I often hear business owners or freelancers wondering whether they need a website. The answer is yes, you do. For one thing, your website is your business’s home online. It’s the first thing people see when they interact with your business. And your choice of website builder greatly impacts this first interaction. Plus, migrating a website to a different platform is just annoying, so finding a great builder from the start saves you time and money in the long term.
You want to provide users with the highest quality possible. This is especially important if you have a subscription or community, But it also matters for content management and functionality.
Another thing to consider is that websites are often a big investment. And they’re made to last for years with minimal changes. As a result, you’ll be working with this software for years to come. Your choice of website builder also includes a subscription (generally annual or monthly), so that cost is something you need to keep in mind.
So let’s dive into what you need to know before picking a builder for your small business website.
First things first: What is a website builder?
Put simply, a website builder is a place where you make a website. But there’s so much that goes into picking one that you’re better off doing your research before you get to the fun stuff.
To start, many popular website builders are no-code platforms. This means that you’re building a website by adding and removing elements that someone else coded. You’re usually going to use a template for this, and there’s some level of customization depending on your skill and the platform’s flexibility.
On the other end, you have custom code websites. These are often a big investment and you’ll need to work with a developer who specializes in your niche. For example, it’s not the same to build an e-commerce website as it is to build a simpler portfolio website.
If you go with a custom code website, your website’s maintenance will also be more expensive than if you go with a DIY builder since your developer will likely need to do any updates or changes.
What to look for when choosing a website builder for small business or freelancing
Ease of use
No matter if you’re DIYing or hiring a designer for your website, I’d recommend you at least know the basics of the platform you’re choosing. Updating blogs, editing or creating landing pages, and fixing errors are all things you could pick up fairly easily with the right builder.
Cost also factors in here. If you need to ping your designer every time you need a small tweak, it can get expensive quickly.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, means optimizing your content and overall website so it shows up on Google search results.
SEO can be split into on-page and off-page SEO. There’s also technical SEO, or the backend of your website, which includes metadata, sitemaps, and page elements among others.
Three things that influence your SEO (besides your content) are:
- Loading speed: A clunky website with poor design will usually load more slowly. This affects user experience and can mean a higher bounce rate and negative feedback that can cause you to rank low (or not at all) on search results.
- Accessibility: Does your website have alt text on all images? Are the colors contrasting enough for people with visual impairments? Google takes these into account in its search to provide accessible solutions to anyone surfing the web.
- Responsive design: A website that looks and works great on any device will usually outrank one that only works on desktop. Google has prioritized mobile-first indexing for years now, which means that a website must first look good on mobile because people are using their smartphones more than ever before.
A great builder for small business will address all of these aspects and make it easy to create an SEO-friendly website.
Another key aspect of SEO is your content. One of the things I love about Showit is that blogging is done through WordPress, which is commonly preferred for SEO. With Showit, you can also use Yoast and other plugins, just like you would on a WP site. On the flip side, other platforms have their own blogging setup which may not be so great.
As I mentioned above, responsive design is super important for your website. Not only does it help with your SEO, but it means you’re providing the best experience for your visitors regardless of where they are.
The thing is that many builders focus on desktop design. And translating that to mobile can be tricky. For instance, a lot of people using Astra (for WordPress) have trouble with this.
To prevent design issues, go with a builder that allows you to customize your mobile design in the same way that you do desktop design, rather than simply making desktop views smaller to fit a mobile screen.
While we’re on the topic of design, your website needs to be beautiful and functional. So another big element to consider is, can you find a beautiful design that fits your small business needs while still looking great?
Drag-and-drop website builders rely on templates to make the building process easy for the user. So you want to go with a platform whose templates have the look and feel you’re after. And you want to get your templates from a reputable, accredited source to keep your investment safe.
At Just Add Moxie, we design Showit website templates and Jessica is a trusted Showit design partner with a proven track record of functional design and excellent customer service. No matter what platform you’re after, always go directly to the source to find the best talent for your website.
This may not be a concern if you sell services rather than products. But if you have a shop or visual blog, you need a platform and theme that supports high-quality imagery without affecting your website speed.
Some website builders use something called lazy loading, which means things in the background (outside of your screen) don’t load until right before they’re supposed to display. This is great for websites with lots of (or really big) images.
You also need to consider that most platforms limit the weight and size of your files. For instance, Shopify recommends 2048 x 2048 px for optimal performance. For Showit, the recommendation is 3500px on the larger side.
If you sell products or plan on doing transactions through your website, this is super important when picking a builder. You want to make sure that whatever platform you choose can integrate with payment systems and do everything a store needs (stock, availability, sales/promotions, etc).
For Showit, there are many ways to integrate a store, including linking it to a Shopify store or WooCommerce.
If you’re selling digital products or work in this space, you may have heard of Podia, which also integrates with Showit.
If you’re not planning on selling anything, then this doesn’t really apply. But you may want to keep it in mind for potential opportunities down the line, like product lines or packaged offers.
As I mentioned above, your website is a long-term investment. You’ll be paying a monthly or yearly subscription for as long as you have it live. So this cost is definitely worth considering.
I’m listing prices last because I believe you should consider what’s best for your business in terms of functionality before thinking about the cost. Although of course, your budget — your pick.
The most popular drag-and-drop website builders for small business owners and freelancers
Shopify is the builder of choice for most people who work with e-commerce. Its stores are efficient, safe, and there are endless apps and integrations available for online stores.
Its biggest strengths
Shopify’s biggest strength is e-commerce functionality. It’s the go-to platform for online, product-based stores.
It also makes it easy to manage everything from one platform instead of dealing with several apps to run your business.
Why use it
A big plus of Shopify is that it is designed to run a business. So it has all kinds of apps and features for this purpose. You can easily find an app for affiliate marketing, reviews or testimonials, seamless checkout, and more within the Shopify environment.
Shopify is geared towards e-commerce, primarily physical product listings. So if you’re looking to sell a digital product, you need an additional setup to manage downloads and access. If you’re curious about how it works, visit this guide about digital products on Shopify.
Another potential con is that Shopify development can be expensive. A lot of automation and backend setup needs to happen for your store to look good.
As for pricing, the basic Shopify subscription is $29 a month, with a Shopify Lite option to integrate with your existing website on another platform for e-commerce functionality only (no hosting).
Squarespace is a common choice for freelancers because it’s relatively easy to use without a design background.
Its biggest strengths
There are tons of templates to pick from so you can probably find one that suits your brand and style.
It’s also easy to find a Squarespace designer to work with for more complex setups if you need extras.
Why use it
If you’re creating a portfolio or simple business website that doesn’t need a lot of setup, Squarespace could be a good pick. I wouldn’t recommend it for a community or even subscriptions because those functionalities are all dependent on add-ons
Squarespace updates are relatively frequent and tend to change things quite a bit. In 2021, they went from Squarespace 7.0 to 7.1, which included several changes to the building and design processes. For someone looking to manage their own site, this can be annoying as you’ll need to learn all the upgrades to keep your website functional.
For example, in the 2020 update, there’s no automatic content migration, so you’d have to move all your product and customer data manually if you decide to switch to the latest version.
On another note, Squarespace doesn’t automatically optimize your photos for mobile or website, which could hurt loading speeds.
For e-commerce, the shipping settings are limited to set characteristics (like overnight, ground, or expedited), but you can’t customize pricing for different items based on size or other features.
Designwise, it takes practice to get your website looking exactly the way you want. The process isn’t intuitive and you may be better off working with a pro.
Finally, in terms of pricing, Squarespace offers several tiers, with the lowest one (Personal) at $12 a month with limited resources. E-commerce goes up to $40 a month.
Showit is my favorite drag-and-drop builder for many reasons. For one, it integrates seamlessly with WordPress for blogging, as mentioned above. But beyond that, it’s easy to work with and customize once you get the hang of it. Its canvases make it easy to adapt any pages on your website and still keep a uniform look. Plus, it prioritizes mobile design in a way that few others do.
Its biggest strengths
Showit was initially thought for photographers, so image quality is amazing. Now, business owners in many niches use Showit because it is optimized for quick loading speeds, it’s great for SEO thanks to the WordPress blogging integration, and the design elements are nimble and easy to adapt.
With Showit, it’s also easy to set up e-commerce for your digital products. And on the design front, the flexibility of Showit is unlike any other builder. You can pretty much do anything you want by creating and moving your canvases (or sections) for a truly unique website, great news for those with a small business that don’t want a cookie-cutter online presence.
Why use it
If you’re starting out, Showit is your best bet. It’s easy to set up and get a truly customized website that’s beautiful on any screen, even with no past experience. And if you’re coming over to Showit from Squarespace, you’ll be amazed how much easier it is, since Squarespace design is very specific and tied to whatever template you start with.
Pricing for Showit starts at $19 per month for basic functionality and goes up if you want a blog (for which their support offers migration).
The basic plan for Showit is a bit more expensive than for Squarespace, so it depends on your budget.
Another potential con is that with freedom, comes more work. Since mobile and desktop design are separate, you’ll need to work on both. This can take extra time if you want a truly unique site. That said, I think it’s great you get to design them separately because your mobile experience will be amazing for visitors.
We couldn’t close this list without mentioning Wix. While I personally don’t recommend it, Wix is very popular among social media managers, marketers, and writers because it’s easy to set up and get started if you’re going DIY.
Its biggest strengths
Wix is the most affordable option on this list at $5 per month — no need to lock in a year ahead.
It’s easy to work with for less experienced users. That said, I’ve read countless stories of small business owners looking to migrate to other platforms, so keep that in mind. Remember, your business website is a long-term game, not a quick fix.
Why use it
Wix offers a free plan available. But it has no access to analytics, so it’s truly only helpful if you want to launch on a budget and plan on scaling later on.
Its ease of use comes at the cost of customizability. In Wix, design is not intuitive and you’re tied to whatever template you choose.
Also, there’s a lot of talk in the online world about Wix SEO not being the best. While I can’t attest to that, it’s worth keeping in mind. What I can say based on research is that there’s a lot of setup and backend tech for SEO on Wix to work properly.
The best website builder for a portfolio website for designers, photographers, and event planners
Showit was originally created for photographers, so its capabilities revolve around high-quality imagery. On top of that, template designs are optimized to give your visitor a great experience. Showit websites load fast and are easy to connect to e-commerce, courses, and other key features for online business owners.
As you know, Showit was designed for photographers, ie, portfolios. But that’s now changed — working in most niches, you can benefit from a Showit website. We’re definitely biased, but hosting a website on Showit is one of the best investments you can make for your business’s online presence if you’re a consultant, freelance service provider (designer, writer, illustrator, and more), or an event or wedding planner, among many other niches.