Online website builders are a perfect solution for small business owners, artists and bloggers who prefer the benefits of a hosted solution and ease of designing pages without any coding knowledge. Hiring a professional web designer can easily turn out to be time consuming and out of your financial reach. Website builders make it easy for beginners to get a foothold on the web, acting as a grand stepping-stone for growing an online business or identity while learning the ropes.
The best website builders are not only free, they offer a wide variety of customization options, layouts and features for creating portfolios, blogs or web shops. They keep up with current trends to ensure designs offered are fresh and functional. Below is an overview of the top five website builders to help you choose the one that fits your style and needs.
Weebly is a completely free website service with an HTML-based website builder. The interface features a huge array of templates and starter designs, which can then be customized using drag-and-drop, or by hovering over elements to access the edit option. Extras include widgets, PayPal integration, Blogs and a huge stock photo library.
Weebly allows you to add a domain and additional users to your page free of charge. The builder is intuitive and packed with goodies. Finished sites are completely valid XHTML, SEO supported and optimized for display on mobile devices.
Weebly is so open that web newbies may still feel overwhelmed by the design options and end up going with a template, which defeats the purpose of using a builder. There is no support for social network syndication or external updating of the blog, which means creating a post takes several clicks and lacks a familiar text editor interface. If you want additional sites or multi-media features to be enabled such as audio, video or embedded documents, you will have to subscribe to a Premium plan.
Premium Plans start at $2.99 monthly
Doodlekit takes a slightly different approach from other builders by offering a full CMS with a handful of layout styles that you then fine-tune with custom colors, graphics and images. The editor is extremely user-friendly, offering a design-view instead of a complex interface. You simply choose a layout and starting color scheme, and then edit each area with a point-and-click. The results are not as wildly varied in design, but are far more advanced under the hood.
Doodlekit's strength is in the code, which is compatible with all browsers and kind to mobiles. The editor is designed with "normal" web users in mind, using familiar terms and straightforward navigation. There is a separate interface for creating blog posts, making this a great option for beginning bloggers.
Doodlekit is the most limited in terms of free options. If you want SEO, custom forms, forums or shopping carts, you will need to upgrade to a paid subscription.
Premium Plans start at $14.99 monthly
Moonfruit is a Flash builder that integrates SEO and social networking with hundreds of pre-made designs that you can customize through their robust control panel. Like other tools mentioned here, Moonfruit's builder allows for changing and adding graphics, images, content and widgets.
The amazing number of features allows for creating any design imaginable, and integration with Google means website owners can seriously track performance from one location. Pre-made designs and graphic libraries are attractive, stylish and trend-forward. The font selection is excellent and so is the support.
The builder interface is not very intuitive and can take awhile to master. The number of features and content options can be extremely overwhelming for non-savvy web users, making this a better option for designers and advanced internet users. Benefits like mobile optimization, Facebook pages, shops and Blogs are also only available on Premium plans, limiting the overall function of your free site.
Premium Plans start at $12 monthly
uCoz is part of a larger community network called uNet aimed at offering a free hosting solution and website builder for bloggers. To help you along, they have several starter designs to choose from, and a library of images, backgrounds and styles.
Designs are customizable in style and color, but not so much in overall look and feel. Access to code is a plus, but overcomplicates the process for new users. While uCoz packs a punch in overall function, they lack some desirable features such as widgets and graphic libraries to help you design.
Premium plans: uCoz is completely free unless you want to remove branding and add technical perks such as FTP access, starting at $3 monthly.
Wix is a Flash-based website builder, and a popular choice of artists, photographers, organizations and small business owners. The Wix builder uses a true drag-and-drop interface for creating custom designs or modifying any of their hundreds of pre-made layouts.
The free website builder is extremely easy to use and understand in contrast to similar services and is not limited by your subscription, or lack of one. It boasts a large photo, graphic and animation library as well as several button and font styles. You may create multiple sites with several pages featuring blogs, galleries, slideshows and shops. Widgets, including audio and video, are free to use and are fully customizable. As huge plus, Wix offers additional builders for creating free Facebook pages and mobile websites, connected with proper iFrame publishing apps and mobile re-directs for one-click publishing.
Wix is a Flash builder, which means your website will not be optimized for viewing on the iPhone or iPad, but the security and interactive quality of Flash sites outweigh this for most users. If you want to remove Wix ads or get a custom domain name, you will need to upgrade.
Premium Plans start at just $4.95
This is a guest article by Vail Joy who is a long-time writer, designer and copy editor with 15 years of experience in corporate business writing, music journalism and internet media design. When she is not hard at work designing something, she loves writing for Wix.com, the free website builder.