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Squarespace vs. Bandzoogle vs. Wix vs. Weebly vs. WordPress…What’s the Best Website Builder?

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Most music companies around America participated in #TheShowMustBePaused movement and gave their employees the day off to do THE WORK. But some did not.  Last Saturday I attended the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Los Angeles. It was very inspiring. For the first hour in Pan Pacific Park right by CBS studios and The Grove (and Canter’s Deli - my favorite), we listened to speeches by black community members. Namely, we heard from family members of people who had been killed by the LAPD and have yet to see justice. We all said their names together over and over again. There were so many names I didn’t know. 
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

Every small business needs a website. Similarly, every musician needs a website.

If you’re doing it right, you’re operating your career like you are running a small business. Yes, Facebook is great and you should probably have a Page there. And yes, Instagram is the hottest thing right now. But you own your website. You can track who visits your website. You can target people who visit your website via Facebook ads (wahhhh really?! Yes really!).

Your website is where all official information needs to live. You should have a hidden press page (or EPK) or just a basic page for press with music, videos (live and music videos), press quotes, tour dates, bio, current press releases, social stats and anything else you’d put on a One Sheet.

The website is how someone can get a solid understanding of who you are and what you’re about from the top down.

Most websites these days aren’t as ‘living’ as they once were. Meaning, most people don’t have blogs anymore. Or update their websites other than with tour dates, new songs and new press. It’s the calling card. Not the living, breathing lifeblood of your project.

If people want to get a FEEL for you, they find you on the social sites and interact with you there.

You should have an email signup on your website. Yes, building Instagram and Spotify followers is great. Yeah Facebook Likes are still a currency people are looking at. But you don’t own your followers over there. You rent them to the social platforms. Once you have their email address (or phone number) you now OWN them. Well, can contact them directly. Facebook’s engagement rate is around 1-2%. Average email open rates are around 24%. And conversion rates (getting them to buy stuff) are WAY higher via email.

A website is still important. However you don’t need to hire someone to make it for you. Not anymore.

[ab1]

I’ve been through my fair share of web developers and they are the most frustrating people on the planet – and my brother is one! (Love you Micah!)

They typically take on way more projects than they can handle. Charge an arm and a leg. Are super technical when we’re artsy. And the worst part about it, even if they make you the perfect site, you’ll need to update it and it’ll take them 3 months to get around to it.

So, my recommendation is do NOT work with web developers until you can afford one on retainer. But, honestly, with the website builders below, you don’t really need one.

I dug in deep with these website builders below. My team actually built full websites on EACH platform to understand the intricacies of each builder. Yes, we really did. And it took a while!

–>Full disclosure, I’ve used Bandzoogle and Squarespace for my own stuff (ariherstand.com is a Bandzoogle site and brassrootsdistrict.com is a Squarespace site), so I’m most familiar with them. And Bandzoogle and CD Baby are or have been Ari’s Take partners (sponsors), but I’ve told them that just because they’re supporting Ari’s Take, it doesn’t get me to change my review on their services!

Just, FYI, all website builders are mobile friendly and/or responsive. What does this mean? Well, responsive sites are the best – meaning they look good on any device: desktop, tablet, phone, anywhere. It was a thing in like 2014 that many sites weren’t responsive/mobile friendly and it was super annoying because you had to pinch in and out to view websites on your phone. But now, every builder is making mobile friendly/responsive sites. So you don’t need to worry about that. I didn’t even add it to the comparison.

[ab2]

And nearly all the sites can add Google Analytics (which I HIGHLY recommend). Some have built-in analytics which are super convenient, but Google Analytics goes extremely deep with the data and usage (how much time users spent on which page). It’s good to have on there.

You must add Google Analytics manually though. So, set that up first!

Also, worth mentioning AND emphasizing. The easiest way to make your site look great is by starting with great, high quality photos and/or logos. A website builder is only as good as the content you give it. If your photos look awful, your site is going to look awful. Spend the money you were going to spend on a web developer on a professional photographer (and possibly graphic designer for your logo).

What is the best website builder? How can you create a website with no design, HTML or development experience?

Squarespace. vs. Wix. vs. Bandzoogle. vs. Weebly. vs. WordPress vs. Hostbaby vs. ReverbNation vs. Bandcamp

(In alphabetical order:)

 

Bandcamp logo

Bandcamp Website Builder Review:

So, Bandcamp isn’t technically a website builder like the rest are, BUT they have many similar features and some artists use their Bandcamp profile AS their website. I don’t recommend this, but you could use them as your merch store. And definitely as a digital download store. They also have a great Patreon-esque subscription service. Bandcamp is the only place where download sales continue to go UP. It started as merely a digital download store and has evolved into so much more. They now have a curated homepage and blog which acts as kind of a record store editorial section.

+Patreon Review – How To Make Money From Your Music on an Ongoing Basis

Bandcamp continues to be beloved by musicians and indie music fans.

BEST:

  • Internal music promotion (on their blog/homepage)
  • Private streaming/sharing built in
  • Download store
  • Merch store
  • Album pre-orders
  • Discount/Coupon code offers
  • Subscription/Membership service (fans pay monthly for access)
  • No Bandcamp branding anywhere on your page

WORST:

  • Very limited website-building functionality (not recommended to build your entire site on)
  • No templates
  • Cannot change layout
  • High store commission (10-15%)
  • No live chat support
  • No phone support
  • Limited built-in visitor analytics
  • No File Manager (to store large files)
  • Limited email customer service support (took weeks for first reply)

+How To Turn Your Fans into Paying Subscribers (Bandcamp Subscription Service Review)

Bandzoogle logo

Bandzoogle Review

Bandzoogle is one of the most intuitive website builders out there. Up there with one of the easiest to use. It was originally built for musicians (started by a musician), but actually many comedians use Bandzoogle as well. Because they’re music-first, they have the best features for musicians and are constantly adding new ways to help musicians’ careers. Not to mention that there are really great people at Bandzoogle, especially Dave Cool (yes that’s his real name). I’ve had the pleasure of hanging them at music conferences all over the world. Their hearts are in the right place. I dig the culture of the company. When the company is lead by good people, you know that you’re not going to get screwed or taken advantage of.

A blessing and a curse that I know their platform so well and that I have used it so much is that I know very nuanced things with Bandzoogle – for better or worse. Like, I once sold tickets to a huge event I was holding. Great idea in theory, however, their internal sales numbers did not match up with the numbers I had in PayPal (how I took payment on the site). It was insanely frustrating to say the least. It took hours to cross check the Bandzoogle internal payment numbers with the PayPal numbers (we had hundreds of attendees). All their emails needed to get added to an RSVP sheet, etc etc. Needless to say, their store service ain’t perfect. But unless you’re doing hundreds of sales a month, you shouldn’t have any problems. And they may have worked out these kinks by now – this was a year ago.

BEST:

  • Very intuitive backend
  • Great-looking templates
  • No commission for built-in store
  • Music-first focus
  • Built-in analytics
  • Live chat support
  • Site-wide music player (can browse pages without stopping the music)
  • SoundScan reporting (when you sell music)
  • Sale pricing (on your store items)
  • Can sell tickets commission-free for shows
  • Inventory tracking
  • Album/merch pre-orders
  • Great customer service
  • Unlimited storage/file size for the File Manager with the ability to link to it (to be able to store any type of file – like you can in Dropbox).
  • They give Ari’s Take readers 15% off –click here to enable

WORST:

  • Store items don’t always match up with actual sales (always cross-check payment receipts)
  • No subscription service
  • No crowdfunding component
  • Built-in analytics are minimal
  • No discount codes for the store or affiliate tracking[ab3]

 

Hostbaby logo

Hostbaby Review:

Update 8/16/19: Bandzoogle is taking over Hostbaby. CD Baby is “winding down” Hostbaby. 

Hostbaby, as you might guess, is built by CD Baby. Like Bandzoogle, I’ve gotten to know the CD Baby team and they’re truly great people. I really dig the culture of CD Baby. Their distribution service is top notch.

+CD Baby vs. Tunecore vs. DistroKid vs. Symphonic vs. AWAL vs. Ditto vs. Stem vs. ReverbNation vs. OneRPM vs. RouteNote: Who is the best digital distribution company?

Their website builder leaves much to be desired. It seems like they haven’t really updated the platform in years. Literally. It’s super easy to make a Hostbaby site look god awful and the features are extremely minimal. You need some basic HTML knowledge and serious graphic design skills to really do what you want on Hostbaby and make it look good. The best part about Hostbaby is that you get free CD Baby distribution. Other than that, though, there really isn’t much else to talk about. It’s a product that is kind of sitting there dormant and I’m assuming they still keep it around because they have customers using it – as is.

BEST:

  • Free CD Baby distribution (5 albums/yr or unlimited releases for annual plan)
  • Phone support
  • Great customer support

WORST:

  • Design / layout aesthetic of templates
  • Easy to make your site look horrible
  • Not intuitive or user friendly
  • Backend is extremely outdated and difficult to use
  • No live chat support
  • No built in store
  • No built in analytics
  • No trial period without designating a domain
  • Domain transfer costs $10

Reverbnation logo

ReverbNation Site Builder Review:

It’s surprising to me that ReverbNation is still around. It is the platform that just never dies. They do a really good job at marketing to the very beginning musician. Or the (and I hate this term and use it lightly) ‘amateur’ musician. Not the professional musician. No professional artist I know (and I know a lot) use ReverbNation, but somehow they have ‘millions’ of users. No manager I know (and I know a lot!) uses ReverbNation for their artists. There are some great features ReverbNation offers, like Crowd Review (built by the AudioKite guys) and some of their opportunities that you can submit to are solid. But I struggle to see what their focus is as a company. I’ve really wanted them to turn things around for years and they never have.

+AudioKit Review: How To Objectively Pick Your Best Songs (Or Find Out If You Completely Suck)

Case in point, when we built our test site on ReverbNation for this review, we logged in via Facebook. Only after we added photos, songs, videos and shows did we realize that ReverbNation AUTOPOSTED every single addition to my personal Facebook profile. Like “Ari Herstand just added a photo.” “Ari Herstand just added a song” over and over and over and over again. I even went into the sharing section in ReverbNation and tried to turn it off. And I thought I did, but low and behold, when I added another photo to the website my personal Facebook got a notification “Ari Herstand just added a photo,” with, get this, NOT the photo, but ReverbNation’s logo.

That’s my biggest issue with ReverbNation: they brand EVERYTHING with ReverbNation. It’s not about musicians. It’s about ReverbNation.

They set everything, by default, to auto post ReverbNation branded content. And, by default, keep everything heavily branded ReverbNation. That ain’t cool. That’s why the professionals have left the building. They like to site “Imagine Dragons is on Reverbnation!” Well, yes, technically, but their profile hasn’t been updated in 8 years. And for the record, neither has mine.

I’m including them in this review because they have a website builder, called “Site Builder” and it comes up frequently when searching. They should spend less money marketing ReverbNation and more money on ways to turn their brand around.

BEST:

  • Lots of additional features for musicians for their monthly price

WORST:

  • All info is pulled from ReverbNation profile (must use ReverbNation)
  • Requires having a fully developed RN profile
  • No built in store
  • No ability to add in HTML code (or any customization)
  • No ability to link externally except for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube
  • Email signup requires using RN’s email list provider
  • No live chat support
  • No phone support
  • No built in analytics
  • Facebook Connect will auto post to your personal profile whether you like it or not
  • Extremely little customization options
  • Only 3 template options
  • Any social site linked will auto post (which is auto enabled)
  • Requires credit card for free trial[ab4]

Squarespace logoSquarespace Review:

Squarespace is one of the biggest players in this space. Their product is excellent. They are design-focused so all of their templates look sleek and fresh. Very modern. Very hip. If Wix is Windows, Squarespace is Apple…. But both platforms work on both Windows and Apple… Maybe that metaphor missed. Anyway! I really love Squarespace’s aesthetic. Beautiful sites. I’ve never seen a Squarespace site I didn’t like. Their backend can be a bit tricky and there is quite a steep learning curve to learn their system, but if you put in the time, you can make a really great looking website.

Because Squarespace is so popular, you can find support articles and videos for virtually anything you need to do.

BEST:

  • Design aesthetic
  • Lots of 3rd party integration
  • Live chat support
  • Robust built-in analytics
  • Lots of backend features
  • Great looking templates
  • Sale pricing for store

WORST:

  • Steep learning curve
  • No site-wide music player
  • Store takes commission (in addition to transaction fees)
  • File manager limited to 20MB files

weebly logo

Weebly Review:

Weebly has become a heavy hitter in the space. Weebly is extremely easy to use and the backend is intuitive. If you have some coding expertise you can customize the pages a bit. Weebly has pre-built page designs which are nice for non-designers and just want to leave it to the experts. If you’re going to be selling a lot on your website, Weebly has one of the best, albeit most expensive, store options. You can’t sell digital goods or get access to coupons or inventory management until the $300/year+ option.

Worth noting, there is a free option, but you have to have yourname.weebly.com Don’t do that. Pay for a custom domain. Have some self respect!

BEST:

  • Auto page layout creation tool
  • Robust store options
  • Chat and phone support
  • Built-in analytics
  • Subscription (membership) option
  • Inventory tracking
  • Discount (coupon) code for store

WORST:

  • Not geared towards musicians
  • Little customization for page design
  • Expensive plans to enable best store features
  • No monthly payment options (must pay all up front)
  • No built-in music player

wix logo

Wix Review:

So, apparently Wix is the most popular website builder in the world with 119 million registered users. That being said, whenever I stumble upon a godawful looking website, 9 times out of 10 it’s a Wix site. I’ve never seen a Squarespace site that didn’t look great. I’ve seen many many Wix sites that look horrendous. That’s probably why Wix created their “Artificial Design Intelligence” (ADI) – which basically creates the website for you without you having to figure out any kind of design. If you’re not a design expert and you’re using Wix I definitely recommend using this option. I know there are some of you reading this saying “my site looks great and I’m not a designer!” I bet you THINK it looks great, but the number of Wix sites I’ve seen that look, uh, not great, is astounding. You’re probably in this bunch. Don’t use Wix unless you choose the ADI option or are a designer (or work with one).

It’s also worth noting that you can create a free website on Wix, but the domain will have Wix in it. Like: yourname.wix.com But, like Weebly, don’t do this. Have some dignity! Be a professional!

BEST:

  • Very user friendly
  • Lots of templates to choose from (musician options)
  • Very popular so lots of support articles and videos
  • No store fee
  • Discount code for store
  • Subscription (membership) option
  • Phone support
  • Lots of 3rd party integration

WORST:

  • Cannot switch templates once chosen
  • Storage limited to 20GB (even on highest plan)
  • Easy to make site look horrendous (without ADI)
  • No live chat support
  • No built-in site analytics (via plugin/app)

wordpress logo

WordPress Review:

WordPress has got to be the best known brand in the website building space. It’s typically the first name that comes up when discussing building a website. The only problem is, it’s hella hard to build a website on WordPress. Well, that is, if you’re not a developer.

It’s an open source platform – meaning anyone can create a theme or plugin for WordPress. For better or worse. If you use a 3rd party plugin or theme, you rely on their (non-existent) customer support.

WordPress is best for those with a serious budget to hire a designer and developer to build your site ON the WordPress platform. WordPress is not a site builder like the rest, but I included it here so you have some understanding considering most people think it is a site builder like the rest.

Because it’s so popular, there are tons of 3rd plugins you can add to your site and tons of support articles and videos to help you use WordPress features.

There are tons of WordPress themes out there (many paid) you can choose, but you’ll most likely still want a developer and designer to help you build the site even with a theme.

The WordPress backend is bar none. Best out there. Great built-in analytics. WordPress is best for blogs. Lots of blog features.

For music sites, I’d say, skip WordPress and choose one of the others.

BEST:

  • Lots of 3rd party integration
  • Extremely robust and flexible platform
  • Best for experienced developers, coders, designers
  • Virtually anything you want to do with a website you can do (with the right coding/design knowledge)

WORST:

  • Design and development expertise is required
  • Customer support is limited to strictly WordPress-built features (not 3rd party plugins, themes, etc)
  • Steep learning curve
  • Lots of outdated/unsupported plugins and themes
  • Vulnerable to hacking attacks
  • Lots of maintenance required

Click to Enlarge

Ari's Take Website Builder Comparison

About the Author

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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