It’s becoming increasingly important to have an online presence for your business, to tell people about your services or display what you have for sale. Alternatively, you might want to create a site, so friends can keep track of what you’re up to.
Whatever the motive, there’s software or a service designed to ease the work involved in setting up a website. At the simplest level, a blog may be ideal. Although originally designed as online text diaries, most blogging sites now support photos and video and can handle simple sales using third-party buttons, such as from PayPal.
A blog has in essence a linear format, in which each entry is separated from those before it. If your main reason for wanting to get on to the web is to express yourself, this will probably be the most convenient format for you.
For a more conventional website design, with a navigation bar and hierarchical structure of pages, you have two main choices: to build your website using an online hosting service or an offline site designer.
An online hosting service, like the four reviewed here, does a lot more than simply store your website. It will typically provide all the tools you need to create and edit the content of the site in situ on the page; many can handle e-commerce, too, providing you with the opportunity to sell goods or services, and allow the website to pay for itself.
The editing tools in a typical online web service may be simpler than with a dedicated offline tool, but that eases the learning curve. For many people starting up their first site, being able to put together all that is necessary without worrying about the niceties of screen design or coding is a great relief.
To help with this, most providers offer a range of pre-designed templates, with which you simply swap in your own text and pictures to personalise the site for your own use. This way, provided you have some decent content for your site, you can build it and make it available online in a very short time.
If you’re familiar with laying out designs for the printed page, moving to a website designer may be your simplest solution for creating a website. Many of the tools will be familiar and, although there will be new ones to learn, many of these are bundled into ‘widgets’, which appear as simple buttons or logos on a web page and hide the specialist code they provide from both visitor and site owner.
Offline site designers are favoured by programmers who have the necessary knowledge to write their own code.
The disadvantage of the offline method is that you need to choose a web-hosting provider – and pay for this separately. You also have to upload your website to the hosting space, and you won’t be able to edit the site online – you’ll have to make changes using the same offline software and upload any altered files.
Your choice of tools depends on the type of web presence you want to create and your level of expertise. First decide what you want to create, and then pick the tool. Here, we’ll look at four options.
1&1 My Website Personal
1&1 claims its sites are quick to set up, and include standard text, which can speed the establishment of a web presence. There are two offerings, for personal and business sites; we look at the Personal version here. [reviewed here]
You don’t need to pay anything to have your website hosted, provided you’re happy for it to carry ads. Jimdo has a free version, but we’re looking at the Pro product, which has extras such as a proper domain name, email address, newsletter and site statistics. [reviewed here]
Moonfruit has a free entry-level offering and a range of other packages. The Standard product sits above Free and Lite variants, and should suit most personal and entry-level commercial uses. [reviewed here]
WordPress is probably the best known of all the blogging tools. Setting up a basic blog is free, and this includes taking advantage of the professionally designed templates and hosting. [reviewed here]
Macworld buying advice
There’s a wide range of features to consider when choosing a web-design tool. As well as the obvious requirements to place text and graphics, it’s important to be able to create a website with some individuality. We checked for variety the templates on offer from each service, and tested how easy it is to create a design from scratch.
You want to attract visitors to your site, so it’s important to get search engines to find it. SEO (search engine optimisation) is a useful tool for this, as are feeds from the main social-media sites, which let visitors see how active you or your company are on a day-to-day basis. We checked for free SEO tools and widgets to bring these feeds on to site pages.
If you want a site to bring in a bit of extra cash, or if you’re aiming to run a full web shop, you’ll want the ability to sell through the pages of your site. We checked how easy it was to do this, and how versatile the services are in handling payments. With companies who offer more than one level of service, we opted to review a mid-range product, costing between £5 and £10 a month.
There are several types of web presence. At one end, a simple serial feed of posts in a blog can be very well handled by WordPress, giving you a free way to put yourself out there.
However, for anybody wanting to quickly put together a good-looking site that uses modern design elements, such as frame transparency and photo effects, Moonfruit Standard stands out. With a range of media widgets that let you add to your site audio, video and social media, plus an easy-to-use shop facility, this is the tool we would choose to work with. You can try it for free, too.