Homestead Review: Overview
- Versatile for design - Tons of templates and images.
- Knowledgeable phone support.
- Advanced e-commerce applications (courtesy of ProStores Inc.)
- Three different editors to learn (if you're doing e-commerce).
- Communications tools not well designed for business applications.
- Time-consuming when setting up more complicated pages.
Homestead has many flashy editing tools for making fun personal sites, but lacks the professional features businesses seek. It allows a high level of design customization, but is hard to learn because it uses several editors.
Price Range: $9.99 to 59.99/month
Ease of Use
Sacrifices Ease of Use for Versatility
Website builders commonly struggle between providing ease of use and versatility. Homestead has clearly chosen the latter. With 3 different editors and 6 different website packages, using their builder is complicated right from the start.
Having Three Editors Creates Confusion
On the main navigation page, you're given a choice of two builders, the online one and the downloadable one. The online version is a simpler program meant for quick edits on the fly. The downloadable one is more advanced, allowing you to add and edit more complex features. Then if you want a Web store, you have to learn to use a third editor.
The online editor is basically a simplified version of the downloadable one, but the Web store uses completely different technology, ProStores's technology to be exact. So if you want to sell products from your site, you need to learn two entirely different interfaces. We prefer to have one program that integrates all three builders' functions.
Get the Exact Look You Want - the Price is Time and Effort
Using the downloadable builder, you can create, design and edit pages, it just takes a while to go through the process. Some aspects are easy. You can add a number of images, text boxes and tools to the same page then drag and drop them wherever you like.
The problem is you have to take the time to create all the page elements of each individual page. And for more complicated tools like online forms, you have to create each and every field as well as the text boxes to accompany them. There are no pre-created page templates that let you make specific tools quickly. That being said, it's much easier to manage versatility using this builder than it is using DreamWeaver or other HTML editing programs.
Hard to Pick the Right Package for Your Needs
There are 6 different price packages from which you have to choose. Depending on your needs, you may even need to buy 2, one for your standard website and one to add an e-store. This makes it harder to make a decision at the start. Homestead tells you which ones they believe are the best overall value, but that doesn't mean it's the best one for your needs. That means you have to go through all the features in each package before making a decision. Homestead realizes how hard this is; they even suggest that you call them for help sorting through it all.
PayPal Pretty Easy, Full Storefront Fully Complicated
If you're only going to use PayPal to offer a few items, it's easy enough to do once you learn the downloadable builder. But if want to have a full e-store that takes credit cards, and offers shipping options, you'll have to pay for the option. You'll also have to use Homestead's Storefront manager (i.e. ProStores's technology), which is more difficult to use.
While it has advanced merchant tools and functions (care of ProStores), it's tricky to figure out how to use them, especially since the set-up is entirely different than Homestead's own builder. There's support and documentation, but it's frustrating when you have to ask for help or read lots of instructions just to get your website going.
Website Promotion Made Easy, If You're Willing to Pay for It
For an extra $29.99-249.99 (depends on your needs), you can sit back and relax and let Homestead take care of your entire pay-per-click advertising campaign on Google, Yahoo! and MSN. They'll create the ads, monitor their activity and optimize your campaign. For people who don't have time to put into running their own website advertising campaign but have the money to put up, this is a great option.
Phone Support Makes Life Easier As Long As You Can Find the Number
Whether you're in Homestead's online builder or the downloadable one, the number is nowhere to be found. When we turned to phone support, we had to go to the original log-in page to find the number. There is extensive help documentation built into the system, so they probably prefer you to look up the answers first before reaching for the phone.
They also have an online support form for submitting questions. There aren't too many fields to fill in and it's easy to use. Too bad it took nearly 24 hours to get a reply (much longer than the average). But that's not such a big deal when there's also phone support.
The Three Faces of Homestead's Editor
Since there are 3 different editors within Homestead's system, we'll have to handle each one in turn, discussing their individual merits and drawbacks. We'll leave out the ProStores Storefront editor though. If this sounds complicated, it is. Website builders are much easier to figure out when there's only one editor with one kind of software to learn.
SiteBuilder Lite (Online Editor)
Simple and Efficient Online Editing, But No Frills
This editor is designed to allow you to make online edits on the fly. It's so easy to use that it literally explains itself. When you scroll the mouse over any element on the page a yellow box pops up to explain how to change or edit it.
Drag 'n Drop and Simple Re-Sizing
Within this WYSIWYG editor ("What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get"), text boxes and images can be resized and moved simply by clicking and dragging. Just as easily, you can change the text by clicking a text box and typing. And if you're working off a template without a customized logo, you can change the generic heading text to your company name.
Easy Image Upload
This is one of the easiest, quickest image upload systems we've seen. When you add an image to a page, you click to either browse your computer or check out Homestead's massive image library. Once you choose your image it's inserted directly onto the page. If the image came from your own computer, it's automatically saved on Homestead's server.
Standard Text Editing Options with a Few More Fonts
SiteBuilderLite comes with all the basic text options (bold, italics, page alignment, font size and links). When you click to type into a text box, the text options appear on the top left. There are also a few more font choices than is usually available on online website editors. It would be nice if the font choices appeared as they would on the page though.
SiteBuilder (Downloadable Editor)
Very Flexible but Has No Quick Page Set-Up
While SiteBuilderLite has only simple editing capabilities, the downloadable version lets you edit all aspects of your website. It's a dream if you have specific ideas of how you want your web pages to look. Because there are so many features and capabilities, it takes awhile to learn to use all its tools, but it's worth it if you want this level of control.
If you just want to get a page up fast, there are no quick page set-ups. If you wanted to set up a page with an online form, for example, you would have to create all the individual fields for each form in addition to the text boxes that tell the person what to type into each field. Not great if you have to slap something together quick.
The major advantage of this builder is that it allows you to put as many tools as you want on any page. You're not limited to a quick page set-up, so you can create your own page concepts rather than having only one tool per page.
Save Your Work and Publish Later
When using the downloadable builder, you have the option of saving your work without actually having to publish the page online. This is great if you don't have time to finish what you're doing, which we would imagine would happen often since page creation with this builder is so time consuming.
Make Your Text and Images Move
Another cool feature of Homestead's downloadable editor is that it allows you to create animated text or images. You can make your text bounce, scroll, fade, and dissolve. You can also make your images spin, flicker, piece together like a puzzle, or even create a moving scroll of several images. This feature is a bit gimmicky and if overused on a page it can annoy your visitors. Still, it's nice to have the option. Be sure to use it sparingly!
Can't Make Tables
Since you can't make tables in the online editor, we just assumed you'd be able to do it in the downloadable version. We assumed wrong. We called phone support and they admitted you can't make tables in either editor. They suggested that we find some HTML code online somewhere, which can then be inserted into the source code using the editor. But if you're the kind of person that's scared by terms like "HTML" and "source code" you might just want to leave the tables out or find another website builder.
While we like the advanced capabilities that come with the downloadable builder, it would be much better if you could do the same thing online. To be fair though, it is harder to get this kind of dynamic programming to apply to the Internet.
Lots of Design Customization That's Easy to Do
A Homestead website is easy to customize to give it the exact look you want. Its WYSIWYG ("what-you-see-is-what-you-get") click and drag system lets you move and adjust all the images, text boxes and graphics.
You can't easily switch between templates though - this makes you lose all your previous work. Plus all the extra customization is only available on their downloadable builder, which is kind of a cheat since our reviews are focused on online builders.
Lots of High Quality Templates
Homestead claims to have 2000+ templates in over 100 categories (we didn't count). The templates are very professional-looking. With so many categories, it's easy to find one that will suit your business. Some even have subtle animations built into them.
Can't Switch Between Templates
If you decide to change your template after you've already got your site created in SiteBuilder, be prepared for a lot of cutting and pasting. You can't simply click and choose another design and have your content automatically transferred into it. You have to cut and paste all your text and images for every page of your site.
If you're picky about how your website looks and want complete control over your pages, this website builder will deliver. Not only can you add your logo, you can also modify a template's colors and design elements.
Tons of Images of All Kinds
Homestead's image library is huge! They say they have over 1 million. It's no wonder they don't bother with categories. Instead, they have a handy searchable database.
In addition to the image library, there are a number of additional design libraries for you to use, including animations, buttons, headers, clipart and even sound bytes. This makes creating a specific look or effect for your website a much smoother process.
Advanced Design Capabilities Only Available in Downloadable Builder
The only issue we have with Homestead's system is that most of these great design features are only available on the downloadable version. The online version is very limited in comparison. And the storefront builder, care of ProStores, is completely different and nowhere near as versatile.
Pricey Design Program Gives You a Customized Site
If you want Homestead to design your site for you and give you a unique look customized around your business, prepare to pay the price. It's a whopping $999 dollars for their Deluxe design package.
If you want some customization but don't want to pay that much, you can go for the QuickStart set-up, which gives you a site that isn't unique, rather they incorporate your logo and colors into one of their QuickSite templates. This service is $249.
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