TL; DR: Instilling a mindset of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” Steve Benjamins abandoned his proprietary website builder in favor of using his expertise to review the dozens of options in the marketplace. Now, more than 60,000 users each month visit Site Builder Report for personable, in-depth, honest recommendations on which website builder offers the best features, customer support, and user experience. He candidly spoke about how site owners’ preconceptions aren’t always in line with what will produce the best online presence or user experience.
After developing his own website builder, Steve Benjamins immediately had trouble cutting through the crowded industry with his marketing messages. As a one-man business, Steve found himself competing with multimillion-dollar companies the likes of GoDaddy, Wix, and Weebly.
“I realized it didn’t really matter if I made a better website builder,” he said. “What mattered was whether people would ever get around to trying me. The website builder space didn’t necessarily need another product — it needed someone to act as a filter or as an air traffic controller.”
With that, he abandoned his own website builder in favor of testing every former competitor’s product. His website, SiteBuilderReport.com, features more than 100 in-depth and honest reviews.
“I’ve spent hours and hours trying each one, and I’m going to tell you which one I think is best based on technical stuff and things like user experience,” he said. “I try really hard to justify the products that I recommend. It’s not something I’m just saying — I think it’s actually true.”
How Steve Helps Readers Navigate the Congested Market
Site Builder Report provides unbiased recommendations based on technical features and user experience, which Steve describes as the website’s main value and differentiator. He focuses strictly on a site builder’s usability, features, themes, and billing practices.
“There’s a lot of fluff or websites that are doing really vapid reviews that seem to be pretty shallow fronts for affiliate marketing,” he said. “I’m showing people there’s a real, live human being behind this stuff.”
Since starting Site Builder Report in 2012, Steve has written more than 100,000 words about the various components of the tools and platforms used to craft an online presence. The website displays information in the form of reviews, a side-by-side comparison table, customer support tests, and user satisfaction surveys that seek to determine everything from the best eCommerce store builder to the top email marketing software.
Steve updates each review every nine months to guarantee information is current and accurate, and he uses his own credit card to test billing practices and cancellation policies. The wealth of information serves to teach people how to decipher marketing messages and uncover the most useful, applicable tools for their individual projects.
“That’s an educational problem that I repeatedly run into,” he said. “There is that tension between what people think they want and what might be best for them.”
Giving Readers What They Actually Need, Not What They Ask For
The quest to help people choose good products, however, occasionally comes with certain limitations and occasional misconceptions. For example, Steve said readers will often ask him which website builder is the best for search engine optimization, or SEO.
“The truth is, there’s really no good answer for that,” he said. “The things that are going to move the needle for SEO aren’t going to be handled by choosing a website builder. Their focus is going to be much better served on developing really great content and stuff like that.”
Site Builder Structure vs. Drag-and-Drop Freedom
Even though Wix and Squarespace are two of Site Builder Report’s highest-rated platforms, Steve pointed out that the two companies represent the drastically different approaches companies take when crafting a website builder.
Wix, for instance, provides pure drag-and-drop interactivity, meaning that users have total freedom when adjusting templates or starting from scratch.
“It’s very unstructured, but it’s really freeing,” Steve said. “You can do whatever you want.”
Website builders like Squarespace, however, place more emphasis on tried-and-true designs. Site owners can still adjust various elements of the templates, but within reason.
“It offers some structure. You can’t just do anything on Squarespace,” Steve said. “I think that tension is tricky because nobody is ever going to say, ‘I want less freedom. I think for the majority of users, though, having a more structured approach is better.”
Looking Elsewhere for Developing Code
For the most part, Site Builder Report serves rookie site owners and tech-averse users. When readers contact Steve for suggestions on which website builder offers the most flexibility with code editing, he said he’ll actually direct them elsewhere.
“My sense is if you want to mess with code and stuff like that, website builders probably are going to be a little frustrating,” he said.
Usually, he’ll point code-minded developers toward WordPress and other content management systems, along with front-end dev tools such as Webflow — even though a growing number of coders opt for the simplicity and time savings of website builders.
“I use Squarespace, for example, for my band’s website because I don’t want to have to set up the CDN and all the annoying stuff when I start a new website from scratch,” he said.
Artificial Intelligence and New Features in a Stable Industry
One of the most remarkable aspects of the website builder market, according to Steve, is how stable product requirements and expectations remain. While the rest of the technology world shifts every instant, website builder users still seek out beautiful themes and easy-to-use interfaces.
“It’s not like there are crazy new features that disrupt the industry,” he said, recalling the rapid rise and fall of The Grid, a builder driven by artificial intelligence. “I remember being a little frightened and thinking this was going to change everything for website builders. It built up all this hype, and then it launched and did not do well.”
Although an automated site-building process sounds appealing, Steve considers AI website builders as a solution in search of a problem.
“I don’t get many readers or customers who are coming to me and asking for less stability,” he said. “The thing I hear overwhelmingly from people is, ‘I can’t adjust this. I can’t move this a few pixels over.’ I know you can customize the designs after the AI has created your template, but that undermines the whole problem; the AI is supposed to take care of everything for you.”
Up Next: User Experiences and Building Trust Through Videos
A product manager for GoDaddy’s website builder told Steve a few years ago about how surveyed customers’ top complaint was that it took too long to create a website. The company overhauled its marketing strategy and tweaked the site builder around the premise of getting online in five minutes or less. Steve, however, remains skeptical.
“I think this goes back to where customers may describe a problem to you, but the solution is maybe not necessarily what they actually want,” he said. “What customers and users want in a website builder, generally, is to be able to customize and make it their own. They want a platform for self-expression.”
Steve said he considers himself more of a designer than a developer, so he loves diving into the usability and user experiences of different website builder interfaces.
“It’s actually quite indulgent and fun,” he said. “It’s not the sexiest niche in the world, and it’s not a natural thing to get really excited about website builders, but I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything.”