By Jonathan Blum
No matter how modest your launch, your business will need a web presence. Maybe you’ve been putting it off. After all, we weren’t all put on earth to write code on the web–and hiring someone who was is expensive. Luckily, you don’t have to know a thing about programming to build a respectable website these days. There are loads of affordable–even free–tools that do the grunt work for you.
You’ll need a sense of what you want your website to do for your business. As long as you have a germ of an idea, the best do-it-yourself services will guide you along. You’ll also find plenty of options for syncing your website with other online tools like Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, YouTube channels and PayPal accounts. It’s surprisingly easy to get a simple but powerful website up and running in a few hours.
Here are our top five picks for launching your business on the web without skimping on quality.
What it does: Yola lets you build a basic website by picking a template and filling out a few simple forms. Once you have a rough outline, you fine-tune your site with an in-place editing tool. Yola has the goods to let you really dig into the web. You can integrate your site with an impressive list of third-party services such as Google Maps and PayPal, Flickr for photosharing and Picnik for photo editing.
What it costs: The basic web-building tool and a Yola.com address are free. For extra features, better-looking templates and the ability to use your own domain name, the Yola Silver upgrade is $100 per year.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a basic, professional site at a reasonable cost, Yola’s your answer.
What it does: Jimdo’s free version does what a respectable website builder should do, and not much else. We suggest springing for the upgrades (which are reasonably priced) to unlock some cool business features, such as custom newsletters to keep in touch with your customers, page-view stats, PayPal stores and password-protected employees-only pages.
What it costs: Basic features and a Jimdo.com address are free. Jimdo Pro is $5 per month. Jimdo Business is $15 per month, including unlimited data storage and online selling, two domain names and business-specific site designs.
Bottom line: The free tool isn’t worth your time. But what Jimdo does well is hold your hand with nice templates and good overall tools. If you want to sink a little more effort into a site that looks and feels unique, Jimdo is your best bet.
What it does: Wix lets you build a great-looking website in no time with its easy-to-use, what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor. Here’s the downside: The web development tool is based on Adobe Flash, which works on most PCs but isn’t supported by some mobile devices, including the all-powerful Apple iPad. If that isn’t a problem for you, Wix has lots of elegant templates that are easy to customize and can fit every business need. Wix’s image-heavy sites are especially great for photo galleries, which really show clients what your business can do. A new mobile tool lets you build a simple, smartphone-optimized site to reach on-the-go clients.
What it costs: The full-featured website-building tool and Wix.com address are free. Paid subscriptions, which let you do things like remove ads and link a site to your own domain name, run $5 to $16 per month.
Bottom line: If you must have that slick, designed look and don’t mind alienating a couple of potential users, Wix is the answer. Just be sure you understand the limits of Flash, as it can be surprisingly tricky to work with.