You’ve had a great idea for a website for a while and you’re finally ready to take the first steps to getting it built. Congratulations! But you’re a little worried about figuring out how to get started and, even more importantly, how to pay for building a new website.
The good news is that you no longer have to choose between spending a lot of money on a professional website designer or learning how to code to do it yourself. You can build a website all on your own with limited to no web design skills by using a website builder.
Even if your budget is especially limited, you can still find an inexpensive website builder that’s within your price range.
Should I Use a Free Website Builder?
Before we get into how to find a good affordable website builder, you may notice in your early research that there are actually some free website builders on the market. Even better than cheap ones, right?
Any company that offers a website builder has to make money in some way, so free website builders usually have trade offs or limitations that make them less useful than paying for an affordable website builder. There are a few common forms this takes:
- Ads – If they’re not making money from you directly, a website builder company may make their money by serving ads on your site. That could make your site look more cluttered and tacky, and distract your visitors from the messaging you want them paying attention to.
- Shared branding – In addition to serving ads, some website builders treat your website as a way to promote their brand. That could mean their logo somewhere on your page, or even right there in your URL, which would look something like yourname.theirname.com. This sets your own branding back by making it hard for visitors to differentiate you from the website builder’s brand and see your website as having a memorable, unique identity.
- Limited pages – This is a common limitation with free plans. In some cases, the most you can build on a free plan is a one-page website. That doesn’t give you much room to work with.
- Limited bandwidth – This is another big one. The amount of bandwidth you have affects how long your site takes to load and is especially an issue on sites that have media elements like audio, video, social media displays, or animation, which require more bandwidth to load. Visitors won’t wait around for a slow site to load, so if your website builder doesn’t offer enough or unlimited bandwidth, you’ll lose visitors because of it.
- Important features require a paid upgrade – For a lot of the companies that offer a free website builder plan, it’s a way to get your foot through the door so they can, eventually, convince you to upgrade to one of their paid plans. They do this by limiting the features in the free plan so that you’re likely to realize over time that actually you do need one of the paid plans.
If none of that sounds like an issue for you, keep in mind that there’s still a catch: for most of these free website builders, if you create a website and decide down the line you want to switch to a different website builder, you can’t take what you’ve already built with you. You’ll have to start from scratch.
If your website’s URL is a subdomain of the website builder’s URL (e.g. the yoursite.theirsite.com situation we described earlier), any visibility you’ve built for your initial website will be lost as well in the move to a new URL.
In other words, if your website is a personal passion project and you’re sure you won’t ever care about personal branding, ecommerce website options, or other brands’ ads on your site, then a free website builder could make sense. For everyone else, you’ll be better off starting with the right affordable website builder so you can stick with it as you grow.
How Much Do Affordable Website Builders Actually Cost?
Paying for a good website builder doesn’t have to break your budget. The most affordable website builders cost in the range of $4-$25 a month.
Most companies offer several web builder packages, so pay attention to how the costs and features compare for the different plans. If there are any features you’re okay without now, but you may want in coming years, be aware now what the cost of an upgrade will be. You don’t want to pick the option that seems the cheapest now, only to pay more over the long-term when you need to upgrade to a business website and switch out your basic plan.
Also pay attention to the deals you sign. In many cases, a lower cost comes with a longer-term commitment. That could be fine if you do enough research going in to be sure of your choice, but you don’t want to feel stuck with a website builder you don’t like because you agreed to a three-year commitment to save a couple of bucks a month.
What Features Should I Look for in an Inexpensive Website Builder?
When you’re weighing your options, be sure to consider the features each website builder has to offer, not just the cost. The cheapest plans may be missing key features you need, especially if you run a business website, and paying just a little bit more could get a website builder with all the functional benefits you need both now and in the long term. While there are many benefits of using a simple website builder, it’s still important that you outline your future site goals so you choose the best website builder plan for your future.
Here are some of the top features to consider when browsing different website builders.
To start, there are a few features you definitely don’t want to skimp on. Consider these a necessity when perusing your options. A website builder that doesn’t offer them won’t provide what you need for a successful website.
- Ease of use – If you have to spend hours learning how to use a new website builder, then it’s not providing a great value—even if it didn’t cost much. Your time is worth something too. Look for a website builder that boasts drag-and-drop functionality and intuitive editing tools. Ideally, you should be able to jump right in and start building your website the same day you purchase.
- Educational resources – While a good website builder shouldn’t require you to spend much time learning the ropes, a good library of educational resources (tutorials and articles) will ensure that you know all the different features available, are able to make the most of them, and have access to easy answers whenever you have a question.
- Customer Support – Just as importantly, any time you run into confusion and need assistance from an actual human being, you should be able to trust someone will be available and helpful at the moment you need them. Check that your website builder offers customer service and has a good reputation for it.
- Website Templates – Building a website with a website builder usually starts with design templates. By having a well designed starting point, all the other changes you make come much easier. And having a good looking template to start with really makes a difference in the quality of the end result. Look for a website builder that offers multiple templates for you to choose from, and you’ll have no problem creating a beautiful site.
- Mobile-friendly compatibility – People now do more of their browsing on mobile devices than on their computers, which is exactly why you need a mobile responsive website. If your website does not have a responsive design, you’ll lose visitors. Plain and simple. For a website that all your visitors can interact with, go with a website builder that makes it easy to make your website mobile friendly.
Along with the essentials, there’s a good chance you’ll want your website builder to offer some useful additional options. These won’t necessarily be required for all websites, but they’ll be important for some to have and useful for others.
- Multiple pages – Before you choose a website builder, consider how many pages you’ll want your website to have. And not just right now, will you need room for it to grow in the months and years to come? Some of the most affordable website builder plans put a limit on the number of pages you can create. That will be fine for some sites, but become a big problem for others.
- Custom domain – Most website builders that you pay for will offer the option of having a custom domain. With many, you’ll need to pay separately for the domain name, but some will include it in the cost. Confirm if you’ll be able to use a custom domain at all, and whether or not you should anticipate it costing extra.
- SEO (search engine optimization) features – Creating a website is one thing, getting people to see and interact with it is another. If you care about people finding your website, then you should start thinking about SEO now. Check for helpful SEO features that make it easy to perform on-site optimization for your pages (customizing the fields that matter to Google, such as your URL, title, and image tags).
- Media features – Will your website ever include media like audio or video? If so, make sure the website builder you choose is set up for the bandwidth those feature require and make it easy to load them to your site.
- Security features – Hackers abound, which is why you must protect your website from hackers at all costs. If your website isn’t secure, you risk hackers taking it over or stealing sensitive information your customers provide you. Security features like an SSL certificate or compatibility with security hardware are crucial if you’ll be accepting payment information through your ecommerce store, and are still useful to have if you’re not.
- E-commerce functionality – Will you be using your website to sell items on an online store? If so, a website builder that allows you to add a shopping cart and secure checkout process is a must.
Your costs when investing in a website builder will have a lot to do with which of these features you need, and which you can easily live without. Even if you need some advanced features though, you can still save money when looking for an inexpensive website builder.
4 Ways to Save Money When Investing in a Website Builder
If looking at your options still has you worried about the costs of getting the website builder you need, there are some potential ways to make the money you spend go further.
1. Only pay for what you need.
If your website will be fairly simple and you don’t expect much traffic from day one (most people won’t get a lot of traffic right away), then you don’t need to invest in a high-level website builder plan with lots of different features. Figure out what features you actually need now, and find the most affordable website builder that offers those.
But do also consider the features you anticipate needing in the coming years as you grow, and consider the cost of future upgrades when making your decision. The most affordable option for the long term may be different than the one that’s cheapest for right now, and you may be better off spending a little more now to save later.
2. Look for bundles or packages.
Some website builders include other services you’ll need in the price. For example, HostGator’s website builder comes with free web hosting—something every website requires to go live on the web. Web hosting is another monthly cost, so saving that money pays off for you in the long term.
Similarly, if a website builder package allows you to register a domain name for free or includes free ecommerce features, that could save you money on services you’d be paying extra for anyways. Pay attention to what’s included in the website builder packages you consider before making a final decision.
3. Wait for specials.
Like any other type of business, the companies that provide website builders often offer specials and sales. Making your purchase at the right time could earn you a discount. Often these fall at the times of year that sales are common for other companies, like Black Friday, Labor Day, or Memorial Day.
If you have your eye on a particular website builder, or a few, sign up for the company’s email list so you’ll be alerted if the company’s plans go on sale.
Many website builders offer referral or affiliate programs, so you may be able to score a discount at any time of year if you have a friend that’s a current customer or you learn about the website builder from an affiliate who provides a discount code. And you can save money on your renewals over time by taking advantage of those programs yourself and sharing your discount code with others.
4. Pay for a couple of years upfront.
Many website builders offer a different monthly price to customers that sign up for a long-term commitment. If you’re not entirely sure about the website builder you choose, this option could be risky.
But if you’re confident you’ll be sticking with your website builder for years to come, then agreeing to be a customer for one, two, or three years and paying upfront can save you a considerable percentage versus paying month to month and reserving the right to cancel at any time.
Get Started with an Affordable Website Builder
You could easily spend weeks studying up on all the different features and options available in different website builders. Or you can cut the process short by checking out HostGator’s website builder to see if it matches everything you need. If you have any questions about how it all works and what’s included, our support team is available 24/7 to provide answers. And you won’t have to worry about finding and buying web hosting separately, as it comes included (and from one of the most well respected web hosting companies out there).
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.