Saying what might be the best website design software is like picking the best football team. Everybody has their favorite. And everybody has a list of reasons why theirs is the best.
You should first ask yourself what you want your website to do. Let’s see if your reason might fit in here:
I’d like a website to get my business more customers (like a brick and mortar store).
I’d like to sell things with a website (like hard goods or digital products).
I need to promote my name [brand] and services (eg: speaker, writer, musician, photographer, artist, etc.
I’d like to keep my current clients and customers informed of what’s going on with my business and maintain relationships
Each one of these has a slightly different solution, but not vastly different. And the tool of choice to build that website will depend on what the designer is most comfortable with.
Two Classes of Website Builders
Generally there are two classes of website design software: 1) WYSIWYG (which stands for “what you see is what you get”) & source code editors (sometimes called HTML editors), and 2) content management systems (henceforth referred to as CMS). I have used both for different websites and generally prefer a CMS for added functionality, especially form processing.
Starting With “Training Wheels”
Even if you end up using a seamless WYSIWYG editor it’s really a good idea to start with a simple HTML editor. For quite awhile I used Arachnophilia because it was free. In the long run it really helped me understand code and the basics of how a website is put together.
You can also learn a lot about code and design from looking at the source code behind a website. You run across a site that has a particular element you like and you can generally figure out how they did it by looking at this code (and accessing their style sheet). How to do this is slightly different between browsers and operating systems, but generally when you’re on a website you want to look at simply click on View in the top menu bar, and then something like Source or Page Source.
Here’s a partial list of text and source code (HTML) editors (there’s a nice list at Wikipedia, here):
Notepad, the simple text editor that comes with Windows
TextEdit, the text editor for Mac
Arachnophila, mentioned before
I’m a bit sheepish to admit that the very first website builder I used was Yahoo Sitebuilder. This tool made it seem deceptively simple to build a website. The code that is generates, though, is pretty bloated (maybe they’ve improved that since I last used it a few years ago).
Because I was frustrated with that first site not ranking for anything in a search I did some research on what that takes to get a website to rank better. In hindsight I think that was the beginning of an obsession for me (it’s just such a thrill to get a site to rank well). I eventually came across SiteBuildIt!, but more on that later.
Even with a WYSIWYG editor the upside is that, once you learn the rules and strategies for SEO (search engine optimization), you can use a simple site builder to create a site that ranks well for your target keywords
Adobe Dreamweaver, for many it’s the industry standard; pricey!
And here’s a bunch more you may want to consider. Some are pretty expensive, and some are free. But, even something like CoffeeCup, even though not free, is pretty reasonable in price.
Content Management Systems
CMS’s, as they apply to web design, are basically software systems that take in the content for a website (text, images, movies, sound, etc.), keep it organized, and deliver it to the viewer through a web browser in a neat and orderly fashion, all in a consistent look & feel and navigation. They can make the building and rending of a website both a lot easier and a lot more complicated (managing add on plugins or modules can be a juggling act).
WordPress is sometimes touted as such a simple CMS that “anyone can build a website” with it and call themselves a “designer”. But, just like easy WYSIWYG builders the tool is only as good as the designer at the helm. The best oil paints and brushes won’t make you a Picasso. As for any art form (and web design can be seen as an art, I feel), it’s not the medium, but how you wield it and what you say with it (my other passion is painting so I know a tad about art).
For a dizzying list of CMS’s out there take a look here. Here’s some of the more common ones:
WordPress, a common blogging platform, but can be used to build a non-blog content rich site.
Movable Type, also used for blogging & straight content sites.
The Best Web Design Software?
In the end no one is really going to agree on what THE Best website design software is. Everybody has their favorite horse in the race. And, following that analogy, there are also a lot of “also ran” website building tools that you don’t hear talked about.
Maybe it would be better to look at a website builder that gives you the whole package of design help, keyword research tools, and internet marketing tutorials. Because, in the end, if you build a fancy website and it sits on page 20 of a search it’s as good as non-existent. Sure, there are other ways to get the word out about a website so that people come to visit it (print advertising, word of mouth, etc.), but if your site can’t be found in a search you’re leaving out a huge part of successfully marketing your business.
One in particular that I never hear talked about is SiteBuildIt! (also known as SBI!). Going through the tutorials and learning about the focus of building a business around a website, rather than building a website for your business, was such a great paradigm shift for me. Frankly, I think their course “Building A Business Using The Internet” should be offered with every tech school web design program.
Actually, I did go through getting the class listed with UW Fox Valley continuing education about a year ago, but unfortunately there weren’t enough people that signed up for it. I would really love to teach that course because there’s so much valuable information in it.
If the course description sounds interesting to you and you think you’d like to take it please contact me and I’ll talk to UW Fox Valley again about offering the course. Or, talk to Cathy Paynter about running the class again (she’s the director of the continuing ed program). It could be just the thing your need to get your business to take off.