Website builders aren’t just for hobbyists. While professionals and businesses these days may get the most exposure from their social network presences on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest, but they still need a good, professional-looking website of their own. Why? To show the world that they’re a legit enterprise and not a fly-by-night outfit. You can only look so distinctive on Facebook, but on your own site, you can realize a true brand image.
The services make building and hosting a custom, professional-looking website easier than it used to be with traditional site-development and web hosting services, and the responsive sites they create display well on both desktop and mobile browsers. Their high-end account options offer serious businesses much higher storage and throughput allowances to accommodate a far heavier traffic load than their consumer versions. And many of the vendors included here, such as Wix (through its Arena), also offer professional website design services, so that you don’t actually have to create your Web presence on your own.
It’s true that all of these services rely on templates, so some Web-savvy users may sniff out the fact that your site isn’t 100-percent custom built. Still, these templates have come a long way from the days of Tripod and GeoCities. Most can create extremely professional, well-designed webpages.
Most website-building services will register a domain for your site, and some, such as Squarespace, include this as part of their monthly charge. Others will register a unique site domain for an extra fee. But in either case, any serious enterprise will need a custom domain, and not one that includes the name of the service, such asjohnsplumbing.weebly.com. The higher rate you pay for a site builder’s premium service also removes any branding from the site builder, making the whole site truly your own.
You could also approach your website creation from the other direction: Many small business Web hosting services such as GoDaddy include or offer do-it-yourself website-building tools of their own. Since your site has to be hosted, it may be more important to choose the most reliable Web hosting service you can find (based on our roundup linked above) and use its site-building tools.
Note, however, that these services are still for DIY fans: Most larger businesses will still be better off hiring a professional Web developer firm. If your situation fits this description, you can check out a marketplace such as AwesomeWeb, Designfirms.org, Sortfolio.com, orThumbtack, or scan through sample site pages in the Web Design section of Adobe’s Behance to identify one that fits your needs and contact its creator.
Selling Online and Other Ways of Making Money
One good reason for a website is that you can sell stuff, including not only physical objects to ship, but often digital downloads, as well. Most website builders charge more, around $25 per month, to enable storefront functionality. But you will pay more for more unlimited service For example, a Squarespace Advanced Commerce account runs $70 per month, but includes unlimited products, no transaction fees, integrated accounting, unlimited storage and bandwidth, and more. If you do need to sell downloads, make sure the service you choose supports them, as not all do.
If all you need is an online store for your goods, check out our roundup of the best online shopping cart software. Services like Shopify may provide all the Web presence you need.
The services here also differ in how flexible their credit card processing services are. Most support Stripe or PayPal. Some services hook into heavy duty Web shopping cart solutions to handle their ecommerce functions. Another consideration is shipping. Some services tie in with UPS or the USPS, automatically calculating shipping costs for you. Another is tax: Some services leave calculating local sales tax up to you, while others offer more informed guidance.
If you’re establishing or building on your brand, newsletters and blogs can help, and most of the services here include tools for creating and delivering them. Some integrate with third-party email marketing services like MailChimp.
Social and SEO
Your site isn’t worth much if no one can find it. Look for a service that offers more than the basic SEO functions of entering metatags on your pages. Many of them include coupons for search engine ads. For example, a $25-per-month VIP account at Wix comes with $300 in ad vouchers. Others include detailed guidelines and tools for improving your search ranking.
Social media, and Facebook in particular, can’t be ignored when it comes to driving traffic to your site these days. Some services can create a Facebook Page that dovetails with the website you build. Failing that, all the business-level site builders let you not only put social buttons for Like and Follow on Facebook and Twitter so that your page readers will be in the loop with your news feeds. You can usually even include snippets from those feeds right on your self-built site pages, as well.
For the past two years, Web traffic has come from mobile devices to a greater extent than from desktop computers, and you certainly don’t want your business site to provide a less than optimal experience on those devices. All the major services accomodate mobile site viewing, either by using responsive site design or adaptive design. Both are equally desirable, and both can ensure good SEO, as well.
Responsive designs, the only option in some services such as Squarespace and Boldgrid, deliver the same code to both mobiles and desktops, but the site components resize to accommodate the different screen sizes. One drawback of this approach is that it gives you less precise control over placement of site elements than you do with adaptive design services such as Wix. In those, you have more latitude in the design of both the desktop and the mobile site. Still, some responsive-design builders do let you customize the mobile site somewhat, for example letting you turn off page elements or menu choices for the smaller screens.
If you care about your site’s performance, you’ll want to be able to know how successful it’s been at attracting and keeping visitors. For this, you need powerful site statistics and analytics tools. Some site builders, such as Weebly and Squarespace, include detailed site metrics such as mobile usage, referring sites, and units sold (if you’ve set up ecommerce). Other services, such as Wix, require you to set up a Google Analytics account to get any traffic data at all.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when building your own business or professional website. But you can do it, and do it well, if you put the time and effort in. You’ll save money over hiring a Web developing firm, and you’ll get the satisfaction and deeper knowledge that comes from building it yourself.