Website creation methods

Submitted by Andy on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 08:05
Website Setup

There are many different ways to create a website and a huge range of tools to help create them. This article discusses some of the common methods their advantages and disadvantages. I will not go into detail on how to use these different methods (I may cover this in tutorials).

I will cover the following methods of building a website:

It's a long read so you can skip directly to the conclusion.

Office software

Most office software will let you export you document to a web page /site. The export is primarily designed as a way of sharing information in the documents or spreadsheet on the web. The export should be used as intended and not to make a functional website. The output of these office programs is terrible and may not reliably display correctly on all machines.

Some people use the office software to write the web content then copy and paste it to their website. Again this should be avoided. If you want to write content for a website you should use one of the many good text editors with a spell checker.

Do Not Use

Advantages

  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Most people already have the software
  • Often have a tools to help write web pages
  • Good for publishing specific documents e.g. spreadsheets

Disadvantages

  • Often very limited and poor web export
  • Terrible non-standards compliant code /formatting

Online site builders

There are many online site builders, blogging services or specialist hosting services like Google sites, Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress.com, Squarespace or Wix. These services are basically specially hosted content management systems with limited features. They normally provide a set number of templates /themes that can be slightly modified to suit the site being built. Some of these services also provide default content.

Advantages

  • Good graphical interface and some code editing
  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Often free or included in the cost of the hosting
  • Often have a tools to help write the site
  • Often have good sample templates to edit
  • Used well can help create good looking and usable sites
  • Some systems allow for widgets to make contact pages, galleries or even shops

Disadvantages

  • Often very limited on they style and types of site created
  • To get the best from them requires skill
  • They can produce fixed size non mobile friendly sites
  • They don't work well with large sites
  • May not support multiple users

Desktop site builders

Desktop site builders used to be common. They have mostly been replace by the online builders. However there are still a few available .

One of the most commonly used was the now discontinued iWeb. These applications normally provide a set number of templates /themes. These themes can be slightly modified to suit the site being built. They make editing the page content easy and allow you create a site without the need for a reliable internet connection.
They are normally aimed at inexperienced home /small business users.

Advantages

  • Good graphical interface and some code editing.
  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Inexpensive to purchase or free
  • Often have tools to help write the site
  • Often have good sample templates to edit.
  • Used well can help create good looking and usable sites
  • Some systems allow for widgets to make contact pages etc.

Disadvantages

  • Often very limited on they style and types of site created
  • To get the best from them they requires skill
  • Tend to be best for blogging or brochure style sites
  • Often they product fixed size sites that are not mobile friendly
  • Don't work with large complex multi user sites

Shared shop services

There are many online shared shop services e.g. Etsy, SpreadShirt , eBay or Amazon Marketplace. These services are basically specially hosted e-commerce systems with limited features. They provide payment processing and sometimes a store front. Some of these services allow you customise the template.

Advantages

  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Handles e-commerce and payment processing
  • Often have tools to help promote you products
  • Can make your product easier to find
  • Some systems allow for custom pages e.g. about pages
  • Can ship your products on demand
  • Some services will also create your products on demand

Disadvantages

  • Limited to e-commerce on sites
  • To get the best from them requires experience
  • May not allow for custom design or branding of your shopfront
  • Can be limited on the products that can be sold.

Design software

Design software like Adobe Dreamweaver, Corel Draw, Lunacy, Sketch and Xara Designer can be used to create websites. Most of them are general purpose graphics software that have a web export. As such they tend to concentrate on the design rather than the structure and code. These systems typically come with a set of controls that can be modified and placed in your design.

This type software requires skill and design experience to use correctly .

Advantages

  • Good graphical interface and some code editing.
  • Good for designing sites and working with graphics
  • Often have good sample templates to edit.
  • Used well can help create good looking and usable sites
  • Some systems allow for widgets to make contact pages, galleries or even shops

Disadvantages

  • Often the sites produced have poor code quality
  • Can make sites difficult to search
  • Complex to use well
  • To get the best from them they require good web design skills
  • Only available on specific operating systems
  • Tend to over use images for design elements
  • Don't naturally work well with large complex multi user sites

Hand coded

This is the oldest, most basic and flexible method of creating a website. It involves hand coding the any HTML, JavaScript or server scripting (e.g. PHP). To make things easier (and more reliable) some developers will use Frameworks or Boilerplates to base the code on. To do this requires a lot of skill and experience.

Advantages

  • Most flexible
  • The quality and speed of the website can be much better
  • Can need use lowest server requirements
  • Can need the least tools

Disadvantages

  • Requires most experience to build
  • Most difficult to update
  • The quality of the design and code is only as good as the designer /developer
  • Difficult to keep consistent
  • For experts only
  • Often time consuming

Static site generator

A static site generator is a tool or set of tools that builds the site from provided content and templates. There are a huge range of tools available https://www.staticgen.com. They are really a templating system used to generate HTML and CSS from a specified set of templates. They normally work on the systems command line. All of the require some downloading of the generator application or code and the creation specific project structures.

Advantages

  • Very flexible for design
  • The quality and speed of the website can be much better
  • Can need the low server requirements
  • Minimal tools required

Disadvantages

  • Requires a lot of experience to build
  • Can be difficult to update
  • Can be difficult to create a site that takes user input or has e-commerce.
  • The quality of the design and code is only as good as the designer / developer

Content Management System (CMS)

There are many difference Content Management Systems in existence. They are either built for specific tasks (e.g. galleries or shops) or general purpose. There are however 2 main types of CMS:

  1. Flat file (no database) like Grav or Statamic
  2. Database driven like Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, ZenPhoto or Magento

Database driven Content Management Systems are the most common and flexible but require more from the server /hosting. The database driven systems are much better for multiple user /editor sites or large websites. However the flat file systems can be easier to manage for smaller sites or ones where few people maintain the site.

As mentioned above some of the systems are tuned for a specific purposes or type of content. These systems make it easier to produce a site that has the specified purpose (e.g. gallery or shop). However they may lack the ability to add other types of content.

The more generic systems will allow for the creation of any type of content including shops, galleries and blogs. This will come at the expense of requiring more effort to get the site running. Systems like WordPress started out tuned for a specific task (blogging) and have later been extended to be more generic.

Advantages

  • Relatively easy editing
  • Can build complex sites quickly
  • Often have good themes available.
  • Can allow multiple users to maintain the site
  • Allows the site to scale to very large sites.

Disadvantages

  • Can be difficult to build new sites
  • Server requirements are higher especially for database driven CMS
  • Not always flexible on the site design
  • Can be difficult to learn

Conclusion

Each of these systems have their advantages. There is no single system I would recommend. However you should avoid is using office software to build a site.

My recommendations depend on your use and experience. If you have a good budget and know exactly what you want you should get a professional designer /developer to build the site for you.

General site for beginner /quick start-up

On-line site building software is normally best for people just starting with their first website. It will allow you to get a first draft of your site running and experiment. The software will do most of the hard work for you. You can then concentrate on the most important part of the site which is the content. They are also good for more experienced users that need a site quickly and cheaply.

Trainee developer / web designer

As a trainee you will need to know the basics. To learn development or design I recommend hand coding a website from scratch in HTML and CSS. This will force you to learn basics of how a website is constructed. After creating a basic site using a text editor you can progress to other methods.

For a developer I suggest your next step would be either adding JavaScript or learning server coding like PHP.

A web designer will now have a basic understanding of the structure and should progress to using design software. Having knowledge of the page structure, HTML and CSS will help when designing a good accessible website.

E-commerce site for beginner /quick start-up

For people starting to sell on-line it is often best to use a shared shop service. The set-up is quick and most of the complex product /payment handling is done for you. You can progress to having you own e-commerce site when you business grows and you know the features you need.

Experienced developer /designer

I would recommend using design software or hand coding the prototype. For the final production site either use either a static site generator or CMS depending on the requirements. This method allows easy prototyping while providing a more flexible, consistent and easy to maintain production site. The hand coded prototype will give you most the page structure and CSS for the final CMS based site.

Larger organisation, highly customised site or e-commerce site

For larger organisations or people with more complex requirements a CMS is normally the best option. It will take more time, experience and money to create the site structure but will allow for easier editing and management.