, in case you want to know. Also, Weebly offers another category of plans for e-commerce sites. These plans range between $12 and $38 per month.

The benefit of the business plans is that you will get free domains up to $20 in value. You will also get $200 worth of Google ads credit, plus an email marketing credit up to $96 in value.  

5. Ecwid

Ecwid is primarily an e-commerce platform. It is not ideal for people who only want to put up a blog site. It comes in a free and a paid version. While Ecwid’s name may sound new to many people, it has actually been around since 1999.

Ecwid is great if you already have a website. Like Elementor, it comes as a supplementary plug-in. It is still a free website builder in the sense that it allows you to convert your existing website into a store.

Let us say you already have a WordPress website, but you are having trouble building the site into an e-commerce one. What you have to do is to register for an account at Ecwid and then install the plug-in to your WordPress site.  

From there, your WordPress site becomes a store, and you no longer have to depend on other e-commerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce—both of which will cost you more money. 

Here are the features of Ecwid: 

·       Sales Channels – you can integrate your Ecwid account with other platforms like Facebook and Instagram. What this means is that people will see your products on both platforms. 

·       Marketing – Ecwid equips you with tools that allow you to market your store on Google and Facebook. This will help you get leads and improve your sales. 

·       Reports – here, you will have access to powerful data analytics. You will see different reports that will help you make an informed decision based on your business stats. 

The Ecwid free website builder does not only function as a gateway for making your site a store, but it also allows you to re-create and re-design your already existing website.

6. Site123

Site123 is a free website builder that offers four things. Here, you can build a website, a blog, a landing page, or an online store.

The start-up process is completed in three steps:

  • Step 1: Choose the kind of site you want to build
  • Step 2: Name your website
  • Step 3: Supply your info for the registration

The main benefit of Site123 is that it is easy to use. The themes are modern and mobile-friendly, and you can easily integrate apps with them. If you are building an online store, you can also use payment gateways to charge money from your customers.

Site123 is a great place to start if you are starting an online store. It allows you to scale your business without having to spend a penny. However, you are better off using WordPress if what you want to build is a blog.  

Site123 has many limitations, but these limitations will go away if you get a paid plan. The paid plans range between $12.80 and $34.80 per month. Site123 is great if you want to have a well-designed site, but you do not know how to code.

It is also a great choice if you want to have a site, but you do not want to go through the hassles of integrating your website builder with a hosting service company.

7. Google Sites

Google has its hands on everything. And yes, you can build a website on the Google Platform for free. Like any Google product, it is easy to use—it is clean, and anyone with or without experience will not have any issue building a website on this platform.

The way it works is that you choose a template. The templates are basic, and they look like a portfolio. This tells us that there are so many limitations with what you can do on the platform.

I only recommend Google Sites to build a small project, like a blog or an online journal. It is not an ideal website builder if your intent is to showcase your products.

As far as optimization is concerned, it does allow you to add some widgets to your site. You can also embed video sections if you want, add some tables, buttons, and event calendars.

Since Google made the platform, it is guaranteed to be mobile-friendly. However, you cannot upgrade to any other plan should you decide to monetize this or convert it into a store.

Use this platform if what you want is a simple website, and if you have no plans of upgrading it to have new features.

8. GoDaddy

GoDaddy is a premier company that offers free website builders and web hosting, domains, and emails.

The great thing about GoDaddy is that apart from the website you built for free, you can also use the GoDaddy universe to host it, make an email address for it, and then register the domain for the site. Take note that only the website builder is free. You have to pay for the hosting, email, and domain.

Here are some of the pros of the GoDaddy free website builder:

  • Mobile-optimized – the layouts and themes are responsive. They will change in form according to the user’s device, making your website easier to read and navigate.
  • Easy to Use – the GoDaddy editor is easy to use. It is minimalistic, and you do not need to code to be able to use it.
  • Marketing – the website builder has a built-in marketing tool. It is broken down into two components. One is email marketing, where you can send emails to your subscribers. The other one is a social media content creator. With these tools, you can easily expand your reach without paying for similar external tools like MailChimp and GetResponse.

Should you want to upgrade, you can choose from several plans, the lowest of $10 per month. With a paid plan, you will have access to 24/7 support. I really love GoDaddy because it has phone support, which is available in various regions in the world.

Should you use a free website builder or pay for a plan?

Well, it really depends. A free website builder is a great option if you are just trying out an online business. However, the paid one gives you advanced options and flexibility—you can design and operate your website like a pro.

Choose a free website builder if:

  • You are only starting out an online business, and you are not sure if this will last
  • You have no budget—you can always upgrade later on
  • You only need a simple website where you can upload blog posts

Choose a paid website builder if:

  • You are sure that the online business you are putting up is “permanent”
  • You have the budget to pay for one
  • You want a website that is flexible
  • You are going to build multiple websites now or in the future

A free website builder will do the job, provided that the job you want to get done is simple. If not, I strongly suggest that you get a paid website builder.

So, what will I recommend?

My top recommendation is Elementor, but only if you are using WordPress.ORG and a hosting service. Get the free one first and test it on your WordPress website. If you like it, I am sure you will get the Premium paid plans.

With Elementor, you can build your website the way you want to. You can toggle the column count, the sections, the content type, and the fonts—you can do anything you want. There are also many supporting apps or plug-ins for Elementor—apps that supply widgets that Elementor currently does not have.

If you use Wix and other similar website builders, just make sure that you have no plans to move your website to another hosting service provider. While web hosting service providers can offer a website migration service, I still say that it is a total pain.  

Summary: Are Free Website Builders Really Free?

Yes, free website builders are really free. With these tools, you can build a website and design it, but with limitations.

Free website builders are great for individuals who want to test if an online business will work for them, like bloggers and those who want to build a dropshipping store, which has its own pros and cons. However, they are not great for those who are 100% sure and serious about building a business online.

My take is that if you are just starting out, use the free website builders available to you. There are eight that I recommended here, so just choose one.

Choose one whose prices are acceptable to you. There will come a time when you will want to upgrade to a paid plan, and the last thing you want is to shift to another website builder and redo your entire site all over again.

WordPress is what I will recommend. It is completely free, and you can also install a plug-in called WooCommerce. You can essentially build a website with these two and then convert it into a store without paying for the software.

Just remember that you will have to pay for your website hosting service. This should not be an issue, as it only costs at least $3 per month.

John Kilmerstone

I'm an Aussie living in Japan who enjoys traveling, photography, and blogging. Please visit this website and explore the wonderful world of blogging. Discover how to turn your passions and pastimes into an online business.

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