So you’re a freelance photographer, real estate agent, or a drone pilot looking to get your aerial photography business off the ground. One key aspect to growing your business will be to have a strong online presence. Of course this includes having active social media channels and sharing your content, as this helps you reach potential customers, but a core part of your business also means having a robust website to inform people of your services and showcase your best work.
If you are a small business owner, or work for yourself, one thing should be crystal-clear: time is money. Gone are the days when entrepreneurs were forced to create basic HTML websites from scratch using archaic tools like Microsoft Front Page. It is now incredibly easy for freelancers or photographers without deep technical backgrounds to quickly launch beautiful websites.
This naturally prompts the question, what are the best website builder for my drone business? What is the best hosting service? Which one should I use? Are there pros and cons to one or the other?
In this article we will be comparing five of the most popular website builders that include website hosting with their plans:
- Google Sites
We’ll discuss their features, pricing, and ease of use.
Registering Your Domain
The first step you will need to take toward creating a fully functioning drone service website is registering a domain. The name you choose will be the name you use to represent your business to the public. If you are looking for a drone-related name, you will surely find that many of the good ones have been scooped up by domainers hoping to turn around and sell the name for a profit. You can use a number of tools to search for domain names, including Namecheap or Domain.com.
Setting Up Web Hosting
Web hosting is a service offered by different companies that allows you to store files for your website on a server and publish your site to the internet.
Hosting a website is very different from designing and building one. Many platforms, including Liquid Web & HostGator, offer all-in-one solutions where you can design, build, and host your site all in one service. This makes it easy to create, publish, and manage your site. Unless you are planning to host the site yourself, you will need to find a reliable third party hosting service.
The Website Builders
According to W3Techs, 35.2% of all websites on the internet are powered by WordPress. WordPress is a tremendously powerful and popular CMS (content management system) for a variety if reasons:
- It’s free
- It has a thriving marketplace for plugins and extensions
- It offers powerful SEO tools
- It has a robust amount of free tutorials & guides available
Because of its popularity, WordPress is often a great choice for many people starting out and creating their own website. There are plenty of free themes to choose from, powerful plugins, and a lot of tutorials and other resources for getting started.
A key distinction to make is between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
WordPress.com is an all-in-one web hosting platform. You can design and build your site using WordPress, and then host your site on their service.
WordPress.org is where you can download the WordPress and install it on another hosting platform, such as NameCheap or Liquid Web.
WordPress, the CMS, by itself is free to use. You just need to pay for hosting, whether it is from WordPress.com, Namecheap, Liquid Web, or another hosting platform.
The easiest way to use WordPress is probably to sign up for hosting through WordPress.com. Hosting plans start for free, but to properly build your site you will probably want to opt for either the $4/month plan or $8/month plan. The $4 plan allows you to add a custom domain, while the $8 plan offers advanced design tools, custom CSS, and Google Analytics support.
If you opt to use another hosting platform, such as Namecheap, hosting is $2.88/month and you can install WordPress for free. This will be the cheapest option, and will give you all the advanced features and custom options as the $8 plan from WordPress.com.
Bottom Line: Websites built using WordPress are mobile-friendly, powerful, and aesthetically-pleasing while remaining an affordable price. WordPress is a great option for its affordability, its available themes and custom options, the thriving plugin and development community, and the free online tutorials that are available. While it may not be the most user-friendly platform, free tutorials make it easy to learn and get started. The biggest downsides are a somewhat time-consuming learning curve and that many free themes or templates will limit your features until you pay for the full version.
WordPress can be the perfect solution for small-business that needs a website to grow with its brand. WordPress’s extensive list of themes and plugins provides the ability to customize a website to fit any company’s needs.
You’re probably heard of Squarespace on Podcasts, YouTube preroll ads, or even TV ads. They have been aggressive at promoting their service and advertising their beautiful already-built templates.
And it’s true. Squarespace’s templates are modern and responsive, with clean designs, minimalist styles, and plenty of options to choose from. Having such a wide selection of templates makes it easy to get started with a design you like. Many of the templates are even geared toward showcasing photography, making them perfect for highlight your aerial imagery portfolio.
The website builder is intuitive to use too. You construct your website by adding blocks of various types, such as text blocks, image gallery blocks, Google Maps blocks, and more.
Squarespace is similar to WordPress.com in that it’s an all-in-one website builder and hosting platform. It is also much more intuitive to understand, and pre-built templates help you get your website up and running in minutes.
Pricing for Squarespace starts at $12/month for the personal plan, which also includes a free custom domain. This is a great way to get started and brand your aerial services. Squarespace’s business plan, which starts at $18/month, also includes GSuite Basic. GSuite Basic allows you to create an email address with your domain, which is great for professional communication with clients, and offers 30GB of Drive storage along with access to Docs, Sheets, Slides, and other Google services.
The biggest downside to Squarespace is the slightly higher pricing, as well as more limited plugin support. As you’re likely to just be building an online portfolio, you’ll probably be okay without certain plugin support, but for larger businesses and corporations this can make a big difference. The 30GB of storage included with the basic GSuite package is a nice start, but if you are working with volumes of large 4K drone video and photography files, you might find this threshold very limiting.
Bottom Line: Squarespace’s beautiful pre-built templates are great for showcasing aerial photography portfolios, and their website builder is more intuitive to understand than WordPress. Limited plugin support and higher pricing are the two biggest disadvantages. Squarespace does offer a 14-day free trial if you’d like to explore their service or see how they work before committing to a monthly or yearly plan.
Wix is a website hosting service with a website builder. What makes Wix different from WordPress or Squarespace is the website builder and pure amount of freedom it provides.
Think of designing a website on Wix like designing a website in a Google Doc or Word document with images and text boxes. You can add your content to the page, and then drag it and position it wherever you choose. Instead of adding more restrictive content blocks, as you do in Squarespace, Wix allows you to add different kinds of elements and freely drag them around on the page.
This design freedom offered in the Wix website builder allows you to build some truly custom sites, with your own unique look and feel. It’s also a potential flaw. Odds are you want to focus your time on pleasing clients and capturing breathtaking aerial photos, NOT fiddling around with a website builder until everything is positioned correctly. Wix can take time to setup, and changes you make on your desktop site won’t automatically carry over to your mobile site, so you’re effectively editing two websites at all times.
To make up for this, Wix offers a wide selection of templates to choose from. Unfortunately the template selection is a mixed bag. Some templates are clean and modern, while others are old and outdated. Wix locks you into your template too. You can’t change your theme later, so once you’ve selected your template you’re committed.
Wix works with many plugins, but as mentioned earlier you probably won’t need any of these.
Wix offers a free plan to start, but with a Wix banner ad at the top and only 500MB of storage, you are better off going with one of their paid plans. Paid plans start at $13 for a personal use site. This removes adds, allows you to connect a domain, and gives you 3GB of storage. You’ll need to compress your photos quite a bit to get by with this plan, otherwise you may consider upgrading to Wix’s $17 plan, but that is expensive considering the features it offers.
Bottom Line: Wix offers the most flexibility and design freedom with their website builder. However, this freedom can be overwhelming and present an unnecessary amount of options for people simply looking to get their site up and running. Odd quirks, such as having to edit both a mobile and desktop version of the site separately, make more cumbersome to use. Higher prices for paid plans may make other hosting services more appealing.
Weebly stands apart from Wix, WordPress, and Squarespace with its easy-to-understand interface. It is one of the cleanest website building tools out there. Thoughtful design features such as hiding unnecessary control panels when you don’t need them and highlighting the content you are working on while dimming the background make Weebly easier use.
Similar to Squarespace and Wix, Weebly offers a drag-and-drop style interface. You can either add individual elements, such as image galleries, maps, slideshows, contact forms and more (all commonly available elements in the other website builders), or you can add sections, which are collections of elements. Weebly’s interface makes it easy to get started creating your site and adding the elements you need to showcase your business and get in contact with customers.
Another big part of Weebly is their App Center. Weebly’s App Center is like installing plugins for WordPress, except instead of “plugins” you have “apps.” These apps add functionality to your site, such as a Facebook Like button, a table, a vertical divider, a popup, embed an instagram feed, and more.
Having a separate App Center for certain features allows Weebly to keep their website builder design simple. Instead of cramming in all options and settings at once, Weebly only adds menus and features when you’ve installed an app you need. This lets users choose the features they need, removes unnecessary clutter, and provides a better experience. The downside to the App Center is that because Weebly manages it, certain apps you would expect to find, such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact, aren’t there. You may want to check the App Center to see if the tools you need are readily available.
If you’re looking to get your website up and running quickly, Weebly also offers a selection of about 70 themes to choose from. The themes look nice, arguably better than Wix’s themes although not quite as sleek and modern as Squarespace’s themes, but are limited in the amount of customizations and options they have.
Pricing for Weebly is relatively affordable. They have a relatively robust free plan, with paid options starting at $5/month when you sign up for a year. Like all the other options, Weebly is a website builder that includes hosting services.
Bottom Line: With a clean design and easy-to-use interface, nice themes, page elements for showcasing imagery, and relatively affordable pricing, Weebly is a great option for photography-first entrepreneurs and freelancers aiming to create their first site and grow their businesses.
5. Google Sites
While significantly more limited in features and functionality, Google Sites is actually an excellent free website builder to get you started. Not only that, but hosting is included too. All you really need to get your Google Site up and running is a little bit of time to put it together, and a custom domain so your url is not “aerialphotography.sites.google.com” or something similar. You can purchase custom domains from Google, or from companies such as Namecheap, iwantmyname.com, or GoDaddy for around $10-$15 per year.
What makes Google Sites great is it includes all the features and functionality you need. You can add image galleries, embed contact forms, YouTube videos, or other elements, and add your own logo. Everything you need is really right there.
The website builder is pretty simple too. You use the right-hand navigation to add different elements. Each time you click an element, it adds a section to your site with that element. You can then you drag the element around to reposition it or make sizing adjustments. You can also add one of six layouts for featuring images or different services you offer. Rearranging sections is as simple as dragging and dropping them too, similar to rearranging sections on a Google Form.
The biggest thing Google Sites is lacking is customization and themes. Google only offers six themes to choose from, and for each theme you can only change the accent color and font style. Your Google site isn’t going to be the sleekest, most modern website out there. But it will be functional, it will automatically be optimized for mobile devices, and it will be affordable.
Bottom Line: While it may not be super customizable, Google Sites is still an interesting option to consider because it allows you to showcase your work, built a portfolio, and even get contact information for free. All you really need to pay for is a domain, making Google Sites one of the cheapest available options. Simple design tools make it relatively straightforward to build your site. Plus you probably have a Google account already, and Google’s documentation on how to get started with Google Sites is surprisingly good.