Half of all small companies do not have a website, according to one statistic. With that in mind, we believe there are many readers who may need some help getting a simple website up and running. Even if you have a company website, you may know someone who needs one. Here are 7 do-it-yourself website building services to consider.
There are all sorts of tools and applications out there, but our main selection criteria in this post is whether the tool lets you build a site, for free, in less than an hour and publish it to create at least a basic presence online. Are these tools all robust enough to create the site of your dreams? No. Will they allow you to cease procrastinating and put a stake in the online ground? Absolutely. They also give you the capacity to start using many of the great tools that Lisa Barone shares here on vn-parco.com, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Places and more.
In many cases, these site builders will not allow you to have your own custom domain name. Since that is important to many, including me, I have one favorite suggestion I’ll share at the end of the post as #7. Note: There are many website hosting companies that offer a free domain name, but that is not the same as a free website and hosting. This list is about free online website builders that include hosting.
1. Google Sites
I’m a big Google fan, and they don’t disappoint with their free website options. Google Sites is robust and probably a bit more technical than the busy small business owner wants to engage in. It does, however, allow really granular changes. I have tried it out on several projects, and it offers a full WYSIWYG editor.
Like many Google offerings, not everything is super-intuitive or easy to find. For example, I created this rough page for this review and it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to change the photo to my own. Still, you cannot beat free, and the Google tool works. The URLs are ugly, though: http://sites.google.com/site/socialmediaroibytjmccue/.
What I like: Google Sites templates range from simple sites to classroom-focused to project wikis to intranets. With a few clicks, you can pick a template and hit publish. Then you can go deep into the code if you want!
DoodleKit is pretty impressive. Lots of templates and good editing functionality so you can put items and photos where you want. The free version is limited, but allows up to five pages, plus a blog. There is lots of space for photos and image albums, and DoodleKit offers lots of examples to get ideas of how others have used it. After the free level, plans are still affordable. The forum keeps things simple and offers step-by-step instructions so when you ask a question, you can actually follow the answer.
The advanced editing tool had to be installed in my browser, which was a slight disappointment, but not a big deal. Once I loaded that simple lite app, it was truly easy to see what I was editing.
What I liked: Literally, in under 5 minutes, I had a website and blog going.
Wix is a free Flash website builder. Some will argue that a Flash website is not as SEO-friendly (or Google-friendly, if you prefer), but the search giant and other search engines have made great strides in reading and ranking Flash sites. The beauty of Flash is it allows true drag and drop functionality. Sign-up is just your e-mail, a password and a username. You then move to Create, Explore or My Account as the three choices of what to do next. I hit Explore and was amazed at all the site types and creative options, most of them for free.
If you don’t like the idea of a content-heavy site with mostly words, and are a visual type or your business lends itself to a more visual format (photographers, videographers, architects, designers), Wix is worth a serious look.
What I Liked: Wix is a fun, energetic site that makes you want to start and finish a website in one sitting. Almost 5 million people have built a site at Wix. You can get affordable help with the Wix designers.
Moonfruit is a Flash-based website builder. Right away, they amazed me with this one super customer-friendly step: They let me start building the site without even registering or providing any info. I could click through and pick options; when my site was almost done, they asked me to share my e-mail, a username and password, and hit publish.
What I Liked: By far, Moonfruit is one of the most elegant and professional solutions I’ve seen to get a company website up and running. The free option was advertising-free. No tiny little links or text ads, and beyond the free option there are very affordable plans.
Weebly lets you create a free website and blog. It is Flash-based, which means another easy drag and drop interface. You don’t have to be a techie at all. Weebly offers dozens of professional designs and templates. You can drag slideshows or photos onto the templates where you want them. They are one of the only tools I saw that allows and encourages a blog within the site structure. Also, Weebly has simple SEO options so you can put keywords and descriptions into your code and get recognized by the search engines.
What I Liked: If you already own your own domain name, Weebly will let you use it for free. So if you just re-registered a domain name you’ve been parking on, you can turn it on and Weebly won’t charge you to do it. Cool.
Once you pick a template with Webstarts, they take you to a page that lists the pages within your site and icons to edit, preview or delete. Plus, right on that admin dashboard, you can adjust the order of the pages and decide which pages should be on the navigation menu. Webstarts is very intuitive and fast loading.
What I Liked: As you start into editing mode, a little window drops down with a tutorial video. You can close it out, but it is nice to have a help item available. I actually enjoyed working in the Webstarts editing tool.
Yes, it is a blog platform and not officially a “website builder.” However, many companies use WordPress as a website platform, and it ranks very highly for small business. (vn-parco.com is built on WordPress.) My SalesRescueTeam.com site is built on WordPress with the robust Thesis theme (not free). Here’s the sweet part: If you’re on a tight budget and want to keep it super-simple, you can build a site for free.
What I Liked: For only $15 per year, you can get a custom domain name you own and have WordPress point to it. That’s as close to free as any of the free website builders with your own domain. Most services that are free have a subdomain structure, as does the free WordPress option, with URLs that look like www.yoursite.wordpress.com. Over time, that’s limiting for most businesses. Because the premium features on WordPress are not always easy to find, here they are.
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If you are in the alleged 50 percent of small companies that do not have a website, or know someone who is starting a business and really needs an inexpensive option to building their first site, these seven services will help you do it. Each is worth a look. As always, feel free to share the ones you like and link to them in the comments.