Following our look at OnePager, we’re looking at more of the web 2.0 online site builders and hosting sites. Weebly is another such, founded in 2006, with some advanced features, aimed at those with a need for a simple website and having no HTML programming experience. Weebly is one of the larger website builders in the US, having more than 8 million accounts. How many of those are active is another question.
Weebly is another free-basic, pro-upgrade offer site. The basic package is free, but includes a link back to Weebly in your website’s footer. The Pro plan is average at $4.99 a month, with discounts to $3.99 a month for longer pre-paid periods. You can buy a custom domain from Weebly, but only .com, .net or .org domains. At £39.95 per year, they are expensive compared to other sources. Priced for people who don’t know any better? You can re-direct a domain you’ve bought elsewhere.
Registration is fast and easy; the registration form on the main page contains three fields only – user name, password and email are required to create an immediately active account, there’s no email confirmation or validation.
Of interest to the web newcomer is the builder interface – Weebly’s well-organized interface has a series of menus across the top for easy access to its key features. You can drag and drop all the page elements in your browser and see the changes immediately. There’s a wide range of templated designs with access to the source code for customisation. You can also use a template you’ve coded from scratch. A mobile version of each site is generated automatically.
You can create pages, change fonts, add forms, add any kinds of files including pictures, audio and video. Your saved site is published within a minute. The site-builder supports and unlimited depth of navigation, Weebly adding drop-down menus automatically to your navigation bar. Weebly sorts out the page URL’s based on title text so you don’t have to.
Weebly has widgets, small tools to add extra functionality, such as photo galleries, video and music players and more. These in-page media players are restricted to the Pro offer, however. Weebly should offer some social media widgets, unless I missed them.
For revenue-raising, Weebly can include Google AdSense or other banner ads, but Weebly will keep 50% of your AdSense revenue for themselves, even on the Pro price plan. Ouch!
If you wish to sell your own product, Weebly provides a simple e-Commerce store, without integrated order management and only accepting payments via PayPal or Google Checkout.
The Blog add-on has standard features, such as comment moderation and trackbacks but not scheduled posting. Why not? It has Forums Direct integration with Tal.ki which I’m told is another easy tool for adding a forum to your site.
Weebly is strong on forms – contact and feedback forms, for which you can again use drag and drop tools to create detailed contact forms or surveys.
Weebly has given up on storage restrictions: you get unlimited storage space, even in the free plan as long as individual files do not exceed 5Mb each (100Mb each on the Pro plan). Better than that, there are no limits on bandwidth either, so you have license to be wildly popular with visitors. You can even download your Weebly website for archiving or host it on your own web space.
Customer service is getting mixed reviews to say the least. The fact that they are available only by e-mail and only Monday to Friday, 9.00-5.00 US Pacific time may have something to do with it. Support is available in English only.
I found little in the template galleries which inspired me. I suspect this is because Weebly’s customer base is in that demographic of non-technical, domestic and small-business bloggers who know what they like within their own sector. There’s nothing too complex or too slick. In fact, most of it appears as anti-corporate design. On the one hand, you get simple page layouts that are difficult to wreck unless you dive into the HTML and CSS style sheet code. On the other, a lot of the available designs look very 2006 and only a little tampering with colours and fonts in the design tools is all it takes to trash them completely.
Advanced users will want to go with another company that provides more features like script language support, databases and the like. Each page has an individual title tag and you can add custom blocks of HTML within each page, but effective Search-Engine Optimization (SEO) will require the use of custom HTML blocks, which is probably beyond the capabilities of most of Weebly’s target customers.
I don’t know realistically what the performance will be on a heavily loaded site with a lot of files available to download, high volume traffic, with blog and forum options enabled. Then again, I haven’t seen any massively popular sites based on Weebly and stats are hard to come by.
This is, on paper, an excellent offer in terms of tools, space and facilities. Almost too good. The price (aside from that stinging 50% cut of Adsense revenue and their domain pricing) is the slightly lack-lustre and slightly amateur-hour templates. Things feel rather conventional and a bit ‘flat’. You can get something that feels much more up-to-the-minute on WordPress or Blogger, although Weebly lifts many of the restrictions of those two platforms in the Free Plan. Weebly is every quick to build in, but I still question whether a novice will find it as easy as promised. The builder does have a few quirks. If you’re determined to ‘do-it-yourself’, you can try them all out for free and decide your own trade-offs. Or go to your ‘local’ web-design and hosting company and let them handle it. AJS
Our sample site: Still No Expert: http://stillnoexpert.weebly.com/
Writing that Sizzles (this lady does know what she’s doing) http://www.writingthatsizzles.net/book-creation.html
Showcase (not currently up to date) http://siteshowcase.weebly.com/
Weebly forums at: http://weeblyforums.com