And the Winner Is…

Welcome back to part two of the great graphical website builder shootout. We ended our last blog with a promise to continue with our project of building three similar websites using three excellent website development tools and then publish final results, including a winner in the Great Graphical Website Builder Shootout.

An important approach to take with any significant project is to break it up into digestible chunks. Hence, I had spent some time creating sample content for the site as well as searching Creative Commons for license-free graphics that would fit the site’s theme.

For review, our website needs to have five sections – Home, Services, Blog, Support, and About – and also needs to be able to provide functionality that supports the various services provided by the site. In some cases, we expect our development tool to provide controls (like a calendar control) to enable this functionality. In other cases, some custom development may be required to achieve optimal functionality.

The most advanced functionality required is online scheduling, where site visitors can view available times and schedule a time to receive assistance with their specific technology problem. I’m highly skeptical that any of the three companies being reviewed will provide this functionality out of the box.

With that, let’s take an in-depth look at the 3 development tool contestants and how they fared in this shootout…

Squarespace

Squarespace provides an excellent drag and drop tool for developers to quickly assemble a website. I spent several hours putting together a slick-looking Tecteen.com site (while dealing with interruptions) and searching for existing images that were labeled “licensed for reuse” in Google’s image search feature. Altogether I spent about 4-5 hours from zero to published with Squarespace.

You start by choosing one of the provided templates to begin building your site. Squarespace makes it easy to switch to a completely different template; however, the number of templates to choose from for our particular scenario was smaller than the other providers I reviewed. Hence, I ended up being a bit limited by the template we chose. If I had been creating a website for a restaurant or online store, the templates provided would have been a better match with this business.

Squarespace had some nice surprises that I could see coming in handy for many site builders. The first was a simple tool for creating a business logo. I tried it out and was able to put together a decent-looking logo in a matter of minutes – no graphic design skills required! You are even allowed to take the logo with you if you were to decide to move your website and no longer use the Squarespace service.

I also liked the announcement bar feature that enables you to place breaking news or promotional content at the top of your site. The image further below provides an example of what this looked like for the Tecteen site.

The Squarespace site builder was free to use during a trial period that ended too quickly. Since I was working with all three tools at the same time, it took me a while to get through using the various tools to complete each site and document nuances in this blog. When I returned to my Squarespace site after several days, the service informed me that my trial period had ended and that I needed to upgrade to a paid plan to continue.

You can spend a fair amount of time customizing certain aspects of the site’s look and feel in the “Style” section of the tool, as more than 30 options are currently configurable.

Weebly

Weebly also starts with choosing a template for a site, blog, or store. I was able to choose from a wide array of professional-looking themes.

Weebly’s interface for building websites is straightforward and simple. Drag web controls onto your edit area and then modify control properties. Click on a mobile or desktop icon to see how the site pages display on the pertinent form factor. Nice.

For each page you create, you can choose one of four page layouts – how the text, images, and other content are laid out on the screen. This limits your options when creating pages, but also minimizes complexity.

Weebly doesn’t provide a “build your own logo” option, so we built several of our own custom logos to try out in various situations. I spent a fair amount of time creating a logo for the site while we I was creating the Weebly version of the website. You can hire a marketing firm or graphic designer to design a logo for your company or choose an option that’s easier on the budget by creating your own.

I was impressed to find that Weebly offers a control called Bookings for adding a scheduling tool to the website. However, as I attempted to implement it, errors occurred and it appears the service costs $30 per month – spendy for a small business.

Wix

Initially I was going to review only SquareSpace and Weebly for this blog, but then a Wix television commercial caught my attention (yay for TV advertising generating a genuine lead) and knew I had to include it in this shootout.

Wix has a wide range of website templates to choose from. The advantage of starting with a template is that you can get from ground zero to having a published website pretty quickly. The disadvantage is that you’re often locked into a site architecture that’s less flexible. A lot of small companies begin with a simple template, and then when budget becomes available move to a more advanced web platform – and also to a team of web developers to manage it.

We’re starting out small, though, so an existing template is the right way to go. The Wix library included a “Computer Repair” template, which is a level closer than templates from the other providers to building a site that meets my specific requirements.

Wix packages their plans in 5-tiers, ranging in price from $4 to $40 per month. You can earn discounts by paying the yearly cost upfront. Wix payment and pricing options are available here: http://www.wix.com/upgrade/website.

In general for all providers, the longer you commit, the cheaper it is on a monthly basis. The catch is that you have to pay a lump sum up front to realize the savings.

Summary:

Here are some samples of the home pages created from the three providers. They look totally different from each other, largely due to the templates available from each provider and then the initial template with which I started. So one key to a successful website is starting with a template that more closely matches how you envision customers using your site.

The home pages for the sites developed with SquareSpace, Weebly, and Wix tools

All three providers supply far more functionality than I can describe in a short blog. My goal has been to define a project of reasonable scope and then see which of the three tools was best for this particular job. You might find that one of these three or a perhaps a completely different one meets your specific requirements better.

In addition, all three companies are quickly moving forward with new innovations to make the lives of website creators easier. So your experience may very well be different and/or better than the one I had. I will provide updates/corrections to this content if the service providers or readers report inaccuracies.

And with that, drum roll please…

Wix came out on top for creating the type of website required for this project (technology services provider). Squarespace and Weebly enabled me to complete the task with ease as well, but Wix included a few more capabilities to garner the top spot. Here’s a summary of some of the key features and scores to better quantify key features leveraged to build the site:

Great_WebsiteBuilder_Shootout

 

 

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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…