Come on. Is it really possible to build a company website in only an hour?
Not if you want a custom design, custom programming, and a custom marketing plan, no. You’ll spend weeks, maybe even months, designing your website, and unless you’re doing it yourself, it’ll cost you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
But sometimes all you care about is getting something up in a hurry. You want it to look good, sure, but it doesn’t have to be entirely unique. It just has to work and buy you some time.
If that’s the case, then yes, you can absolutely build a company website in less than an hour. All you need is a hosting company with the right software, a Content Management System (CMS) to keep you from having to write any code, and a nice template to make everything look good.
Here are 20 of the best resources from around the web to help you put it all together:
If you install a Content Management System (more info on this below) by hand, you have to download the code, unzip it, upload it to your server via FTP, create a new database, and then install everything. If you’re familiar with the process, sometimes you can do it in 30 minutes or so, but if you’re brand-new to Content Management Systems, it can take you hours to figure everything out.
In response to this, many web hosts now have tools that install your Content Management System for you. Downloading, uploading, unzipping, databases, usernames, passwords — they take care of it all. All you have to do is click a few buttons, and you’re ready to go.
Look inside your control panel for these two tools, in particular:
For a long time, Fantastico was the gold standard for auto installers, and some people say it still is. It has about 50 different scripts it can install for you, requiring you to just choose the script, click install, and you’re done. It’s quite common to find Fantastico with web hosts who use cPanel, so if your host is one of them, login and take a look.
While not as widespread and well-known as Fantastico, Softaculous is quickly gaining a lot of fans. It has an expanded library of 164 scripts it can install for you, as well as a fresher and easier to understand interface. Once again, many hosts who use cPanel automatically include Softaculous with your account.
Content Management Software (CMS)
By far, the fastest way to set up a powerful, well-organized website is to use a Content Management System (CMS). Developers love to argue about exactly what constitutes a CMS, but in practical terms, it boils down to this:
With a CMS, you don’t have to write any code.
You can login to your website, create new pages, categorize them in different ways, edit them, add pictures, pretty much whatever you want to do. Each CMS has different features and limitations, as you’ll see below, but they all give you a foundation that allows you to start adding information to your website in minutes, not hours or days.
If you’re not a programmer or website designer, they are indispensable. In fact, most programmers and web designers now use them simply because they work so well, and they see no reason to reinvent the wheel.
Here are several of the most popular Content Management Systems:
WordPress is the CMS of choice for bloggers around the world, and it’s an incredible piece of software. It’s flexible, supported by a passionate developer community, and best of all, free.
The only downside to WordPress is, it’s focused primarily on helping you set up a blog. You can use various plug-ins to make it do almost anything, including running an e-commerce store or building a regular corporate website, but out-of-the-box, everything is going to look like a blog, and it can take some time to change it.
Of course, if you want to have a company blog, that’s not a problem. And even if you don’t, WordPress is so simple and powerful that many of its fans refuse to use anything else.
If you’re not familiar with it though, or you don’t want to have a company blog, some of the other options here might suit you better.
Although Drupal has a somewhat higher learning curve than WordPress, it’s a powerful and customizable CMS, and it’s also totally free.
Like WordPress, Drupal also has an active developer community that builds plugins and themes for your use. Although the framework is slightly more advanced, Drupal still works similarly to other CMS platforms in that it allows you to “mod” it with add-ons.
The upside of using Drupal’s more advanced platform is that it’s extremely flexible and dynamic, which is perfect for developing more advanced websites and applications, such as communities, e-commerce stores, and almost anything else you can imagine.
The downside is it doesn’t include much functionality out-of-the-box, and if you’re not familiar with it, it might take some time to make it do what you want. In many cases though, it’s worth the learning curve, especially if you’re planning to use it for multiple websites.
Joomla is Drupal’s closest competitor, and it’s also a great platform for anyone looking to build anything from a simple static website to a robust online user community. Like the others, it uses plug-ins, also called extensions and templates, to expand the functionality of the base platform, and it’s totally free.
The advantage of Joomla is that it does a lot straight out of the box, and you can be adding pages to your website and fiddling with the design within minutes. It’s easy-to-use, powerful, and with the right modules, you can make it do almost anything.
The downside is sometimes you can’t find the modules to make it do exactly what you want, and if that’s the case, Joomla isn’t quite as easy to customize as Drupal. If you’re looking for an ultra-simple website, you might also be overwhelmed with everything Joomla gives you, making one of the other Content Management Systems here more appropriate.
If you want something that’s even easier than the options we’ve shown you thus far, then consider checking out an all-in-one, hosted CMS, such as Squarespace.
I like Squarespace so much that I built my website with it, and I was able to do so without any knowledge of code or Photoshop. Although hosted CMS platforms like Squarespace aren’t as flexible or as easy to expand, they do eliminate the need for hosting, software installation, and theme purchasing.
With Squarespace, you simply buy an account and start building your website. You can have it up and running for less than $20/month, and you don’t have to install anything.
The downside: it’s not free. For many businesses though, it’s more than affordable.
7. Expression Engine
Expression Engine is the new kid on the block that is quickly making it’s rounds and asserting it’s newfound influence in the CMS Market.
Like Squarespace, Expression Engine is not free, but it differs in that it’s sold as a one-time purchase, rather than as a monthly cost. Like other CMS platforms, Expression Engine is downloaded and installed to a self-managed web host and is easy to use and customize. In fact, it’s becoming so popular that many WordPress developers and theme sites also offer Expression Engine Themes.
Although I’ve yet to try EE, I’ve yet to hear anything negative, and it seems to offer a growing number of plugins and advanced business solutions.
Granted, Tumblr isn’t going to get you a fully functional website, but if you don’t need one, then it might be the perfect solution for you. Tumblr offers a large selection of free and premium themes, but also allows you to modify or create one of your own.
Unlike the rest, Tumblr does not allow you to upload files to their servers, but you can fix that by obtaining an inexpensive hosting account. If you don’t need to do much other than to blog or embed multimedia content, then you can have a Tumblr website up, complete with as many pages as you need, in less than 15 minutes.
Did I mention it’s free?
I’ve not used Concrete5, but I keep hearing about it from blogging and developer friends. It’s free, open source, features WYSIWYG editing, and is developer friendly. However, unlike other open source platforms, Concrete5 is not “designed by committee” and is much more discerning with the code they allow into their core.
Interestingly enough, Concrete5 boasts of being enterprise friendly and stable at 1 million+ pages, which is where many CMS systems get slow and unstable.
Shopping Carts and E-Commerce
Technically, shopping carts and other types of e-commerce software are another type of CMS. They are such a specific type though, and they’re so essential for many companies, that I decided to put them in a separate section. If you’re selling any type of physical products or services with your website, you might want to consider some of these packages:
osCommerce is an open source e-commerce solution based on the popular GNU General Public License. It’s a solution that was created in 2000 and now used by over 10,000 web shops worldwide.
While immensely powerful, a potential drawback to using osCommerce is that it can be complicated for novice users, but luckily, there are plenty of online resources that explain installation, setup, and upgrading, including an active developer forum on the project’s website.
CubeCart is no slouch, in fact it’s so popular that it’s used by over 1 million E-commerce sites across the world. The great thing about CubeCart is that they have a free version, and a free 30 day trial for the premium version. As a one-time purchase, this is much cheaper than a hosted eCommerce solution.
The downside is that you must install and manage this software on your own, but if you have a handle with HTML and CSS, then you can probably find your way around this one just fine.
CubeCart features a “plug and play” module system capable of working with Paypal, UPS, Google Checkout, and more.
Magento claims to be the world’s fastest growing e-commerce platform, weighing in at over $25 billion in transactions, 60k merchants, and 2 million downloads.
It’s open source and offers everything from free to enterprise solutions that include warranties and support. What’s impressive about Magento is that it features some of the most dynamic tools, user options, and management features on any open source platform, and is likely to have a scalable solution that meets your businesses’ needs.
You can view their comparison chart to see which version is right for you.
Yet another free open source e-commerce solution is PrestaShop, which features everything from catalogues to shipping modules. Using this software, you can take payments, manage customers, track important metrics, and handle customer orders with ease.
What’s nice about PrestaShop is that both their website and software are easy to navigate and use, which is something sorely lacking with the competition.
Most people are familiar with ZenCart because it’s one of the oldest and most trusted e-commerce solutions on the market today. It’s also featured as a quick installation module within most Fantastico control panels, which means you can install it onto your CMS with ease.
ZenCart is template based, and it’s simple to use. The downside of course is that it’s less flexible than other platforms, but since we’re looking to build a website in under an hour, this might be the way to go.
15. WP E-Commerce
This is a WordPress plugin that installs in seconds and although it cannot be used with other CMS platforms, it bears mention because of it’s popularity in the WP community. Although many WP themes do come with built-in ecommerce features, WP e-Commerce tops 99% of them.
Content Management Systems all come with built-in designs and themes, but you’ll probably want one that’s better suited to your business. For most CMS’s, there are thousands of free themes available for you to download and use, but in general, the premium themes have the nicest designs and offer the most functionality. Also, because premium themes cost money, less people are using them overall, meaning it’s usually less likely someone will see your design on someone else’s site.
Here are a few marketplaces that offer themes for multiple Content Management Systems:
16. Theme Forest
Owned by Envato, Theme Forest is an enormous marketplace of themes and templates for all types of websites. Currently, they have themes for WordPress, Joomla, and Magneto, as well as HTML and PSD website templates that don’t require a CMS.
17. Template Monster
Perhaps the largest collection of high-quality templates and themes on the web, Template Monster is another place you should look, if you’re shopping for a quick design. They have templates for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, osCommerce, Magneto, and ZenCart, as well as half a dozen other Content Management Systems. You can also buy logo templates, turnkey websites, stock music — everything you need to get a website up and running fast.
Taking the prize for the most energetic and exciting theme marketplace, RocketTheme offers solutions for Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, and phpBB3. Their themes are sold as a membership, meaning that for $50, you get 90 days to download up to 2 themes, or for $250, you get a year to download as many as you like.
19. WordPress Specific Marketplaces
Since WordPress is the most widely used CMS, I thought it would be worthwhile to list a few WP specific theme shops to choose from:
- WooThemes – Single, Developer, and Subscription licensing
- ElegantThemes – Subscription and Developer Licensing
Logo and Identity
If your company doesn’t have a web-ready logo, then you’ll need to pay someone to create one for you. With logo houses, there are essentially two choices, ready-made design or from scratch.
These companies offer both, with quick turnaround times for service:
20. 99 Designs
99 designs is one of the first websites to bring the concept of “crowdsourcing” to graphic design. You can post a design contest, and designers will compete for your business, submitting different designs for your approval. Or you can buy one of their ready-made logos and have them customize it for you.
Either way, it’s an easy way to get a logo made fast.
I recently discovered Inkd while shopping for a custom logo service, but they also offer website-ready design and identity packages. Their prices are extremely reasonable and they often run sales, giving you anywhere from 15-30% off.
I’ve used both custom and ready-made services and have been extremely satisfied with the results.
How Do You Know What to Choose?
So many options and so little time, right?
I’ve tried to provide a few of the pros and cons for each CMS, but to really get a good idea about which might be a good fit for your website, take a look at these more in-depth comparisons:
- WordPress vs Joomla vs Drupal: What CMS is Best for You?
- Squarespace vs WordPress: Both Sides of the Story
- 10 Weblog Engines Reviewed
- Zen Cart vs Magento Comparison
- Open Source Shopping Cart for Small Business Owners
What Have I Missed?
Did I leave out your favorite CMS or a great site to get templates and themes? Have other tips for getting a website design fast?
Tell us about them in the comments, and we’ll compare notes.