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What is a Website Builder?
An online website builder, also known as a website builder, an online CMS or a web builder, is a special kind of content management system (CMS).
While traditional content management systems were designed to administer large websites, online website builders were designed with smaller website projects in mind.
This means the user doesn’t require any special programming skills or other technical knowledge, such as knowing how to install a CMS, apply a template or create a database.
Features of site builders
It’s possible to create a fully functional web presence with an online website builder. Updating your website’s text or adding new articles, images or multimedia content such as video or audio, is also easy via a user-friendly interface.
Modern online website builders follow the key CMS principle of maintaining strict separation between content and design. The advantage of this is that websites designed in this way are more easily indexed by search engines.
It also means that making changes to the website’s design or templates is easy, and the content doesn’t need to be modified in the process. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of online website builders.
Who are website builders for?
These systems are particularly suited to individuals, freelancers, photographers, small businesses and start-ups with or without a web store.
Different types of website builders – online vs. offline
Some website builders are entirely web-based and run on the provider’s server (e.g. Weebly or Jimdo). To work with these tools, all you need is a standard web browser such as Firefox or Internet Explorer. Other website builders come as software packages that you download and install on your computer (e.g. Rapidweaver). Both options have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of online site builders (e.g. web-based like Jimdo):
- No need to install anything on your computer.
- You can work on your website from anywhere (also great for team projects!).
- No need to worry about updating software or accessing FTP servers*.
- Website builder and web hosting are offered by the same provider.
- No need to purchase software.
- Many website builders offer packages that are completely free.
Advantages of offline site builders (e.g. locally installed like Rapidweaver):
- You can still work on your website even if you’re offline.
- FTP server access* offers greater flexibility.
- You are less dependent on your website builder service provider.
- With internet access becoming increasingly fast and reliable, browser-based (i.e. web-based) website builders are becoming more and more popular. That’s also the reason why we focus on web-based website tools in our reviews.
- FTP means you can access the web folders where your website is hosted directly.
Which are the best providers?
The demand for easy-to-use website builders has increased with the explosion of Web 2.0 platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and other social communities. This has enabled content consumers to become content creators too.
Providers vary widely in the quality and functionality offered. Jimdo and Weebly are widely recognized as the best providers for beginners, while Squarespace is best suited to advanced users requiring more advanced features.
If I use a website builder to create my website, do I “own” the design and content?
You are the owner of your content: no website builder can claim any rights on things that you’ve created (copy, images, video etc.). You can also take it and move it to a different site builder or host anytime you want.
The website’s design is a different matter. If you are using a template from the library of your website builder, you basically only rent the rights to use it as long as you use their services. If you move your website to a different host, you cannot continue to use their template, strictly speaking. But we haven’t heard of a single case where a website builder company claimed this right.
This is all a completely new subject for me and I don’t know where to start. Can you help?
For complete website newbies, we recommend our eBook “Website Creation for Absolute Beginners” which gives you a quick overview of the subject.
About Website Builders
Website builders are tools that typically allow the construction of websites without manual code editing. They fall into two categories:
online proprietary tools provided by web hosting companies. These are typically intended for users to build their private site. Some companies allow the site owner to install alternative tools (commercial or open source) - the more complex of these may also be described as Content Management Systems;
offline software which runs on a computer, creating pages and which can then publish these pages on any host. (These are often considered to be "website design software" rather than "website builders".)
The first websites were created in the early 1990s. These sites were manually written in HTML.
Over time, software was created to help design web pages and by 1998 Dreamweaver had been established as the industry leader; however, some have criticized the quality of the code produced by such software as being overblown and reliant on tables. As the industry moved towards W3C standards, Dreamweaver and others were criticized for not being compliant. Compliance has improved over time, but many professionals still prefer to write optimized markup by hand.
Open source tools were typically developed to the standards, and made fewer exceptions for the then dominant Internet Explorer's deviations from the standards. The W3C started Amaya in 1996 to showcase Web technologies in a fully featured Web client. This was to provide a framework that integrated lots of W3C technologies in a single, consistent environment. Amaya started as an HTML and CSS editor and now supports XML, XHTML, MathML, and SVG.
Geocities was one of the first more modern website builders that didn't require any technical skills. Five years after its launch in 1994 Yahoo! purchased it for $3.6 billion. After becoming technically outdated it was shut down in April 2009.
Online vs. offline
Online website builders typically require customers to sign up with the web hosting company. Some companies provide examples of fully functional websites made with their website builder. The range of services varies anywhere between creating basic personal web pages or social network content to making complete business and e-commerce websites, either template based or, on the more flexible platforms, totally design free.
The main advantage of an online website builder is that it is quick and easy to use, and often does not require prior experience. Often, a website can be built and be up and running live on the Internet quickly. Technical support is usually provided, as are how-to video and help files. Though there are many general websites builders you can easily find an online website builder created especially for a specific niche (dating, medical etc.) with features needed for this niche.
Sites are generally created using either HTML or Adobe Flash. Flash is a proprietary format which became a de facto standard format, once supported by all major browsers. However it has a diminishing popularity, since having been superseded by web standards (HTML5) and is no longer supported by major mobile operating systems iOS (Apple) and Android (Google). Flash is more resource intensive than HTML.
HTML tools are divided into those that allow editing of the source code and those that only have a WYSIWYG mode.
Offline web builders cater to professional web designers who need to create pages for more than one client or web host. Modern offline web builders are usually both WYSIWYG and allow direct editing of source code and cascading style sheets (CSS) styling. They generally require at least a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. However, though they are more flexible than online builders, they are often expensive. However, some open source website builders may be downloaded free of charge or by "freemium" license model.
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