There are many free website building tools, templates, hosts, and domains out there to start a website for free. So why don’t you? They have their quirks and limitations, but most are excellent. Here is a quick guide to some of the best, reviewed and linked for you to try. Read on.
Where to start?
Try ready made templates
You don’t have to build a website from scratch anymore, or even look for a host. In the last ten years a great number of ready made website templates with hosting included have been developed, from a single page to the full 100 page plus website. Templates save you all the time and trouble of building a website from scratch, rather like a restaurant saves you cooking time. Except these can be free!. They are generally easy to use and attractive to look at, and while some are a fixed package, others offer great opportunities for changing the style and layout if you want your website to be more individual.
Looking for something small and simple?
If you just want to put up a single page of information without taking you much time or technical ability there are a number of good options. The simplest is probably google sites. This is a free and easy way to build a web page with no particular skills needed at all. It has clear instructions and will produce a one page website listing essential contact information about your business or organisation or event. Templates and styles are available to customise the look of the site to suit the content.
If you have a business, a slightly more professional looking service is provided in the UK and Ireland by Getting Business Online. They offer a choice of templates and styles, and in the UK you simply use a google email address to register and get a host and domain name as part of the package, In Ireland it is almost as good, but you need to be registered as a business (costly) and pay for a domain (variable cost) before you can start. But the process is speedy, easy and offers a range of good looking templates to build a simple business site with a single page of information and links and photographs to promote your business online.
Almost as cheap but with a number of other web-based extras which may appeal to you, Microsoft offer a similar website building service to their clients as part of an online office package. Membership is only 6 Euro per month and that includes tools to help you set up a simple web page for free, again with hosting included.
More pages and space, but willing to work a bit harder or pay for it?
If you want a site with more pages and potential, a company called free websites are there for you. They offer a larger site space than business online or Microsoft, and the potential is greater if you are willing to accept ads and if you have the skills to work the dashboard. But you also need to buy or acquire a domain name and host first, so it is important to build that expense and effort into your plan first.
If you don’t have the confidence to self -build they will refer you to yola.com, who as well as offering free tools will also help you to build a site. Their prices start at 99 dollars per year, or 500 to design a full site with all the trimmings for you. This seems a lot, but most companies who build websites will charge a minimum of 800 Euro for the privilege.
Template driven web builders
The best option if you are willing to learn to use their menu systems are a range of larger ready to use web-builders which offer the chance to build a full website with linked pages and archives. These are often attractive and professional looking from the start, and all you have to do is to land your content (can be just text and photos)
into them. It can take about a couple of hours to learn the menus, but very little technical knowledge is needed. The templates
already have a style and colour scheme built into them, and the facility to organise your content into ready linked pages and produce a nice header (bar across the top of the site). You can usually add
gadgets too (news feeds, video etc) fairly easily.
An excellent example is the web-builder from Wix.
The basic Wix service is free, though they will try to sell you
upgrades, but these come from a little as 5 Euro per month. Even the
free service offers pages, photo and video uploads and a huge range of
ready made and attractive templates. The down-side is that you will
have to host the Wix adverts if you don’t pay, and space is limited on
the free version.
But the major advantage of Wix is
that it offers a one-stop-shop which includes a domain name and advice
on search engine optimisation. You can also choose a website (static
and stylish) or a blog (for regular posting and updating), and the
templates are very easily customised without the need to go into a
dashboard at all – simply click on any feature or text to change it or
add something- back click if you don’t like what you have done. It is
an excellent option if you want to be up and running quickly but with a
smart looking site from the start. Of course if you want to do more
with your site you will need to pay.
Also worth a look
Another great service is Zoho.com.
It is free if you stick to a zoho domain name and choose the free
option. The zoho web builder is fantastically user friendly, with very
easy options for building pages, putting in text and adding a whole
variety of extras such as photos, video and tables. Unlike many web
builders, it is also very easy to customise each page with its own
design and header rather than repeat the same style on each page
That said, if you want your own domain name
(recommended if you want any visibility for your site) then the fee is
currently 39 dollars per year plus the cost of the domain name. The
major limitation on the free version is the search optimisation option
is not included, so search engines will not find you easily. Otherwise, a great design, very user friendly menus and a very
competitive fee if you decide
you want more.
Finally, since first writing this article I have reviewed Weebly – a free platform that has gone from strength to strength – making its interactive dashboard more and more easy to use while adding elements that were missing before – the ability to blog and change te header easily for example. And while the
paid version offers greater potential such as changing the look of the
template to individualise your website, the free version has the virtue of great simplicity and will link to your domain name without additional payment.
Blogger and WordPress for the full ticket
Last but by no means least, the most obvious and popular places to go for self-build are Blogger and Word press (free version). These two great one-stop services (including free hosting and domain name) are reviewed in more detail here. The advantage of both is that you get a much larger site (more pages) a wider range of templates and styles so that you can design something uniquely yours, and no cost. You could throw up something simple in a few hours, but will need a few days of practice to really get to grips with the software in order to build a site that meets your needs and looks good. But if you have the time, both have good instructions and a wealth of online help to guide you.
The advantage over Wix and Zoho is that the templates can be redesigned and far more content added, though blogger offers far more potential than WordPress if you prefer to stay free. Free WordPress has a better range of initial templates, but if you want to alter or add to them, or add video for example, you will have to start paying a range of annual fees.
It is also worth mentioning Joomla here. If you are technically minded Joomla offers all the advantages of blogger and WordPress, and has greater flexibility with password controlled access to your site. The free version offers many great options to tailor your site to your needs, more than free WordPress does, and it is very popular. However it is far more complicated to use than WP or blogger, and has many sub menus to master which are not immediately apparent or clear to the first time user. While the templates are inflexible and cannot be altered much in terms of design and look, it does offer a great range of them so you should be able to find one you like without needing to change it. Like WordPress Joomla also offers many, many fascinating gadgets and add ons. So if you are not put off by technical and complicated menu systems, Joomla offers fantastic potential.and is worth a look.