Xara Web Designer: the best way to build a small business website?

I’m often approached by friends who want a simple way to build and maintain a website (although this often means “will you do it for me?” and “I don’t want to pay much”).

Xara Web Designer: the best way to build a small business website?

My first recommendation is usually a CMS, many of which are open source and free. Many CMSes offer extensive and flexible options, but they can be complicated to set up and use, particularly for those with no HTML or CSS knowledge.

The best thing about Xara Web Designer is that you don’t use HTML to create your pages, as all the design work is done within a vector-based design tool

It was while thinking about possible solutions for such friends that I was introduced to a free, easy-to-use, editable website called Jimdo. I was given a walkthrough of its many capabilities by the firm’s CEO Matthias Henze, and I’ll admit I was impressed by its flexibility.

The websites it builds are full of Ajax-type effects and hence look very modern, and while its basic version is free (and includes an online store), for just £5 a month you can have a site with a proper domain name rather than mysite.jimdo.com, email accounts, up to 15 items in your store, and no adverts at all. Should you want more than the standard 5GB of storage then a higher level of support, unlimited items in your store, and some other extra features will cost £15 a month.

Following this demo, I decided to show Jimdo to a couple of friends who were considering creating and maintaining their own websites on as small a budget as possible, and while they liked its editing capabilities, they didn’t find it very intuitive to get started with.

You need to work out your design beforehand and upload some suitable images, because the default templates are limited. What these users actually need is a complete “ready-rolled” website that’s almost what they want, and which they can just tweak a little: so it’s back to the drawing board…

Xara Web Designer

I then received a similar request from Catherine, the owner of a cottage in Orkney where we’ve holidayed before, who wanted to update her website.

She’d signed up with a web design company that for a fee offered her a four-page website with eight images, and this company had sent her a questionnaire to fill in detailing what she wanted on the site. She found its terminology confusing and so asked me to take a look and advise her, but I decided fairly quickly that trying to squeeze all her information into just four pages, with so few images, would be next to impossible. However, her budget wouldn’t stretch to the company’s larger packages.

If you shop around a bit web hosting is pretty cheap (cheaper still if, like us, you run your own servers), but as she’d already paid this other company, her remaining budget for the site was next to nothing, so I needed a quick way to produce an attractive site. At this point I remembered a program that I’ve mentioned briefly before in this column, Xara Web Designer, and within half an hour I had a basic ten-page site built and uploaded onto one of our servers for Catherine to look at. She was delighted with this first attempt, so I transferred more images from her old site and added some new ones, re-wrote some of the wording and added the necessary SEO tags to help the search engines – and within half a day all was completed.

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