When I started my review of WebsiteBuilder.com, I wondered if it would be more than an attempt to capitalize on a name that’s bound to show up in search results—especially given that the company has an identical service with slightly different branding under the name SiteBuilder.com. I am pleasantly surprised to report that the WebsiteBuilder.com is a solid service with some commendablewebsite-building tools. WebsiteBuilder.com offers free domain names, free business email, and a simple site-creation process. Unfortunately, the experience is marred by pushy upsells and confusing pricing. Furthermore, free accounts are more restricted than those offered by other providers. You have to upgrade to the paid service, which starts at $7.95 per month, for functionality that’s offered in other services’ free accounts.
To get started, you simply click the big Start Your Free Website button. After doing this, you only need to enter three pieces of information: your name, an email address, and a password. After this, it’s time to choose from more than 100 site templates. There are many pages of similar templates to scroll through, however.
You may instead prefer to choose from site categories such as Architecture & Real Estate, Hotels & Travel, Pets & Animals, Sport & Leisure, and Weddings. You can either get started building your site with one of these templates or preview it. There’s no need to agonize over the right design, as you can easily change your template even after you edit and publish your site.
There’s not much more you can do with your free account, however. You can’t build multiple sites, you can’t add even a single PayPal button, and you can’t edit your mobile site. All these features require a paid upgrade, in contrast with DudaOne, Weebly, and Wix, which include them in the free versions. The others also let you add custom HTML, while WebsiteBuilder.com makes you pay for an upgrade even for that.
Paid accounts are listed as starting at $7.95 per month. This removes ads and provides mobile-site functionality. But when I attempted to upgrade, the pricing lists I saw were completely different. Some of the base prices changed by a few cents, and some by many dollars per month. Some of the prices were discounted, which isn’t a problem, though I realized later that these discounts were only for a two-year commitment.
To create a store, you have to sign up for the eCommerce level, which starts at $17.95 per month (or possibly $18.45, discounted to $9.23) and which rises to $24.60 if you just want to pay month-to-month. For comparison, Editors’ Choice Wix charges $24.99 per month for its eCommerce level, and Squarespace‘s Business plan costs $18 per month. As with Squarespace and Weebly, all WebsiteBuilder.com paid plans include domain name registration.
I entered my PayPal info, after which WebsiteBuilder tried to get me to purchase still more services for social and SEO boosters, as well as ecommerce capabilities. Even after I added the latter, the service tried to sell me additional services, including a site-booster option that would make my site load faster. After that, it asked me if I wanted a a private domain option, which would hide my contact details from the public for $9.95 a year. That’s an annoying, but not unheard-of, level of hard sell. But when I saw that these extras options were added without me checking them off, I started getting really irritated. Finally, when I looked at my PayPal invoice, I saw that, although I though I had signed up for one month of service, WebsiteBuilder.com scheduled ongoing charges for future months at a higher rate. That’s unacceptable.
The service’s site-building interface, on the other hand, is standard and simple, with a left rail of page and page-element choices, as well as a top menu for site options. What helps make the left rail cleaner than those of some builders, such as Weebly, is that most elements are behind a big plus sign. After messing with the template a bit, a message pops up saying “Let’s save your work and choose a name for your website.” You get an address in the form sitename.my-free.website. (Yes, .website is now a top-level domain option.)
All the standard site elements are at your disposal: images, text boxes, galleries, buttons, navigation elements, videos. There’s also a Widgets section for things like maps, music players, and social links. Your chosen template determines the font for your text, but you can switch text to any font you like. Of course, doing so can harm site consistency. For your site background, you can use a solid color, texture, or photo. To most elements, you can add animations like bounce-ins, fade-ins, and fly-ins—a nice touch. You don’t, however, get video background-image capability, as you do in Wix.
You also get lots of choices when it comes to adding a page. In addition to a template-less blank page, you can add About, Gallery, Schedule, Contact, FAQ, and several more page types. You can also drag page entries to change their position on your site navigation, and dragging an entry to the right creates a nested sub-page. You don’t have to add a whole page, either. As with Strikingly, WebsiteBuilder.com lets you add new Sections to existing pages. These can consist of images, text, or both. I like that the Undo and Redo buttons (along their respective Ctrl-Z and Ctrl-Y shortcuts) let you undo and redo your work. Even better, you can revert the site to any previously saved version.
From the Manage toolbar button, you can upload a custom favicon and add custom HTML to the site header and footer, and you can change site meta tags, too. The Widgets menu lets you add HTML anywhere on a page.
Working With Photos
The service offers considerable categorized stock photography and icons for use in your site. When you upload your own photos, WebsiteBuilder.com saves them to online storage and makes them available for use elsewhere in your site—but not across multiple sites hosted by the service, as Wix does. Happily, you can upload multiple photos in batches. You get very customizable settings and can place, size, and rotate images anywhere on a page that you’d like with intuitive mouse dragging. You can also set images’ transparency, bring them to the foreground, send them to the background, or duplicate them. You can even shift all content beneath your added photo at once.
Galleries are usually in grid layout, and you have some options and design choices, but not as many as you get in Wix. One option lets viewers pop up big versions of photos for a slideshow view, but not a full-screen slideshow. Tapping Edit when you select an image opens Adobe’s excellent Aviary online image-editing tool, which offers effect filters along with all the standard photo lighting, color, and crop fixes.
WebsiteBuilder.com’s site-building interface includes a button that switches to mobile site design, but, for it to be functional, you need a paid account. In truth, my test site didn’t look bad on an iPhone even before I’d done any editing in the mobile editor. By default, the service arranged all the photos vertically so my visitors wouldn’t need to scroll sideways, as you often have to when viewing desktop sites on mobile devices.
The point of the separate mobile builder interface is to create a version of your site that’s different from the desktop version, suited instead for the smaller screens with different aspect ratios. You might use a different background image and hide certain elements from displaying in mobile browsers. I am surprised that it doesn’t automatically add a hamburger menu, but after a little tinkering with dialogs, I found that you can easily change your menu’s style and position.
As I mentioned, for any selling at all, WebsiteBuilder.com makes you upgrade to an eCommerce-level account. Most other site builders at least let you add PayPal buttons or sell one product in free accounts. But even after I paid for an eCommerce account, I wasn’t able to add a store to my site. After an email exchange with tech support, though, the feature worked the next day. The store functionality is a repackaging of the very capable Ecwid storefront service.
You can either add a store to an existing page or create a new one. Either one adds dummy shopping items to the page. Hit the Manage Store bar, and you land in a new eCommerce interface, in which you can add products, set up payment options, and more. Adding a product is very simple—just enter a name and price. Despite its simplicity, however, the storefront builder is highly capable.
You can set up your product catalog in categories and add attributes such as brand and UPC number. Your store can offer options such as color, size, and whatever other customizations you need to create. It’s also easy to upload an image gallery, tax and shipping, and even create embed codes for a product. Payment methods include PayPaland Stripe—the two business standards.
WebsiteBuilder.com’s store integrates with UPS and USPS, and you can also enter custom shipping options. You can even sell via a Facebook page. But selling digital downloads, running promotions (including coupons), or recapturing uncompleted purchases all require upgrading your account yet again.
WebsiteBuilder.com offers 15 blog templates, many with pleasing designs. A dedicated Blog button on the left toolbar lets you create posts or change the design template. Posts are less free-form in WebsiteBuilder.com than in Wix, which lets you add anything to a blog you can add to a webpage. It’s not a bad thing to have consistent post design, though I’d like to be able to add images inline with the post text rather than being restricted to one post image.
All the typical text-formatting options are at your disposal, and you can save posts as drafts, though you can’t schedule post date and time. You can apply tags to posts for easy searching later. Furthermore, you can designate posts as Featured, and pin them to the top of your blog. By default, Facebook comments are enabled for each blog post. Finally, you can enable an RSS feed for your blog posts, though the viewers have to find this in their browser tools, since there’s no link to it on the blog.
Publishing Your Site and Measuring Traffic
I like that you can save your site before publishing, unlike Squarespace, which makes anything you do live instantly. After the second time I published a site, WebsiteBuilder.com proposed that I connect a custom domain and remove ads, another upsell. But that’s not really uncommon for site builders.
WebsiteBuilder.com doesn’t offer any built-in traffic monitoring. Instead, you’re left on your own to implement a Google Analytics account. Of course, that offers lots of drilldown about your visitors—geography, technology, bounce rate, and so on—but that’s yet more work, and the stats take a day or more to show up. I hit my site in Windows 10’s Edge browser and Firefox multiple times but that traffic didn’t show up the next day, instead, only a few iOS sessions showed up.
No Need to Be Pushy
After testing WebsiteBuilder.com, I was far more impressed with its functionality than I expected to be. The builder is clear and powerful, the template designs look good on both desktop and mobile, the integrated online store tool is deep, and the blogging tool works well. My main concern is the frequent and aggressive upselling. For a more capable and less in-your-face experience, check out PCMag’s Editors’ Choice site builder, Wix.