- Chuck Gray
See, with all these spiffy new computer languages that have popped up in the last decade or so, some truly clever people have put together sites that will let you build your own site using tools that are controlled from within the Web browser. There is no need to download or purchase any other software. You usually also host your site using the same service so that any changes you make to your pages are immediately reflected online. Some of these services will let you host your sites for free--though only with a subdomain, and some do have advertising. Most do charge for the service and a domain name, and, believe me, if you’re a novice Webmaster, the price is usually worth the ease you get in return.
Most of these services operate using templates which you can mold to your own design. One of the trade-offs to using these templates is that you may not have complete control over every single element of their design. If you’re an experienced coder, these services will give you access to the page’s source code to fiddle with, but I think most of us will stick with the templates.
So, here are a few of these Web builder services that I and some of my colleagues have used and enjoyed:
Weebly offers free subdomain hosting with a rich feature set and some gorgeous but unorganized templates. It uses a drag-and-drop builder which lets you position different types of content such as paragraphs, pictures, videos, and more in different layouts. The placement of these elements is a little constrained. You can’t toss things around your pages willy-nilly, but the ease with which you can create a site more than makes up for this. Premium memberships grant you access to a number of features locked in the free version.
Domain names are sold separately from this membership. If you don’t want to pay Weebly’s prices for hosting (and you don’t), go grab a domain name from a hosting service like GoDaddy - Weebly provides easy-to-follow instructions for directing your pages to that domain. Weebly’s free membership does not slather your pages with third-party advertisements or banners, only a small, non-obtrusive “Create your own free Weebly site” link at the bottom of each page. In my experience, you can’t go wrong with Weebly for throwing up a quick, attractive Web site.
SquareSpace is another very good Web site creator. It is a paid-only service which you can try free without hinderance for 14 days. Like Weebly, it uses a drag-and-drop element designer that I found a little difficult to use at first, but I think that’s probably because I don’t use it as frequently as Weebly, which when I first tried I found a little difficult as well. SquareSpace’s editor has a modern aesthetic that I find it appealing, but newcomers might have trouble it figuring out. It doesn’t behave like traditional desktop software.
Their templates are likewise modern and can be edited with ease once you figure your way around the system. The hype around SquareSpace whispers to me that a site hosted with them never goes down, a unique claim given that Web giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook and more have all had their literal off-days. Their pricing structure lumps domains, hosting, and all their features into two tiers of access depending on how much you want to spend.
Cabanova distinguishes itself in two ways. First, its user interface is much more desktop-like than either Weebly or SquareSpace, so if you’re comfortable using software like Microsoft Office you will enjoy Cabanova. Second, it’s the only Web site creator I’ve ever encountered that lets you put text boxes and pictures anywhere. Cabanova’s page design is by far the least restrictive of all the services mentioned here. If you can work well with PowerPoint or Publisher, you will feel right at home with Cabanova. It also has nicely categorized templates for many uses. Unfortunately, the free service includes an annoying blue toolbar running across the top of the screen with a scrolling marquee advertising the service as well as third-party banner ads that conceal your page’s content, making it practically useless.
If you like Cabanova, you’re kind of strong-armed into going premium, but their pricing is competitive. One other complaint I can volley at them is that their desktop view--how pages are viewed in regular computer Web browsers--is rendered in Adobe Flash, while their mobile device view is rendered in plain HTML, which is vastly preferable given it requires no plug-in to view. Why in the world Cabanova does this is beyond me, and at the end of the day it’s not a terrible thing, but it does flummox me. Still, their truly “What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get” editor is a winning feature.
Of course, Google has a Web site builder. They’re Google, the royalty of the Web. The interface is more in line with a desktop editor, though is less colorful than Cabanova. At first blush it doesn’t look like much, but everything you need is there, from categorized templates to basic content insertion. The great thing about Google Sites is the integration with Google’s many other services, like Docs, Maps, Drive, Picasa, YouTube, AdSense and more. If you’re a Google-head, this is a great tool with no advertising, but using it for managing a full-blown Website with a domain name can be tricky to setup. It’s not a service with the casual Webmaster in mind, but you can bend it in that direction if you’re insistent upon using it.
In addition to these four, you might try out wix.com, webs.com, and a host of others--most of which will let you play around with them for free, at least for a while. On the off-chance that my favorite four aren’t to your tastes, rest assured there are plenty more to try, so go out, experiment, and find the service that will best suit your needs for building a Web presence.