It’s counterintuitive for me to facilitate this discussion, but what the heck. Who knows why, but people are always asking me where they can get an easy, free or very inexpensive website. They want to be able to add content – photos, maybe a little video, text. Perhaps they are a consultant or small business and haven’t gotten to the point where their website is a real priority (perish the thought) or they want to have more than a blog to chronicle their family adventures. There are many really good free blogging options out there, WordPress being, probably, the best one. And, with some technical assistance and a little tweaking (the geeks call it hacking), WordPress can be a great web content management tool. But it still requires intervention from that geeky friend, brother-in-law, uncle who works in IT. I encourage you to jump in and learn a little about how WordPress or other blogging systems work and try the tweaking yourself. If you use the WordPress hosted option and you don’t install their software on your servers you can dive right into your website in no time at all. If you’re still with me, I’m thinking that what you want is a simple, intuitive option that lets you bang out and publish a site in short order. And maybe a ‘blog’ isn’t enough for you. To tell the truth, there are some easy, free options out there, but you didn’t hear it here. I don’t plan on making this post an exhaustive list of cheap, free or inexpensive web building tools. Instead, I thought I’d look at a couple of free (or, ultimately very inexpensive) options for building and maintaining your own website.
I recently stumbled on an interesting service called Weebly. Weebly is entirely web-based, which means there’s no software to buy and download or install. This is a good thing. You can build an entire site in just a few minutes. This service lets you use drag and drop options for adding content to your site, you can add whole pages with just the click of a button. The templates include all sorts of layout options. And you can pull in things like photos from your own collections or from photo sharing sites like flickr. You can drop in a blog for the day to day writing. Or maybe you want to share a youtube video. No problem. Signing up is really easy. The interface is very intuitive and the system walks you through the (seemingly) more complicated elements like pulling content in from these other websites. If you want to get really adventurous the Weebly even gives you the option of pulling in GoogleAds so you can make money through your website. Whoa! What a concept. Remember this, this is probably not appropriate if we’re talking about your small business website. There are more advanced features in Weebly, but you have to pay for them. The premium service let’s you password protect pages, have multiple websites, upload and store large files, use their proprietary audio player and get some more hands-on support. This service is pretty reasonable, though. It looks like it starts at around 4 bucks a month. Here’s the thing that I think makes Weebly worth a look — the pages look decent. Unlike a lot of canned offerings out there, these are clean and current in their design. If you decide next week you hate how your site looks, no problem. You can change that design on the fly. Another plus is you can publish your site to your own domain. If you don’t have one, you can get it through Weebly, for an additional fee, of course. This is great because you can build your own site and publish it to www.MYOWNBUSINESS.com in a very short amount of time. If that’s not a big deal to you, or if you just want a site to show off your kid’s macrame you can just be a subdomain on Weebly like mykidsstuff.weebly.com. Every time you log back into Weebly you get a snapshot of your traffic too. You’ll know right away when the family starts visiting to judge you for how you dress junior in his most recent pictures. All in all, I’d say Weebly is pretty impressive. I built a Geek Girls test site in all of 10 minutes. I could definitely see my lower tech friends and family members using this service.
There are other cool web building tools worth a look. Matt Wilson, president of MIMA and a Geek Girls Guide Men’s Auxilliary member (whether he likes it or not) mentioned Tumblr to me and I thought I’d take a look. I liked it right away for its ease-of-use and intuitive walk-through of my first post. It didn’t give me a global view of the features as they relate to my layout in the same way that Weebly did. But it did walk me through creating and publishing a post with a very elegant, user-friendly, step by step process. I have the same kinds of opportunities with Tumblr to add audio and video, and outside content to my site. I liked some of the mobile options – I can ‘tumbl’ from anywhere with my mobile phone or handheld device. I can also publish to my own domain. I don’t see Tumblr being as useful for a small business, or someone wanting a website with multiple pages AND a blog. But it would be PERFECT for the beginner wanting to share family photos or videos or maybe journal through a trip or whatever simple little stories you might want to share. In fact, Tumblr is really geared toward those people wanting to offer a more media-rich experience to their users. Its all about the video, audio, image-rich content. Start a vlog! Or a Photoblog. You’ll impress your friends and it’ll be SO EASY!
Don’t take my word for it, though. Try some website building services on for yourself and see what fits for you and your requirements. Here’s a few more for you to take a peek at:
- blogger.com: The original web-based blogging software. Its a lot more feature rich, user friend and robust than it was when it first came along. If you know it, it might be time for another look.
- clearblogs.com: Easy enough. And free. For the most part, anyway.
- terapad.com: The basic service is free but ad supported. Nice feature-set. Great templates.
- Xanga.com: Blogging + social networking = xanga.
- Squarespace.com: Great interface. Intuitive feature set. Awesome designs.
There you have it. I’ve admitted some things can be free. But you always pay a price. You pay a price in terms of flexibility and scalability. You pay a price in terms of support. And, as you grow, you may really have to pay a price – to grow, and get more, and do more. But as a stepping-off point, these services are worth a look. I promise you, regardless of your level of competency with technology, if you can use a word processor, if you’re reading this post right now, you too can build and manage your own little website. So, what are you waiting for? Get on that!