Website Builders Compared
After you choose a Web hosting provider and sign up, you’re ready to jump in and start building your site. If you’re in a hurry to get your site up and running, are on a tight budget or simply aren’t well-versed in HyperText Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or other programming languages, you may want to consider using a website builder. These applications allow you to design a professional site (often with the same features as “from-scratch” sites), but are built using template-based, drag-and-drop interfaces.
All website builders rely on templates. Website templates are very similar to the templates you’d use in a word processing application, except instead of choosing a brochure or a form letter, you’re selecting an overall “look” (including colors, fonts and images) for your website. As with other templates, the elements within a website template are fully customizable. For example, you can swap out the boilerplate text and images with your own copy, or change the header, bullets and sidebar to your corporate colors. You also have the option to move or even delete elements altogether (useful if you’re keeping things simple or creating a placeholder site for a more robust site that’s still in development).
If this still sounds a little limiting, keep in mind the site builders offered by popular hosting providers contain hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of templates from which to choose, giving you sufficient creative leeway to avoid the dreaded “cookie-cutter syndrome.”
Some popular hosting providers offer template-based site-building software as a “freebie” with even their most basic packages. HostGator, for example, lets you purchase whichever plan you like and then build and publish a site using its SiteBuilder. You choose from an array of templates, customize it with your company information, and voilà! Your site is online in as few as three steps.
Other hosting providers create entire plans around site-building software. GoDaddy’s “Website Builder” tier offers three different customizable plans, all of which combine basic hosting with sites built with the company’s site builder. The GoDaddy software is similar to HostGator’s (and many others) and lets you customize a pre-formatted template and add or remove elements to create your site.
If you’re looking for more power and flexibility, but still want the simplicity of a template, online site builder (and host) Weebly may be more your speed. Weebly starts you off with a site planner to help you clarify your needs and purpose for your site, then gives you drag-and-drop design for more than 100 templates (called “Themes” by Weebly). The site also lets you build your website from scratch and customize your HTML and CSS however you like, and includes support for high-definition multimedia, eCommerce, and mobile integration. Like GoDaddy, Weebly offers a range of plans; the least expensive is free and requires you to use a subdomain of Weebly’s site, while more expensive plans are similar to traditional shared hosting, with your own domain and additional resources.
Proprietary solutions often vary in features and cost, and while some offer the same eCommerce, blogging, and “unlimited everything” plans as traditional shared hosting, you should be aware that some limit the number of pages, files and even email addresses available to you if you choose a plan based on their site builder (as opposed to purchasing traditional hosting and using the site builder to create a site), so be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when choosing a plan.
DIY (Download it Yourself) Website Builders
Of course, you’re not dependent upon your hosting provider’s bundled software to build your site. Plenty of other options are available, including website builder applications you can download and install on your PC to build and test your website offline before uploading it to your Web server.
Once a famous provider of very basic websites via its now-defunct GeoCities site, Yahoo! now offers full-fledged Web hosting and a free, downloadable SiteBuilder application. This application lets you design a site using templates or from the ground up, using What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG), drag-and-drop tools that don’t require a single line of code. You can add multimedia content, create forms, and even build image galleries, blogs and eCommerce components like PayPal buttons and shopping cart software. The application also lets you tinker with the site’s code to your heart’s content, from individual components like blocks of text to entire pages.
Yahoo SiteBuilder offers real-time integration for customers who host their site via Yahoo Web Hosting, including a “publish” button that allows you to upload your entire site (or any modifications) with a single click after logging into your hosting account. If your site is hosted with another provider, you’ll need to upload the files to your Web server manually (or seek the assistance of a tech-savvy associate or friend to do so).
If you’re looking for serious power and customizability in an application you can download yourself, but don’t have the time or resources to learn coding (or hire a designer), another downloadable website builder you may want to consider is a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. These software applications are traditionally associated with building blogs, but their template-based format and vast selection of plug-ins, add-ons and themes (all of which are also customizable) has transformed them into a popular solution for sites of all kinds.
These open-source applications are generally free to download and update, and many add-ons and plug-ins are free as well (some, however, do require a one-time fee or subscription to activate). With options available for forums, blogs, eCommerce, general information and more, the customizations available are truly limited only by your time, server space, and budget.
Also, in contrast to Yahoo’s SiteBuilder, CMS applications generally require an install on your Web server in order to run your site. This means that while you can certainly download and test your site locally on your PC before making it live on the Web, you will need to install the CMS software on your Web server in order to make it visible on the ‘Net. Fortunately, most hosting providers include one-click installers for the most popular CMS solutions in their hosting control panel (or offer assistance with adding applications if your CMS is not natively supported).
A website builder is a smart choice if you’re on a budget, pressed for time, or too busy (as many business owners are) running your actual business to learn the intricacies of code. And with a range of options covering everything from the most basic placeholder site to advanced blogs and online storefronts, you can spend less time stressing over your website and more time building your business.