Yola (formerly SynthaSite from 2007-2009; terrible name, it still comes up among the URL’s) is yet another free website design and build ‘service’ – service in so far as Yola provides the tool for you to build it yourself and the hosting space on which the site sits.
Yola does provide a simple, almost fool-proof option for beginners. You can create websites by doing nothing more than pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping various components onto a page and playing around with the site design within the available templates. The editor is intuitive and easy to use, there’s a toolbox on the right that contains all of the different types of content.
You get a good choice from 180 templates offering simple, clean and reasonably attractive designs, most of which you can customise in some aspects, mainly color pallets and fonts. It does not offer many site-wide settings (fonts for one) and there is no template for mobile sites.
Account registration is simple; you complete the form on the main page, then it’s straight into the guided options for site set-up. You can see our simple example site at http://allanjsmithie.yolasite.com/
You can use a decent range of widgets (small tools to add extra functionality), most of which are from third parties. You can use the widget to integrate Google AdSense for example. The Blog widget provides for a basic blog, but comments can only be integrated with Disqus. There is direct integration with Tal.ki, which provides forum functions as a bolt-on to your site. The Contact form widget is a flexible and easy to use contact form builder, which does a reasonably professional job, with Captcha verification on the form. There are widgets for adding custom HTML code, external widgets and other tools, with varying degrees of success. There’s Genbook appointment scheduler for free or Appointment-Plus appointment scheduler is available for an additional fee.
Yola keeps up with Blogger and WordPress and the like by providing 1Gb of storage space in the free package, with a limit of 15Mb per file. Yola Silver goes up to 5Gb (maximum single file size 500Mb) of which doesn’t seem much for the money.
You do get unlimited bandwidth (traffic to your site), as metering and cutting off traffic isn’t worth Yola’s effort and looks bad for them if your visitors can’t access your pages.
Basic search-engine optimization (SEO) is available at page level – Title, meta and description tags, but the URL text is always created from the respective menu item.
What’s missing is any kind of visitor statistics, there are none in the free package, whilst Yola Silver has its own tracking tool, which only stores data up to 30 days. Otherwise you’re recommended to can use Google Analytics.
Whilst it does integrate with PayPal for on-line shopping cart functions, Yola is not the first choice for an e-commerce site.
Although it’s possible to create sites that look professional, all of Yola’s standard templates look like exactly that; you still need to put in the work to customise your pages to look like anything other than a free tool.
The Yola designer site can be a little slow at times; as a complex Web 2.0 platform stuffed full of AJAX components this is to be expected.
Yola offers personal support by email only, although it’s rated as generally fast and effective in turning queries around. The support Email and knowledge base represent Yola’s strengths. You’re not going to get telephone support at this price. Speaking of which…
The otherwise advertisement-free basic package is ad-supported with a single, ugly Yola banner in every page footer. Really, chaps, you need a choice of banners to fit the theme, not just in the paid version.
The free option includes free hosting, free website design tools and a free sub-domain web-address – our test site is allanjsmithie.yolasite.com.
However if you want a your own custom domain name, like all the other providers in the space, Yola gets expensive – $19.95 per year. You can get a domain name from anywhere else at a much lower price.
Move up to the Yola Silver plan, $99.95 domain name included and you’ll pay more than competitors Weebly and Jimdo. However, that fee covers more than just one website, you can design and publish as many as 25 sites with your Yola Silver account. But consider a custom email account will set you back another $9.96 a year.
In addition to their free website templates, Yola has a number of nicer templates that you can pay for, most of them ranging from $9.99 to $49.95. This is in the same league as Worpdress Premium Templates.
Buying separates makes little sense as things get expensive rather quickly without the package benefits of custom logo design and stock photography you can use on your website
Yola Premier buys you a custom site and a consultation with a web designer, who will design a custom website that will work in Yola’s online website builder so that can add text, pictures and additional pages as needed. That’s $449.95 for the first year and otherwise is the same as Yola Silver, at $99.95 for every year after that.
Yola is one of the better free site builder tools if you are among the technically challenged. It will get you started, get you a presence on-line; as a convenience, a time-saver it is perfectly acceptable. But it won’t help you capture the interest of your readers or make the content any more relevant, clear or useful. Any serious web user looking at a site with a standard template and Yola domain is going to know that.
Move up from the free account and the value-for-money is questionable – unless you make use of the Yola support to get things fixed. It still won’t get you a better design or content. The Premium package represents an expensive one-off consultation with an unknown designer of unknown quality and no follow-up. You wouldn’t do that with your stationery printer would you? I haven’t come across anyone using that package or even reviewing it.
If you want something simple and inexpensive to build yourself, you can do worse than Yola. Anything more, you should invest some time and effort looking at other tools, platforms and providers. AJS