Building and beautifying your website doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost a cent. Here’s how to start and how to add those bells and whistles.
When it comes to online retail, success versus failure could be summed up with the age-old adage “Beauty is power.” Gone are the days when a quick-and-dirty blog populated with blurry snapshots of diamond rings makes a dent—in sales or on social media. Pages with gorgeous photography and design generate more traffic and buzz than sites lacking in the looks department. Basically, if you build it—and it’s a showstopper—they will come.
The ever-rising bar on Web design is largely due to the explosion of companies creating thoughtfully designed templates and plug-ins, which are almost always low-cost or free. Time was, you had to fork over thousands of dollars to a Web designer to build a beautiful site. Now, creating your dream site is as easy as watching a 10-minute video tutorial, dragging and dropping a series of boxes into place, and uploading product photos and prices.
And once it’s created, there are countless ways to jazz up your site, from integrating vibrant videos to adding mini-magazines that showcase your products in a flip-book format. We’ve corralled an array of easy-to-use resources to kick-start your creativity.
Thanks to the proliferation of “builder” websites—which allow users to create their own sites using simple interfaces—retailers are in the driver’s seat on every element of their virtual business, from presentation to point of sale. The following Web-based builders offer professional-looking templates, easily navigable interfaces, and opportunities to connect your site to social media platforms—rendering your online shop easier to find in the crowd.
Prospective customers can tour other Squarespace sites (like this artist’s).
If page design that pays proper respect to white space is your goal, Squarespace may be a perfect fit. The drag-and-drop site specializes in modern, minimalist looks. Still, its tools allow you to customize just about anything: fonts, image opacity, sidebar width, colors, and backgrounds.
The site is also heavy on the pragmatic extras; there’s an order management system that tracks transactions, customizes emails to customers, and merges mailing lists, along with add-ons that can embed both photo and video. Squarespace’s e-commerce functions are fully integrated into the platform and templates, so there’s no third-party aggravation here. You simply drag in a “product block” and the built-in POS system is managed within Squarespace.
All company sites are mobile-compatible and allow for a blog and commentary function. Bonus: Squarespace has a 24-hour support team available, so if you get stuck anywhere in the creation or operational process, you’re covered. (Cost: $8–$24 per month for site hosting)
Wix boasts more than 30 million sites (and counting!).
“Building something beautiful and appealing isn’t just for looks. It’s a business imperative,” says Eric Mason, director of communications for Wix, perhaps the most ubiquitous website builder around. Wix offers hundreds of eye-pleasing templates, all bolstered by solid e-commerce functionality. Browsing through the gazillion templates can be overwhelming, but the quantity of designs means you’re sure to find something your clients will respond to.
Editing pages in Wix is an easy, drag-and-drop affair. The site also offers a spate of terrific add-ons that lend oomph to your pages, including animated photo galleries and the ability to create product catalogs. Every page element is customizable, allowing you to tear down, build up, or resize elements on any given template. Even if you have zero background in Web design, you can start with blank pages and create from scratch.
E-commerce capabilities include a search engine optimization wizard that optimizes retailer sites, a Google map of retailer locations, community pages, an “open for business” application for live updates of store hours, and a testimonial builder for customers to record their rave reviews. Wix’s new Mobile Action Bar makes your site instantly compatible with mobile devices. There’s also a variety of marketing and promotional apps and social, live-chat, and video plug-ins through third-party vendors. (Cost: Monthly plans for small-business owners start at $19.90.)
Minimalism may be all the rage in website design, but don’t let all that simplicity fool you. It takes a mountain of eye-pleasing elements to rank as a fully optimized site, on both the search engine and social media fronts. Which makes these fetching add-ons all the more appealing.
Glossi is a digital publishing platform that allows users to create flippable digital magazines that mimic the look of upscale paper publications. The virtual periodicals, dubbed Glossies, can be integrated into any page of your website and users are able to share their creations as a stand-alone element on social media platforms. “We’ve created a format for interactivity that makes content pop,” says vice president of business development Robyn Ward. “It’s really for brands, storytellers, bloggers, and anyone who wants to create content that rises above the noise.”
Opportunities for creative promotion are endless. Retailers can create virtual catalogs, trend reports, and gift guides using modules that link to product pages on their website. And incorporating video and animation is as easy as uploading and publishing Facebook-style. “The whole idea,” says Ward, “is to be able to do something really creative and rich, without the cost.” (Cost: free)
Click-through slideshows are a perfect way to showcase stunning jewelry. And you don’t have to rip apart your existing site to use them. Slideshare, a simple-as-pie slideshow builder, lets you upload images then embed your finished slideshow—via a copy-and-paste code—straight into your site and on social media platforms. (Cost: free)
If you want to elevate the design of your current site—but maintain much of its functionality—Zoho may be your ideal match. The site, which builds scalable websites using drag-and-drop interfaces, boasts clean, modern-feeling templates that you can seamlessly integrate into your existing systems.
Zoho automatically optimizes your site to fit desktop resolutions as well as tablet and mobile screens. Additionally, “we offer back-end tools that customize your creation,” says Raju Vegesna, who goes by the title “evangelist” at Zoho. “We bring you entire portfolios of e-commerce [features], like live chatting for customers and company representatives.” And through third parties, the site offers countless add-ons that allow you to soup up the functionality of your site. “Without writing a single line of code,” adds Vegesna, “you can post and host in less than an hour.” (Cost: free for basic site-building; $39 annually for a premium membership)
View sample videos on Animoto.com.
Looking to raise your site’s video game? Meander on over to Animoto.com, the Web-based video maker that renders professional-looking video affordable—and fun. The site pairs your photos and videos with its extensive library of eye-popping video styles (e.g., a trippy animated clip of flowers blooming) and royalty-free music. Then, “Animoto does the heavy lifting of creating a unique video that perfectly showcases the images to the movement of the music,” explains CEO and cofounder Brad Jefferson.
“Video is such a strong medium for giving a prospective customer a more immersive and personable experience,” adds Jefferson, who suggests using Animoto videos on home pages, “about me” pages, and as a supplement to product pages. Every Animoto video has an embed code, so uploading to Facebook or your store’s site is as simple as copying and pasting. (Cost: free)
Okay, about Instagram: Yes, the No. 1 photo app in the world takes killer pictures of your cat. But those color-drenched filters also produce amazing snapshots of your jewelry—which, of course, you want to artfully arrange and display on your site. Enter SnapWidget: The site’s tools retrieve the latest photos that match hashtags or usernames that you specify. The photos then are organized into a gorgeous organized grid, slideshow, or photo map—your choice.
To embed the widget into your site, simply copy and paste the embed code into your site’s HTML. When a user clicks on a photo in the grid, slideshow, or photo map, they get a full page view of the pic. SnapWidget’s free basic option is probably tool enough for most retailers. It also offers a Pro plan, allowing you to cherry-pick options such as auto-refresh, pop-ups, and custom cascading style sheets. (Cost: free for basic; $6.99–$19.99/month for Pro)