As Web 2.0 services, they also integrate well with other online tools, such as blogs, wikis and social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Drag-and-Drop Publishing, Made EasyAll four use pre-designed templates to let you create free pages with no design skills or coding knowledge required. You can basically click on any design you like, then drag and drop images to give the site your own look and feel. All four offer free hosting, which means they "host" or store your pages on the Internet.
None requires special knowledge of Web publishing. You fill out their forms with the text you want to appear on your pages, upload any photos you want to display from your computer, and then click "publish'' or "submit" to publish your website.
What you don't get for free is an original Web address--your site won't be located at yourname.com, for example, unless you are willing to pay a little extra. Another downside is that these services often show ads on your pages, which is how they pay the bills for the free publishing.
Premium ServicesMost of these free site builders also offer upgraded services for premium fees, often at fairly inexpensive rates. For $50 to $100 a year, for example, some will provide more pages and allow you to store more data on your site. For around $12 a year, some offer an original Web address or domain which they will register for you. Premium services are particularly helpful when an individual or group wants to upgrade their site.
But I recommend those who have never done any Web publishing start by trying a free service. The four listed below are particularly appropriate for individuals, small companies, nonprofit groups, and community organizations.
Four Top Website Builders and Their Key Features
- Weebly.com -- Weebly offers one of the best deals because its free version has no limits on the number of pages, or on how much data (text and images) can be stored, or on how much bandwidth/traffic the site can consume. You can buy an original domain for a fee or configure your own domain to work with a free Weebly site. Weebly optimizes its pages for display on smart phones and offers integration with other blogging services and social networks.
- Yola -- Yola's free version limits storage to one gigabyte of data, and individual file sizes to 15 megabytes. The $99-a-year "silver" service raises the data storage limit to 5 gigabytes and the individual file limit to 100 megabytes.
- Webstarts -- The free version of Webstarts offers up to five pages and 10 megabytes of storage for text and images. To create unlimited pages, no ads on pages, and an original domain or Web address, the premium fee is $7.16 a month.
Wix.com -- Wix specializes in Flash-based websites, which means its pages are created using Adobe's popular interactive design software called Flash. Its free sites allow unlimited pages but have storage and traffic limits--200 megabytes of file storage and 500 megabytes of bandwidth a month.
Wix sites tend to look hip and cool, but also are bandwidth-intensive, so their pages typically take longer to load. Designers and artists tend to love pages that use Flash, while business-oriented publishers often shy away from them.
Link your Free Website to Your Facebook, Twitter and Other Social Networks
Building a website is particularly helpful for people and groups that want to cross-link all their social media profiles in one spot. It's easy to add links or widgets that will show Twitter and Tumblr feeds, profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, photos stored on Flickr and other social media services.
You can learn more about first-generation Website builders and other Web publishing tools here.