Web-design packages buying advice

It's becoming increasingly important to have an online presence for your business, to tell people about your services or display what you have for sale. Alternatively, you might want to create a site so friends can keep track of what you're up to.

Take a look at Group test: what's the best web design/editor?

Whatever the motive, there's software or a service designed to ease the work involved in setting up a website. At the simplest level, a blog may be ideal. Although originally designed as online text diaries, most blogging sites now support photos and video and can handle simple sales using third-party buttons, such as from PayPal. See all Web design reviews.

A blog has in essence a linear format, in which each entry is separated from those before it. If your main reason for wanting to get on to the web is to express your thoughts or to comment on a subject for which you have specialist knowledge, this will probably be the most convenient format for you.

For a more conventional website design, with a navigation bar and hierarchical structure of pages, you have two main choices: to build your website using an online hosting service or an offline site designer.

An online hosting service does a lot more than simply store your website. It will typically provide all the tools you need to create and edit the content of the site in situ on the page; many can handle e-commerce, too, providing you with the opportunity to sell goods or services, and allow the website to pay for itself.

The editing tools in a typical online web service may be simpler than with a dedicated offline tool, but that can be to their advantage: it eases the learning curve. For many people starting up their first site, being able to put together all that is necessary without worrying about the niceties of screen design or coding is a great relief.

To help with this, most providers offer a range of predesigned templates, with which you simply swap in your own text and pictures to personalise the site for your own use. This way, provided you have some decent content for your site, you can build it and make it available online in a very short time.

Generally speaking, most templates aren't set in stone, so you can use them as a launch pad and incorporate some of your own ideas, whether that's simply adapting the background colours or repositioning the menus and text or image frames.

Offline site designers are favoured by programmers who have the necessary knowledge to write their own code, although modern examples often work more like desktop-publishing programs than coding tools.

If you are at all familiar with laying out designs for the printed page, moving to a website designer may be your simplest solution for creating a website. Many of the tools will be familiar and, although there will be new ones to learn, many of these are bundled into ‘widgets', which appear as simple buttons or logos on a web page and hide the specialist code they provide from both visitor and site owner.

The disadvantage of the offline method is that you also need to choose a web-hosting provider – and pay for this separately. You also have to upload your website to the hosting space, and it won't be possible to edit the site online – you'll have to make changes using the same offline software and upload any altered files.

Your choice of tools depends on the type of web presence you want to create and your level of expertise. First decide what you want to create, and then pick the tool. Here, we'll look at six possible candidates.

Web-design packages

Web-design packages buying advice How we test

There is a wide range of features to consider when choosing a web-design tool. As well as the obvious requirements to place text and graphics, it's important to be able to create a website with some individuality. We checked for variety the templates on offer from each service, and tested how easy it is to create a design from scratch.

You want to attract visitors to your site, so it's important to get search engines to find it. SEO is a useful tool for this, as are feeds from the main social-media sites, which let visitors see how active you or your company are on a day-to-day basis. We checked for free SEO tools and widgets to bring these feeds on to site pages.

If you want a site to bring in a bit of extra cash, or if you're aiming to run a full web shop, you'll want the ability to sell through the pages of your site. We checked how easy it was to do this, and how versatile the services are in handling payments. With companies who offer more than one level of service, we opted to review a mid-range product, costing between £5 and £10 a month.

Web-design packages buying advice Conclusion

There are several types of web presence. At one end, a simple serial feed of posts in a blog can be very well handled by WordPress, giving you a free way to put yourself out there and express an opinion.

At the other end of the scale, the all-singing, all-dancing web designer is epitomised by WebPlus X6. While Serif has tried to cover all the bases by including a good range of well-designed templates, the real strength of the program still lives in its depth of features. If you want to get well into web design, while still avoiding HTML coding, there are very few basic- and mid-level websites that can't be realised with this program.

However, for anybody wanting to quickly put together a good-looking website that uses modern design elements, such as frame transparency and photo effects, Moonfruit Standard stands out. With a range of media widgets that let you add to your site audio, video and social media, plus an easy-to-use shop facility, this is the tool we would choose to work with. You can try it for free, too.