There is currently a lot of chatter around The Grid, a website builder that claims to have created “AI websites that design themselves.” Unlike other do-it-yourself website builders, all you have to do is supply The Grid with your content, multimedia, and website goals (e.g., increase followers, customers, or sales, etc.) and it will harness the power of artificial intelligence to automatically generate a custom responsive website unique to you. The Grid is facing much skepticism as it is still in development, but the team is targeting the end of spring 2015 for the launch.
Regardless of whether The Grid keeps its promises or not, website builders have gained traction in the past 2 years. Back in the old days, if you needed a website and didn’t know how to code, you would hire someone. Today, most low-end clients are looking at DIY solutions to self publish websites since they are very cost effective and giant time savers. Many of these solutions are capable of supporting e-commerce, image galleries, and other unique functionality.
In this month’s issue of the TweakDorks Newsletter, we take a look at some of the most popular website builder solutions. Our list covers website builders, e-commerce builders, and portfolio builders.
Squarespace is probably the most advanced website builder available. It comes with some really great templates for you to start with. Most, if not all, of their templates are very polished and generic in nature, making it easy for you to adapt them to any type of business. Their online editor is user-friendly and sleek, giving you just enough options for customization without being too advanced. It will require some getting used to, but once you get familiar with its interface, you can create and edit pages in a breeze.
Squarespace supports e-commerce, allowing you to sell your tangible or digital products. It connects seamlessly with Strip as a merchant account, and its online dashboard includes several nice sales reports.
Subscriptions to Squarespace start at $8/month, and this plan allows you to create a 20-page website with a gallery and blog support. It also comes with an e-commerce store, but this is limited to one product only.
Wix.com’s forte is its unrivaled collection of good-looking templates. It has templates for several industries, which render well on both desktop and mobile devices. After you sign up with them, you get to choose a starter template to edit in their online editor. Text elements on the page can be edited using the inline WYSIWYG editor, and all elements on the page can be resized or repositioned using drag-n-drop. You can also apply animations such as fade-in, fly-in, etc. to your text and graphics.
Unlike Squarespace, Wix.com does allow you to do some extra customization, such as animating your text and graphics or easily setting up slideshows. What I have never liked with Wix.com is the bloated HTML that it produces. Worse, some of its templates are not SEO-friendly at all.
In terms of pricing, Wix.com’s subscription plans start at $8.25/month and you get to create unlimited pages as long as your storage doesn’t exceed 20GB.
Weebly is kind of a mix of Squarespace and Wix.com. After you select a base template to work with, you then start inserting elements to your page by simply dragging and dropping. Elements are categorized as content, multimedia, structural, e-commerce, and other third-party widgets. The online editor is extremely intuitive and only has options that I personally find important for an online editor. For instance, you get to choose the size of your button and if you want some margin above or below, you can easily define that as well.
It comes with a very handy blog feature that allows you to create blog posts, categorize those posts, and even set the publishing schedule. The great thing when composing new blog posts is that you can easily insert any multimedia or structure elements to your post, thus customizing the look and feel of each post.
Weebly comes with a free plan with unlimited pages, drag and drop builder, and free hosting. Their starter plan is $4/month and allows you to use your own domain name and get detailed stats and support, as well as remove the Weebly branding link from your site.
Jimdo is a nice option if you need a basic site and are not interested in delving into much customization. Its editor is pretty basic, but will still give you the option to easily add, edit, and position your text and graphics. It has a really nice grid column functionality that allows you to easily create and adjust the width of your content columns.
On the other hand, Jimdo comes with strong e-commerce tools for online stores. It supports mobile e-commerce and has great search engine optimization features. As for payment options, only PayPal is supported at this time.
Jimdo has a free plan, but you won’t be able to use your custom domain name or get rid of the Jimdo branding. Paid plans start at $7.50/month and include one email account.
Shopify is an uncontested leader in the e-commerce builder segment. It provides simple yet powerful e-commerce software for you to create a beautiful and highly functionally store in minutes. After you sign up for an account, you get to choose from more than 100 templates or you can create your own custom design.
All accounts on Shopify include a full blogging platform so that you can get involved with your customer community. It also comes with great reports to help you get insights into your inventory and best-selling products, as well as your sales performance over time. Another plus of Shopify is that it has tight integration with other marketing, invoicing, and social services through its apps functionality.
Shopify subscriptions start at $29/month for unlimited products, but there is a charge of 2.9% plus $0.30 for each transaction that your store generates.
LemonStand is a highly scalable e-commerce website builder. Other than the normal e-commerce functionality—such as inventory management, reporting, coupon codes, etc.—it has many extra customization options that you would not find in other store builders. It is extremely developer-friendly, thanks to its webhooks and APIs.
LemonStand does not take any transaction fee from your store, but you will still need to pay your merchant account their credit card processing fee. Subscriptions to LemonStand start at $49/month for unlimited products and one staff user.
Format allows you to create a stunning portfolio to showcase your work instantly with one of their professionally designed themes. It is ideal for artists, designers, illustrators, and photographers looking for a simple solution to display their portfolios online. All themes work great across any modern browser and design. Other than gallery page format, it also supports simple content pages, resume, and CV format. If you’re comfortable with HTML, you can take Format to the next level by further customizing these layouts.
Format pricing is quite reasonable—it starts at $5.75/month (on a yearly billing cycle) and allows you to host 40 pages, 100 images, and 100 videos.
PhotoShelter allows you to easily put together professional portfolios for showcasing and sharing, or even for sales. It has a nice selection of templates, some of which are based on HTML5 to offer added interactions. As with Format, all of PhotoShelter’s templates are responsive. Some of its features include easy integration with social sharing tools, SEO, and security through custom watermarks.
PhotoShelter starts at $9.99/month for 4GB of storage.