what is a website builder

Building a website used to require learning how to code, but those days are in the past. Now, anybody can easily create a new website using a website builder.

Whether you own a small business or you are looking to create your own blog, website builders make it so you don’t have to hire a web designer to have a professionally designed site. If you are wondering, “What is a website builder?” you have come to the right place. 

But, hearing that website builders are easy to use doesn’t mean you just automatically know what a website builder is, or how one works.

Website builders make it easy for users to make their own website with little effort or coding skills. By using this platform, anyone can achieve a professionally designed site without using a web designer. 

If you’re ready to get your website off the ground, but are stuck at the step of figuring out how to use a website builder, we walk you through the main steps you need to know. 

3 Main Types of Website Builders 

Across the board, website builders are designed to help people create websites without having to use code. But the way different builders do that varies. In your search for the right website builder, you’ll come across three main types to consider:

  1. Drag-and-drop website builders
  2. Content management systems (CMS) like WordPress
  3. Smart website builders 

1. Drag-and-drop website builders 

Drag-and-drop website builders work by providing you with a number of templates to choose from, then letting you use a website editor to customize the template to your preferences. The name refers to the fact that you can move elements around on the page by clicking on the element and dragging it to where you want it to go. For most people, this is an intuitive option for making your website look the way you want. 

Drag-and-drop website builders vary in terms of cost based on which one you choose, but are generally affordable. They’re easy to use, and most people will be able to make a website that looks good quickly with one. They do place some limitations on how much you can customize your website though, so if you have a really specific idea of what you want it to look like, this option may not be for you.  

2. Content management systems 

Content management systems (CMS) are a type of software designed to make it relatively easy to create, edit, organize, and publish content online. Even if you haven’t heard the term before, you’ve probably heard of the most famous content management system: WordPress.

A CMS will typically be harder to learn and use than other types of website builders, but they’re more powerful and offer more options for customization. 

The most popular content management systems are free and open source, but you’ll often end up paying for related features like themes and plugins. A CMS is a good choice for someone who wants their website to look a particular way and have a specific set of features. But you do need to be willing to either spend the time required to learn how to create a website with a CMS, or hire someone to do it for you,  

3. Smart website builders 

AI-powered smart website builders take the speed and ease of use that drag-and-drop builders offer and ramp it up a notch. With a smart builder, instead of starting with a template, you start with a short questionnaire. Input some basic information on the type of website you’re building and what you want it to look like, and the website builder will automatically generate a website for you. 

With most of the work done, you can then go on in and add your original copy and images, and make any tweaks to the website design the tool provided. Smart website builders vary in price, but are mostly fairly affordable for small businesses. If fast and easy are your main priorities, this is a smart (😉) choice.  

Other Types of Website Builders You May Encounter 

The website builders you see will typically fall into one of those three main categories, but you may see website builders described in some other terms as well. These will generally have some overlap with our main three types, but may refer to a specific feature or plan option. 

  • What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) builder – That acronym can look pretty intimidating the first time you see it. This simply means any website builder where what the website looks like when you’re in editing mode is the same as how it will look when published.  
  • eCommerce website builder – Building an eCommerce website is a specific need that requires certain features other websites don’t need. If you plan to include a store as part of your website and/or accept payment through it, make sure the website builder you choose has this option.  
  • Mobile website builders – You won’t usually find a website builder that’s mobile only, but most website builders available today should offer options for working on your website both on desktop and mobile devices. If this is an option you consider a priority, make sure the one you choose works well on mobile devices.  
  • Free website builders – You’re not a bazillionare, so saving money is always tempting. And there are absolutely free website builders out there. But you should know that choosing a free option always comes with tradeoffs. Your website will include the branding of the website builder on it, and the website builder will likely lack some pretty basic features in the hopes of getting you to shell out for an upgrade. Most website owners are better off looking for an affordable website builder to go with. 

8 Steps to Use a Website Builder

Each website builder will work a little differently. To learn the unique details of using the particular website builder you choose, you’ll want to consult the company’s educational materials. 

But most of the main website builders available today have some similarities in how they work. These eight steps will cover the basics. 

1. Choose your website builder. 

There are a lot of different website builders on the market, so you have options. Wading through the available choices can be overwhelming. But the good news is that you can find an affordable website builder today that packs the functionality you need to create a professional-looking website. 

Look for a website builder that offers:

  • Ease of use – You should be able to use it from day one without a steep learning curve. Look for drag-and-drop functionality and a website editor designed for beginners. Because of the user-friendly interface and tools, business owners and bloggers alike can easily get their site up and running in no time.
  • Customer support – The moment you need help, you want to know you can reach out to someone willing and equipped to provide it.
  • Mobile compatibility – Having a mobile-friendly website is no longer optional. A good website builder will make it easy to create a website that looks good on mobile.
  • Affordability – On average, website builders cost $4-$25 a month. Figure out your budget, so you select one you can afford over the long term. 

Once you’ve selected your website builder, check out what educational resources the company provides to help you get up to speed on learning it. They likely offer YouTube tutorials or a tour to walk you through all the features. Taking a few minutes to review those resources on day one will make the process of building your site easier.  

2. Get your basic design into place.  

OK, at first this sounds like a big step. But with website builders, this part is actually easy!  

If you selected a smart website builder, all you need to do here is answer the initial questions the website builder asks and it will create a basic design for you. If you’re using a drag-and-drop website builder, all you’re doing here is choosing a template. And if you went with a CMS like WordPress, you’re looking for a theme you like.  

In all three cases, once you’ve completed this step, you’ll have the basic structure and design of your website in place. Then all you have to do is tweak what’s already there to bring it in line with your vision for your site. 

3. Choose your website color scheme.

If you use the Gator website builder, this step will actually be part of the set of questions you encounter when you’re getting your initial design in place. But it’s an important enough part of the look your website will have that it’s worth putting some thought into. The colors you choose will be one of the defining visual features of your website. 

Thoughtfully consider which main colors you want your website to display. If you don’t have much experience creating a color scheme, there are free tools and websites that help you identify colors that look good together. Gator offers suggestions of color schemes that go well together to make selection easier.

But if you’re using another type of website builder, you can make use of resources like Coolers, which is an automatic color scheme generator. You pick a color you like, and it will rotate in different colors to show you how they look together. Canva also has a color wheel tool that lets you select a color you like, and see suggestions for colors that look good with it. 

canva color wheel tool for websites

These resources all provide HTML color codes for the colors you select (the six-digit number and letter combo), so you should have no problem finding the colors within your website builder once you’ve decided which to go with. 

4. Determine what pages to add to your website.

Figure out what pages your website needs. Most websites will want at least a home page and about page. If your website is for a business, you’ll want to add pages for each of the services you offer or products you sell. If you’re starting a site to share your content with the world, add a blog or visual gallery. 

Create a plan for the specific pages you want to include on your website, and determine which are the most important. Your priority pages need to be especially easy for visitors to navigate to, which usually means including them on the main menu which shows up on every page of your website. 

For most types of website builders, once you have a page created in a style you like, you can start on new pages by duplicating the one you have. Your new page will maintain the color scheme and any other details you filled in on your first page.  

5. Upload your images to the website builder.

Some of the images on your template may work just fine for your purposes, but chances are, you’ll need to load in some images of your own to make the site truly yours. 

Finding relevant, high-quality images can be challenging, whether you’re starting a blog or building a business website. That’s why in Gator, you can tap into a free library of stock images to make this part easier. The images are helpfully divided into categories so you can more easily hone in on the ones relevant to your site.  

gator website builder free stock images library

6. Add text and copy to your pages.

The template, theme, or smart design you’re working from will probably have some generic copy included as a place filler.  While there are parts of your template it’s okay to keep, the copy it comes with is not one. Each page of your website needs to have original copy that communicates something about your brand.  

Some best practices to keep in mind when writing copy for your website are:

  • Prioritize your audience. It’s tempting to make your website copy all about you, but your site will resonate more with your visitors if you think about their needs first. That doesn’t mean your copy won’t communicate what you do (that’s kind of the point), but try to frame it in a way that focuses on how what you do helps solve their problems or make their lives better. 
  • Figure out your unique positioning. Take a little time to research other websites doing something similar to yours. Now think: what makes yours different?  That’s your unique value proposition. Highlight what makes you special in your website copy, so visitors know why to stick around. 
  • Learn search engine optimization (SEO) basics. Search engine optimization (SEO) is how you increase your chances of ranking in the search engines when people look for what your website offers. Before you write your website copy, it’s worth learning the basics of SEO so you can incorporate best practices for on-site optimization into what you write on each page.

To change out your copy in Gator Website Builder, click on a text box on the page, highlight the text that’s there and either type out what you want to say in the box or paste in text that you’ve already written elsewhere. You can also choose the style and size of the font in the menu that shows up when you click on the text.

edit text with hostgator website builder

7. Explore other features of the website builder. 

When most of us visit a website, the main things we notice are the copy and images. But each page typically includes a number of other elements. Some common examples are:

  • Buttons 
  • Social links
  • Contact forms
  • Embedded maps
  • Embedded videos

Most website builders will make these easy to add to your pages.

Spend some time trying out the different options your website builder offers, so you gain a strong understanding of your options and how to work with each one. This will make it easier to make the website work the way you want, and will come in handy as you make updates to it down the line. 

8. Test your website with the website builder “Preview” function.

Before you publish your website, you want to make sure it looks good. Any good website builder will have a Preview function, and some also provide an option for previewing how your site looks on mobile. 

Go through your website thoroughly in preview mode. Test out every link. Proofread all your copy—you don’t want to let sloppy typos slip through. Make sure everything looks the way you want it to on both desktop and mobile. 

Once you’re confident your website is done, click that Publish button! 

Anyone Can Use a Website Builder

The point of website builders is to make it possible for anyone to create a website. Even if you’re a total newbie when it comes to website design, you can take advantage of website templates that were built by skilled designers and a visual editor designed to be intuitive for beginners. Website builders make it possible to carve out your unique space on the web and make it look just the way you want it to. 

Ready to get started? Check out Gator Website Builder and our web hosting services now to start building your dream website.

Casey is the Senior Director of Marketing for Hosting and has been in the web hosting space for 7 years. He loves the slopes and hanging out with his kids.