Creating a Website Has Never Been Easier
To get your message out these days, you probably rely on Facebook and Twitter, with maybe a helping of Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Tumblr. That’s sensible, but if you want an internet presence that truly represents you or your organization, you also need a customized website of your own. A real website, as opposed to a social media page, gives you complete control over design and content. This lends credibility to your business, organization, or personal brand. You can only look so distinctive on Facebook, but on your own site, you can realize a true brand image, offer products for sale, and integrate a multitude of third-party web services.
It’s never been easier to set up a professional-looking, design-forward website. Well-known site builders like Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix are constantly improving. And newer competitors, such as Simvoly, Strikingly and uKit, are popping up all the time with their own clever new twists on the process.
Why You Need a Website
But let’s talk a little more about why you even need a webpage in this day of social media domination of the web. On a personal level, you probably wouldn’t want to send prospective employers to your Facebook page, so a personal website makes a lot more sense as an online, customized resume. Another reason worth consideration, for both personal and business sites, is that building your own site gives you endless design choices. You also get total control over products and services you may sell and how they’re delivered. Furthermore, having a real, dedicated site makes a business seem more authoritative and trustworthy than a Facebook or Tumblr presence can on its own (though you should certainly also consider those services as elements of your online presence).
Getting your own website used to require a lot of tech wizardry, such as knowledge of servers, HTML, site registrars, and web hosting services. Thankfully, we now live in the age of easy online site builders. The services included here let you make a well-designed, mobile-capable site with minimal technical knowledge. They can even take a small or sole-proprietor business to profitability, with buy links, online stores, and other money-making options.
Larger businesses spend many thousands of dollars to get their custom-designed and programmed sites, but there’s no need for smaller organizations and individuals to go to that kind of expense. For about $10 per month (or around $25 if you’re selling products) and a few hours of your time, the services included here can help you create a unique, attractive website.
Several of the services included here offer free options, too. If you choose that path, however, your site will include branding from the provider, which will necessarily make your site less impressive to savvy surfers—and shoppers. Free offers vary greatly in the allowed storage and bandwidth, so read the small print to find out how much you can get with each provider. Weebly and Wix are among the most generous with their free offerings, if that’s the way you want to go.
With all these services, you build everything yourself, using simple drag-and-drop interfaces. The services even let you include snazzy items such as social share buttons, photo galleries, blogs, and media players. Some even let you restrict viewing with a password and let you have people join up as members of your site (see the table).
Register Your Domain, Choose Your Template
Before you can start building your home on the web, you’ll need an address for it. Most of the site builders here can register a unique domain for you, and all can give you a web address using the provider’s domain, for example, yourname.sitebuilder.com. The services let you use a domain you’ve acquired from a third-party registrar such as pairNIC, but you usually must pay the site builder for that privilege.
All of the web services listed here have you start by choosing from a selection of templates for your site. The better ones, such as Duda, Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix, use templates that automatically reformat your site for viewing on mobile devices. They also offer specifically targeted templates based on your site’s purpose, such as for promoting a bakery’s sales, getting gigs for a musician, or keeping wedding guests informed. Some, such as Squarespace, Strikingly, and uKit, restrict you to placing page objects in spots that won’t make your site look garish, which can be an advantage if design isn’t your forte. Other builders offer more freedom; if that’s what you’re looking for, check out Wix.
Mobile Site Design
Any site builder that wants to call itself modern these days must be capable of producing sites that play well on mobile, and all of those listed here can do so to some extent. Some, such as Squarespace and Weebly, use strictly responsive-design approaches to create a mobile site from what you built for the web.
Responsive design is all the rage in web design these days, but, in terms of SEO, search engines really just care that a site displays suitably on mobile screen sizes. Both Bing and Google have pages where you can enter your URL to see if your site plays on mobile acceptably. They’re not concerned about whether it stretches as you increase screen size, in true responsive fashion. The responsive approach of Simvoly, uKit, and Weeby, however, means you get no control over the mobile-only view. Wix, by contrast, offers a mobile-site preview and lets you make customizations that only apply to mobile viewing. For example, you may want a splash page to welcome mobile viewers, or you may want to leave out an element that doesn’t work well on the smaller screens.
Photos and Galleries
Let’s face it, one of the things we like best about the web is looking at pictures. The site builders here all offer some degree of photo and gallery display. Some, like Squarespace and Wix, also offer loads of stock photography you can use. Some let you touch up images with editing tools such as cropping, brightness, and in some cases even Instagram-like filters. Others, such as Simvoly and uKit offer no photo editing at all, aside from resizing and positioning. Photo gallery options also vary widely. For example, Weebly offers a whole gallery of styles for your online galleries, while others like Duda and GoDaddy are more limited in image-gallery options.
Making Money From Your Site
Of course, if you want to go all out for sales, you’ll want to move up to a dedicated web shopping cart service like Shopify, but that’s a step you might not be ready to take. All of the services here offer some ability to sell items from your site, if only in the form of a PayPal button, but some don’t offer even that in free accounts.
More advanced options found in some builders let you process credit card payments and add your own cart and checkout pages. The more powerful site builders include product promotions, email marketing, and inventory and shipping tools. Some let you sell digital downloads, while others don’t; see the table above to find out which do. Only a couple of these builders let you put ads on your site, though most of them allow some degree of custom HTML inclusion.
Social and Site Stats
All of the site builders here let you put Facebook Like and Twitter Follow buttons on your pages, and some even let you include feeds from the social networks. Some also give you help building a Facebook Page and tying it into your site design and updates. Many products offer some sort of SEO tools, but too often this is just a form on which you can enter meta tags. You’re mostly left to wrestle with that black magic known as SEO for yourself. It’s very important to submit and verify your site to the search engines, unless you don’t want anyone to find it.
Most of the products here can tell you about site traffic, though the amount of detail varies greatly among them, and it’s often tied to premium account levels. For example, Weebly can not only show you page views and unique visitors for each day of the month, but also search terms used to get to the site, referring sites, and top-visited pages. Wix and uKit, at the other end, have nothing in the way of built-in site stats, instead requiring you to create your own Google Analytics account, and even that requires a paid account. Another drawback of that approach is that you can only see traffic from the preceding day and earlier; it’s not up-to-the-minute, or even the hour.
One downside of most of these services is that, should you someday want to move to another host, you’ll likely be out of luck, because of the custom code they use to display your site. Only a few services let you take your site to another web hosting service: The most complete example of this is Weebly, which lets you download the standard site server folders. Squarespace offers some transferability by letting you output your site in standard WordPress format, which you could take to another provider that specializes in managed WordPress hosting. Boldgrid, which doesn’t currently make the cutoff for this table, also offers the ability to transfer some elements of your site.
As you can see, there are quite a few factors to consider when choosing an easy online website builder. Read the blurbs and then click through to the linked reviews below to find the one that best suits your needs. And don’t hesitate to chime in below in the comments section to report your experience with a site builder, or praise one that’s not included.
Looking for more advice and possible alternatives to DIY website building? Check out our primer, How to Build a Website.