It may boast one of the best domain names in the business, but the SiteBuilder.com website has little to say about its own service.
You get a few generic lines about ‘hundreds of customizable templates’, a drag-and-drop editor, built-in blogging, e-commerce and analytics, but that’s about it. Fortunately, the Pricing page has a little more information.
The product range begins with the free Starter plan. This gets you the core editor and full set of customizable templates, but your website will include SiteBuilder branding and is limited to 50MB.
The Pro plan drops the ads, raises your storage space to 5GB, and includes a free domain name, website statistics, ad credits and priority support. It seems expensive at around £4.61 ($5.75) a month for year one, £9.22 ($11.50) afterwards. You can get similarly specified plans for around £5 a month as a standard price.
The Premium plan gives you 10GB of space and adds premium support, apparently, although it doesn’t clearly define what that involves. It’s priced at £6.14 ($7.70) a month for year one, £12.29 ($15.35) after that.
The eCommerce plan throws in a web store for an initial £9.99 ($12.50), rising to £19.99 ($25) after year one.
A slightly worrying money-back guarantee states that you ‘may’ get a refund (excluding any domain registration) if you cancel within the first 14 days of service. The use of the word ‘may’ implies there is a possibility of ‘may not’, but as the policy doesn’t explain any excluding conditions, there’s no way to judge how generous (or harsh) it might be.
Signing up with SiteBuilder is quick and easy. There are no credit card details required upfront, and all you have to do is provide your name and email address, or sign up directly using your Google or Facebook accounts.
After clicking a link to verify our email address, we logged into SiteBuilder’s management console and began browsing templates. These are organized by category, and there are plenty to choose from: the Lifestyle section had 80 templates, Photography had 23, Computers and Technology gave us 27 options, even Construction and Trade offered a very reasonable 16.
All templates were initially displayed using large thumbnails, but could also be previewed full-screen, and in both desktop and mobile styles – a handy touch that many services ignore.
Select a template and it opens in the SiteBuilder editor. This has more visible sections, options and controls than some of the competition – the menu and page selector top-left, toolbar top-right, sidebar for various editing tasks – but there’s nothing too intimidating or complicated, and an opening tutorial explains the basics in under a minute.
Start to explore, and you’ll find SiteBuilder works much as you would expect. Scroll the preview page, click on an object to see how you can edit it, then make some tweaks and preview the results. Whatever your website builder experience, you’ll soon feel at home.
SiteBuilder’s editor offers a surprising number of ways to customize most site objects. Click in a text box, for instance, and you’re not just able to edit, style or align the text. You can change the color of the box, change its border width and radius, add drop shadow or glow effects, make low-level font changes to letter and line spacing, or even apply a host of text animation effects (fades, flips, bounces, shakes, fly-ins and more).
That’s not all. SiteBuilder pages are constructed from sections, and if you click the space around a header (or an image, or a gallery, or any other section element) you’ll find many more customization options.
Some of the settings reproduce what you can do with an element, but at the section level. So rather than have animated text fly into a fixed text box, you could have the text box itself fly onto the page.
Other settings are more complex. Adding behaviors allows objects to control other functions, perhaps playing or stopping a video, submitting a form or navigating around the site. And interesting site-level options include the ability to show a section on all web pages with a click.
There’s a lot of power here, but it does come at the expense of some on-screen clutter. Just hovering your mouse over a section is enough for the editor to display one section-level toolbar, and left-clicking displays the full section toolbox.
SiteBuilder’s sections are still a good idea, not least because they give you so many options. There are headers, footers, images, text boxes, galleries, and prebuilt blocks like feature lists, schedules, forms and more. Each of these comes in a range of formats and styles, with the editor displaying previews of everything to help you understand what you’re going to get.
Choose the Video section, for instance, and you don’t just get a frame where you can embed a movie. SiteBuilder can display single videos with backgrounds, multiple videos in rows or columns, video walls in mosaic patterns, and some of these with captions, others without.
Unlike similar services, these sections are extremely customizable, even after adding them to your site. For example, after inserting a 2 x 2 video wall we were able to drop one of the videos, display the rest in column or row order, or change the design to match any of the other video sections.
Although so far we’ve been talking about sections, you can also take the more conventional approach of building your site from individual objects. Clicking the Add Element button allows you to add text boxes, images, social media content (Twitter, Facebook, Google+), music, videos, maps, documents and more.
You can use these elements alone, or display them inside sections, and everything can be placed with pixel precision. Objects don’t jump around according to some mysterious rules which only the editor understands – they stay wherever you drop them.
Whatever you’re doing, the editor does its best to be helpful. Right-click support gives you context-sensitive menus with useful options, including the ability to copy elements and paste them elsewhere. The editor understands the standard keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy, paste, delete and more, and there’s an Undo button to quickly recover from any major mistakes.
SiteBuilder has only the bare minimum of media support: you can upload images, embed YouTube and Vimeo clips or play SoundCloud content, but that’s about it for the native tools. Even these are relatively basic. You can display images or have them pop up in full-sized form when clicked, but there are no fancy light box controls, sliders or anything else.
The service has some plus points. Integration with the Unsplash.com stock photo library is a particular highlight. We tried running searches using various not-so-common keywords, but even examples like Squirrel, Tarmac and Headlight returned lots of relevant images, all free to use immediately.
There’s a powerful integrated photo editor, too, with more functionality than some standalone apps. It can crop, rotate or resize your images, adjust brightness and contrast, tweak colors and tone, remove blemishes, fix red-eye and whiten teeth, add captions, frames, overlays and stickers. It’s also capable of tweaking sharpness or applying focus effects, and allows you to draw freehand on the image, create vignettes, paint a custom color splash effect, and more.
SiteBuilder also supports creating a hosted My Images gallery. Upload your most commonly-required photos and they’ll always be available for future use, without having to upload them again.
If you’re creating a simple website and only need a few static images, SiteBuilder’s stock photos and media library may appeal. But more demanding users will be frustrated by SiteBuilder’s lack of power, and overall the service doesn’t get close to the media handling abilities of Wix or Weebly.
Most SiteBuilder templates don’t include a blog, unlike many competitors, but it’s easy to add one later from the main editor sidebar.
Unusually, SiteBuilder offers you a choice of blog templates, each with their own layout and style. These were mostly very flashy, with photo headings and high-res images everywhere, which may be an issue if you’re looking for something more plain and business-like. But there’s no doubt the templates look good, and most users will probably find a style that appeals.
Once you’ve created a blog, it appears as a new page in the SiteBuilder editor, and can be customized like any other. If you don’t like the default photo backgrounds then you can replace them with something simpler, and you can add new text to tell readers about yourself and what the blog is for.
New posts are created in a special full-screen editor. This only allows use of the most basic content elements – headings, text, images, videos and lines – which could prove restrictive. It’s not difficult to imagine how you might want to embed a map, say, or a tweet.
Posting options are also limited, with a few exceptions.
It’s good to see you can pin one or more posts to the top of the blog, something we’ve not often seen elsewhere. RSS feeds are generated by default, and Facebook comments are supported as standard.
But on the other hand, you can’t schedule posts to be published on a particular date. There’s no support for Disqus comments, and no standalone comments system that you know will work for everyone. And there’s nothing like Wix’s ability to publish posts to Facebook or send updates to subscribers.
These aren’t necessarily fatal errors, and SiteBuilder could still be an appealing choice if you’re looking for a simple blog with some visual style, but power users will quickly be frustrated by its lack of features.
SiteBuilder only supports a web store with its high-end eCommerce plan, which costs £9.99 ($12.50) a month in year one, rising to a painful £19.98 ($25) afterwards. Other services often give you a small store with their more basic plans, and some even provide basic stores for free.
Could SiteBuilder’s stores be so amazing that they’re worth this premium price, we wondered?
Well, there are some neat touches, like the ability to define discounts, give products a banner to highlight items for some reason (they’re new, seasonal, on sale), and an effective Product Variants system makes it much easier than usual to set up key product options (color, size and whatever else you need). Taxes should be handled automatically for many countries, too, a major highlight – although we’re not quite sure of the full list (apparently it includes the US, Canada, Australia and “much of the European Union”.)
But other areas are lacking, so for example there’s no support for downloading digital products. You can’t define a product weight, and shipping is charged at a flat rate depending on the number of items (one cost for the first, another for every additional item), whatever those products might be.
Payment provider support is reasonable, with SiteBuillder able to handle at least PayPal and Stripe, as well as providing an unusual ‘cash on delivery’ option. But we would expect nothing less for this price, and overall we’re unconvinced that SiteBuilder gives you enough to justify the price tag.
SiteBuilder’s support starts at its web Help Centre, where a searchable knowledgebase aims to help you clear any initial hurdles.
We scanned the articles for a few common keywords, but weren’t impressed by the results. Most articles are very general, rather than being focused on specific tasks, so for instance searching for ‘Video’ returned articles like ‘Design With Elements’ or ‘Getting Started With Templates’ rather than the focused advice you might need. And searching for YouTube or Vimeo – the two video hosts supported by SiteBuilder – didn’t get us any results at all.
SiteBuilder offers live chat, so we tried that next. This worked better than we were expecting, with an agent responding to us within four minutes and giving useful answers to our product questions.
If that’s still not enough, there’s phone support available, but from a US number only.
We would like to see SiteBuilder improve its web knowledgebase, although the live chat and phone support are well worth having, and on balance this wasn’t a bad performance.
SiteBuilder’s wide selection of templates and versatile editor are capable of building some quality sites. The service has significant limits in some areas, though, particularly its media handling abilities, and overall there’s not enough power here to justify the high prices.