In the early days of the Internet, it was both costly and complicated to have your own website. That is no longer the case. Indeed, it is easier than ever to get a free website on the Internet, complete with free website creation tools for all sorts of custom designs. A great example of this is WebStarts, a free online utility that allows you to build a free website that can then be found by Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. This could be a very good option for small business, organizations and individuals, especially those who may lack some technical expertise.
The free website with WebStarts includes many of the core features, but some are only available with the Pro or Pro+ pricing plans instead. Some notable features available on most plans include the following:
- Drag-and-drop website editor
- Integrated image editor by Aviary
- Up to 5000MB of website storage
- Up to 100GB of monthly bandwidth
- Available HTML access
- Available forum creation software
- Full e-commerce support
- Wide variety of template designs
- Free customer support by email
Free Website: Even if you do not choose to upgrade to a Pro or Pro+ plan with WebStarts, you can have a free website, but it will not come with a custom domain name. The free site is also only limited to five web pages, but this can be useful as a personal website and it gives you a great opportunity to try out the different features and functions of the drag-and-drop website editor before committing to one of the paid plans.
Easy Website Editor: Building a website with WebStarts is very easy, because there is no software to install or update. You also don’t have to deal directly with any hard code, because the website editor is completely drag-and-drop. This means that different webpage elements like text boxes, videos, and images can be placed and resized by the simple click of a mouse. You simply log into your account through any web browser on an Internet-connected computer and edit your website at will.
The drag-and-drop interface even allows for elements to be “stacked” on top of one another, so this can create some interesting layered effects on your website. For instance, you may place a special ribbon or image on top of another image, or you place a text paragraph so that it lays on top of an image. The possibilities are endless. It also helps that lines appear when you drag the elements around to help you properly align your images, text boxes and other design elements.
Aviary Integration: Editing images can be just as easy as building a website! Built right into the website editor on WebStarts is the Aviary image editor. This web application is remarkably robust, offering Instagram-style filters, as well as sliders for adjusting the “warmth” of the picture, cropping the image, adding fun stickers, and resizing it, as well as changing the brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness. This makes it very easy to take what would otherwise be a bland picture and turn it into something amazing.
Add a Forum: Forums are a great way to build up a huge library of user-generated content and this is fantastic for when you want to develop a community around your brand or website. WebStarts makes it easy to add a forum to your site.
Social Media Buttons: In the provided website editor, there is the ability to drag and drop social media buttons onto any given webpage, making it as easy as possible for users to “tweet” your pages or “like” them on Facebook. A variety of widgets and buttons are available and these are freely dragged and dropped like the other elements available through the editor.
HTML Access: Whereas many other online website editors operate on a proprietary basis, making it difficult for you to export your website somewhere else if you want to do that down the road, that’s less of a hurdle here. That’s because you are provided with HTML access if you want to perform some more advanced or custom functions with your web design.
Members Only Support: Most websites are completely open to the public and this would make the most sense if you have a website for your restaurant or photography studio. A great feature of WebStarts, however, is that you are able to have a “members only” section to your website that is behind a password-protected page. This is only available with the Pro+ plan, however.
- Must upgrade to Pro+ to remove Webstarts footer
- Limited number of webpages unless you upgrade to Pro+
- Not unlimited storage and bandwidth
- Web editor may be too complex for some users
- No obvious blogging support
- No access to FTP or cPanel
The Bottom Line
While WebStarts prominently bills itself as a way for you to build your own free website, the free plan is quite limited in scope. You only get five webpages, you can’t use a custom domain, and there is only 10MB of storage. It is really only when you upgrade to the full Pro+ plan that you unlock many of the big features in WebStarts, like removing the WebStarts footer and gaining the ability to add a forum. Storage at that level is still limited to 5000MB with monthly bandwidth at 100GB, but that should be more than adequate for most users.
The drag-and-drop website editor can be a little daunting at first, since there are so many options available, but the fundamental interface is very straightforward. You don’t have to use all the features and options if you don’t need them, but you will find that they can add great value to your fully customized website. The support for “members only” areas and the ability to access the HTML are advantageous too, though the lack of access to FTP or cPanel may not be preferable for more advanced users.
Even so, WebStarts is a great place to build a robust website, complete with hundreds of fonts and templates, and all without any need for technical expertise.
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Erez is an experienced web designer and also the founder of website-builder.com. He writes for dizyne.net and IM Now.