We test eight online services that help you create professional-looking websites with ease
Creating your own website is no longer the complex task it once was. For just a few pounds a month you can rent some space, set up your own corner of the web and share your hobbies, opinions, tastes and family photos.
Many companies offer online web-building tools to add value to their standard hosting or as a service in its own right. These template driven site-building tools are the quickest and simplest way to get a great-looking site on the web.
No web-building experience is necessary, and you don't need to know anything about how websites are put together. Such sites also helps you maintain membership database.
We've looked at eight products from a selection of the UK's top site-building services to see what they've got to offer.
How We TestedWe registered with each service and looked at how simple it was to create a basic site. We then experimented with all of the tools on offer, grading the service on its features, performance and ease of use. We also carefully scrutinized the pricing of each service. Most offer a tier of services, so we tested the cheapest, but also looked at what you get if you upgrade. All prices include VAT.
From £4 per month - www.moonfruit.comIf you're looking for a simple way to put together a website that looks like it's been designed by a professional, Moonfruit leads the way. Its attractive website isn't just a shallow bid to get you interested, but a genuine indication of the kind of site you'll be able to create.
Moonfruit uses a master page, which acts as the base layer of your website. This holds the elements that appear on every page, such as the title and navigation. It's a neat system, once you get your head around it, since it ensures key elements are identical on every page. This makes your website look coherent and well-designed.
The basic package costs £4 per month, for which you get 500MB of storage space for a single website. The number of pages is unlimited, and you get 10GB per month of bandwidth. This is actually not a huge amount of space, but it ought to be enough to hold a modest website with plenty of content.
For £8 per month, you can have a domain, PayPal integration, twice the storage and bandwidth, and the ability to create five websites. If you're feeling really ambitious, there are also £15- and £35-per-month packages available. The first offers 2.5GB of storage, 15 websites and unlimited bandwidth, while the 'full-throttle' package gets you 5GB of storage and a whopping 50 websites.
VerdictMoonfruit has led the pack in offering attractively designed websites that are easy to set up. This latest incarnation is no different, and offers a collection of gorgeous templates to choose from and a good smattering of features to play around with. The site is split into two layers, so you can't muck up the overall design by changing things on your various pages. If you find that adapting the templates is a bit tricky, there are blank ones available that let you start from scratch.
From £4 per month - www.webeden.co.ukWebEden's web-design tool is identical to Moonfruit's- you just log into it via a different site. There are, however, a few subtle differences between the top two sites in this test that helped push Moonfruit ahead of their rival.
The other difference lies in the pricing structure. WebEden's 15-day trial and basic £4- and £8-per-month packages are identical to Moonfruit's, but WebEden has added another option with a £12-per-month deal. This provides you with a domain name, 30GB of bandwidth and 1.5GB of web space to use across 10 sites with unlimited pages.
VerdictUsing a rebranded version of Moonfruit's service gives WebEden a high-Quality online web-design tool, but it fails to make itself significantly different from Moonfruit's offering. There's an extra pricing tier, which is good, but the initial web experience of signing up and getting started is slightly inferior.
From £5.99 - www.123-reg.co.ukLike Moonfruit, 123-reg's SiteFusion has some fabulous templates to choose from. There are only around 50, but quality has clearly taken precedence over quantity.
The rest of the interface looks great, but finding your way around is more complicated. A collapsible list of options in the left-hand column can be dragged directly onto the site. Elements such as Google Maps are a doddle to add and configure in this way, and they work really well, but most of the options need to be configured separately.
At first glance, SiteFusion seems to be charging way over the odds, 50 per cent more than Moonfruit and WebEden.
However, it's worth looking beyond the price at what you actually get. With 5GB of web space and 50GB per month bandwidth, that's a lot more web for your money. But despite the acres of space, you can only build a site of up to 50 pages in size, which makes for a b it of an odd balance.
In this respect, upgrading to the SiteFusion Designer (£11.99 per month) makes more sense. It offers the same 50GB of web space but with unlimited pages and bandwidth.
Verdict123-reg has the same kind of design ethic as Moonfruit, offering a fixed number of attractive templates, rather than going over the top and providing hundreds of rubbish ones. However, it's a little bit more expensive than its rival. While it does come with more web space, it restricts your website to 50 pages. An unlimited page package is available, but it's quite a bit more expensive again.
Best of the Rest
From £5.50 per month - www.names.co.ukWhile Namesco's SiteBuilder gets much kudos for using Moonfruit's superior web-building software to power its site, its prices are significantly higher. Some POP3 email services are thrown in for good measure, but it isn't enough to make it worth paying the extra.
From £2.99 per month - www.landl.co.uk1&1's web-hosting is good value for money, but it isn't ideal for t hose looking to create a quick and easy website. The Website Builder software and templates look outdated when lined up next to services like Moonfruit's.
Daily Instant Website
From £2.49 per month www.daily.co.ukWhile Daily offers some handy add-ons to make the most of your site, it's nowhere near as slick as the Moonfruit or 123-reg versions. It's a cheap option - and feels like it.
£4.68 per month - www.strato-hosting.co.ukStrato's tool isn't as sophisticated as the options from Moonfruit or 123-reg, but there are some interesting elements to it. The video tutorials are handy, but the interface and templates aren't up to Moonfruit's standard.
From £2.99 per month - www.fasthosts.co.ukFasthosts SiteBuilder tool seems to be more about adding a little value to an otherwise decent web-hosting package. To this end, it's the weakest of the site builders we tested.
Final VerdictIt's unusual to have three products that are so very similar in the top four slots in a Group Test, but it's indicative of the extremely high quality of Moonfruit's software, which is shared with WebEden and Namesco. However, the Gold Award goes to Moonfruit by the slimmest of margins. Its pricing is fantastic, the interface is brilliant, the templates will make professional designers envious, and it’s a great way to get a website up and running very quickly.
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WebEden gets the Silver Award for a very similar service, only piped by a marginally slicker template choosing process. Namesco just misses out on the Bronze Award because its prices aren't competitive compared to its close rivals, despite the fact there are a few extra features to be had. So the Bronze goes to 123-reg instead, which boldly steers away from the Moonfruit model with a sophisticated interface of its own, but maintains some wonderful templates and is still easy to get started with.