There are plenty of software packages on the market that proudly claim to have the ability to uncover your latent web design abilities, letting you create fully functioning, professional websites with the minimum of experience.
While many of these website creation products boast about their simplicity and ease of use, sometimes their determination to offer a streamlined package leads to more problems than it solves - especially when you're creating a website for making money. While some website building packages let you add complex elements without having to type a single line of code, some overzealous packages go a bit too far by preventing you from typing in any HTML whatsoever.
To keep designing websites as easy as possible, website creation software usually comes with plenty of ready-made templates. These can often be a mixed bag - while some look fantastic and will make your website appear professional, others can look downright awful. Using a common template from a popular software package can mean your website fails to stand out from the crowd, which can be disastrous if you're creating a website for your business.
A decent website creation package shouldn't just focus on simplicity, but should strike a balance between ease of use and versatility. Ideally, the software should let us to create a website that's as simple or as complex as we need it to be. We put eight of the best tools to the test.
E-commerce software on test
Xara Web Designer 7 Premium - £90
Avanquest Web Easy Professional 8 - £41
Yola Silver - £62
Doodlekit - Free
SiteSpinner Pro - £99
Namesco Ecommerce - £8 per month
Mr Site Storefront Pro Seller - £25 a month
MAGIX Website Maker 5 Deluxe - £40
Xara Web Designer 7 Premium
Xara Web Designer 7 Premium offers a lot of scope to edit your website
Xara is one of the UK's oldest software developers, and since 1981 it has been associated more with drawing and illustration software than web design.
Regardless of this, its Web Designer software is now in its seventh version, and the experience the company has accrued over the years is readily evident, from its accomplished interface to the versatile tools contained within - some taken straight from Xara's excellent design software.
Double-clicking a template from the Design Gallery gave us a ready-made website that just needed us to replace the placeholder text and images. If you simply want to get a website up and running quickly, this is all you need to do.
Avanquest Web Easy Professional 8
Does Avanquest Web Easy Professional 8 try to make building a website too simple?
With a name like Web Easy Professional, it's no surprise to find that the focus of this software is on simplicity. As we mentioned earlier, a balance between simplicity and versatility is essential for website creation software, and we found that Web Easy Professional 8 didn't quite get that crucial balance right.
Almost all of the templates included with Web Easy Professional 8 look tacky and outdated. When selecting a template, we were shown a small thumbnail of what the website would look like, which was too small to accurately see what the result would be.
For a better look, we had to skip through a number of steps in the website creation walkthrough.
Yola Silver offers convenient tools that let you edit your website in your web browser
Yola has more in common with online website creation services like Geocities and Tripod than its desktop competitors.
There are various pros and cons to consider when using an online website creation tool. The benefits are that you can access and edit your website from any PC as long as it's connected to the internet, but the downsides are that web-based services aren't as powerful as most desktop software packages, and your site is often tied to the service's servers.
You can create a free website or a paid-for premium site. While the free websites you can create are perfectly acceptable and come with most of the features of the premium version, they only have basic templates and contain Yola adverts.
Does the Doodlekit free service offer enough power for business users?
Doodlekit is another online-only site builder, but it does things differently to Yola. With Yola, when we began creating our website we were asked to fill in most of the details first.
Our basic website was then built with the information we had provided. Doodlekit takes a minimum of information, including the website name and what type of site it will be (personal or professional), and then creates a website with placeholder text and images.
The text explains how each area of the website works, and how you can edit it. It's a similar method to that used by Xara Web Designer 7 Premium, and it works well.