What is a website builder?

Easy website building with software

Website builder written with black marker
(Image: © Shutterstock/TierneyMJ)

The best website builder is exactly what it sounds like - an online or an offline app that helps you build a top-tier website. In the past, building websites involved quite a bit of coding, choosing the best web hosting provider, then constructing something complex like an ecommerce portal. 

Those days are long gone thanks to website builders, which are perfect for individuals and small businesses to put together a website without hiring the services of a web developer.

Why use a website builder?

It has been and still is the case that experienced web developers prefer to start out with a website builder. That’s because these web development tools can help build websites in a fraction of the time it requires to hand code one. 

Even if you are well versed in the languages of the web, namely HTML, CSS (opens in new tab), JavaScript (opens in new tab), using a website builder reduces the chances of making a mistake. You don’t have to worry about keeping track of HTML tags or making sure all the elements in the page are aligned correctly.

Besides helping you save time in coding a website, most website builders have a huge portfolio of templates that helps you select a visual appearance for your website. Instead of brainstorming and coding different appearances, you can spend time on customizing a template to suit your requirements.

Also, website builders are way cheaper than hiring a web developer and there's a flurry of free website builder providers and cheap website builder deals out there.

WordPress CMS on a laptop, tablet and phone

(Image credit: WordPress)

Types of website builders

There are several website builders to choose from. While each has their strong points and weaknesses, you can broadly classify them into two categories -- offline and online website builders.

Offline website builders are desktop apps that you download and install on your computer, just like any other application. These give you the flexibility of working on your website, irrespective of whether you have access to the Internet or not. When you are done, all you need to do is upload all the files to a web hosting account and your website goes live. Popular offline website developers include Blocs, Rapidweaver, and Pinegrow Web Editor.

Then there are online website builders that are web-based and don’t need any installation. All you need is a modern web browser and a connection to the Internet. Thanks to this convenience, online website builders are quite popular especially since many of them offer as much flexibility and features as their offline peers. Popular examples of online website builders are WordPress.com, Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, and more.

Wix logo on orange background with spotlight effect

(Image credit: Wix)

How do online website builders work?

Website builders, especially online ones can help you construct an entire website without writing any code. While they all differ in terms of features, they all follow the same workflow and offer users the ability to build websites simply by dragging and dropping elements as and where required.

You’ll begin by browsing their list of templates and selecting the one that best suits your needs.  Some website builders have a library of a dozen or so templates while others offer hundreds categorized based on the type of website you want to put together.

The templates will usually come with several built-in elements that you’ll then have to edit as per your requirements. Besides the visual elements, the templates will also have some generic text that you’ll again need to replace with your own writeup. 

After modifying the template as per your requirements, most website builders will also allow you to rearrange the various elements, simply by dragging them from their original location and dropping them to the desired position. 

As you get more comfortable, you should also make use of the website builder’s ability to add new elements and widgets to the template. Most tools allow you to add images, videos, contact forms, social sharing buttons, and more. Usually each of these add-on elements offer additional customization options once you’ve added them to your website. 

This can be especially important when in comes to website builders for photographers, portfolio website builders, and even website builders for musicians.

Things to look for in a website builder

Like we’ve mentioned before, there’s no dearth of website builders to choose from. As a general principle you’ll want a tool that strikes the perfect balance between cost and functionality. Here are some of the aspects you need to consider when you’re out shopping for a website builder:

1. Ease of use: The entire point of using a website builder is for its user friendliness. Not all tools are built equally though and some will offer more conveniences than others. Look for website builders that pitch themselves to beginners and advertise the use of drag-and-drop functionality for many of the common tasks. 

2. Templates and customizations: Look for website builders that offer a large selection of templates, since it’ll be easier to start with a preset foundation that you can then customize. Many users fear that websites built with templates might look too similar to each other, which is why you need a tool that allows you to customize a lot (if not all) the elements in a template. 

3. Easy to update: While this one depends on the type of website you are building, most websites have some form of dynamic content that needs to be updated at regular intervals. This is why it is important to make sure your website builder makes it easy for you to add and change up the content on your website.

4. Mobile compatibility: With an increasing number of users accessing the web from portable devices, it’s imperative that your website renders well on their limited screen real-estate. Keep your eyes peeled for website builders that make it easy for you to create a website that looks good on mobile devices.

5. Specialized tools: If you are planning to launch an ecommerce shop, you’ll want your website builder to offer tools such as a shopping cart, and the ability to process payments. 

6. SEO tools and analytics: All the good website builders will integrate both these elements into the design and help you tinker with them as you build your website. From basic SEO tools such as keyword generators to integrating Google Analytics, the good website builders will help improve your website’s search page ranking and also help you better understand your visitors.

7. Affordability: There are website builders to suit all kinds of budgets. From free ones that offer limited functionality to paid ones that cost anywhere from $3/month all the way up to $25/month. You’ll have to pick one depending on your requirements and your budget.  There are also a number of free website builders (opens in new tab).

Once you’ve selected a website builder, spend some time browsing through its help and getting started documentation. Besides illustrated texts many website builders also put up easy to follow video tutorials to help familiarize you with their functionalities and features. While it can be tempting to get started immediately, we’ll advise you to spend some time and review these resources to make the process of building your site easier. 

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.