Whether you are starting a personal blog or launching your online business, choosing the right website builder tool is a crucial first step in the process of web design. After all, this tool will determine what resources you have access to, as well as the features, look, and feel of your website.
Free site builders are widely available, and vary considerably in quality and breadth of features, but, generally speaking, a paid website builder will have more features than a free one. So is it worth it to invest in a paid builder tool to develop your website? Review these 10 important considerations before you decide on the best website builder for your design needs.
10 Important Considerations for choosing a free vs paid website builder
1. Do you need an SSL certificate?
Unless your website is entirely for personal use, an SSL certificate is an absolute must. SSL is a security protocol that encrypts the information on your site. Without it, your website is vulnerable to malware and cyberattacks. Most modern internet browsers now automatically block sites without an SSL certificate, showing a large warning popup instead. While it is technically possible for the user to manually override this warning, its presence is a huge hit to your credibility as the website’s owner. This warning will turn away the majority of web traffic before they even see your site.
Most free providers do not include an SSL certificate, but some providers, such as Wix, bundle one in with their paid tiers.
It is possible to connect a basic third-party security certificate to your free website, but it is not recommended to do so unless you have some time and technical knowledge. For this reason, beginner web developers are better off taking a paid plan if they need an SSL certificate.
2. Do you need a custom domain name?
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between free and paid website builders is the ability to connect a custom domain. Wix, for instance, offers both free and paid plans to its users. However, free users are assigned a branded domain name, which looks like this: accountname.wixsite.com/sitename.
If your site is just for personal use this is perfectly fine. But for business use, an assigned domain name appears unprofessional, and potential customers may question your credibility. On the other hand, paid plans such as those offered by Wix or GoDaddy typically allow custom domain names.
3. Do you need an ad-free website?
Free website builders almost always come with advertising for the website builder. For instance, GoDaddy displays ads on the top of each webpage for free users. The ads are removed for paid users. As with custom domains, whether this is an issue depends entirely on the purpose of the site.
Owners of for-profit business sites and blogs may not want ads on their site, especially for a third party. However, ads in exchange for a free service could be an acceptable trade-off for a site intended for personal use. If you are considering a free website builder, expect ads to show up on every webpage.
4. What are your storage needs?
Storage is an important factor in determining whether or not to pay for a website builder. Broadly speaking, it determines how fast your website will load. Images, videos, and large amounts of text all contribute to increased storage demand. A typical paid site comes with over 1GB of storage, which is okay for a starter site. Large sites with heavy traffic volumes can require 5GB or more. If you find that your site is loading slowly, purchasing more storage will likely resolve the issue.
Free plans typically come with a minimal amount of storage. Wix’s free plan, for instance, offers 500MB. This is just enough to load a text-based website reasonably quickly, and any videos or graphics will result in a slow load time. That being said, if storage is your main concern, it is fine to start with a free plan and then upgrade to a paid tier once your web traffic increases. Even on a low-storage plan, there should not be any decrease in load time until the traffic gets sufficiently high.
5. How much do aesthetics matter?
How much effort you aim to put into the appearance of your site depends entirely on its purpose and will determine which website builder is best for you. A personal blog that showcases a few posts probably does not need the same level of attention to its visual design as the digital storefront of an e-commerce business, for instance.
Paid website builders often have intelligent features that can design most of your site automatically, as well as a wide range of templates and customization options for manual design. If you are concerned about the professional aesthetics of your site, consider investing in a paid builder tool.
6. Will you need to access e-commerce features?
E-commerce platforms are exclusively a paid feature in most website builders. This includes handling online payments, facilitating shipping, and displaying product listings. GoDaddy, for example, charges users 14.99 USD/month, its highest price tier, to unlock e-commerce features.
Other issues like 3rd-party ads and assigned domain names also make free website builders unsuitable for an e-commerce user. In short, if you plan on launching an e-commerce site, opt for a paid plan.
7. Do you need marketing services?
Many paid website builders provide access to email and social media marketing tools. For example, GoDaddy offers marketing services starting at its first paid tier, with 100 email sends per month and 5 social media posts on one platform.
If you would like to send emails and post on social media directly from the same dashboard where you run your website, these services are a worthwhile investment. Free plans typically do not include such features, so if you are looking for marketing services, choose a paid website builder.
8. Will you require SEO?
Depending on your knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO), you might be able to implement it on your own, but it is a lot easier to use a website builder’s proprietary SEO tools. These tools will provide a score that gives you an idea of how your site ranks on search engines relative to others and will give you some feedback on how to improve it.
This is a premium tool that is not available to free users, so if you want SEO analytics you will need to commit to a paid provider.
9. Do you want visitor analytics?
Paid platforms offer their own analytics services, which are absent from free plans. Analytics can provide you with information about visitor behavior, such as your visitors’ country of origin, what web pages they visited, and how much time they spent on each page.
Another insight provided by analytics services is bounce rate, which is the percentage of visitors that click out of your site almost immediately after clicking in. If your bounce rate declines after you made some changes to your site, you can be sure that something you did is drawing your visitors’ attention.
Such insights vary in usefulness depending on the purpose of the website. The owner of an e-commerce site can benefit greatly from knowing the behavior and demographics of visitors, while the writer of a personal blog might be less concerned with this information. If you believe your site would benefit from analytics, consider upgrading to a paid website builder.
10. What is your budget?
Consider how much you are willing to spend on your website. For a site that might have a monetary return, such as an e-commerce site, it is worthwhile to invest in a paid website builder to take advantage of SEO, analytics, and marketing services. Attempting to run such a site on a free builder will result in a sub-par, potentially unprofessional-looking website that could sabotage your profits in the long run.
On the other hand, if professionalism and profitability are not concerns, a free website builder might be your best bet. After all, paid builders drain your wallet every month just to keep your site up. That may not be worth it for a project that won’t bring any financial returns. Keep your budget in mind, and know what you want to get out of your website before choosing between a free and paid website builder.
When choosing between a free or paid website builder, it all comes down to how you plan to use the site. If you intend to monetize it in any way, a paid plan will give you a higher level of professionalism and insight.
However, if you plan to use the site for a personal blog, a portfolio, or another non-monetized purpose, a free site builder is a great option. Paid plans are expensive, and only really worth it if the financial returns from the site outweigh the costs of maintaining its subscription every month. A free builder can help you grow a following on your fledgling blog or enable a passion project. Whatever you choose, picking the right website builder based on your goals is an essential first step in making your dream website a reality.