Not so long ago, in order to build a website, not only did you have to be seasoned web designer, you also needed to own a sophisticated array of specialized software and an extensive archive of multimedia.
In the last 10 years, however, a plethora of websites have sprung up offering all the tools you will need to build a website from scratch, be you a professional or a complete beginner and at prices lower than they have ever been. For those with limited computer skills, even five years ago it was difficult to imagine being able to build your own website.
However, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors now make it possible to put together websites by simply dragging and dropping your desired components to their desired locations. This effectively means that, in order to build a basic website, you don’t need any understanding of coding, which has always been the main barrier between your average computer user and web designer.
This opening up of the market has lead to a broad spectrum of products designed to suit all today’s different potential users of online web design tools. Hence, it is important to research a product before making any purchase to ensure it is the right one for you.
Designing a decent website is not a small undertaking, but it can be made much more or much less difficult depending on what software you have. Likewise, what kind of website you want to design will affect your product choice; be it a promotional website, a personal one or one for eCommerse, each different niche will have its own specific products tailored towards it.
Finally, with many beginners now looking to design their own websites, in such a technical, jargon heavy market there is a higher chance you will end up paying more than you should for a product due to a lack of information on your part. In this case, it is important to know what you are looking for in a product and what will make that product match your needs so that you don’t end up paying for features that are of little or no use to you.
In this buyers’ guide we have highlighted seven key criteria that work best to differentiate one product from another in this category. Taking the time to read this, along with our reviews, will help you decide which website building tool is right for you and hence, will save you a lot of time, money and effort in building your website.
While not replacing editing tools such as Dreamweaver or Photoshop, nor content management systems (CMS) such as Joomla, WYSIWYG editors represent an excellent all-in-one alternative. Although varying in sophistication, they are generally much more easy to use and often browser based.
This means that beginners do not need to download any expensive, technical software to design a webpage. The drag and drop interface that replaces HTML coding is the main thing that makes WYSIWYG editors simpler. However, this does limit to a certain extent the edit-ability of your webpage. Intermediate users should consider a WYSIWYG editor which allows HTML coding.
Building a website from scratch is a laborious process, even for an experienced web designer. Hence, most people start with a template which is basically a ready made website which can then be modified and personalized according to your needs and tastes. A range of templates always comes with every WYSIWYG editor, or they can be downloaded individually for you to edit using your own software.
Users can also become members of template archives where, for a regular fee, you will be have unlimited access to thousands of templates. Membership to such sites usually costs around $60 while decent individual templates sell for about $20. We would recommend those who are just looking to build a one-off site to just download the one template as there is little point in spending three times as much for loads of templates you will never even use. However, web design professionals will find it far more economical to sign up to a membership site.
To Flash or not to Flash?
Flash is the latest web design platform and is responsible for most of the latest websites that incorporate animation, music and multimedia. It is undeniable that Flash websites are more impressive, however, many do have gripes with the platform for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Flash websites are not compatible with iPhones or iPads. However it is now quite easy to get around this by simply having a special “iPhone compatible” version of your website. Despite many editors being able to convert your website automatically, Flash will entail more work in this respect.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Flash websites are more difficult to search engine optimize (SEO). This means it will be harder for you to get your website to come out near the top of any Google search, driving more traffic towards your website. True, there are ways around this, but these are quite technical, and as we mentioned before, will inevitably entail more work for the web master (you).
We would recommend Flash websites to musicians and artists who want to be able to fully express themselves artistically through their website and, hence, convey that “wow” factor that can only really be provided by a Flash website. However, for those looking for a straight forward, serious website, Flashy (for want of a better word) graphics will not be necessary and the extra work and cost they entail will not be worth it.
While some tools are very simple, others can be highly sophisticated and this is usually, but not always, related to ease of use. Some editors, for example, attempt to pack in so many features that it can be quite overwhelming for beginners who are unlikely to use 90% of them.
On the other hand, some editors are so simplistic that you are only really able to design a very basic, cookie-cutter website with them. However, some of the products we have reviewed in this category do manage to break the mould by offering a feature heavy service in an easy to use, accessible format. Likewise, others are simply badly designed and are difficult and frustrating to use despite being very basic; these are the ones to avoid.
eCommerce is a booming market and many online website design tools are gearing themselves towards this sector. eCommerse sites require specific tools such as PayPal, shopping carts and shipping calculators which are invaluable to such sites. If you are looking to set up an eCommerce site then we highly recommend you check that anything you do purchase is geared towards these purposes. A lack of eCommerse features can not only make your job a lot harder but it could actually make or break your web site.
Due to the technical nature of web design tools as well as their accessibility to beginners, effective customer support is vital in this category. At the top end, you will find 24/7 technical help over the phone, live chat or Email along with a comprehensive archive of tutorials, videos and FAQs.
Unfortunately, the quality of such services varies greatly from product to product with some companies being unresponsive to their customers’ needs and providing a very poor help section. The truth is that in the newly emerging market of web design in which many customers are beginners, there are opportunities to make a quick buck at someone else’s expense. This makes your pre-purchase research extremely important, we’ve even come across reports of credit card fraud, so please be careful!
Value for money
Generally, the price will reflect the quality of a product as well as the amount of bandwidth, online storage and support it comes with. The “cheap and cheerful” products in this category will only enable you to build a basic, personal website while the more expensive will provide you with the tools to set up an internet enterprise. Hence, customers must gauge their needs and budget in order to find the right tool for them.
The most expensive services will only be necessary if you are pressed for time and really need a website for professional or business reasons. The cheapest products are great for a small, personal website but will simply not be enough for anything serious. The most economical way to produce a website is to learn how to do it yourself and simply download a template which you can then modify; your up-front costs will be higher and it will take longer but, in the long term, your costs could be as low as $25 a year rather than several hundred dollars. Furthermore, you will certainly learn a lot about web design.
The bottom line
In an emerging market full of jargon and technical information it is easy to get confused and make the wrong choice. This is especially relevant when it comes to online web design tools as, being non-tangible products, they generally do not come with a money back guarantee. Taking the time to do some research before any purchase is the only way to avoid learning the hard way that a certain tool is not right for you; when it’s too late!
Here at No1Reviews.com you will find a selection of product reviews of the most popular Online Website Building Tools on the market (at the time or writing). We hope that this will make a good starting point for anyone who wants to build a website, but finds themselves rather overwhelmed by the choices available to them.
With almost every product claiming to be the “Number one web design tool” or “for every type of user” our reviews should help you separate the wheat from the chaff in order to find the right one for you. You will then be equipped to build your website in the quickest, easiest, cheapest and most effective manner available.