I am a WordPress guy through-and-through. I have used it almost every day, and made the majority of my living from it, for over 13 years. If you sliced me in half, you would probably find the WordPress logo running through my spine.
So, friends are sometimes surprised when they come to me for advice on setting up a website, and I suggest that WordPress is not the best fit for their needs. In fact, I reckon that about half of the existing WordPress sites I come across should not be WordPress sites.
With WordPress running almost one-third of the websites in existence today, this means that millions of people are wasting significant amounts of time unnecessarily maintaining, updating and securing WordPress sites.
What Are The Alternatives to WordPress?
In the same way that the mere existence of the iPhone forced other smartphones to improve, the WordPress focus on ease of installation and use forced competing technologies to massively up their game over the past decade. The excellence of the website creation options we have available to us today is in large part thanks to the example set by WordPress.
There are many alternative CMS’s that, like WordPress, can be installed on your own hosting but none lessen the maintenance burden. If you are going to install a CMS, the dominance of the WordPress eco-system of products and services almost always makes it the right choice.
For situations where friends are looking for a relatively simple site, however, one that looks good, that will be easy to setup, and which performs that basic function of conveying information and gathering information, they should not be installing anything.
Today, the vast majority of people who have not spent time learning the intricacies of WordPress, and who do not enjoy dicking around with this stuff the way that we techies do, should go directly to a hosted website builder.
A hosted site builder is a “web app”, meaning that it is software that you interact with on their website. You create an account, log in and start designing your website, which will live on their servers.
The 12 Main Advantages of Hosted Website Builders
- These products live or die based on how quickly they allow regular, non-techie folks to achieve impressive results.
- Their entire support operation is optimized to help those folks.
- No updates – the creators implement improvements in the background without you ever needing to be aware of it. You can focus entirely on creating your content.
- The code is precisely optimized for the features they provide, whereas most CMSs are architected to cater to a vast range of possible uses.
- The best hosted website builders include a range of well-designed themes designed for their system, avoiding any compatibility problems.
- Browsing to find the right theme is a lot easier than searching through the WordPress.org theme repository, and the general aesthetic standard tends to be far higher.
- Although the themes are equivalent in quality to the best paid WordPress themes, the cost is all included.
- No more keeping track of plugin and theme subscription renewals!
- Unlike a system based upon third-party plugins, the creators of a hosted site builder take direct responsibility for all the features and design.
- Their servers are exclusively optimized for that code and far more secure than a general purpose server with multiple system-level user accounts
- The cost of hosting is built into the cost of the product.
- While you lose the total flexibility of WordPress (which, again, is just not necessary for the majority of actual websites), some of the more advanced website builders offer a surprising range and depth of integration with many of the services that most site owners find useful.
Choosing a Hosted Website Builder
Once you decide to use a hosted site builder, you are then confronted with a huge variety of options, it is a real headache to figure out which one you should use. There are a few big names who have endlessly marketed themselves; if you listen to podcasts you are doubtless sick of hearing about Squarespace.
Naturally, if you choose a heavily marketed website builder you end up paying for all that marketing, and they want your credit card right from the start, they will not give you time first to experiment and figure out if it is the right solution for you.
For me, a generous level of free usage is vital. If I am going to recommend a service to friends, I want them to have as much time as they need to properly get to grips with it before they are asked to provide their credit card.
Sure, once they are actually getting value from the service, no problem, they can pay, but I have been in too many situations where I lazily recommended SquareSpace. Then, a few months later, I remember to ask how it went only to discover that they diligently went off, gave their credit card and have been paying but have not got around to doing anything with it yet.
Seriously, screw that. It makes me feel bad because I am the one who recommended it.
So, in this article, we will take a look at a free website builder that gives you a comprehensive set of features, for as long as you want, and allows you to build your entire website before you have to give your credit card or pay a penny.
The Site123 website builder has all the advantages discussed above, and a few more that we will discuss below. They make their money by selling subscription plans but are confident enough in their product that they allow you to use it for free until you want to assign your own domain to your site.
My Experience with the Site123 Website Builder
I signed up at Site123.com and published a site in under two minutes, including the time it took me to follow the introductory tour. My published site appeared on a subdomain of their Site123.me domain, visible to anyone in the world. It looks professional, and the only indication that I did not hire a design agency is the footer message saying that it was built using Site123, something you can remove when you upgrade to a paid plan.
On the backend, you have an easy point-and-click interface that allows a surprising level of control over the structure, the look, the content and the search engine optimization.
The controls are to the left while, on the right, you have your site, which refreshes every time you make a change. You can click on any page element to edit or reconfigure it, and it comes pre-loaded by all the little features that you would want your website to have, such as social icons, maps and contact forms that, with WordPress, you would have to go off and find plugins for.
The whole thing is very well thought-out and I reckon that none of my friends would have any problem figuring out what to do. Well, come to think of it, my friend Barry might have some problems but, to be fair, he has just hasn’t been quite right since he got hit on the head by that golf ball last year.
Rather than go into too much detail here, you can go off and try it for yourself, it is certainly interesting to experience and you can get straight into it, very quick sign up.
I have to admit, I was under the impression that hosted website builders might be far more limited than WordPress, but you get an impressive array of features, and all without installing a single plugin!
You can visit the Site123 Features page but you can get a quick idea from this screenshot:
I was also surprised to see just how many integrations there are with well-known services in the Site123 App Market. These services equip you to operate your site in smarter, more sophisticated ways:
Real-World Websites Built with Site123
You can find 73 impressive websites used by real people and businesses at the Site123 examples page but, to give you a quick sense of what is possible, I will show a few nice examples from different categories.
This is the best category to start with because you might be surprised that a hosted website builder is capable of creating stylish stores with advanced functionality. The visual styling of the e-commerce themes feels spacious and confident, I particularly like the way in which the basket slides out from the side.
Before we look at two nice online store examples, I should mention that there is an entire Site123 Stores section of their site that explains more about the available e-commerce functionality. If you know anyone who is considering opening an online store, be sure to have them check if this might an option that can get them up and running within hours, not weeks:
Photography – Nayel Seoudi
Wedding Planner – My Perfect Wedding
Restaurant – La Casona
You can continue to build your site for free, using the subdomain URL provided, until you decide you want your site to have its own domain, or until you decide you want to start processing sales.
The paid plan is $14 per month or $117.60 if you pay for a year, which works out to $9.80 per month.
For online stores, the pricing is more complicated and based on usage, with a minimum term of 3 months, with substantial price reductions and a free domain (for only 1 year) for the longer terms of one, two and three years.
3 Months Online Store
One Year Online Store
Two Years Online Store
Three Years Online Store