A website builder simplifies creating a website.
Using a website builder is a way to join the 206 million active websites accounted for in Netcraft's January 2010 Web Survey. The Internet has become a marketplace where small and large businesses compete with one another, using their websites whether set up as electronic business cards, online advertisements or full-fledged e-commerce sites as virtual storefronts to attract customer's eyes and dollars.
A website builder is a desktop- or Web-based program that can create and maintain websites. Using a website builder reduces the effort and removes the tedium of hard-coding HTML, letting users add text, images and features like drop-down menus with the click of a button. Creating a website with a website builder costs less than hiring a website designer and takes as little as an hour.
Most website builders feature a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface, allowing the user to manipulate the design components (e.g., text, images and menus) using an editor window that displays an approximation of how the site will appear. As the user edits the display, the website builder generates the code to create that display. Earlier versions of disc-based website creator programs, such as Microsoft Front Page and Macromedia (now Adobe) Dreamweaver, were criticized for creating bloated, nonstandard source code, but more recent website builders produce code that can easily be edited with another HTML editor.
Web-based website builders typically use the Web browser installed on the user's computer to display the editor window, while desktop-based builders may include their own editor window. Many website builders lay out their editors in a fashion similar to text-editor programs, such as Microsoft Word. Website builders often include a set of page templates to serve as starting points for the user to design a website. The number and flexibility of templates vary among builders. Some offer only a handful of as-is templates, while others offer a wide selection of customizable templates and the option to download additional templates as needed.
Most website builders also offer pre-formatted text pages for frequently asked questions and other common text displays, as well as online forms to receive customer information and shopping cart options for sales websites. Good builders also feature meta tag editors to enter keywords to optimize the websites visibility on popular Internet search engines.
Desktop-based website builders reside on the user's hard drive. Website builder programs are available for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, among others. Formats range from freeware to feature-packed applications costing several hundred dollars. Many website builder programs offer downloadable trial versions for free. Desktop-based programs tend to offer more features than Web-based website builders. Many are oriented toward professional website designers with capabilities such as support for cascading style sheets (CSS). Desktop-based website builders are independent of Web hosting services, but can create websites that can be supported on any server. Smashing Magazine, an online publication for website professionals, states there are many WYSIWYG desktop-based website builders suitable for various skill levels and design goals.
Web-based builders are most commonly offered through the website-hosting services that offer them in conjunction with domain name registration, business e-mail addresses and, when needed, professional design assistance. They are typically accessed through the hosting services website and allow the user to work on the site from any computer with an Internet connection, regardless of the computer's operating system.
Web-based builders offer many of the same features as desktop-based builders, although they are oriented almost exclusively for the average or first-time user instead of the professional. However, because they are often packaged with a website-hosting service, users need to pay attention to the package details to determine which service and builder jointly will meet their needs. There is often no correlation between the quality of the website builder and that of the hosting service.
Some Web-based builders are available for free as part of the hosting service's monthly fee, while others are available for an additional fee or offer a basic free version and additional features for an added cost. Still others cost nothing but require the user to include an advertisement for their product. Generally, website builders that cost more offer more features, but the quality and ease of use are not necessarily better the more costly the builder.
BuildWebsite4U, an online resource for people wishing to create their own websites, lists several Web-based website builders. A more comprehensive list is available from Genii Software.