DoodleKit Review: No Fancy CMS But Here’s Why It Still Works.

Looking for very simple site builder? Do you like retro website design? Read our review of DoodleKit to see if it's right for you.

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Brenda Barron
Brenda is a freelance writer, business owner, and WordPress enthusiast. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

Last Updated on January 12, 2019

DoodleKit is a site builder platform that primarily targets small businesses, as well as inpiduals who want to launch side projects and personal sites.

The key goal of DoodleKit’s site builder tool is to enable users to quickly build their own website without knowing how to code or without requiring an extensive technology background. This is why it’s such an appealing platform for independent entrepreneurs and small business owners. That said, for companies that will eventually need to scale the website as they enter the mid-level and enterprise markets, this might not be the ideal solution.

So, let’s take a closer look at DoodleKit and try to hone in on who the target user is for this site builder tool.

Company Background

DoodleKit was created in 2006 by two partners, Ben Kittrell and Heath Huffman.  Both run the company from its offices headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kittrell and Huffman launched DoodleKit, in part, as a way to get out from under a tsunami of requests from their friends to design and launch websites. Within a few years of its launch, popular tech site TechCrunch profiled DoodleKit, bringing it to the attention of a global audience.

DoodleKit review

After expanding the software to support multilingual sites, they then focused on attracting more small business owners, including those from other countries. Today about a quarter of DoodleKit’s websites (around 75,000 sites) are maintained by clients in countries other than the United States.

That growth in international business led to some local renown and a couple of awards. In 2016, DoodleKit was named International Small Business of the Year by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

DoodleKit Hosting and Site Builder Plans

DoodleKit offers a full publishing, hosting, and management platform with features such as a WYSIWYG editor, a drag-and-drop template builder, SEO tools, and more.

Since DoodleKit hosts the entire system, and all of its customers’ websites, there’s an additional level of simplicity here that many self-hosted site solutions don’t offer. That could be very attractive to those who aren’t technologically experienced and don’t have much time or mental bandwidth to deal with the complexities of modern life on the web.

DoodleKit review
This is DoodleKit’s “cowboy” theme.

As with most site builders, DoodleKit offers a tiered “freemium” model set of plans. The lowest tier free plan will give you all the basics, while the remainder of plans offer additional business features.

In order to understand the real value behind this site builder offering, let’s take a quick look at the features.

What Features Does DoodleKit Offer?

Subdomain

A subdomain is the typical offering for these sort of basic plans. However, with DoodleKit, you have the flexibility to change it after signing up.

No Tech Skills Needed, Easy to Use

With this site builder, you can create a new website without knowing anything about HTML or CSS. And because DoodleKit takes care of the hosting as well, you won’t have to worry about having the technical know-how to handle that side of your business’s website either.

Ready-to-Go Website Designs

DoodleKit offers customers hundreds of ready-to-go templates to work with. There are no limits as to how many times you can change your site’s design with these templates, and there is no additional cost to use them either.

DoodleKit even lets you build your own template from scratch using a template wizard that walks you through the process.

Online Community Shares Customized Templates

Perhaps one of the more innovative offerings is that DoodleKit enables its users to share their custom-built templates with other users. So, if you’re working on a joint venture, where members need to build sites that have similar aesthetic branding elements, you can make sure all member sites look alike. You can export your template to another member, import a template you like from someone else, and build your own template library.

Old School Look and Feel

Like the tools and administrative interface themselves, the out-of-the-box templates offered for your use by DoodleKit leave something to be desired. They look dated, and lack modern design elements such as parallax effects and full-width layouts — they all seem to feature sidebars of one type or another.

Feeling Some Hipster Nostalgia? Then Go Retro

On the other hand, if you’re looking to surf off of the “hipster nostalgia” for the early days of the Internet and create a retro 90’s design vibe, DoodleKit might be just what you’re looking for. The New York Times recently noted the resurgent popularity of 90s-era style sites. In an article called “The Latest in Web Design? Retro Websites Inspired by the ’90s” they cite examples like Arcade Fire’s everythingnow.com site.

DoodleKit review
Gunnar Biniasch’s site was created with DoodleKit. If you’re looking to climb on board the retro website design trend, DoodleKit might be for you.

Browse DoodleKit themes

What Can I Customize in DoodleKit?

There is so much you can do with DoodleKit’s site builder. Here are some of the elements you can customize:

  • Colors
  • Fonts (color, style, typeface, header assignments, etc.)
  • Icons
  • Banners
  • Logos
  • Background patterns and textures
  • Royalty-free images
  • Slideshows
  • Gallery pages and albums.

If you’d like to visually delineate sections of your site from each other, DoodleKit also allows you to add customized border effects, with your choice of colors, to various elements. You can also add effects such as shadow, three-dimensional impact, and various textures to your customized borders.

Coders Have Additional Options

It’s important to note that if you are skilled in CSS, you have more options available. You can use the Advanced CSS Editor to enter specific override rules to supersede the template’s existing code. You can also create additional functionality and features for your site, like user forums, shopping carts, member profiles, and more.

The real advantage of DoodleKit’s site builder tools lies in this advanced functionality. However, many of these tools are not accessible to most users; either because they didn’t pay for the upgraded plan or because they don’t have the skills to make these changes to the CSS.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Just the Basics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the set of techniques designed to get your website to show up early in the list of search results presented to someone when they query keywords related to your site. The higher you are ranked, the more likely you are that the searcher sees and clicks over to your site.

If you are new to SEO, Doodlekit provides a guide called Free Website SEO and Traffic For Beginners to which you can refer.

Meta Fields

The techniques available to improve your SEO are endless, but with Doodlekit, your primary methods are to include keywords in the appropriate areas (titles, descriptions, and footers). Doodlekit’s website builder does not come with fancy SEO features, but it comes with enough to support the basics, which everyone is capable of doing once they know what search engines are looking for

Mobile-Ready Websites

All DoodleKit’s design templates are automatically responsive for mobile browser display, so your new DoodleKit website should display properly on any mobile device — whether smartphone or tablet.

What About Contact Forms?

DoodleKit offers a form-building tool to all users for the collection of user information. You can get the raw data emailed to you upon submission, or download it in spreadsheet format.

This might be useful if you’re trying to create and build digital membership records or collect more information about what your users want and expect from your website.

DoodleKit review
This martial arts business website was built with DoodleKit.

However, it appears that these forms don’t integrate with autoresponder services, so you can’t use them for email marketing purposes without uploading the information yourself by hand– and most autoresponders offer far better form integration tools.

Blogging and Social Media

All users have the ability to add a blog to their website as well as use native social media tools to help promote new blog posts and increase readership.

Premium Upgrades

If you’ve got the budget for it, you’ll get more with one of the premium DoodleKit plans.

Paid plans include a registered domain you can use for your new website.

You’ll also be able to create secure web pages that are only displayed to specific registered members that you designate, or to groups of members that you configure with varying degrees of access.

Additional SEO Tools

Paid plans also give you access to some fairly decent SEO tools, so you can optimize your site and individual pages for better results in search engines. With these tools, you’ll get access to a fairly robust analytics database, site meta tags, and a robots.txt file.

Extras

Premium site users get additional benefits, such as bulk image upload, the ability to host ads and configure their placement on the site, domain-branded email addresses, greater site security, as well as tools to help with market segmentation.

Can you build a free site with Doodlekit?

In a word, yes. If you are on a tight budget (likely the case if you are a small business who has just launched), you can certainly get up and running with a site built wholly with Doodlekit’s free website builder.

While you will not get bonuses like a free domain name or an SSL certificate (both of which you will almost certainly want at some point), you can nevertheless get a strong start without paying a cent.

If you’re a non-profit organization, DoodleKit also offers the entry-level paid plan at no charge.

What E-Commerce Options are Available?

DoodleKit does offer e-commerce tools, although you’ll have to pay extra for access to those tools.

Build an Online Store

With them, you can build your store online, with customized item properties such as size and color. You can also use the automatic form builder to collect additional specific information from your customers, if necessary.

PayPal or Google Checkout

However, this isn’t a full-fledged e-commerce solution. It’s more like “e-commerce lite.” There’s no integrated payment processing; instead, your customers will be funneled into your PayPal or Google Checkout account page.

That might be fine for new, smaller stores, but, depending on your niche, your customers and prospects might look askance at being redirected to another site to pay you.

You’ll also need to find other solutions for shipping management, and there’s no way to edit the email receipts shoppers receive.

A Note About the User Interface

Once you provide a minimal amount of information about your site, DoodleKit populates a placeholder site with text and images that you can then edit and finalize before publishing to the web.

This sounds good in theory, but does it hold up in practice?

A “Retro” Interface Too

Unfortunately, the DoodleKit editor is clunky, outdated, and inefficient. Instead of actually editing specific site elements, you simply click one of many little red buttons that then take you to a form-based editor.

You’re not editing the element itself as with a typical drag-and-drop visual editor — you’re editing the form that contains the content for that element. It’s weird and off-putting, not to mention inelegant.

On the plus side, this process requires little to no technical skills. It’s easy to use, and requires no special knowledge or skills, since it’s based mostly on WYSIWYG visual editing with some drag-and-drop work.

DoodleKit review

What Kind of Customer Support Will I Get?

DoodleKit maintains a support portal for its customers on its website, which includes a few “getting started” guides as well as several quick-tip tutorials on specific tasks, account support issues, and technical questions. The company even offers a few pieces of documentation on more general topics, such as how to make money on the web.

Customers can request more individualized support and assistance through a simple contact form or email. There does not seem to be an option to receive individual support through a telephone call or through web-based chat tools.

Limited Compared to More Popular Site Builders

So, you’re limited to a simple contact form and a paltry amount of pre-packaged documentation. This isn’t terribly robust, and it seems as if that would be a slow, inefficient way to get critical support, especially if you encounter a problem impeding your site’s functionality.

What Do I Need to Know About Billing and Cancellation?

DoodleKit’s paid plans offer discounted pricing for those who can pay a year at a time, or, if you prefer, you can pay on a monthly basis. Most major credit cards are accepted as forms of payment.

Cancel Anytime

You can cancel your DoodleKit site at any time through your administrative user panel, but be aware that there doesn’t seem to be any simple way to export your site files to a new host if you change your mind down the road.

Doodlekit and Its Competitors

If you are looking at a product like Doodlekit, you have probably considered alternative options, like WordPress, Wix, and Weebly.

In the end, the option that is best for you depends on your situation. All of the choices we mentioned, including Doodlekit will get you everything you need to launch a small business website. However, there are definitely differences between the companies.

WordPress.com — More Powerful, but Not as Easy to Use

WordPress (in this case, we are referring to the software-as-a-service option available at WordPress.com, not the self-hosted content management system) has the benefit of being one of the most commonly used options.

As such, there is a vast WordPress community — there are lots of themes, plugins, and community forums where you can ask questions and get help from WordPress experts around the world.

In our opinion, the biggest downside to WordPress is that it suffers somewhat from software bloat, so its UI is not the easiest to use.

FEATURES DOODLEKIT WORDPRESS.COM
Designs Dated or “retro” design look. Modern designs, greater variety
Interface Old-fashioned Modern but more complicated
Marketing options Very limited Thousands of plugins to add functionality to your site
E-commerce Very limited Expansive possibilities via plugins
Support Basic More robust. Massive community. Large numbers of online tutorials available.

Wix and Weebly: Easier than WordPress, but Not as Powerful

Wix and Weebly are slightly easier options to use than WordPress. The downside, however, is that these options are not as powerful as the ultra-customizable WordPress.

Who Will DoodleKit Work For?

If what you need is a clean, beautiful site that boasts trendy, minimalist design, keep looking. DoodleKit’s templates, as far as we can see, are clunky and outdated.

If you’re a hobbyist who wants to get our first website launched, and you like DoodleKit’s designs, then go for it.

Need a Website with a Retro Design Vibe?

Also, if you’re in the business of selling retro goods or music, blog about retro things, or just want that particular design look, DoodleKit might be for you.

Bear in mind that its features and editing capabilities are on the limited side. DoodleKit is a simplified site builder tool, not a fully functioning content management system.

See DoodleKit Plans

Chiefly, we’d recommend DoodleKit for solo-entrepreneurs on a shoestring budget. Anyone who needs to get a website up and running quickly may find DoodleKit a cost-effective way to do so.

It’s also an option if you simply want to test out a simple business idea in the marketplace, particularly if you (and your target audience) don’t care quite so much about cutting-edge design or on-point development trends.