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- A professional website can make you stand out as a job applicant or be the best way to showcase your small business.
- If you've never coded or built one before, there are multiple platforms that can help you build a beautiful, comprehensive site, such as Squarespace, WordPress, Adobe Portfolio, and more.
- Below, you'll read a comparison of five of the top website-building platforms, based on your needs. Mac Lofton, an instructor at General Assembly, says it's important to research multiple platforms before committing to one.
- Read more: How to create a Google Site and easily publish your own custom website
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There are many good reasons to invest time (and even a little money) in a well-designed professional website. For one, more and more job applications are asking for them, with many certificate programs now including portfolios as part of the curriculum.
But beyond practicality, building a personal website can be a fun and creative experience, allowing you to represent your skills, personality, and individuality. And thanks to many website-building platforms, users can generate their own sites without any coding knowledge.
“Some people are more creative than others, some are more technical than others, so it is only right that the deliverable we need from you is the one you'd feel comfortable showing,” says Mac Lofton, a lead user experience design instructor at General Assembly. “At the end of the day, what is important is that you have a website, so if you use a template site, like a Wix, or you use something more robust like WordPress, it is the same deliverable in allowing students an equal opportunity to express themselves based on their talents.”
When it comes to picking a platform to build their site, Lofton says “the most common thing I see is students selling themselves short, saying ‘I want to [build] something easy, and then, once they jump in, they realize they're more creative and they want something other than what they are provided [by their website builder of choice.] They find themselves stuck in a box; trapped into designing their portfolios in one kind of way.”
In order to combat this issue, Lofton suggests doing as much research as possible before hitting the purchase button on a website design platform or before publishing on a site. There are certain tools that should be expected from every site, like the ability to view the webpage on mobile, tablet, and desktop monitors before publishing or basic analytics tools, but there are still many important differences that should be considered depending on your skills and specific needs. (For example, a graphic artist might have different priorities than a journalist or UX designer).
To understand what these platforms are offering, it is important to know some basic terminology. For website making, you might hear terms like:
- Widgets: The elements of a website that can be chosen from a list and dragged onto website pages to be customized. They can be fields in a submission form, links to social media accounts, or video players. These can be really helpful because you wouldn't have to know the code needed to create a button — you could simply drag a button widget out and drop it onto the web page, as well as easily edit details like size, color, and font.
- Hosting: Where all of the content you upload to your website is stored and maintained so that it can be quickly and easily distributed to visitors on the site. Some platforms incorporate hosting, while others require you to find an outside host.
- Domain names: These are the website names, or URLs, that one might type in to get to your portfolio site. Computers need a string of numbers, called an IP address, to recognize pages on the internet, but humans need something that's easier to remember. Domain names help give your website personality and make it easier for viewers to find your site. If the platform you're using doesn't offer a domain name, you can buy one through GoDaddy.Com or Google Domains.
- HTML and CSS: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and Cascading Style Sheets, (CSS), are standardized systems used to describe and create the elements of a webpage. An understanding of HTML might help you make simple changes to your site, like the background color or dimensions of a photo.
With the newfound importance of personal or small business websites, it is important to pick the right platform to build on, so that you are able to focus on showcasing your content (rather than get frustrated during the actual building process.) There's no right or wrong platform to use — only the one that best serves your needs.