So what is a website builder exactly?
A website builder is software that allows you to create a website online. The software will reside on a web server at a hosting company or be part of a hosted SaaS (software as a service) platform.
Or in other words, you do not use your local computer (desktop or laptop) to hold software that will build the website. Instead you’ll build the website online via software designed specifically for website creation.
Top small business website builders are:
What’s the difference between “hosted” solution or “self hosted” software?
- In a hosted solution you pay a monthly fee to have the software housed and managed by a third party company. You don’t have to worry about finding a hosting company or software updates.
- Website builders that are self hosted will require you to purchase a hosting plan from a third party company, install the web builder software from another company, and you’ll need perform software updates. Don’t let that last comment scare you. There are many hosting companies that will manage software updates for you and you don’t have to touch a thing.
Top Considerations for Picking a Website Builder
- Custom Domain and Branding – Your website deserves a unique domain. A domain is simply the address of your website. Think of a domain like house number used by the post office to locate you. You want your domain (aka URL) to be unique and memorable. Make sure your website builder allows for this and doesn’t make you use an extension of their URL.
- Content Ownership – You need to own your content. That may seem simple, but some platforms control your data. Similar to you using Facebook and Facebook having ultimate control of what resides on your profile or page. A website is your window into the world, so make sure the content you add is owned and controlled by you!
- Available Design Templates – Some website builders will offer beautiful templates that are modern in both appearance and functionality. Some others look like they were created a decade ago, or worse yet, were coded by a developer and without the aid for a graphic artist. Make sure your chosen builder has a plentiful supply of templates for you to pick from and try out.
- Functionality Options – Think about the purpose of the website before you hit that buy button. Do you need e-commerce, podcast support, video integration, forum management, or lead generation? Make sure your chosen website builder supports the functionality you need and possibly want down the road. While some software options – like WordPress.org – allow you to add plugins and extensions, not all do. So make sure you select a platform that supports your current and future needs.
- Ease of Use – Websites should be kept fresh and serve as living documents. For this to be the case, they have to be easy to use and provide a WYSIWYG style editor. WYSIWYG stands for what you see is what you get. Solid website builders will make adding and editing content as easy as working in a Word file. Make sure you review your preferred builder’s content options and make sure it provides a tool you’re comfortable with using.
- Lead Generation Opportunities – A good website will produce positive results for it’s owners. In many cases, this means lead generation. Not all website builders will make this easy, so consider the software and it’s ability to quickly add, edit, or customize intake forms.
- Customization Availability – In many cases, the off-the-shelf templates won’t be a perfect fit for your website. You might need to customize the colors or layout slightly. Review your website software’s options and make sure you have the ability to edit the design and layout as needed.
- Multimedia Support – We live in a multimedia world. People expect written content, videos, images, and audio files. A quality software package will offer all of these and allow you to add such files effortlessly.
- Search Engine Optimization – If you build it they will come. Well not exactly. You need some quality SEO for your website to rank and bring in search traffic. Make sure your software has really strong SEO features as part of the core software or allows you to add on features via an extension. You should be able to create SEO friendly URLs, headers, meta titles, meta descriptions, alt text, XML sitemaps, and have appropriate robot.txt file options.
- Mobile Responsiveness – In 2017 Google is moving to a mobile first index and it is doing so because it sees more searches on mobile devices than on desktop computers. You need to make sure your website is ready for this new world of mobile and voice based search. Not all website builders will do this well, so check out your preferred software on your phone before you start building.
- Speed and Performance – Because mobile is a much have feature, speed and performance will be too. Your website has to load fast and not chew through a ton of mobile data.
- Cost – The cost of website builders and hosted website software will vary from $5 per month to $100 per month. Know your full cost structure by looking at all the options carefully. The “free” builders are not really free when you consider the fact that you have to upgrade to have basic features like a unique domain.
- Technical Support – At some point you will need technical support. It is software after all and software can be picky at times. Check out the software and/or hosting company’s technical support options and make sure someone has your back should you need them.
- Analytics and Visitor Tracking – Data is an important part of marketing. A quality website builder will allow you to add Google Analytics code to your website. Don’t accept any software that lacks this option. Google Analytics is free and should be used by every website owner.
- Import and Export Options – Relationships ebb and flow and this includes website software and hosting. Make sure your builder allows you to export your content if needed. This will make breaking up and upgrading much easier.