Website builders: features you should look out for
June 18, 2015 10:43 am
Website builders can be a fast, convenient and relatively cheap way to get your online presence off the ground. But with so many different offerings to choose from, how do you evaluate if a website builder is right for you? To help you out, we’ve come up with a handy guide of features to look out for when choosing a website builder.
1. Design/theme chooser
You should be able to change the look and feel of the website using the website builder. You should be able to change colors, upload your logo, change the layout, or choose a different theme template entirely. When using a theme template it should be possible to customize it with your own images.
At the very least, the website builder should produce responsive layouts. But in addition, the website pages should load quickly on real mobile phones. While responsive design can look quite attractive as a one-size fits all solution, in reality, the pages are often large and slow to load on mobiles. You should use online tools to evaluate how well the website pages perform. Online tools that you can use to check how well your website performs include mobiReady and PageSpeed Insights.
3. Click to call
This is an extremely simple, but useful function that it must be mentioned here. If your website builder supports click-to-call, your mobile phone visitors will be able to simply click on your phone number to place a call, with zero friction!
4. Find us/Locate us
Ability to add a Google (or other) map, with your business location pinpointed. You should be able to pick a point on a map, and be able to input your address directly. Bonus: makes use of phone GPS to be able to generated directions from visitor’s current location to your business.
It should be possible for your visitors to make a booking through your website. Whether you are a restaurant that wants to take seating reservations, or an auto-mechanic that wants to take servicing appointments, you should be able to set this up in your website builder.
6. Forms and contact
At a minimum you should be able to generate a simple contact form, so that visitors can come to your website and leave you a message.
In addition a simple contact form, most decent website builders will allow you to build a generic form, with whatever fields and field-types that you like.
7. Image galleries
Images are a key part of websites today, and sets of images are often displayed in galleries. You should be able to upload, resize, crop images. And you should be able to group images together and rearrange in a gallery. The gallery should be versatile and work well on desktop, mobile, and tablet displays. You should have a choice of layouts for galleries, as lists and grids, and you should be able to display gallery images in a lightbox.
8. Video galleries
This might not be as widely needed as image galleries, but it’s a must-have for some users. Some website builders can pull in videos from YouTube and Vimeo; if this is important to you, you should look out for this feature.
A good e-commerce solution will allow you, as site administrator, to add products in the back end. And in the front end, it will enable your visitors to add one or more products to a shopping cart, or proceed straight to a payment or checkout process. It should have common payment solutions, such as PayPal, integrated. If there is a limit on the number of products that are permitted, is it enough for your business?
10. Mobile-friendly administration
You should be able to administer your site from your mobile. There may well be some time when you’re out and about and you need to update or fix something with your website. If you don’t have access to a desktop computer and the website builder does not have a mobile optimized administration panel, then you may not be able to make your desired updates.
11. Opening hours
One of the most important pieces of information that visitors will come looking for is your opening hours. They should be able to find this information immediately, so your website builder needs to give you a way to add your opening hours to a prominent place on your website. Your website should also be able to automatically display whether your business is currently open or not. This is a very simple but useful feature.
12. Social media integration
Your chosen website builder should make it easy for you to pull in your social network feeds, especially, but not necessarily limited to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.
In the case of Facebook, it should pull in a specific Facebook page or feed; for Twitter it should pull in the tweets from a user’s timeline, or from a hashtag that you specify, and in the case of Instagram, it should pull in a user’s image feed.
13. Social media sharing buttons
It should also be possible to add social sharing buttons to individual pages of your website so that you can maximize sharing of your posts and pages. Adding social media buttons can remove any barrier for your visitors to share a link to a page on your site.
You should be able to create and redeem coupons and coupon codes to help market your products and services. Coupon codes are a very popular marketing technique which is extremely well suited to mobile.
15. Event Calendar
You should be able to easily add a clickable calendar of events to your website. Either built in to the website builder, or by integrating a third party calendar such as Google Calendar.
16. RSS Feeds
Really Simple Syndication, aka Rich Site Summary, aka RSS, is a protocol by which content can be shared from websites by means of feeds, RSS feeds. Generally a site will publish its feed and a feed aggregator will scan sites for new items in their feeds, and present this list to feed subscribers. Think of it as a condensed version of website content, that you can click through to the actual website on when you see something interesting.
Good website builders should be able to display RSS feeds of other websites, and should also provide the option for an RSS feed of your content.
17. Ad platform integration
If you intend to monetize your site or blog via ads, then this will be important to you. The website builder should allow you to input your third-party ad platform credentials for providers such as Google Adsense.
18. SEO Support
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to techniques that help your site rank higher in web search engine results pages. Ranking better means more visitors. So if the website builder produces web pages that are SEO-friendly then this is a good thing. The website builder you choose should address SEO by providing you with goodies such as meta keywords support, webmaster tools integration, and sitemap generation.
Web analytics solutions allow you to track daily visitors, and helps you determine what pages are popular on your site, and where you need to be trying to improved. To be able to grow and adapt your website to your audience’s needs means that you will need analytics. Any serious website builder will allow you to either integrate third-party analytics services, such as Google Analytics, or will provide it’s own solution.
20. Site cookies
21: Location based services
With the fast rise of mobile phones equipped with GPS and other location tracking technologies, a host of location based services has been able to flourish. These services allow you to add your business to their listings, where users can check-in when the are physically at or near to the business location, leave reviews and rate your business. They can help with discoverability of your business, and enable you to build up a reputation on line. The best website builders will allow you to integrate your check-in and location services, such as Foursquare, Yelp, and Google Places.
22: Code snippets
This is a more of a Pro feature, but one which you or your technical help may find necessary from time to time. Sometimes the limitations of your website builder can only be plugged with raw code, that you or somebody technical can copy-and-paste into your websites. It should be possible to add code snippets into both the head and body of the website.
Final advice: Try before you buy!
Our final piece of advice is to try before you buy. Most website builders will either have a free tier or a free trial. If you’re planning to use a website builder for your new website, if it looks like it has the features you need, then you should try it out for a few days to see how well it actually works for you.