Cloud-based web conferencing software is an important tool that can take your business to the next level -- and it is a must-have for companies with teams and clients distributed across several geographical locations. But with so many options available on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start when selecting the best web conferencing software for your needs. All-in-one business software solutions like Google's G Suite and Microsoft's Office 365 include web conferencing software, but you can also opt for specialized solutions that provide more robust capabilities.
In this guide, we’ll walk through the features to look for in cloud-based web conferencing software, and how they differ across various options on the market.
What are the benefits of web conferencing software?
Web conferencing software was designed to help facilitate communication by enabling users to host virtual meetings.
Though nothing can beat in-person meetings, with companies becoming increasingly spread across various geographic locations, and with remote employees becoming more prevalent, it's often infeasible to get everyone together to host in-person meetings. Conference calls are one way to try to host meetings, but they often result in awkward situations where several meeting participants try to speak at once. In addition, since you can't see meeting participants on traditional conference calls, it's tough to tell if everyone is engaged in the conversation (or if they're browsing their web, or playing with their phone during the meeting). It can also be difficult to gauge the room's reaction to various discussion points, since you can't read people's body language over the phone.
Web conferencing software addresses many of these issues by enabling you to host virtual video conferences. By being able to see meeting participants on video, you can ensure that participants are engaged in the conversation, and you can actually build rapport with other team members, as you would in traditional in-person meetings. Though there's no substitute for face-to-face meetings, web conferencing software can be a powerful tool that increases the frequency with which team members in different geographic locations communicate.
Popular web conferencing software options
|Name||Pricing plan||Max # of participants||Free trial?|
|Google Hangouts/Meet (G-Suite)||$10/user/month, includes unlimited storage + G Suite business applications||25||14-day trial|
|Skype (Office 365)||$12.50/user/month (annual pricing), includes Office 365 business applications (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) and unlimited storage if >5 users||250||1-month trial|
|GoToMeeting||$29/user/month (billed annually)||50||14-day|
|Zoom||$14.99/host/month||100||No trial; free basic plan|
|Cisco WebEx + Spark||$39/host/month||200||30-day trial|
What features should you look for in web conferencing software?
Below, we'll discuss some of the key features that you'll typically find in web conferencing software solutions.
Easily accessible meetings
Web conferencing software enable users to conveniently host and invite people to meetings at a moment's notice. Typically, the software will enable you to generate a shareable link that provides access to your video conference. If you anticipate the need to invite members outside of your organization, you should make sure that your software supports that capability.
Many web conferencing software options also support the ability to join meetings from a variety of devices, including dial-in capabilities and mobile apps. Some solutions charge extra for dial-in capabilities are only available at more premium membership levels. For example, you must be a G Suite Enterprise customer in order to enable users to dial in to a meeting.
Make sure to invest in a web conferencing solution that supports all of the types of devices you need, in order to enable your users to participate in meetings quickly and efficiently, even if they're on the go.
Most web conferencing solutions have various features that help facilitate collaboration amongst meeting participants. One such feature is screen sharing, which enables each meeting participant to share their screen with everyone else in the video conference. Below, we see that Office 365's Skype for Business users can share their desktop with everyone else in the meeting. This is especially helpful when walking through a PowerPoint presentation or a document, so that you can make sure everyone is looking at the same thing.
Whiteboarding can be particularly useful for brainstorming and planning sessions. In Skype for Business, each whiteboard file can be saved and accessed after the meeting is over. Examples of web conference software applications that include whiteboarding are Office 365 Business Premium's Skype for Business.
Chat features can also help members communicate and ask questions. This is especially relevant for video conferences with many different participants, since it can often be difficult to get a word in when there are so many participants. By asking questions in chat, you can allow people to finish their thoughts, while maintaining a queue of important questions and topics for the group to address. People can also send private messages to each other, if there are questions they want to ask in private, rather than taking up the meeting's time to discuss.
Recordings are an important way to share information with everyone who was unable to attend a web conference. Generally, web conferencing software will automatically provide the option to record each meeting so that it can easily be shared with other members of your organization. Office 365 has announced that it plans to provide a transcript and recording of each meeting by mid-2018.
If you record a meeting with WebEx, you will even be able to edit the recording and email it out by sharing an access link. You can also set up password protection to ensure that only specific users will be able to access your recording.
Note that specialized web conferencing software usually includes a limited amount of cloud storage for recordings. For example, Join.me's Pro plan includes 5 GB of cloud-based storage for meeting recordings. Keep in mind that if you need to record a large number of meetings, you will quickly reach the limit and will need to turn to other cloud-based file storage options or upgrade your account. Zoom provides access to additional cloud storage for an extra charge, starting at $0.4/GB per month.
If you're using an all-in-one business suite like G Suite or Office 365, you probably won't need to worry about running out of storage space -- the built-in file storage solution should be enough to serve your needs.
Web conferencing software: G Suite Business's Google Hangouts vs. Office 365's Skype for Business
If you're already using an all-in-one business suite like G Suite or Office 365, your subscription automatically includes web conferencing capabilities. Although the included features may be sufficient for your needs, you may find that you need to invest in a more specialized solution that meets your requirements. In this section, we will compare and contrast G Suite Business's Google Hangouts and Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium's web conferencing features and benefits.
G Suite Business members can schedule video conferences for up to 25 participants at a time through Google Hangouts. One benefit of using Google Hangouts is that you can easily share files from your Google Drive directly in Hangouts. You can also join and schedule Hangouts directly through Google Calendar. Inviting people both inside and outside of your organization to a Hangout is easy, since you can simply share a link to provide access to your web conference.
If you anticipate the need to include more than 25 people in each video conference, Microsoft Office 365 may be a preferable option, since it supports up to 250 participants in each meeting. Office 365 also includes two applications that complement each other to create a comprehensive web conferencing solution: Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Skype for Business supports web conferences for up to 250 participants at a time, while Microsoft Teams helps aggregate the files you need to access during your conference. Skype for Business also enables users to broadcast meetings to up to 10,000 people.
Whether your company is a small business, or a larger enterprise, it’s important to periodically reevaluate your web conferencing needs. Many companies will choose to opt for a bundled product like G Suite or Office 365, simply for convenience and reliability. Other teams may be better off hand-picking several specialized products to create their own custom solution. The best solution for your needs will depend on a number of factors, ranging from the maximum number of video streams you need per meeting, to the business tools it needs to integrate with. Investing in the right web conferencing software can help you increase productivity, collaboration, and communication across teams, whether they're located in the same office or in different parts of the world.