Friday, March 14, 2014

Website Builder Review

Are you considering creating a website for your classroom or club?  Are you looking for a better way to connect with students and parents?  Recently, I’ve had several teachers ask me about how to design a simple website to provide information that can be easily updated and maintained.  I usually direct people with these inquiries to one of the free website builder sites that are available online.  As you probably know, these sites allow you to create a simple website with a template, no coding necessary, for free!  However, the options for these types of sites continue to grow.  I found 19 different website builders in a quick 10 second search.  So I decided to do a little experiment and rate a few of these websites to see which one was the best option.  I chose to compare two of the most popular options, Wix and Yola, as well as Google Sites since we all have access to this easily through our school Google accounts.  I rated the sites on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best in the following three categories:

  • User-Friendliness: Is the sign up process easy?  Is the creation process intuitive? Do they provide tutorials?  
  •  Customization: Can I easily change colors, fonts, links, etc.?  Can I upload my own images and backgrounds?  Can I change the layout of the navigation bars, headings, etc.
  • Free features: What features are provided for free?  Do I have to pay for “premium” features?

The highest possible rating is a 15.  And since we all have limited time, I evaluated these sites based on an hour spent on the website.  If it takes more than an hour to decipher, I figured it probably wasn’t a good option for teachers.  I’ve included my reviews of the websites below.  I hope they are helpful to you in choosing an option to create a class or club website.

Wix: Overall Rating – 12

User-Friendliness: 5

I gave this website a 5 for user-friendliness.  Setting up an account and getting started is super easy on this website.  You just provide name, email, and password and you are ready to start designing.  As soon as you begin to create your website you will see a video pop up explaining where to access all the features.  It is very intuitive.  The toolbars are easy to use and the layout of the toolbars makes them easy to navigate through.  Overall, I found the creation process very simple.

Customization: 4

I am giving this website a 4 for customization.  There are a ton of templates to choose from so it is fairly easy to find one that fits your needs.  However, I found the process of customizing the template to be somewhat confusing.  First of all, the color options are in schemes.  So you choose a color scheme and it affects all the colors on your site.  It is possible to further edit the color schemes but it is very confusing.  For example, it is not easy to choose one color for your heading, and a different color for your links, and a different color for your borders.  There is one customization feature that I love and that is lists.  Wix gives you the option to add a list to your site and gives several layout options.  This is basically different table formats for organizing information.  They are very well formatted in my opinion and can give your page a more professional look.  Overall, I rate the customization process as fairly easy but some features can be frustrating.

Free-features: 3

I am giving this website a 3 for free features.  I’m rating it a little low due to the fact that your free website will have large ads for Wix included in the header and footer of your page unless you pay to upgrade.  You can pay $4.08 a month to change your domain name but you will still have ads included on your page.  You have to upgrade to the $8.25 a month website (yearly plan) to get rid of the ads.

Yola: Overall Rating - 14

User-friendliness: 5

I am giving this website a 5 for user-friendliness.  Setting up an account and getting started is very simple and takes less than 2 minutes.  Just like Wix, the toolbars are very intuitive and are very easy to navigate through. 

Customization: 5

I am giving this website a 5 for customization.  I found it really easy to customize colors, layout, and fonts on this website.  The process is very easy to work through and unlike Wix, you can choose a theme but can still edit individual colors easily.  You can also add social media links but Yola, unlike Wix, includes a Pinterest option.

Free Features: 4

I am giving this website a 4 for free features.  Just like Wix you have to upgrade to change the domain name.  There is also an upgrade required for “Premium Styles”.  However, unlike Wix, there is only one very small ad at the bottom of the free page for Yola.  It is very unobtrusive.

Google Sites: Overall Rating - 11

User-friendliness: 1

I am giving this website a 1 for user-friendliness.  I found the creation process to be very confusing and not user-friendly.  The actual editing of the site is mostly done by going into a separate information screen with a very text rich interface to input the edits you want.  This is not as user-friendly as making the edits directly on the site preview screen.  Also, to access the help instructions you have to keep clicking on their written tutorials and read the through the instructions (see example below).  This is not nearly as easy as seeing a quick video tutorial. 

Customization: 5

I am giving this website a 5 for customization because I think it is possible to do a lot of customizing in Google Sites.  You have the ability to start with a completely blank template and create the layout however you would like to.  You also have the normal options for changing colors, fonts, images, etc.  Even though I don’t like the interface, if you have enough time (more than an hour) it seems that you can figure out how to customize everything on your site.

Free features: 5

I am giving this website a 5 for free features.  While the other sites charge you to change your domain name, it is apparently possible to change your URL on google site for free if you follow the written instructions.  I also didn’t see any ads for Google included on your final site.

Final Thoughts – If you are looking for a quick and easy website builder with a lot of good customization options, I think Yola is your best choice.  It has all the features you need to customize your site in a user-friendly format and it’s free without a lot of ads.