How do I create a website? Part 2 (Series)

Sep 07th, 2010

One of the most common questions we receive is, "How do I create a website?" This blog series is a response to that question. It is intended to be a simple and easy guide that will walk you through the entire process from start to finish.

Today we'll cover the second step in the website creation process:

Determine the Best Software For Your Project



Not all website creation software is built equally, and each software package brings a different feature set to the table. It's important to decide what software your website will be built on before you begin creating content. Follow this guide to determine what your options are so that you can make an informed decision.

There are two basic types of website authoring software: desktop publishing suites, and content management systems. Desktop publishing suites are software packages that you physically download to your local computer. Content management systems are software packages that you install on your hosting account and access in a web browser.

Desktop Publishing Suites



Publishing a website via software that you install on your personal computer is the most traditional and simple method of creating a website. The advantage of this type of software is that you can design your website on your local computer before putting it live on the web. These software suites are generally easier to use, but the trade-off is that they are not good for complex tasks such as e-Commerce. Here are a few recommended software suites:

Dreamweaver CS5: Adobe Dreamweaver CS5 is by far the most widely-used web authoring software on the market. It's a feature-rich suite that includes a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) design aspect, direct access to the raw code, templates, and more. Dreamweaver is a great product for experienced web designers who wish to automate repetitive tasks. It is not recommended for inexperienced website publishers.

KompoZer and Sea Monkey: KompoZer and SeaMonkey are two open source web authoring suites that are widely used in the open source community. I list them together because they are both developed from the same source, the original Mozilla Suite. Both are good options for experienced web designers, but I would not recommend either to inexperienced users.

SoftPress Freeway: Mac OS X only. Freeway is a WYSIWYG web design program that is extremely easy to use. SoftPress offers a less expensive version for light users called Freeway Express. Freeway is a great option for users of any experience level.

Realmac Software's RapidWeaver: Mac OS X only. RapidWeaver is a web authoring program that relies on theme templates. Web designers from around the world create templates for RapidWeaver. There are a number of plugins available from third party developers that allow you to extend the functionality far past what is included in the default installation. RapidWeaver's one of the easiest tools for new users. It literally allows you to plug your content in and publish a working website.


Content Management Systems



Content Management Systems, usually referred to as CMS's, are software packages that you install on your hosting account. These software suites run on your web host's server. The advantage of this is that you can update and manage your website anywhere in the world. The disadvantage is that you must have an internet connection to work on your website. CMS's are the best option for anyone publishing a complex website. I'll break the most popular content management systems down by category.

Blogs



WordPress: WordPress is by far the most popular CMS and blogging tool. It's popular for a good reason: WordPress is one of the most customizable content management systems in existence. It's also extremely easy to use. It's so widely-established that a number of large companies use it including CNN, Yahoo, Lafayette College, MTV, and Smashing Magazine.

Movable Type: Movable Type is one of the most established CMS's on the market. It offers both an open source version that is absolutely free, and a commercial version backed by Six Apart, an established web design, development, and creation firm. Movable Type has a higher learning curve for new users, but it often produces more professional results than its competitors. Noted users of Movable Type include the Washington Post, National Geographic, multiple NBC websites, and multiple NPR websites. Movable Type is the darling CMS of the media industry.

All-Inclusive CMS



Joomla: Joomla is the most popular web authoring CMS on the market. It's open source, and free to download. It's possible to build a website that does just about anything with Joomla. Extensions allow you to create a highly complex website. The same Joomla installation can support a large professional website, a multi-user blog, an internal file sharing tool, a large eCommerce store, and etc. The learning curve is at the medium level for new users. I recommend WordPress over Joomla for most users, but power users will love Joomla.

Drupal: Drupal is the techie CMS. It's a complex, do-everything content management system with a high learning curve. Drupal is used as the back-end for corporate websites, college websites, and other multi-user projects. I do not recommend Drupal for most users. It is the perfect choice for web developers who love to code their own modules.

Textpattern: I'm listing Textpattern as a CMS, but it is most frequently used as a blogging platform. It's hard to categorize CMS's such as Textpattern because it is capable of so much. TextPattern is at the mid-way point between WordPress and Drupal in terms of difficulty of use. It requires some understanding of code to use, but not at the level of Drupal. I recommend TextPattern to web designers and developers.

eCommerce



Many of the content management systems I have already mentioned include provisions for eCommerce. However, for an Amazon.com-style website you should use dedicated eCommerce software.

Zen Cart: Zen Cart is the open source world's answer to a shopping cart CMS. It's not pretty, but it contains just about every feature you'll find in commercial software. Zen Cart is widely used. I tend not to recommend Zen Cart because of its legacy code and unattractive GUI (graphic user interface).

Magento eCommerce: Magento is the latest and greatest shopping cart CMS. It has become popular because of its extensive feature set, and impressive GUI. Magento allows you to create a website that looks and feels like a professional web store in the same style as Amazon.com, Buy.com, and the other big names. The only disadvantage is that it tends to be a resource hog which means your website may load slowly for visitors. Caching extensions are highly recommended to combat the speed issue.

PrestaShop: PrestaShop is another up-and-coming shopping cart CMS. It's designed for smaller e-shops that don't require the feature clutter of Magento and etc. PrestaShop is well-regarded because it's fast, and the GUI is attractive.

Summary



There are a plethora of content management systems and desktop publishing suites available on the market. I've covered the basics in this post. Use a CMS if you're creating a website that's a decent size, requires multiple contributors, and/or has any sort of interactive component such as a blog or shopping cart. Use a desktop publishing suite if you're designing a website that is relatively simple, has less than 100 individual pages, and doesn't require any visitor interaction.
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