To put it simply — any website is a bunch of folders with a bunch of files that contain a bunch of code that is interpreted by the browser. In order to get a functional website you’d need to have that code and deploy it on the server so that anyone could get access to it through the Internet connection. There are different ways how you can obtain those files.
Seven options to create a company website?
Free DIY Open-Source Software
Open-source software is distributed “as is” and is free of charge. Anyone can download and use it. Some software is easier to install and operate, some have great documentation, some have a large community of contributors and some have better-designed admin dashboards — all of them are different in many ways.
A few good examples of free open-source software: Drupal, Joomla, Magento, WordPress. You can download any of these systems for free but most likely you’d need some assistance with installing and setting them up, because you’d have to deploy the files onto the server and tinker with them a bit.
- The software is free and it has been implemented on hundreds of thousands of projects.
- It works and there is a large pool of developers who can install and alter it.
- The functionality is limited only to the skill of the web developer.
- Most of these open-source tools are developed as content management systems (CMS); this allows for a user-friendly way to manage files, text and settings.
- Because of the nature of the software it is extremely vulnerable to anyone with malicious intent; choose your web developers carefully.
- You’d need to update and upgrade the software and its constituent parts about 3-4 times a year which can result in conflicts with dependencies such as libraries or plugins.
- Beware of installing third-party plugins as any add-on has the potential to access all data stored in the application and could transfer the information to perpetrators.
Free DIY Online Website Builders
There is no need to download anything — all of the files are located on the servers of the respective provider (owner of the software). In order to use these tools you’d have to create an account and spend, frankly, quite some time trying to figure out how to use them. The learning curve could be a bit steeper for one over the other. Some online web builders that come to mind: Weebly, Wix.
What you might not be aware of is that even when these are advertised as “free” some of them would make money by placing extrinsic ads on your web pages, some would start charging your card after certain conditions are met (e.g. monthly traffic, storage quota), some would require a payment to remove their own logos and links. A lot of the crucial so-called “premium” features are deliberately held behind the paywall.
The hosting fees for these websites are usually higher than you’d be able to get elsewhere but it isn’t that big of a deal compared to the real problem. It will eventually dawn on you that you’re unable to download the code of your web application to use elsewhere except on the initially chosen platform. This could become a huge pain in the not-so-remote, well-known place sooner then you might’ve expected.
This option is like living in a rental apartment for 10 years and not being allowed to move your personal stuff out when you’d have to vacate the premises.
- It’s DIY and it’s free, so depending on your goals it might be more than enough to begin with.
- You don’t need to have any knowledge of the code and you can drag and drop elements like images, icons and text boxes.
- An inquisitive web designer who doesn’t know how to code would still be able to create a good-looking website using this tool.
- The learning curve is rather steep and each website builder has a different interface.
- You would become stuck with the platform; if you’d want to move on to a different one, you’d have to abandon the work you’d done.
- Limited functionality since you would not have access to the source code.
- Basic SEO customization features.
- Might not allow adding external scripts like third-party analytics or chat bots other than the ones approved by the platform.
- If the platform seizes to exist so does your website.
Subscription-based Website Builders
This essentially is the same concept as the free DIY online builders with an exception that these are upfront about what costs are going to be involved. These platforms usually have better documentation, friendlier user interface and a broader range of easier-to-use tools.
For a monthly fee you’d be getting an up-to-date online website builder, some free templates, hosting and SSL certificates. Some examples: Shopify, Squarespace, Webflow.
- A sophisticated but rather easy-to-use tool.
- Good tutorials and documentation.
- Sometimes you might get a trial period of 90 days to see if the platform is worth it.
- No need to make updates or upgrades — it’s either done automatically or with a push of a button.
- Monthly costs regardless of whether your business has any revenue or not.
- You will not have access to the source code which means that the functionality will have its limits.
- Due to inability to tweak the application the way you want the performance might take a serious hit if you decide to include the wrong amount of the wrong add-ons or plugins.
Low-cost Fixed-price Websites
This type of website could be made either with free DIY open-source software, a framework or an online web builder. The differentiating characteristic is that this option implies installation and setup of a theme making sure the core functionality of the website works. In other words — you will be paying for launching your website.
Most of the time companies that offer a website with a fixed, low price would install WordPress with a free theme on the server of the hosting provider of your choosing. They might offer their own hosting and SSL certificates, they might offer monthly maintenance or support — the idea here is that when the minimum fixed fee is low they’re ought to try and get you “hooked” on other services. It’s not always the case but I think you should be aware of the possibility.
Some companies have a proprietary CMS similar to WordPress that they had developed some time ago for a client and now shipped to everyone at a fixed price. They would usually have both free and “premium” themes with extra features that you would soon find inevitable.
Watch out for (e.g.) 250 USD “unique website” offers that will install (a free) WordPress website using a free template (theme) and claim as if it had been “developed exclusively” for your business.
- A fixed price — you know (hopefully) what you are paying for in advance.
- No need to search for a web developer.
- Fast turnaround.
- Depending on the platform chosen to create the website, refer to the disadvantages listed above.
- If you’ve encountered ads promoting a “unique website” for a 250 USD or similar, know that the only thing that’s going be unique is the domain name of your website.
- Higher risk of having some kind of a malicious code concealed in the application.
There are multiple ways to create a custom website: using a framework, an existing website builder or CMS like WordPress or even the online website builder. The key characteristic is that the back-end and/or front-end code would be heavily customized to create business logic, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) tailored to the specific needs of your company.
While it might seem like the custom website option should include a website created from scratch, today no website is created like that — every web developer uses a framework and field-tested code libraries that allows them to create web apps faster and with fewer bugs.
If you ever find yourself receiving an offer for a custom website which includes a template (free or fee) and a list of plugins that will be installed, know this — that is not a custom website. A custom website implies to have modifications to the code both on the front-end and back-end. It is never a Plug’n’Play product.
- No limits.
- Full control.
- Most value.
- Unique solution tailored to specific business objectives.
- The custom website option is the most expensive one as it requires significantly more time to think through and design the whole experience for specific target audiences.
Yet another option would be to hire an employee who would design and develop the website for your business. This could turn out to be more expensive but totally justifiable in case your company requires the services of the web developer on a regular basis.
Usually web designer and web developer are two separate roles as each one has a different skill set; so if your company does not have a budget for both specialists, consider hiring a full-stack developer — someone who is able to produce a good back-end and front-end code while having an eye for visual hierarchy, contrast and aesthetics.
- Full control of the process.
- Unlimited revisions and changes.
- All the troubles of having an employee, e.g. insurances, benefits, sick leaves, retirement plans, management.
- You might have to employ two people with different skill sets — a web designer and a web developer — which would make this option even more expensive.
This is a rather new option which is yet to prove its viability. At the moment it looks more of a buzzword rather than a good, reliable solution.
The problem with these “AI” web builders is that they disregard the content. The results are based on too few parameters like industry, name, and style of design. One of the so-called “AI website builders” promises to scrape the Internet in 60 seconds (which is totally impossible) in search of a unique solution based on your request.
As it stands today in 2023, to me, it looks like they provide a random template from their collection based on your input criteria which is far from being an Artificial Intelligence.
There is some utility in taking this route, though, as for a newcomer this approach might lift the heavy burden of going through thousands of design templates trying to figure out which looks best for the business.
Some AI web builders have free plans, some are more flexible but whatever the initial entry cost get ready to start paying for it eventually: either through higher hosting costs, removal of default branding and foreign ads, premium features or for the use of the service.
- Fast turnaround.
- Less choice — less time spent.
- Unpredictable results.
- More buzz than value.
Pros & Cons of Different Ways to Build a Website
This table should come in handy when you’d want to quickly refer to the most prominent pros and cons of each website creation option. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list but rather a quick guide.
While some solutions for building a website are advertised as “free” we should make a distinction between having a free access to the software and being able to actually use it which often times involve paying for professional services of web DDs (designers and developers). No one had cancelled the costs of a domain name, email provider, SSL and hosting services either. So-called FREE websites do not necessarily mean that there are no fees or costs involved.
Another way of looking at pros and cons of any website building option is through the criteria of control. You could divide all websites into 2 groups.
Website builders like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and Magento; frameworks like Laravel, React and Vue fall into the category of maximum control — you have all the web app’s files in your possession and your abilities to manipulate the code are limited only by the skill level of the web developer.
The second one is a limited control group with platforms like Webflow, Shopify and Squarespace as its constituents. It is distinctive of the former group by the access to the web app’s files — your web developers would not be able to alter most of the back-end source code which implies limitations on what can be achieved.
There are many website building solutions that have adopted the freemium model; it totally makes sense — try out our product and then decide. Do you like it? Pay for it. If you want some extra features — ka-ching.
The key issue that I think you should be fully aware of is that the longer you get to work on your website the more attached you become to it. All the work you’d put in — you wouldn’t want it to go to waste. To keep your hard work safe from harm you’ll pay, since there are no ways to export your website to a different platform.
There is nothing wrong with paying for a sophisticated piece of software that allows you to create a digital tool that would help your business make money. My main concern is the inability to possess that which you had invested your resources in.
Some online website builders allow you to export your style sheets and scripts that you had developed for the app, but your website wouldn’t work if you’d try to just drop these exported files onto a server — you’d still have to have the back-end code which in case of online builders you cannot download.
What is the best way to create a profesional website?
Which of the seven options mentioned in this articles is the best solution for creating a professional website for the professional services firm? That depends on three things: your business objectives, your budget and access to talent.
At the early stages of the company growth you would probably be fine with having the cheapest, DIY option. As the firm matures the amount of features and complexity of business relationships will require you to have a more sophisticated web application.
Take your time to determine which is the right option for your firm. If the website is going to help you build trust and attract clients, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to invest more into this marketing tool.
Consider our marketing solution for qualified professional services firms — Websites Worth Making. To see if any of our solutions are a good fit for your firm, do this quick performance potential test.
Read this article if you are not sure whether you need a website for your small company: Do you really need a website for your small business?.
If you want to know what is a fair price for a business website, read this article: A fair price for a company website.
If you already have a company website but it hasn't been refreshed in more than three years, read this article about why it matters if your website is up-to-date.
And this article talks about how to grow your business through your website.
Video about all the seven ways of making a website for small businesses
The awezzom question of the day:
What business objectives we would like our company website to help us with and how much are we capable of investing in it?