Choose the best website builder
Never before has it been so easy to create your own website. Marketed at those with little technical knowledge, website builders need only a few clicks to set up and cost almost nothing to run. So where’s the catch?
This post is from a series of articles that outline how to obtain the best website for your organisation. Other articles in this series: get the best website for your budget, find the ideal ready-to-go website and obtain the perfect custom website.
What’s out there?
Here are some of my favourite website builders. They put you in the driving seat – making it easy to update your content. Set aside an hour to test each system and get a feel for which one works best for you.
Perhaps the most sophisticated set up, Drupal Gardens takes no time to set up and covers most bases (including some Multilanguage possibilities) with an obvious exception of e-Commerce. Customisation is possible but requires technical knowledge. Review: http://www.motionbuzz.com/blog/drupal-gardens-review-2011/
Yola’s strength is revenue functionality. It includes the options to add Google Adwords, a PayPal shopping cart and the ability to accept donations. Review: http://www.websitetooltester.com/en/reviews/yola-review/
Content elements (like text, photos, maps, and videos) can be added by simply dragging and dropping them into place. Social Media buttons can be placed on the blog. Forms are easy to create and there are 100s of designs to make your site look great. Review: http://www.websitetooltester.com/en/reviews/weebly-review/
Webs has features that help you leverage social networking on your site. Visitors can create a profile and then contribute to your community by posting comments, photos, videos and more. Further engage your users via easy to organise forums. Webs also have a wide array of Apps and has worked hard to make their websites mobile-friendly. They also provide analytics tools. Review: http://www.websitetooltester.com/en/reviews/webs-com-review/
Search ‘website builders’ on Google for other platforms and their reviews.
These do-it-yourself platforms make websites quick and easy to set up and maintenance costs are low. There is no longer an excuse for even the smallest organisation not to have an online presence.
These options give you a fantastic range of functionality for what they cost. Even if you decide to pay an expert to set up your website, it should take just a few days – far less costly than an off-the-shelf or custom solution.
The various builders offer a wide variety of functionality. They tend to include most if not all of the list below.
- Photo, Video and Audio – Upload photos and videos, create galleries and listen to audio.
- Google Maps – Place Google Maps within pages.
- Integrated Social Media – Add like and follow buttons and links to social media.
- Forms and surveys – Ask your users questions and collect feedback.
- Point and click design changes – Change the look and feel of your site in a few clicks.
- Newsletters, Blogs and Forums – Send newsletters, write posts and organise conversations from within your site.
- E-Commerce – Sell products and services online.
- Limited Access – Protect certain content with passwords.
Providers are constantly improving and updating their products. You’ll be able to take advantage of new functionality as it becomes available. Furthermore, services such as Twitter and MailChimp can often be integrated as an extra feature.
Website builders come with a selection of design templates that you can choose from. Although the designs tend to be generic in look and feel, the elements can be tweaked and customised to fit with your organisation’s existing brand. The point and click design templates can be changed in just a few seconds to help keep your site looking fresh.
The better companies have created thriving support communities who take pride in helping to resolve problems. You can also purchase a support package that gives you access to the experts.
What to watch out for
These platforms do have their limitations: your organisation will need to be flexible about what it wants from them. You’ll also need to put in a lot of time or employ an expert to help out. Organising online information effectively and implementing good design demand time and experience.
Can be time consuming
It is easy to underestimate the time required to set-up, design, structure and maintain your website. Companies offer various support packages but you will not always get an immediate or comprehensive response. Also, many of the companies advertise that their platforms need no technical knowledge to use but this is not always the case!
We are huge believers in good user experience as a core ingredient to a successful site. This involves carefully planning structure and navigation which is not always easy for those new to building websites. Be mindful of the dangers of poorly planned user journeys and consider investing in professional expertise.
The risk of being tied into a system and a structure
As your content evolves you may want to make important changes to your website. Check how well your chosen system can handle multiple levels of navigation. Know in advance if it is possible to export your entire site. Drupal Gardens allows you to export your website but you may find that developers are not keen to work on code bases that they are unfamiliar with.
Beware if you require extra functionality or a setup that strays from the norm as products tend to be far less flexible than the makers claim.
Control over your identity
Often the cheapest options provide you with a subdomain: www.weebly.myngo.org or your site may be required to feature ads. This can damage your brand integrity and should be avoided. However, a custom domain can be bought and applied at little cost.
While perfect for small websites, these platforms are not suitable for complex websites or specific user needs. If you have little budget, they offer excellent value and are great for publishing content quickly and easily. Be prepared to spend time in forums when issues arise – and to put effort into learning what works and what does not.