As promised, I’ve provided some capsule reviews and a comparison chart for five tools that make building a website quick and (relatively) painless. Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily provided a brief but excellent overview of these web development tools last week. My goal is to dive a little deeper and see which provide the most utility and benefit to small businesses.
If your goal is to get a site up quickly and cheaply, you almost can’t go wrong with any of these web site platforms. I am most critical of SiteKreator and Webnode and for a simple reason: if one of them goes out of business, it’s not clear how you’re able to get your content back. SiteKreator has the more obvious business model, so that may be less of an issue, but speaking from experience, if you don’t have access to your content and your provider goes belly-up, you could find yourself good and well hosed. SynthaSite, Weebly and WordPress all allow for moving content out of their systems in some form or other, which wins major points in my book.
A second – though minor – critique is that each of the tools assumes some level of HTML/web knowledge at some point in the process. I highly recommend anyone doing this for themselves take the time to get familiar with a couple of the tools to see where they run into the ceiling of their knowledge before committing their entire web operation to one of these sites. Now, on to the show.
Weebly – Very, very cool. It’s got a simple, hip interface that I found easy and fun to work with. Its low price (i.e., free) is very tough to beat. Integrated blogging feature. Nice designs. My main concern/critique is their lack of an obvious business model. As GigaOM pointed out, they’ve got a tough road to hoe to profitability. You can download site in a zip file, which is nice. Overall, a very solid, well thought out product.
SiteKreator – I looked at the Personal edition as that allows you to have your own domain. Offers different designs based on paid level, so make sure the designs are available at your level. Simple, sophisticated content creation tools. Ability to insert custom HTML into the templates, which is nice for advertising and analytics code. No scheduling of content. Integrated blogging. Some templates not very SEO-friendly. Strong business model – the company creates custom site designs, provides consulting, or integration of existing designs into its content management tools. Very sophisticated options for folks willing to dive into the toolkit, such as access controlled pages, meta description and meta keywords sections, page title customization, custom 404 pages, etc. Limits ability to delete pages linked to, eliminating risk of broken hyperlinks, which is particularly nice. SiteKreator offers the least amount of storage. Shouldn’t be a problem for the types of sites we’re looking at here, but, could be an issue for long-term site growth.
Webnode – Very capable tool and completely free (nice!) but I can’t figure out their business model. Also has – to my taste – a much more complex interface compared to the others. For small businesses with limited experience, that’s a con in my book. Tagging for pages, a nice feature. Slowest interface. Not horrible, just a bit frustrating after the simple, quick elegance of Weebly and SiteKreator. Allowed me to delete a page linked to from other place and removed links to page, which is way cool. Easy custom 404 page builder. Advanced features include ability to incorporate custom designs and RSS feeds. Still, can you get your content out of it?
SynthaSite – More of a site creation toolkit than the others, which allows you to get your content out. The downside is that fewer tools (blogs, forms, etc.) available by default. Vinny Langham, the company’s CEO has mentioned that they’ll look to make money via paid widgets in the future. Works best on a big monitor (tough to see everything on the screen on my 15″ laptop screen – much better on my 17″ one). Otherwise, this is a very cool tool for building your site. Could almost serve as a poor man’s Dreamweaver.
For quick comparison, take a look at this chart (I’ve included WordPress for baseline comparison):
|Ability to move content||+||–||+||+||–|
|Viable business model||???||+||???||+||???|
* – Price/year includes cost to direct a custom domain to the WordPress hosting platform. Domain registration cost isn’t included.
While I recommend you take the one that’s most interesting to you for a spin, a few things became obvious during this process. SynthaSite or Weebly look like the best choice for creating content to host elsewhere and Webnode, Weebly or SiteKreator seem to be the better choice if you’re going to use their hosting. I give gold stars to Weebly in particular, but to be completely fair, the fact that we’re debating which sub-$100 a year web hosting/content management system service provides the best small business starter website is remarkable. No business has an excuse for remaining invisible with these options available.
By the way, web developers building sites today need to get an account to one or more of these services and see how high they’ve set the bar for a basic site/content management system. Each of these tools will cover the basics and each offers a handful of advanced features. I wouldn’t suggest that these tools can replace the knowledge and skills strong development shops have built for themselves. But those developers are going to have to work hard to show their potential customers what they’re paying for.
Interested in learning more? Register to receive a free copy of my new special report, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World,” produced in conjunction with Vizergy, here. While it’s targeted to the hospitality industry specifically, most of the lessons apply across verticals. And, if that’s not enough, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web, including:
- How to Build Your Small Business Blog
- Facebook and Google+ Are Not Blogs
- 5 Questions About Landing Page URL’s
- Eight Excellent Easy Website Hosting Options (Small Business E-commerce Link Digest – January 20, 2012)
- Taking a look at Weebly (The Thinks Website Hosting Tools Review)
- Sizing up Squarespace (The Thinks Small Business Web Hosting Review)
Full disclosure – I’m both a WordPress.com and hosted WordPress user, but have no financial stake in either.