Website builders have forever changed the world of Web design by allowing us to use free, responsive themes and templates to manage the look and feel of our sites without having to learn anything about Web development.
But which ones offer the best free templates that will simultaneously be quick and easy to use, make your site look beautiful, respond to any device (mobile support), and offer excellent built in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) features to help drive organic traffic from Google?
We researched a wide range of freely available themes and templates from four of the world's leading website builders, namely Weebly, Shopify, Bigcommerce and Wix, and worked out which ones are the best for you to use as of 2016.
Before we begin, if you haven't yet decided on which website builder to use, we have a range of step-by-step beginner guides and tutorials available to help you get started:
Brooklyn offers a responsive, mobile first design that provides an edge-to-edge homepage hero.
A hero area, in Web design speak, is a prominent space that users see first on a webpage.
It also has some unique eCommerce features built in, like their at-a-glance availability on product pages.
I like Brooklyn because of it's well structured homepage layout that organises products and category information in a logical and easy-to-use manner, ensuring that first-time shoppers will have a positive experience on your store and come back time and time again.
While designed specifically for apparel, I see no reason why this template wouldn't work across a range of niches from games and hardware to office and even home furniture.
Cento is perfect for people who want a visually rich website in which the content takes focus. The designers recommend removing sidebar columns so that content can really stand out.
I particularly liked the seamless navigation menu transition in the responsive design that provides a prominent banner for large screened devices, and an efficient overlay drop-down menu for mobile devices.
Perfect for artists, photographers, and anyone in fashion or design related fields.
While, like most Wix themes, THISJUSTIN is not responsive, it DOES support mobile devices.
A website can support mobile devices without being responsive.
This is what it THISJUSTIN looks like on a smartphone, for example:
With that said, I like the bold layout and 5 story slideshow at the top of the homepage in full-screen mode. The menu system is a little bit timid for my liking, but this is a news site and most readers should be visiting the site to get their daily fix of headlines (not clicking on about us pages) anyway.
For a news blog or site, this layout is fantastic and will without doubt help to build trust and authority with your readers.
Cornerstone is a flexible theme that makes it ideal for a range of different eCommerce brands and businesses. Like may Bigcommerce themes it comes in multiple styles including Light, Bold and Warm (Bold pictured above).
It's fully responsive and boasts a lightweight, clean design (that you can easily convert into your own attractive colour scheme) and comes with a fairly full list of cool features ranging from a homepage carousel, to social media icons, product features, and top selling products.
I enjoyed the dual menu system that will be useful for retailers looking to implement special offers, gift certificates, newsletter signups, and other deals and offers that shouldn't necessarily appear in the site's main menu.
Jumpstart is an awesome theme for boutique online stores that sell only a handful of products. It is perfectly designed to convince and convert customers with a mix of videos and slideshows that offers an incredibly compelling pitch right on the homepage.
Like most Shopify templates, this one is optimised for mobile devices and has an elegant responsive feel to it. Definitely the eCommerce theme of choice for single or dual product companies.
Haberdasher is aimed at bloggers and provides a lightweight, clean design that gives your blog an ultra modern feel. Modifying the theme's color scheme is also made super easy via the use of built-in color palettes.
The layout of this theme is, as of 2016, highly popular and I have seen many influential bloggers (using a range of different website platforms) utilising full-width header hero areas to great effect.
One to consider for any aspiring blogger looking to make a splash.
Fortune comes in four unique flavors, including Minimal, Bright, Contrast (pictured here), and Highlight, that offer a multipurpose eCommerce platform aimed at small to medium sized online stores.
It also comes with a frontpage slideshow, complex search filtering as well as a cart suggested products feature, amongst other things. Users of this theme also get to enjoy free theme upgrades, which is a fantastic bonus usually reserved for premium or paid themes.
The success of your store using this theme will depend heavily on the type of imagery you use for the hero area, which is particularly dominant in this layout. Get it right and customers will convert like crazy.
Again, being a Wix theme, Burger corner does support mobile devices without being responsive. Here's what it looks like on a smartphone:
I particularly like the design of Burger corner's header section as it delivers all the pertinent information a potential customer might need in an efficient and attractive manner. This is especially good for client facing local businesses like restaurants.
Combine this theme with a few mouthwatering photos of your food and your restaurant will soon be full of people who found you online.
So those are my top free themes and templates that you can look forward to using on your new website, courtesy of some of the best website builders in the world. What are your favourite themes and templates? Share your suggestions in the comments below.