Note: Our top 10 web design packages round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in August 2012.
Whether you’re a sole trader or a multinational corporation, just about every business needs an online presence, in other words, a website.
Even if you don’t sell products online a site can help people find you, learn more about your skills and services, and provide a way share your details with other potential customers. It’s like having a permanent, always on call, personal assistant, ready to answer queries.
Getting started can be very easy. Cloud-based website builders can help you build anything from a simple single-page site to a professional web store, even if you’ve no design or HTML experience at all.
More experienced users can customise and fine-tune the design to suit their own needs, or perhaps install a more traditional web design package that allows them to build the perfect site from scratch.
There are free options, but these often have major restrictions, including limits on the size of the site and the lack of any option to use your own domain. Fortunately, the commercial options are very reasonably priced, from around £5/$5 to £10/$10 a month, with hosting included.
To help you decide which option is best for your needs here are – in no particular order – techradar pro’s top 10 web design tools for small business.
Price: Free to £17 per month
Creating your first business website can seem like an intimidating task, especially if you’re a web design novice, but online site builders like Weebly provide a very easy way to get started.
The service offers hundreds of professionally-designed web templates, covering just about any site type. Choose whatever catches your eye, then use the drag-and-drop editor to add text blocks, images, galleries, videos, maps and whatever else you need.
Experienced users can go even further, taking full HTML and CSS control to customise every aspect of the site.
Weebly’s free service allows you to get a basic idea of how this works, but has some major issues: a 500MB storage limit, no custom domain support (yoursite.weebly.com instead of yoursite.com), Weebly branding on the footer, and no e-commerce support at all.
The £8 per month Pro package removes all those restrictions, and adds important extras like HD video and audio players, site search, password protected pages and more. If you’re going to sell online then spending £17 per month on the Pro package also gets you full and unrestricted e-commerce features, including a shopping cart on your domain, shipping and tax calculators, coupon codes and more.
Price: Free to £180 per year
Jimdo’s web-based site creator is priced much the same as Weebly, but it’s important to read the small print, especially for the free account – it’s better than you think.
A standard list of limitations includes ads, a 500MB storage limit, no custom domain, and very limited SEO. But there are also a few features you won’t get in other free plans, like a password protected area, and there’s also very basic e-commerce support for up to 5 products.
Site building isn’t as impressive as with some of the competition. There aren’t as many templates, you can’t add quite as many functions or features, and the modules you do get aren’t as configurable.
Still, the templates are more than adequate for most purposes (and you can switch them whenever you like), the editor isn’t difficult to use, and there’s support for all the content you’d expect (text, images, galleries, maps, videos, downloads, and forms). If you’d like to experiment with a simple web store without spending anything, Jimdo should be on your shortlist.
Price: Free to £10.10 per month
Wix is a popular online website creator, similar to Weebly, which offers a range of plans and products. The free version has Wix branding, limited storage space and bandwidth, but the Unlimited plan (£7.76 per month) removes those restrictions and includes a free domain, while the e-commerce plan adds an online store for a reasonable £10.10 per month.
An excellent collection of 500 plus templates gets the design process off to a quick start. The drag-and-drop editor gives you all kinds of tools and features to explore – the image editor, video backgrounds, password protected pages, social buttons, an integrated site blog – and just about everything can be tweaked, tuned and restyled.
Wix can’t quite match Weebly in a couple of areas. You don’t get the same low-level HTML and CSS control, and there’s no way to switch templates after you’ve customised a site; you can only start again. But if you’re a web-building novice, Wix’s great templates and design flexibility makes it a good first choice.
Price: $60/£41 per year to $480/£330 per year
While most online site builders offer a simple, free account, Squarespace’s most basic plan costs $5 a month (billed annually, so that’s $60 per year, or £41), and the prices climb steeply from there. But don’t be put off, you can start a trial without using a credit card, and there’s better value here than you might expect.
Squarespace’s $60 per year Cover Page account may only get you a single-page site, but that could be enough for some businesses, and there are none of the restrictions you get with other companies: no ads, no bandwidth or storage limits, plus you even get a free domain.
There isn’t the choice of templates you’ll get with Wix, but Squarespace’s designs generally look better to us. The editor offers lots of modules to customise them further: galleries, social networking integration, forms, charts, e-commerce, integrated blogging, a comments system, and more. You’re able to make changes at the CSS/HTML level, or switch templates at any time if you change your mind.
Squarespace isn’t the best choice for beginners, but the single-page sites are good value and there’s a lot of expert-level functionality. Just check the complete feature list to see for yourself.
Price: $29/£20 per month to $299/£205 per month
As you’ll probably guess from the name, Shopify is a specialist website builder which focuses on building professional, feature-packed online stores.
The design process seems to be much like other tools: choose from 100 plus templates, adjust and tweak the colours, style and layout, then add your own content. But the e-commerce features are so much better, with a great-looking and supremely configurable product catalogue, a comprehensive shopping cart (allowing for the acceptance of credit cards, and offering free shipping, along with automatic tax handling for many countries), advanced store management, and lots of marketing tools (social media integration, discount codes and coupons, customer product reviews, and more).
Shopify is also reasonable value, with even the basic $29 per month account supporting custom domains, unlimited products and storage, and there’s a free SSL certificate. But if your budget is tiny, check out the separate $9 (just over £6) per month Shopify Lite product which allows selling from Facebook.
WebEasy Professional 10
Cloud-based site builders are perfect for design newbies or anyone in a hurry, but they can also be very inflexible, and may not provide the control you need.
WebEasy Professional 10 is a Windows package which you install locally, and use offline. You get complete control over the site code – you can edit it manually, and use other software to inspect or amend it, if you like – and the results can be uploaded to WebEasy’s own hosting service (there’s a year bundled for free) or your preferred provider.
This doesn’t mean the program is any more complex, in fact it’s simpler than some online designers. There are hundreds of templates to choose from, a drag-and-drop editor, various content types (text, images, Google Maps, YouTube videos, social media integration, and more) along with support for building an online store.
The downside with WebEasy is it hasn’t been updated since 2014, and as a result the templates are looking tired, they’re not responsive, and there simply isn’t the same level of functionality you’ll get with Wix or Squarespace. But if you need simplicity and an offline designer, this product may still appeal.
CoffeeCup HTML Editor 15.3
CoffeeCup HTML Editor is a powerful coding tool for more experienced web developers, which gives complete control over every aspect of your site. While that sounds intimidating – and beginners should definitely look elsewhere – CoffeeCup is much easier to use than many similar packages.
There are 13 Responsive Themes to help you get started, for instance. You can view the code to see how it works, tweak and change it as required, and immediately see the results in a preview pane.
The Components Library is a great timesaver. Use it to store reusable objects like menus or headers, edit them in the library, and they’ll immediately be updated right across your site.
Elsewhere, smart code completion automatically suggests appropriate tags as you type, a comprehensive Tag Reference is available, a built-in validation tool checks your code for references, and you can open your site in up to 10 browsers from within the program.
Factor in the low price – which won’t even cover you for a year on some basic online builder plans – and CoffeeCup HTML Editor is a good pick for more knowledgeable users.
Mobirise Web Builder 2.11.1
Mobirise Web Builder is a free tool which brings some of the simplicity and content of online web designers to the Windows desktop.
It’s certainly easy to use. After you launch the program, a default theme appears, and you can customise text, images and site behaviour with a click. There are also a few good-looking content blocks – images, text, videos, carousels, sliders, social network buttons, contact forms, PayPal shopping cart, Twitter feed, plus Facebook comments – and adding them only takes a drag and a drop.
Your proto-site automatically rearranges itself to fit your tablet, phone or desktop’s screen. You can check this at any time, preview the results in your browser as a final confirmation, then publish it locally, to Google Drive or FTP.
This is all very basic. There’s a grand total of two free themes, only a fraction of the content types available on sites like Wix, and with far less configurability and control. But what you do get looks good and works well, and if your needs are simple, and your budget non-existent, Mobirise deserves a closer look.
Price: Free to £155
Many desktop applications have tried to match the abilities of the online site builders, but ToWeb probably gets closest.
You’ll find more than 100 templates to start your site; the quality is average but you’re sure to spot something you like. A wizard creates a few initial pages for you, and these can be customised with text, images, galleries, videos, maps, polls, forms, even a complete online store with your own shopping cart if you buy the E-Commerce or Studio versions (£78 or £155 respectively).
Advanced features include password protection for as many pages as you need (no limits), an integrated site search engine, image editor, watermarking, Captcha verification for forms, and a complete CSS editor to customise every element of the page.
Creating pages isn’t as straightforward as some of the competition, and the help isn’t immediately helpful, either. But explore the menus and dialogs and you’ll soon have a good-looking site, ready to publish locally or to any FTP server.
Xara Web Designer Premium
Xara Web Designer Premium is an excellent website builder, easy to use but with plenty of options, and enough supporting extras to get you up and running quickly.
The package includes a host of stylish templates, both general and themed around specific businesses. Each one has common pages included by default, speeding up the development process, and the results are immediately impressive. (Don’t take our word for it – browse through those templates here).
As usual, you can customise each page with videos, maps, forms, social networking buttons, and so on. But Xara Web Designer Premium also has plenty of more business-oriented features, including interactive charts, graphs, and a tool for building web-based presentations, complete with animated transitions.
E-commerce features are relatively limited (there’s a PayPal widget), but there’s still a lot here for your money, especially as the package includes 2GB of hosting space, free for a year. If you don’t need a big web store, give it a try.