According to one statistic, half of small businesses don’t have a website. With that in mind, we think many readers might need some help putting together a simple website. Even if you have a business website, you might know someone who needs one. Here is 7 do-it-yourself website building services to consider.
There are all kinds of tools and apps out there, but our main selection criteria in this article is whether the tool allows you to create a site for free in less than an hour and publish it to create at least one basic online presence. Are these tools all robust enough to create the site of your dreams? No. Will they allow you to stop procrastinating and put a stake in the ground online? Absolutely. They also give you the opportunity to start using many of the great tools that Lisa Barone shares here on Small Business Trendssuch 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 this is important to many, including me, I have a favorite suggestion which I will share at the end of the article as #7. Note: There are many website hosting companies that offer a free domain name, but this is not the same as a free website and hosting. This list is for free online website builders that include hosting.
1. Google Sites
I’m a big fan of Google and they don’t disappoint with their free website options. Google Sites is robust and probably a bit more technical than a busy small business owner wants to commit. However, it allows for really granular changes. I tried it 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 for mine. Still, you can’t 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 sites, project wikis and intranets. With just a few clicks, you can choose a template and hit publish. Then you can dig deeper into the code if you want!
2. Doodle Kit
DoodleKit is quite impressive. Lots of templates and good editing functionality lets you place items and photos wherever you want. The free version is limited, but allows up to five pages, plus a blog. There’s plenty of space for photos and picture albums, and DoodleKit has plenty of examples to get a feel for how others have used it. After the free tier, the plans are still affordable. The forum keeps things simple and offers step-by-step instructions so that 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 up this simple lightweight app, it was really easy to see what I was editing.
What I liked: Literally, in less than 5 minutes, I had a website and a blog going.
Wix is a free Flash website builder. Some might argue that a Flash website isn’t as SEO friendly (or Google, if you prefer), but the search giant and other search engines have made great strides in reading and ranking. Flash websites. The beauty of Flash is that it allows true drag-and-drop functionality. Registration is just your email, a password and a username. You then move on to Create, Explore, or My Account as three choices of what to do next. I clicked Explore and was amazed by all the types of sites and creative options, most of them free.
If you don’t like the idea of a content-rich site with mostly words, and you’re a visual type or your business lends itself to a more visual format (photographers, videographers, architects, designers), Wix deserves serious consideration.
What I liked: Wix is a fun and energetic site that makes you want to start and finish a website in one sitting. Nearly 5 million people have created a site on Wix. You can get affordable help with Wix Designers.
4. Moon fruit
Moonfruit is a Flash-based website builder. Right away, they amazed me with this super user-friendly step: they let me start building the site without even signing up or providing any information. I could click and choose options; When my site was almost done, they asked me to share my email address, username and password, and click publish.
What I liked: By far, Moonfruit is one of the most elegant and professional solutions I’ve seen for setting up a business website. The free option was ad-free. No small links or in-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 need to be a technician at all. Weebly offers dozens of templates and professional templates. You can drag slideshows or photos onto the templates wherever you want. It’s one of the only tools I’ve seen that allows and encourages a blog in the site structure. Additionally, Weebly offers easy SEO options so you can insert keywords and descriptions into your code and get recognized by search engines.
What I liked: If you already have your own domain name, Weebly will let you use it for free. So if you just re-registered a domain name you parked on, you can activate it and Weebly won’t charge you to do it. Costs.
Once you choose a template with Webstarts, they take you to a page that lists your site pages and icons to edit, preview, or remove. Moreover, right on this admin dashboard, you can adjust the page order and decide which pages should be in the navigation menu. Webstarts is very intuitive and fast loading.
What I liked: When you start in edit mode, a small window will appear with a video tutorial. You can close it, but it’s nice to have a help element available. In fact, I liked working with the Webstarts editing tool.
Yes, this is a blogging platform and not officially a “website builder”. However, many businesses use WordPress as their website platform, and it ranks very well for small businesses. (SmallBizTrends.com is built on WordPress.) My site SalesRescueTeam.com is built on WordPress with the robust Thesis theme (not free). Here’s the cool part: if you’re on a tight budget and want to keep it super simple, you can create a site for free.
What I liked: For just $15 per year, you can get a custom domain name that you own and point WordPress to it. It’s as close to free as any of the free website builders with your own domain. Most free services have a subdomain structure, just like the free WordPress option, with URLs that look like www.yoursite.wordpress.com. Over time, this limits most businesses. Because premium features on WordPress aren’t always easy to find, here they are.
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If you’re one of the so-called 50% of small businesses that doesn’t have a website, or you know someone who’s starting a business and really needs an inexpensive option to build their first site, these seven services will help you do that. Each is worth a look. As always, feel free to share the ones you like and link them in the comments.