Building an online business can be a daunting challenge for someone who hasn’t done it before. The rewards of owning an online business are outstanding, but sometimes the skills gap that separates newbies from experts can seem almost impossible to overcome. Fortunately, there are a number of services designed to help newcomers to the online business profession get started.
A company’s online presence begins with its website, but just building a pretty site isn’t enough. You need to be able to collect payments, optimize your site for search engine rankings, and gather data about your customers so that you can tailor your offerings and better your business. Once upon a time, building such an integrated site required extensive programming skills. Today, there are a number of web services that can do some or all of these things through simple point-and-click interfaces.
Website builders are online services that make it easy for beginners to get a website up and running. Usually, these services include webhosting as well as basic WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors. They usually offer several different payment options as well as service levels, allowing you to start with a low-cost option and then expand your capabilities as your business grows. In some cases you can use the software and hosting platforms for free, which can be useful for new businesses that don’t yet have revenue streams.
Moonfruit is both a webhost and a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. Moonfruit is designed to make it easy for you to make your website look good regardless of the device it is being viewed on. The company takes great care to ensure that blogs, forums, and social media functions are easily integrated into a site. Moonfruit offers a free option as well as myriad paid services.
Weebly is probably the best known option among website building software. Like Moonfruit, Weebly can be used to create sites that are viewable on any device. It uses a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG editor and makes it easy to adjust things like meta tags for search engine optimization (SEO). Weebly is also one of the cheaper options on the market, offering both free and low-cost paid options. Design options are limited with Weebly as a result of its low cost, but the platform is customizable.
Wix is a well-known website builder that is considered to be one of the best for beginners. It works off of a three step process in which you choose a template, customize it to suit your needs, and then publish your website to the Internet. While focusing on look and feel, Wix still makes it relatively easy to modify things like meta tags and URLs to suit your SEO needs. Wix offers free and paid options.
Web.com offers an interesting approach to site builders by allowing you the options of building your site yourself or of letting Web.com staff do it for you. You can even call over the phone to get your website up and running. The company offers a wide range of services that include website building, marketing optimization (e.g. SEO, networking, social networking, email campaigns, etc.), and eCommerce. Web.com will even build your Facebook page for you.
Content Management Systems
Content management systems (CMSs) come in both hosted (just sign up and work online) and unhosted (you install the software to your own server) versions. These systems are different from site builders in that they offer you more control over the things you put on your site, come with more ePayment options (eCommerce, subscriptions, etc.), and have more style customization options. The downside to (CMSs) is that they tend to have a steeper learning curve than website builders have. Perhaps their biggest advantage, however, is that they offer improved SEO features over website builders.
WordPress is probably the best known online content management system. It offers several WYSIWYG editors, easy theming options, and access to well over one hundred thousand plugins that can do everything from optimize your meta tags to improve site performance and process payments. Though slightly harder to use than a site builder, WordPress is still widely considered to be one of the simplest online business building services available. WordPress is used by CNN, Mercedes-Benz, and even Google for some of their website needs. It can be a hosted solution or you can install the software to your own webhost.
Joomla and Drupal
Joomla and Drupal are not available as hosted options, which means that you will have to install them yourself if you want to use them. Having said that, it is important to note that most webhosts make it very easy to install both Drupal and Joomla with point-and-click software because they are so popular. Though the learning curves for these content management systems are steep, they are also among the most powerful website builders on the market and both are free. Websites that use Joomla include ebay, IKEA, Barnes&Noble, and even the United Nations. Websites that rely on Drupal include The Weather Channel, The British Medical Journal, and Greenpeace.
Cushy CMS is a hosted CMS that doesn’t rely on any specific programming language, making it very flexible to use and inexpensive to modify. The CMS is free and offers a number of upgrade schemes to let site owners scale their businesses over time. It tends to be a good option for beginners, but has a smaller developer community than any of the CMSs mentioned above.
Choosing Between Site Builders and Content Management Systems
Whether you choose to go with a simple site builder or a content management system will depend upon your particular needs. Simple site requirements with limited design needs and only basic SEO will best be served by online site builders. Anything more complicated will require a CMS. Choosing between CMSs can be daunting, but there are websites that allow you to test your options and, because they are free, you can try several before you commit. Keep in mind that switching from a site builder to a content management system or between one CMS and another are not easy tasks. You will want to decide which option you prefer before you start building your website.
Both site builders and content management systems are designed to help beginners get a site up and running. That said, a professional programmer can expand any options to increase customization or add missing features. Content management systems scale the best and the more popular versions often have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers who can tweak, customize, or otherwise build upon the basic framework to produce world-class, one-of-a-kind websites.