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Tim Peter

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October 29, 2009

Taking a Look at Weebly (The Thinks Website Hosting Tools Review)

October 29, 2009 | By | 43 Comments

If your small business doesn’t have a website yet, well… what are you waiting for? Especially with a tool as quick, easy and inexpensive as Weebly around. That’s not to say Weebly is perfect. It isn’t. But, it offers a strong combination of the most common features to help you get your business online with very little effort or cost.

Overview

I last looked at Weebly in our round-up of small business hosting tools almost two years ago and came away impressed. After running Weebly through its paces on our suite of sample sites, I’m even more impressed. What started out as a simple CMS with a great interface has evolved into a very useful tool for many types of small businesses to get online now.

Weebly offers a basic toolkit for helping you get your business online, flexibility to support your growth and the ability to move on when that growth demands more sophisticated tools.

For starters, Weebly offers a very simple signup procedure. Just enter your desired username, email and password and you’re done. Think I’m kidding? Take a look at this:

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That’s it.

Similarly, I love the options for selecting what domain you want your site hosted on:

weebly-signup-domain-setup-thumb.jpg

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Fast. Easy. Nice.

It would be helpful if they offered some explanation here of the benefits/differences between the three domain options. Some users may not know why they’d want a subdomain or if it’s worth it to register a new domain (or, frankly, what a domain is). But that’s something of a nitpick. I found the process to be simple and quick.

Features

Once you’ve created your account, you’re immediately dropped into Weebly’s main editor. You can add content, headlines and images easily, as well as YouTube videos, Google AdSense and Maps, PollDaddy polls, Nabble Forums, and BookFresh/HourTown online scheduling, all through a drag-and-drop interface.

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One quirk, as I see it, is that there’s no drag-and-drop to add tracking code such as Google Analytics. You add your analytics code in the SEO section (i.e., it goes in the footer). That works fine and limits your need to add code on each page. But it’s notable that something as important as analytics is somewhat buried within the tool – particularly in light of how limited Weebly’s default analytics are.

Weebly’s blogging tool is solid for most purposes, particularly if you’re using a blog as an adjunct to your main business site. Serious bloggers have better options available, but the integration between Weebly’s blogging tool and the overall interface is handy. For instance, all the items available within the “regular” Weebly CMS are also available within the blog post tool, as are its more advanced items such as trackbacks. The blogging tool seemed to hang up when I tried to publish a blog post for the first time, but I couldn’t reproduce it on later tests.

Once you’ve created your content, simply click the publish button to make it available to the web. Publish pushes the entire site to the web, which might be an issue in some cases. For example, I wasn’t able to figure out how to work on multiple pages at the same time but only publish the changes made to one page. A more robust CMS would allow that sort of workflow, though almost always costs more, too.

After you’ve published your first site, you’ll see the following To-Do list, which is very handy.

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The To-Do list walks you through the individual help sections and guides you through the process of setting up your site. While I agree that taking users into the editor, then presenting this admin interface later makes sense, I couldn’t help wondering whether there’s value in making you aware this admin interface exists earlier in the process. For example, an introductory video on all the tools and help available to you might be useful.

Weebly allows for password-protected pages, if needed, with an upgrade to a “Pro” account. We’ll look at pricing for “Pro” accounts in just a bit.

Support level on the free side only via its FAQ’s, but they’re relatively thorough with an appropriate set of questions and answers. It’s worth noting that Weebly updates its tutorials regularly. For instance, when I started building the review sites, the FAQ called out that they were working on a new answer for verifying a site in Google Webmaster Tools. As of earlier this week, the FAQ reflected the new answer.

SEO

Weebly’s SEO features left me with mixed feelings. Each page has an individual title tag and you can add custom blocks of HTML within each page, which is nice. But any serious SEO efforts require you to make use of those custom HTML blocks, which I suspect is beyond the capabilities of most of Weebly’s target customers. I’ll concede that SEO is a complex bit of business with many esoteric demands, but I would think Weebly’s target customers would need more support in this area, not less.

E-commerce

Offering individual products for sale on Weebly, as with most of its features, was fast and easy. When you drag Weebly’s product selector to your page, you get the following message, asking you to choose between Google Checkout or PayPal for processing transactions:

weebly-product-block-thumb.jpg

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If you don’t have an account with either Google Checkout or PayPal, you’re directed to sign-up right there. Then you simply add a product image, price and description to sell your products:

weebly-product-block-step2-thumb.jpg

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In theory, there are no limits to the number of items you can offer on each page, which worked well in our artist and restaurant gift shop templates.

On the downside, I couldn’t find a way to link off to a custom store – i.e., ProStores, Shopify or Amazon – from the main navigation. In my view, that’s a real limitation for businesses who want to offer their customers an integrated e-commerce experience with a larger product catalog:

weebly-madcap-music-thumb.png

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Analytics

Weebly’s default stats are very basic. And I mean very basic, showing only pageviews by day. I also couldn’t find any way to access log files, so few options exist for log analysis tools. I’d strongly recommend anyone building a site on Weebly to add tags for a more robust solution, whether Google Analytics or the like.

Look and Feel

The design templates within Weebly left me cold. As AJ commented on our initial post:

“I have been trying out Weebly, and while it’s very easy to use, it seems the designs on SiteKreator are much more professional and modern.”

I agree. While the designs looked professional enough, they were very generic. I found they worked just fine for my sample legal site, but I didn’t like the default templates for my trial guitar store, artist or restaurant/bar. Obviously, that’s a subjective viewpoint. Your mileage may vary.

Where Weebly did impress was with its sophisticated customization abilities. The tool allows you to make the site look any way you’d like, complete with custom CSS, HTML and images, so long as you’re comfortable mucking about in the code – or paying someone to do it for you.

Regardless of design, Weebly adds a “Create a free website with Weebly” link to all templates unless you upgrade to their “Pro” account.

Costs

So, all this talk about “Pro” accounts. How much is a “Pro” account, anyway? Surprisingly affordable. Weebly charges $36 a year for a 2-year subscription, $48/year if you sign up for only 1 year and $54.98 if you buy 6 months at a time. For what you get, that’s very reasonable. Another nice feature – if you need it – is the ability to create two sites under the same account and a “Pro” account can have up to 10.

One quibble: many sites these days like to use a favicon, the small image that appears in the address bar of your browser. Weebly also supports that feature, but only within its “Pro” accounts. At these prices, it feels petty to complain. But, it also feels petty to require a “Pro” account for so minor a feature.

Of course, if your business needs outgrow Weebly, you can download your entire site as a series of HTML files and move it where you need to. That’s a big plus and something I’m very glad to see in a tool of this sort.

Conclusion

Weebly is a pretty cool product. Still, it’s a very strong tool that will grow as your business needs grow and allow you to connect with your customers quickly, easily and inexpensively. It templates leave something to be desired and its integration with more robust e-commerce platforms is limited. Still, if your business isn’t online today and has only limited e-commerce needs, you could do a lot worse than Weebly. Give it a try. And let me know what you think in the comments below.

Interested in learning more? Register to receive a free copy of my new special report, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World,” produced in conjunction with Vizergy, here. While it’s targeted to the hospitality industry specifically, most of the lessons apply across verticals. And, if that’s not enough, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web, including:

Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for ProStores, Amazon and Dreamhost but received no compensation for writing this post from anyone.

Comments

  1. Great review Tim. And Weebly is easy enough for my 11 year-old to use.

    You might also want to check out Wix. It is a pretty amazing flash based site with an incredible number of templates that are fully customizable. The best part is that it is all XML based, so the content winds up being very SEO friendly. I used it for my main website http://www.rockcheetah.com (my blog is on WordPress, so that links from the Wix site.)

    Perhaps a better example is a site that I put together in about 2 hours (as a test, I wanted to see how fast I could pull something together using Wix.) The result was a site for my daughter who is also a model. Here’s the link: http://www.mirandacole.com

    The Wix Premium edition provides e-commerce support, but the free version includes PayPal.

    Of course, with Flash, it may not work for some older browser/OS configurations. Aslo, a negative is that a mobile version is not yet released – reportedly in the works.

    Would like to know your impressions of the tool and platform.

  2. We used Weebly to build our site, http://www.iamhopeandhealing.org! After trying to play around with WordPress and similar programs, and not initially being able to afford a designer & programmer for our start-up nonprofit, I almost gave up on being able to create a site for us ’til I found Weebly in a Google Search. It’s been great — and now I look forward to implementing tidbits shown here! (Thanks RobertKCole for your input, too!)

  3. Thanks, Robert. Very cool information. I’ll add Wix to the list of tools going forward.

  4. Quite nice this article, gave me some great thoughts :)

  5. David

    Nice review. I have been looking at different online web creation tools. I keep getting mixed reviews. Some say Weebly is great and others that they cannot get anything to work. Since it is free, its worth a try. I also noticed a comment above about Wix. It is amazing how many options are out there. Thanks again for the well written review.

  6. Hi Tim, I was just made aware of weebly yesterday and have been googling madly since. I found a lot of bad press about weebly before finding your first comparison and later review.
    What are your thoughts at this stage for a business wanting to kickstart an online presence and looking at doing a bit more with it in the medium term. Have you had a chance to investigate the others in more depth yet? From what I can gather Weebly, Wix and Yola are probably all pretty reasonable? Thanks.

  7. I really like weebly. It is easy to use and the templates are very professional looking. I really like how my site is turning out with them. Squidoo had shut down my lens, and I needed a place to relocate too. I am glad I chose weebly. The next thing that I would like to do is get my own domain name which weebly allows you to do. 5 stars for weebly!

  8. Fiona Workman

    Nice article Tim, thanks for investigating Weebly which I’ve never heard of before. I created a website using Wix and after a little searching, found that Wix, Yola etc are great for creating but seriously fail on support. I’d be interested to read a comparison of several free website builders next time you blog.

  9. I love weebly as I am new to all this so found it very easy to use and if I did get stuck I just emailed them for help and they were very fast at responding! I have the free version and have created a website http://www.becomeayummymummy.com and a blog http://www.cardcraftideas.com as I wanted to see the difference between the two and play around with designs etc. The great new feature is the imageperfect where you can edit the main image and add cool filters and text. It is fairly limited but it all helps to further personalise your site and make it more unique!

  10. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the comprehensive Weebly review! Please let me know if I can answer any questions. You may also be interested in checking out Weebly ImagePerfect, a feature we just released that should help with some of the customization efforts (http://blog.weebly.com/2/post/2010/08/introducing-weebly-imageperfect.html) as well as some new themes we just released (http://blog.weebly.com/2/post/2010/08/new-themes-for-your-websites.html). More are on the way this week!

    Ron, if you get this: I’d be very curious to know where you read the bad reviews. We have an entire team who work tirelessly to make sure that every customer issue (both free and paid customers) are properly addressed and resolved.

    If you could email me the site(s) where you read any negative reviews (to david+c@weebly.com), we’ll add them to the list of places we monitor and reply to every day. Thanks!

  11. I just want to say that I found weebly one night through a link from a friend on facebook.I checked it out, signed up cause it was free and added my google analytics to it, since I know a little about web design than the average joe,I used a pre existing template and started adding my pages and content connected a shopping cart to my existing paypal account, submitted my site to search engines.It was easy and simple and for the most part hassle free, yes there are limitations but most could probably be solved by advanced web designers. On that note, weebly’s staff is extremely helpful and knowledgeable, on a few occasions I emailed tech support with a issue while I was a FREE user and received help the next day,which to me is pretty fast.I’m still currently adding more and more content because it’s really simple and affordable.They have FAQ page that is easy to read and understand, if not the staff is extremely helpful and fast.After about a a few weeks I decided to go “PRO” they even sent me a coupon for extra saving which was the icing on the cake for me(and this was AFTER I missed the original promo by 24 hrs, I emailed them and they generated a new code for me!)That’s cool!do you know how many times that really doesn’t happen?Anyways I say weebly gets a two thumbs up!They did a good job.They occasionally come out with new features as well. check out my website I created using weebly http://www.tweek9arts.com. so far I’m happy with the service!

  12. I have used Weebly’s Pro Account for a year. I have ten sites now.

    I use Weebly for my college class teaching. It is great to have the capability to blog, show images in a gallery, have a class forum, sync a calendar for assignments, and post videos for students.

    All my students create their own Weebly sites to post photography portfolios. It has been a great way to help them market their own work to others.

    I can tell you that Weebly has fantastic customer service. I have emailed them with questions and almost always had an answer in a day. Hard to get that kind of service these days even if you pay for it.

    There have been some glitches posting YouTube videos using Safari. I have to switch browsers. But, I don’t believe they claim to fully support Safari. However, this is minor compared to the convenience of using the program.

    As far a bland templates, most of my students easily customized their banners with their own photos and now new features have been added to add multiple banner photos easily, play with transparency, and use other effects.

    I would love to be able to have more flexibility with fonts. It would be nice to be able to have a gif banner of mulitple images work, and I would be very happy if I could change the colors of sections of the site pages. Only one color background is a design limitation that also makes it less easy to quickly scan and find chunks of information.

    And I wish people who had Pro Accounts would get coupons at least once a year to renew with a slight discount :( But, I still will be renewing not for one but for TWO years as soon as I finish typing this message.

    5 stars to Weebly from a very satisfied customer

  13. I have been looking for a website builder to test pilot. This one sounds okay.
    When I first started I used SBI, it was pretty cool as a starter, but they have fallen a bit behind the times as far as design goes.
    Thanks for insight into Weebly
    Marty Ware The SEO DAD

  14. Having acquired the domain I wanted (for European Croquet Federation) I needed something simple to create a website.

    I have no need for blogs or shopping; I am not running a business; maybe add photos later (copyright issues!).

    Weebly was fantastic and easy to use. I even managed to edit the HTML/CSS to change the image on the header, and put in some tables of data.

    My site isn’t perfect – but then it’s all my own work!
    And it only took me a few days (I have to work as well).

    Great stuff Weebly!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kevin. Great to hear from someone using a tool like Weebly “in the wild.”

  15. Garrett

    Nice review Tim I think rate weebly over wix and over yola, both for different reasons. But weebly isnt the builder I use. I just started actually on a builder called cubender, it feels like wix but I think it is better in terms of aesthetics and functionality, although it is smaller. What are your thoughts on cubender? Or anyone else that might be using it?

  16. Can anyone tell me where I can find a ready to use custom made Weebly template? The 70 available themes don’t always match my criteria… Also, if you are working with someone or know someone who is able to convert an CSS theme to Weebly (for dummies) Please advise. Thank you!

  17. Erin

    Weebly charged my credit card after I transferred my site away (to a cheaper option). I did not get all my money back and the staff were rude about it, justifying the result by saying that they were a small company.

    • Hi Erin,

      Thanks for the comment. That’s disappointing to hear that you didn’t get great service with Weebly. Obviously, the true test of any service isn’t whether they’re always perfect, but how they respond when things go wrong. I’ve reached out to their team to see if they have any comment and will let you know what I hear.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. Best of luck!

  18. Hi Erin,

    I’m really sorry to hear that you did not have a great experience with Weebly. I would love to look in to your issue and make sure to get it resolved for you.

    Could you please email me at david+c@weebly.com with your username or email address so I can look up your account?

    Thanks,
    David Rusenko
    CEO, Weebly

  19. Great article. We just set up a sithappywater.weebly.com and I had no trouble setting up an amazon store just by pasting the code into the body of the third page.

  20. Great view! I used it for http://www.MrBusinessInsurance.com. very good quality product and easy. Also used it for http://www.BusinessInsuranceAustinTexas.com and it turned out great! May even upgrade to Pro version.

  21. I think Weekly is the perfect place for a personal website. The hosting is a reasonable FREE :) However, I do not mind paying the $4 per month for the few extra benefits. They have the easiest drag and drop designer I have ever worked with and actually get a nice website in a short time.
    **AS FOR ECOMMERCE ** I have been using Weebly for a long time ( I have built Several websites with them)
    Weebly DOES allow you to place google adsense and you do receive the $$ you make off of it, you even keep track of it in google.. so, NO SCAM there:) Just expect to lose 50% of your profit to Weebly … even as a paid member… grr…
    Weebly also does not have a way to track your shopping cart/conversions which you can do in Google so good enough..
    ** My biggest fuss is that you cannot (password protect your site) Well, you can have a password for your site, you just have to give the same one to everyone (customers/members cannot create a s/n and p/w)
    ** Other than that, you can run a FULL business with weebly, and as I said, on the personal website end of it you cannot find a better place….. they are awsome!

    • Great information! Thanks for reading and for commenting.

  22. Great review Tim ! The three key aspects that set Weebly ahead of others are 1) Weebly allows third party registered custom domains to be used with weebly FREE sites too 2) Weebly allows the site to be downloaded and hosted elsewhere 3) Collaborated Editing (which probably might have been added by Weebly after your review was posted). As per the ease of use, Yola is a lot more user friendly and keeps editing/settings within the same screen making the editing process quick and smooth.

    • Thanks Raju for the comment and for reading.

  23. good blog site. many thanks this excellent article. i be thankful lots.

  24. JayJay

    I agree that Weebly is easy but I just don’t see how a real graphic artist could use it. It’s probably good for the do-it-yourself that justs wants something up quickly.

    Cubender blows all these builders out of the water. I’ve created 8 sites with em. Its completely flexible (no limitations like the ones mentioned above) so you can create a totally unique site.

  25. Hey

    I just made free website with weebly. I also just started my new small business ( retail and whole sale)

    still not sure if I should upgrade with weebly or just switch to godaddy.

    dont know why godaddy is a bit expensive . probably more secure , more options.

    anyways for now I like the features included , however I wished for more themes !

    hope you guys give me your comment on my free version website. ( still working on it )

    Thanks

  26. My wife and I just created a website for our high school equestrian team. I spent a lot of time playing around with Google Sites before trying Weebly and Weebly is SO MUCH easier to use! So far, I am really pleased with the product. We upgraded to the Pro version so we can protect pages. For what we are trying to do, Weebly is a great fit.

    I registered a domain name with GoDaddy and was able to use the tools on GoDaddy to redirect my weebly site to GoDaddy. It was a piece of cake.

    I do wish Weebly had an Element for creating tables.

    Thanks.
    Steve

  27. Great review. I was a Wix customer, but the flash was killing me. No one could see my Wix site on their iphones or ipads. I gave Weebly a try and it’s 10 times better – plus no flash! Yay!

    Overall, I’d agree with you that it’s a great service and simple. I think it’s great for personal websites, but I don’t think I’d use it for a business website. The designs are limited.

    Wix may have better design options and flashier templates, but the flash coding (or whatever it’s called) kills it for me.

    123triad or Set My Site are probably better options for business websites in my opinion. I would say Homestead is a good option too because it’s affordable, but you’re still limited to cookie cutter templates them.

  28. I build my site using weebly. Nice one

  29. Brent

    I am looking for a designer that is familiar with creating custom Weebly templates. I have a 1 page html landing page that I would like converted into a Weebly template that can be grown into a multipage site at a later date.. Can you recommend anyone.
    Thanks

    • Hi Brent,

      I don’t have any specific designers in mind, but try 99designs.com for template design or Elance.com for templates and programming. I’ve had good luck with both for various projects in the past.

  30. We’ve used Weebly for a while now and have always found the level of service excellent. We get a great response to our technical questions and are just in the middle of one with one of their technical team (Barbar) regarding using downloadable products. The only thing we found was there was no clear instruction on how to go through the process from registration to a fully published site. So we created one at http://www.HowDoIGetAWebsite.co.uk and think most people would find it useful. It also shows where to get customisable templates from, using a fully interactive membership tool and other elements that are not always clearly shown on the Weebly site.

  31. Krista

    As far as Im aware, the upgraded account allows you to keep all your Adsense earnings so I think the quote above is wrong.

  32. davit

    Hi Tim i noticed that you mentioned that its possible to change the title tag for each and every page in weebly. I have tried but have failed. If you dont mind could you explain how that is done. There is an option to put a title but that shows up on all pages. I would like to have different title tags for each and every page. Thanks in advance

  33. Ezzie

    I’m learning CSS etc, but could not go past Weebly when I was creating a site for a club. Soooo easy. Everything made sense. I’m now looking to create a couple of big quite complex sites so have been looking at WordPress which seems to be what everyone is steering me towards…but so far, I’m having trouble seeing how it would benefit me over Weebly.

  34. I’ve heard of Weebly, seeing it in passing around my Bluehost cpanel as a free website creator, so I never took it seriously. Until recently. My church has a website that was built a few years ago before I was comfortable enough as a designer to offer to do it. Well, the company that did it went out of business so the site was transferred to another company, who, since I was asked by my pastor if I could do the updating for the site and do some SEO work on it, said that (the design company said) they could put it on a CMS for a charge of course. Well, my pastor sent me the proposal to look at since I told him I could set it up myself if we self hosted and used WordPress. They are using Weebly. So I checked it out and was surprised at how much they were going to charge to set it up on Weebly! I do see now that Weebly could be a great tool even for a web developer provided you don’t charge too much unless you are really doing an in depth custom design. Though as I poked around, I realized it wouldn’t take that much to take the current design of the church site and reconstruct it on a Weebly site. Anyway, thank you for this review, it’s the most informative I’ve found so far in my searching. I want to make sure that it’s worth it to go with Weebly Pro (not through the developer), or if it would be best to go with self hosted WordPress. I’m still trying to decide. I know WordPress really well, so I am partial to it :)

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