There was once a time when having a website meant either spending months learning code to build it yourself, or spending thousands on paying a developer or web agency to make it. Those options remain today, of course, but there’s now a third option that’s a lot quicker, easier and cheaper.
In 2020, there are dozens of platforms that make it easy for you to build a website without any coding skills whatsoever, and keep it updated with new content as often you want. Most also provide hosting for your website, which allows it to stay online and be delivered to people around the world 24/7.
But how do you choose the best website builder for your needs? In this article, we’ll look at the main factors to consider, to help you make the right decision.
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Do you actually need a website?
The first thing to think about is whether you need a website at all. For example, maybe you’re an artist who wants to share their portfolio online, and get people to comment on it. Well, there are a number of popular and free services that let you do that on their own platform, including DeviantArt, Behance and ArtStation.
These platforms are all quite restricted in terms of what you can do with them, of course. And ultimately, it looks so much more professional to give someone your website address than to say ‘look me up on Instagram’. But it is good to be aware there are alternatives. Especially as this will help you focus your mind on...
What you want your website to do
Before you choose a website builder, think about what you want your website to include. Will there be a blog, or 'latest news' page? (Be certain you’re willing to update this regularly, or it’s going to end up looking embarrassing.) What about a photo gallery? An online store? A reservation system?
How do you want visitors to your website to get in touch? Are you happy just publishing your email, or do you want to include a contact form? Would you like a feed that automatically pulls in your social media posts? Do you want to embed your YouTube videos, or upload videos directly to the site? Do you want visitors to be able to leave comments, or customer reviews?
It’s important to think all these things through before committing to a particular web building platform, because you don’t want to find halfway through that they don’t offer a particular feature. Or that they do, but they’ll charge more than you’re willing to pay.
The issue of how much money you’re willing and able to spend is a crucial one. Website builders work on a subscription basis, and if you don’t keep up the payments over time, you’re simply going to have your site deleted.
That might not seem like anything you need to worry about at first. After all, the market for website builders is so competitive that most of the big providers plaster their homepages with tempting low price offers, starting at just a few dollars a month. Everyone can afford that, right?
Unfortunately, here’s where you need to do your homework. Because these introductory offers will usually jump up in price at the start of the second term. Plus they’ll often be quite limited in terms of storage (i.e. how many pages your website can stretch to, and how many images you can include) and bandwidth (how many people can visit at any one time).
You’ll probably also have to pay more to get things like a professional domain name, and the website builder’s adverts being removed from your home page. So you’ll quickly find the charges adding up, just like booking a cheap airline ticket only to find that things like meals, baggage and transfers aren’t included.
Your level of skill and experience
You don’t need coding knowledge to use website builders. But that doesn’t mean it's a walk in the park. If you’re not particularly used to design software, you may find some of the web builder interfaces hard to understand, and have to put in a bit of time learning how to use them.
So how do you discover whether you’re going to get on with a particular website builder, and not end up stuck and frustrated? The good news is that pretty much every website builder of note offers a free trial, usually for at least two weeks. And normally, you don’t even need to give them your credit card number: you can just dive in and start building your site.
With some website builders, you can just click around and follow the on-screen prompts. With others, you might prefer to follow the included tutorials. Either way, you should quickly get a sense of whether building your site is going to be relatively straightforward to build, or a massive pain. Many website builders do offer templates which you can use as-is or customise to your needs. Drag-and-drop building tools are offered by some website builders, so you can construct your site by simply selecting the components you require and placing them where you what them.
How much support do they offer?
Even if a website builder’s interface is easy to use in general, there may well be times when you run into problems, or can’t work out how to add a particular element to your website. So it’s always good when choosing a website builder to glance at how extensive the ‘Documentation’, ‘Help’ or ‘FAQ’ section is, and whether the company offers customer support.
Also check out the variety of ways that customer support is available, whether that’s by phone, email, live chat or support ticket. And think about when it’s available, too, because not all services offer 24/7/365 support.
Will my site rank on Google?
For most purposes, there’s no point in having a beautiful website if it’s not set up in a way that Google can easily search it and add it to their listings. So things like URL structure, image alt text, data structure, site speed and mobile usability need to be set up in the right way.
If you don’t know what any of that means, then don’t worry: a decent website builder will, and should provide a clear and easy process for optimising your site for search. If it doesn’t, quickly move on.
Web builder companies all make big claims, and use lots of marketing spin. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it's important to check out customer reviews before you sign on the dotted line.
You’ll often find these on the website builder’s own site, although if you can’t, or they all look suspiciously positive, then head to third-party review sites such as Trustpilot, or trying asking on social media. You'll probably be surprised how willing people are to share their experiences, both good and bad.
Independent websites, such as Creative Bloq, are also good sources of impartial advice. In our reviews and guides, we test and explain all aspects of the major website builders to help you pick the best website builder for you or your business.
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