Who Will Win the Great Graphical Website Builder Shootout?

Modern business runs on the web. If you own a business, you don’t have a web presence, and you’re not familiar with terms like “SEO” and “PPC”, then you’re either in a business that benefits little from the Internet (which, frankly, would be difficult to imagine) or you’re losing business to the competition.

Businesses have many options available for joining the Internet revolution and creating a web presence. Most large businesses have a team (or army) of web developers who are experts at creating complex websites and invest in expensive website development tools, like Adobe Dreamweaver.

Smaller companies may have a developer or two on staff or they may outsource web work to contract developers. The smallest of businesses – aka, Mom and Pop shops – rarely have the budget to invest in expensive web development resources, so they either end up with a very basic website (created by an internal hobbyist) or have no web presence at all.

If you don’t live in the technology space, you may not be aware of a thriving industry of simple web development tools to address these challenges small businesses have in creating a professional-looking website. These website development tools have been available for as long as I can remember.

Naturally, the tools were initially rudimentary, but have matured over the years to offer advanced functionality and now you can set up a professional-looking website in no time at all. These tools are generally free, as these providers make their money providing related services.

To give an example of the timeline involved here, I used an AOL website creation tool back in the mid-90’s to set up a wedding website and then leveraged another called Homestead to create a personal website in the early 2000’s.

You just need to find a reason to create a site, which, frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult to do. Do you have a small business that needs to reach more customers? Do you have a big event upcoming that you’d like to highlight and share with the world? You can accomplish some of these with existing services, like Facebook; however, if you really want to do your event justice, you’ll likely want a dedicated site.

I recently had the occasion to set up a website with my technology-savvy son and performed quite a bit of research on new website development tools to determine the best one to use. Naturally, more tools are available than anyone could possibly review or use; however, I narrowed our test bed to three that seemed to come out on top in just about every review that I read – Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace.

And we have a real purpose for doing so, which enables us as reviewers to provide context. The goal was to develop a website for a small IT (information technology) business a friend of mine is starting. He’s an expert in smartphones of all types – Apple, Android, Windows – and wanted to bring his business to the web to leverage his skills to generate business helping people with their technology challenges.

This is a great scenario for evaluating a product like a web dev tool. We have a real-world project that is limited in scope, but just enough work to ensure each tool gets a proper workout.

Weebly_Interface
Weebly’s website development tool

In more detail, the goal was to create a website/presence that would get a small business on the web and allow users to contact and schedule an appointment for getting their technology problem resolved. A neighborhood genius bar if you will.

The typical first step in setting up any business on the internet is to come up with a domain name. A domain name is exactly what it sounds like – the name of the business or a slight variation thereof as it exists on the Internet. You’ll need a unique domain that isn’t already registered by another business or individual.

Note that you can register (pay for) a domain name with a traditional domain registrar, like Network Solutions or GoDaddy, and then transfer that domain to your website builder service provider. Or you can do everything through the website provider, but you could save a few dollars per year by keeping the domain and website builder providers separate.

The next step in the project is to brainstorm what content and services need to be available on your website. Typical content might include an About section that tells your company’s story, a Contact page with information for customers to contact your business, and a product information page. Typical services are a calendar tool for users to schedule an appointment online and providing free file storage (ala, Dropbox).

SquareSpace_Interface
SquareSpace’s graphical website development tool.

The website we’re building will initially contain standard content categories (About, Contact, Blog) and a limited set of IT technology services – online (phone, chat) technology recommendation consultations, onsite “secure my router” help, “build me a computer”, and a few others. We’ll want to be sure these services are clearly documented on the site.

We’ll use the following criteria for evaluating each website builder tool’s value:

  • How intuitive is the web development tool to use?
  • How quickly did it take to go from zero to published?
  • Does the provider provide value-added services that obviate the need for custom development?
  • What support channels are available and how good are they?

In the interest of staying within industry recommended blog lengths, I’ll break this review up into two blog postings. Yes, I know it’s not fair for you to have to wait for the final verdict, but this is kind of how the world works – you know with click-bait and all everybody trying to get ads in front of your eyes.

Graphics with examples of the three website development tools being reviewed are interspersed throughout this article.

Wix_Interface
Wix’ graphical website development tool.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll continue with our project of building three websites using these excellent tools and then publish final results, including the winner of the Great Graphical Website Builder shootout! Thanks for reading thus far…

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