Online free website builders have been around for a while, and with so many to choose from, these days it’s easier than ever to make your own website and get it up and running fast. Whilst individuals are the obvious target market for these “make a website yourself”, all-in-one site building and hosting platforms, they are increasingly offering extra services adapted to making business websites as well, complete with online stores. Their simple setup and content updating (CMS) tools can make them an ideal choice for many small businesses, whose resources don’t necessarily extend to a major – but nonetheless essential – online presence, or who had only ever dreamed of developing an e-commerce solution for their business before.
If you’re in the market for a free website builder, whether for personal or professional reasons, there are a few details you’ll need to figure out before choosing one, and a lot of thinking to do before you even begin to make a website. Asking yourself some questions early on will help you define your needs, and to choose the website builder best suited to you:
- How many pages will you need? This will be determined by the volume of content, and the way you want to divide that content up.
- How much material will you need to add to your website? Think about things like images to illustrate your content, files and documents you’ll want visitors to be able to download. You’ll need to ensure your provider gives you enough space to store all the files you’ll need, or a way to access content stored elsewhere.
- How compatible will you website be? If your website builder uses non-standard web technologies, you’ll be limiting visitors’ ability to access your website – flash content or websites, for example, simply won’t load on some browsers, like the iPhone.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course, but you’ll need to get details such as these clearly sorted out before you start looking. It will save you a lot of time in the long run, if you’re sure about what you’re looking for right from the start.
Once you’ve defined your needs, it’s time to go shopping for the right free website builder. There’s a very long list of potential tools, and you’ll need to have a look at the details of what each one provides to be sure it corresponds to what you’re looking for, and to what you need. Be sure to read the fine print, and if possible look at some of the websites that have been created using the tool you’re researching – it’ll give you a much better idea of what you can do… and what design mistakes others might have made that you’d like to avoid. Remember that web design is not an exact science, and it can be really helpful to look at other websites to get an idea of what works… and what doesn’t!
Having selected the website builder that suits you, you’ll need to start by creating an account by providing a few personal details, and choosing a username and password. Often, the username becomes the first part of your website address, so you should choose it wisely, as you can’t change your username once you’ve created it. Most platforms will allow you to personalize your website name with an optional domain name subscription.
Your website is usually published online immediately following registration, so either temporarily deactivate your website until you’ve finished adding content, or start adding content immediately. You should also personalize your site design early on, as your website layout will often have an impact on your content. You’ll usually have the choice between selecting from a range of pre-designed themes, that harmonize your website design with coordinated elements for menus, backgrounds, headers and fonts.
Ensure your choice of website builder allows you to make a website look the way you want it to, by personalizing the ready-made themes how you like. If you have some experience with HTML or CSS (the basic web design languages), then you might like to include that as one of the decisive elements in choosing a platform, and look for one that lets you edit HTML and CSS directly to get full control over your site design and content.
As you personalize your website design, remember that your homepage needs to make an impact – try to ensure that your visitors’ first impressions count! This doesn’t mean you should overload your page with unnecessary content – often, the most striking designs are those that are simple and clean. An ‘airy’ design lets users focus on what’s there, whereas an overloaded, sparkly and colorful design often leaves them confused. End result: they leave your site almost as quickly as they arrived (and that’s not what you want).
When you’ve finally configured your design and completed adding your content, make sure you configure those “extras” that visitors like – the things that can provide your website with a real plus. For personal websites, this might involve adding photo albums and blogs. For business websites, it might be a support forum, or even an online store. Again, when choosing your provider make sure these options are available, and find out whether they are free or cost extra – an important part of your initial decision about what platform to choose should focus on these details as well.
Once you’ve finally finalized your website, get it online and start getting those visitors. Of course, just because you have a website doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get visitors – that’s a subject all to itself. But getting up and online is the first step, and the most important one. And best of all, if you choose correctly, it doesn’t have to cost you a cent!