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When it comes to finding the site builder that’s right for your business, there are typically three key characteristics that help separate out the clear winners: price, ease of use, and customization. It’s often hard to find site builders that reasonably satisfy all three requirements.
There are cheap and simple platforms, but they tend to only allow for limited control. There are ones that offer all the customizability and control you could ever want, but it would take months to figure it all out on your own… or a hefty investment in a web developer to handle it for you.
WebStarts seems to be a new breed of site builder: a hybrid, if you will.
Based in Brandon, Florida, WebStarts was founded in 2007 and boasts that it’s helped users create over 3.8 million websites over the last ten years. While it’s not as customizable as a self-hosted WordPress site, and there may be platforms that are easier for novice users to manage, it offers a fairly impressive amount of flexibility and ease of use at a variety of price points.
Could WebStarts’ well-rounded offering be a good fit for your business’s website builder needs? Let’s take a look.
WebStarts Site Builder and Hosting Plans
Like many hosting and site-building solution providers, WebStarts operates on a freemium plan basis. The entry level plan is free (but limited), and there’s a tiered schedule of additional plans offering more benefits and features. The main difference between each of these plans relates to hosting and how much storage and bandwidth is available.
Here is what you need to know about WebStarts’ plans:
One of the chief drawbacks of the cheaper plans is the lack of a custom domain. A top-level domain is pretty much essential these days if you have any serious business-related purpose for your new site. So, this is something to be aware of if you’re considering the cheapest plan option. Your website will reside on WebStarts’ subdomain and look like this:
Instead of this:
As you move up in the plans, you’ll see that not only can you secure a custom domain for your site, but you can also get custom email addresses.
Unfortunately, the free basic plan for individuals comes with a WebStarts ad. It seems restricted to a small, relatively unobtrusive banner at the bottom of the user’s screen, which the visitor can then get rid of by clicking on the “X”.
Although the ads don’t seem too disruptive, it’s not really ideal to allow your web hosting or site builder company display ads on your business website. You have no control over the content of the ads, and they are designed to draw people away from your site.
You can use any of WebStarts’ hundreds of templates to start designing your site, and you can tweak that layout by adding, resizing, and reordering elements on that page. You can also add and reorder pages in your navigational menus. Once you have the basic site structure and layout configured to your preferences, you can then add images and text-based content as you like. It’s as simple as that.
Additional Premium Features
Unless you’re creating a site for personal purposes and intend on making it available only to a private select few, you’ll likely need premium business features to make the most out of it. The WebStarts premium site builder plans include a number of them that are worthy of note:
- Contact forms
- Mobile optimization
- HTML code access
- SEO tools
- XML sitemap submission to Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
- E-commerce tools
- Email marketing
- Lead generation tools
- Membership features
- Advertising stipend
- CDN for improved speed and performance.
Getting Started with the Site Builder
One of the great things about working with WebStarts is how easy it is to get started in building your new website. However, be sure to look out for potential roadblocks in user-friendliness. While WebStarts provides users with helpful starter tools, it can be a labor-intensive platform to use if this is your first time working with it.
Within seconds of signing up, WebStarts will move you right into the platform and urge you to “Get Started”. The very next thing you’ll see is the gallery of design templates WebStarts offers, categorized by niche or interest in a sidebar menu that makes it relatively simple to browse through hundreds of available designs.
From Animals to Real Estate to Paranormal Investigators (yes, that’s really one of them), a wide variety of categories means that most users will find something appropriate for their needs.
Although these templates aren’t necessarily cutting-edge, they’re all reasonably attractive, with layouts that are functional and appropriate to the specified niche. Many of them offer sidebar-free full-page layouts, which are definitely a trend these days. And with the drag-and-drop editor, you can further refine your site’s look as you please.
The Introduction Video
Upon finding the template you want to build your site from, you’ll be taken to a friendly 9-minute video that shows you exactly how to get started — where to login, how to build and edit your site, how to get around in the user dashboard and account menu, and more.
We do strongly recommend that you walk through that tutorial, even if you’re confident you could figure it out on your own. It covers all the most common new site tasks in a straightforward, visual way that will make those initial baby steps easier.
One of the best things about the WebStarts site builder is the drag-and-drop. WebStarts offers much more control over building your individual pages and organizing menus with its intuitive drag-and-drop interface. This is about as user-friendly as it possibly can be.
With regard to the navigation menus, you can add pages, rename them, and reorder how they appear in the top or primary navigational menu however you like, with minimal effort.
And for your pages? Well, the drag-and-drop builder enables you to build your site using individual elements as well as layers.
The one thing to be aware of is the addition of “smart handles” and grouping of elements. The goal of this functionality is to allow you to move blocks and chunks of your page as a single unit, rather than adding or moving individual elements one at a time. It’s supposed to add to the convenience of using this tool, but can lead to frustration if you don’t properly finagle the resizing and regrouping of these smart blocks.
Another point worth mentioning about the site builder is that all the customization and flexibility of this tool does come at a price. There are limited page templates available (only for Home, About, and Contact), so you’ll have to design each web page from scratch. This could be overwhelming if you’re completely new to building websites, though, with a little practice, most users will become proficient enough to get the job done.
WebStarts does offer a few built-in tools that help even the newest of beginners create an attractive, clean website with just a little effort. One such example is the “snap-to-grid” function that automatically keeps a page’s elements and blocks aligned properly, so there’s no eyeballing or pixel measurement needed.
Some of the more expensive business plans enable users to take advantage of WebStarts’ e-commerce tools.
You can use either the Store button on your main toolbar or the “Sell Products” menu. Both options will walk you through the process of adding items (including digital products such as ebooks) to your store and configuring necessary details such as price, description, and more. With the WebStarts e-commerce tool, you can choose from a handful of store design templates, add customized copy and images, and choose from a variety of payment processors, including Stripe and PayPal.
WebStarts customer service options are a little on the limited side, but adequate to handle common issues a new user might encounter.
For the first line of assistance, WebStarts offers an extensive collection of helpful documentation, organized by topic. Here you’ll find tutorials on working with images, adding a blog, publishing posts, search engine optimization, editing and formatting text-based content, and much more.
Premium users receive access to telephone support from WebStarts technical support representatives, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. EST. Support requests received during those hours should get a response back within an hour. Outside of working hours, WebStarts assures customers that requests are reviewed “frequently” and will still receive a response, just not as quickly.
While there is a website-based chat function, it seems to be fairly limited to basic information and references to documentation. Also, we tried it out on a non-holiday workday at 2 p.m. and received an automated response that no one was available to chat. It did offer to have a representative get in touch via email, though.
Billing and Cancellation
Although WebStarts publicizes its prices in monthly terms, you should know that you’ll have to pay for a full year at signup. For some users that may present budget complications, so it’s something to be aware of before you choose a plan.
WebStarts states on its website that you can cancel paid plans at any time without additional fees or penalties.
WebStarts: The Goldilocks of Site Builders
If you’re a die-hard DIYer without coding skills or experience, you’ll appreciate WebStarts’ hands-on approach to site building and the customization options its drag-and-drop builder offers. You get the best of both worlds: a site that you created from scratch, but without the learning curve you usually have to deal when working with other site builder solutions.