Whether you’re a sole trader or a multinational corporation, just about every business needs an online presence – in other words, a website.
Even if you don’t sell products online a site can help people find you, learn more about your skills and services, and provide a way to share your details with other potential customers. It’s like having a permanent, always-on-call personal assistant, ready to answer queries.
Getting started can be very easy. Cloud-based website builders can help you build anything from a simple single-page site to a professional web store, even if you’ve no design or HTML experience at all.
More experienced users can customize and fine-tune the design to suit their own needs, or perhaps install a more traditional web design package that allows them to build the perfect site from scratch.
There are free options, but these often have major restrictions, including limits on the size of the site and the lack of any ability to use your own domain. Fortunately, the commercial options are very reasonably priced, from around £5/$5 to £10/$10 a month, with hosting included.
To help you decide which option is best for your needs, we’ve picked out the cream of the crop: these are the five top players in the website building world right now.
Quick, easy and powerful website creation
Huge range of powerful features
Yet still highly user-friendly
Question marks over support
Wix is a popular online website creator which offers a range of plans and products. The free version has Wix branding, limited storage space (500MB) and bandwidth, but move up to the Combo plan and there’s no Wix ads, and you get 2GB of bandwidth and 3GB storage, along with a free domain for £5.16 ($6.45) a month. The e-commerce plan adds an online store along with 20GB storage for a reasonable £10.10 ($12.60) per month.
An excellent collection of 500 plus templates gets the design process off to a quick start. The drag-and-drop editor gives you all kinds of tools and features to explore – an image editor, video backgrounds, animations, social buttons, an integrated site blog – and just about everything can be tweaked, tuned and restyled.
All the core editing functions are really smartly designed, and operate more like a native app than your average website builder. Wix does have some weaknesses, with tech support seeming a little sluggish and limited in some respects. But there’s no denying that the superb editor and range of top-notch templates make it easy for web building novices to create something impressive.
A strong all-round offering, but not cheap
Really well-designed editor
Some nifty bonus features
Above average pricing
There’s a lot to like here in terms of a powerful drag-and-drop editor bristling with professional features and highly customizable templates, but at the outset, let’s make it clear that this isn’t the cheapest service around.
There’s no free plan (or indeed trial – although there is a 30-day money-back guarantee), and the most basic plan is priced at £2.99 ($3.75) a month for the first year, rising to £6.99 ($8.75) afterwards. That gives you unlimited pages and web space, a simple integrated blog, limited SEO settings, plus website backup and restore, so it’s a touch pricey for what you get.
That said, 1&1 MyWebsite offers a wide range of responsive templates, and an editor which provides loads of potential adjustments and tweaks, all with plenty of visual feedback and context-sensitive menus to help streamline the whole process. What’s clever here is that the top-level stuff is easy to use and understand for beginners, yet expert users can dive more deeply into the menus to really play around and customize elements.
Other highly useful features include the ability to point to your old website in order to import media content from there straight into your new site. This could be a huge timesaver for some. There’s no e-commerce plan here, but there is a separate 1&1 eShop range for that functionality (although it costs extra, starting at £9.99 – $12.50 – a month).
Another powerful site builder with some smart templates
Great looking templates
Host of powerful features
Some interface niggles
Weebly is another big name in the website building world which offers a powerful editor and capable set of features. There’s a free plan, which like Wix limits space to 500MB and imposes ads on your site.
However, if you move up to the Starter plan – at £5 ($6.25) a month – the ads and storage limit are dropped, plus you get a free domain, and even support for a web store containing up to 10 products. The supercharged Business plan lets you create sites with unlimited web store products and high-end store features like product reviews and discount coupons, retailing at £17 ($21.25) a month.
The service offers hundreds of professionally-designed web templates, covering just about any site type. The drag-and-drop editor is neatly designed, although you don’t get full control over where you can position elements on the page, and the interface can seem a little cluttered. A further niggle is that there is no global Undo feature.
Like Wix, we found tech support was a little wobbly in terms of sluggish responses, but Weebly offers a host of powerful features, some very stylish templates, and easy access to free images for your site is another definite boon.
Delivering the power that experienced site builders require
Powerful low-level controls
Free 30-day trial
Can be tricky to use
As we’ve seen, many website builders pitch themselves towards novices and making life easy for the less site-savvy out there, but what about experts who want powerful low-level control? Those are the users Voog has in mind.
So you don’t get many templates here, for example, and there’s the bare minimum of media support – but what you do get is a compact drag-and-drop editor which does its best to stay out of your way. There are weaknesses here, and the interface is somewhat clunky in respects – and it’s another which lacks a global Undo function – but it has some real power you can drill down into.
For example, clicking a text box gives you the option to use bullet-point lists, insert tables or videos, or even edit the HTML source to customize effects. Voog also lets multiple users easily collaborate on a site project, and if you’re after nifty, unusual features like these, you won’t see them elsewhere.
The entry-level Starter plan is priced at £5.30 ($7.40) per month (billed annually) and gives you 2GB storage, and all the core features you’ll need, including SSL security (although it’s limited to 30 pages). If you know what you’re doing in terms of website design, and want some true power and customization capabilities, there is a 30-day trial you can check out (no credit card details needed).
A quirky offering with an unusually generous free plan
Free plan has a web store
Good tech support
Less features than some rivals
Jimdo is a somewhat quirky website builder targeted largely at novice users, but it’s well worth your attention for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a free plan which boasts more than the average offering.
Yes, there are the usual limitations including adverts, a 500MB storage limit, no custom domain, and very limited SEO. But there are a few features you won’t get in other free plans, like a password protected area, and very basic e-commerce support for up to five products (the latter is very unusual for a freebie).
The site editor itself is simple and consistent, even if it’s somewhat unconventional in terms of its design. Also, the editor doesn’t have as many functions and features as some rivals. For example, there aren’t that many templates, and the widgets on offer aren’t as plentiful as you might find elsewhere – plus there’s no global Undo (although Jimdo isn’t alone in this respect).
Another neat touch is a good web knowledgebase which means help is generally close at hand when it comes to troubleshooting. Overall, this is a compelling product, and if you fancy experimenting with a simple web store without spending anything, Jimdo is well worth giving a whirl.