Most of the people that visit your website are going to judge you, and they're going to judge you hard. A pixelated image, a broken link, or just the wrong choice of font can turn anybody off, no matter how good your band sounds or how innovative or durable your product is. Going at it alone, even if you know code better than most, is hazardous at best, and potentially disastrous at worst–moreso if you're on a deadline. That's why these easy-to-use, professional website builders have cropped up and competed with each other to offer you the most features for the lowest cost. Take advantage of them.
Spend Money To Look Good Making Money
Whether you're looking to take your brick and mortar business to the web or just starting a company from scratch, you'll find that Shopify has the most tools for analyzing and optimizing your sales performance once you're up and running.
Shopify also offers something unique, if expensive, for a website builder: hired help. You can connect with individuals and companies that specialize in making the most out of your Shopify site, whether they're simply designing custom apps or building your site from the ground up. They can run you anywhere from $60 all the way up to $15,000 just to start, but that all depends on what you want them to do.
Other platforms offer layout options, online store capacities, and SEO optimization tools that are all on par with what Shopify has to offer. Most of them offer it all for a smaller monthly cost to you. Where those sites fall short, and where you want to stick with Shopify if you're serious about taking your brand to the next level, is in sales analysis.
You can see how your products perform while accounting for variables of time, customer demographics, combination purchases, and more. As implied above, however, you do pay a premium for this analysis, as it's only available to you at Shopify's Unlimited monthly level.
If you don't have anything to sell, all of this is pretty irrelevant, as you can use far less expensive platforms to build an equally eye-catching website to display your collection of state capitol shot glasses or whatever it is you're showing off.
Looks Are Definitely Deceiving
When you go to the home pages of the other site builders on this list, you'll notice how effectively each uses its own template style to immediately convey the possibilities available to you should you sign up. It's a smart tactic, especially because these templates look so nice.
eHost has templates that are just as compelling as any of its competition, with great tools for customization and feedback, as well. The frustrating thing, which doesn't hurt you in any direct way, is that their main pages don't show you what their platform can do. Simply put, the eHost website looks cheap, even though the sites it can build look great. It's like going to buy a car and finding nothing on the showroom floor, no images of the cars or videos, just plain text pamphlets on each vehicle for you to read.
The good news is that eHost offers a 45-day money back guarantee, so you can have a nice, long test drive in the car once you see it. The cost, should you choose to keep the car (website), is an amazingly low flat rate. What's more there's a great way to find even deeper savings that the ridiculously low cost offered on eHost's home page. Here's what you do: Get a couple of steps into the signup process, then type another website in the url bar at the top of your window. When you hit enter, eHost will hit you with an offer for additional savings.
Web Designer To The Stars
Wix makes something very clear right out of the gate: video backgrounds look amazing. If you have some well-shot, slow-motion ready footage at your disposal that even loosely ties in with the theme of your page, it's going to exponentially increase the quality of your design. If you have neither your own videos nor the ability to produce them, Wix offers free background videos for you to choose from.
You'll encounter a lot of the things we've all come to expect from modern site builders: drag-and-drop editing within well-designed templates, a plethora of apps and stock images, etc. SEO optimization is also here, but it comes to you in a wizard format, which walks you through the best practices for enhancing and automating better search engine placement. There's also this little thing called a parallax 3-D effect you can use.
Now, for those of you who slept through physics in high school or college, parallax is the phenomenon of light, space, and size that makes the trees just outside your car window look like they're going by much faster than the mountains ten miles away, even though you're passing both at the same speed. It's also how astronomers track the movements and calculate the masses of celestial objects, by comparing them to the masses and movements of larger, more distant stars.
Basically, Wix can offset the apparent velocities of different page elements, creating the illusion of a third dimension on the screen. The effect captures your attention and holds it. Ah, science!
Hassle-free Site Management Anywhere, Anytime
For the designer on the go, Weebly's mobile app is like a little personal assistant that you can keep in your pocket without ever having to feed it or show it affection. You get the entirety of your site's construction, customization, inventory management, and tracking tools wherever you are on the map (provided you have a signal).
What's more, Weebly's pricing tiers are fantastically inexpensive. There's even a free branded option if you don't mind your site saying "Weebly" all over the place. It's a great way to get a look at what the site can offer in terms of layout and interface without risking a single penny. If you like what you see and how it works, the full suite is less expensive than the basic package offered by many of the other site builders on the market.
Despite the low cost, there really isn't anything missing from the Weebly experience. You don't get any direct help with SEO, but there is a handy guide you can use to teach yourself the basics of the art. Beyond that, you've got your drag-and-drop editing, helpful apps, and site analysis, as well as Weebly's convenient inventory management for online stores, including the option to sell digital goods and services.
Making A Website: In-Depth
So, the time has come for you to build your own website. Maybe this is your very first rodeo, or maybe you're just trying to find a better platform or a better deal than you got last time around. Whatever the case, the general layout of the top website builders out there has become pretty uniform.
Take a look at the sedans on the road today for a parallel. Fifty years ago, different car manufacturers were still interested in making cars that looked unique. Nowadays, everyone's just copying the BMW 5 and 7 series as much as is legally possible. When you look from one website builder to the next, it isn't that easy to see the differences right off the bat.
But there are differences, and depending on what you want your shiny new website to do for you, these differences could make or break your brand. Let's have a look.
Is it searchable?
There's nothing more frustrating that trying to find something on the internet that can't be found. All it takes is one forgettable moment in the zeitgeist for a simple search like 'cold turkey sandwich' to exclusively result in videos and articles about one of the vacuous Kardashians making a turkey club. You'll never find that other page you were looking for again. You might even start thinking it had all been a dream.
While that's an extreme and specific example, it's there to illustrate the importance of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. These tools, many of which are automatically provided by a few of the services we recommend, help bump your website up to a higher ranking in Google's master algorithms. If your website comes up on the sixth page of a search for your service, odds are no one's ever going to see it.
There's a lot that you can do in addition to the automated functions provided by the site builders out there, and some of the providers we recommend have guides and wizard programs to train you up on the best practices to get even more out of your SEO.
Look With Your Eyes
A simple truth about a good website is that it has to be appealing to the eye. Something about it, whether or not the individual web surfer can identify it, must hold a customer's gaze.
The templates offered by the top website builders on the net are great for getting and keeping a visitor's attention. Text fields, apps, and images need to be laid out just right to create a kind of circuit for the eye to follow. This circuit needn't be as simple as, say, a NASCAR race, but it should connect, more like those fancy racetracks in Europe.
It's even better if all that text and imagery can move out of concert with a background image or video. Why? Well, within the school of Gestalt Psychology, there is a theory that can be greatly reduced to the following: the human eye will tend to catch the movement of an object against a static background, as well as the movement of a background behind a static object. Evolutionary psychology would point to early humans' need to identify lurking predators or possible prey as the catalyst for this talent.
If you pin a small field to your page, for example, that will stay situated in its place on the screen no matter how far you scroll up or down, the eye will catch it more readily.
A lot of these professionally built templates are already designed to do a lot of this for you, so while additional drag-and-drop edit features are nice, be careful that you don't get so caught up in breaking away from the original look of the template that you shoot your self (psychologically, anyway) in the foot.
So, if you want to keep your visitors on the page longer, but you also want to make some edits to the template and make it your own, you can conduct a little experiment with your layout. All you need is a friend. If you don't have one of those, well, you can buy a stranger some ice cream and I'm sure they'll help you out.
- Sit your friend–or the stranger–down in front of your new web page. You can do this over the phone, but they're liable to be more honest with you in person since you can actually see them grimace or delight at your deign.
- Have them prepared to tell you what the first thing is that they see, and then trace a line with their finger around the page wherever their attention goes.
- Finally, have them navigate for a while and call out words: colors, emotions, etc., to get a sense of what's going on in their brains.
If the first thing they see isn't the first thing you wanted them to see, compare the two. Is what they saw first brighter, larger, more colorful? Where is it on the page? These site editors have a handy drag and drop feature, so you can literally switch the positioning of the competing elements in seconds.
If the line they drew from that first point through the page is a mess of tangles, don't despair. Casinos and shopping malls are built like labyrinths to keep the gamblers gambling and the shoppers shopping. What matters is whether the line reconnects with the beginning, or at least sends them off to another important page. If it ends abruptly, or on some less than lucrative link, you might need to reorganize.
As far as the colors and emotions go, that's half psychological page research to make sure your color palate is making them feel comfortable and ready to buy. The other half is just to have a little good, clean fun with your friend's brain state.
Gimmie The Stats, Stat
If you follow any sport, you've probably noticed that the statistical analysis of teams, players, combinations of players, match-ups, etc. has gotten a little out of hand. If you want to know what Steph Curry's shooting percentage is during the third quarter when he's playing his fourth game in three nights at an elevation 500 ft. or more above sea level, in the month of December with the barometric pressure holding at 29.92 Hg, and a chicken salad sandwich in his stomach from two hours before tip-off, there's somebody out there computing it.
What I mean to say is that it's easy to get caught up in the stats. All of the site builders we recommend offer one kind of stat tracking or another. Some of them are simple traffic rates, while others get into demographic research, what kinds of searches led visitors to your page, and more.
You could spend a tremendous amount of your time sifting through all of your data and trying to manipulate your website's layout, SEO, product offerings, sales schedule, etc. to try to accommodate your customers' needs. Or you can focus on the quality of your product. If you're the product's creator and you're reading this, you probably don't have a team big enough to spread the focus evenly between the nuanced strategic implementation of your data and the continued improvement of your service.
Fortunately, enough of the SEO work on these pages is automated that you can start out simply, and eventually bring somebody on board to make sense of the numbers.
Build From You Outward
At this point, you've seen the sites themselves and what each has to offer, so you need concentrate a few points before taking any sort of plunge.
- What are you doing with this website?
- Who's your audience? What do they like?
- What kind of feedback do you need to feel satisfied?
- What'll make you most proud?
It'll help you immensely to understand the purpose of the site your building, as one service is better for starting a global sales empire than another is. Whether you're selling or promoting something, knowing your audience will give you direction in your design. If you don't know your audience, the stats that you'll get back from your chosen provider can help. In the mean time, just build something that makes you feel good. That's always a smart place to start.