Homestead Review: Overview

User Rating
  • Free trial
  • Premium support included with all accounts
  • Value-added features
Score
6
Ease of Use
Simple
Templates
100+

Overview

Pros:

  • Versatile for design - Tons of templates and images.
  • Knowledgeable phone support.
  • Advanced e-commerce applications (courtesy of ProStores Inc.)

Cons:

  • 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.

Bottom Line:

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.

Editor

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.

Design

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.

Customization Paradise

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.

# Score Plans Main Advantage Get Started
6
Templates
100+

 

  • Free trial
  • Premium support included with all accounts
  • Value-added features
9
Templates
500+

 

  • You can create a website and get it live in a matter of minutes
  • It’s super easy to use
  • Its pricing plans are very cheap in comparison to some competitors
9.2
Templates
350+

 

  • Intuitive visual editor with drag-and-drop function maintenance.
  • Low price and frequent sales.
  • SEO block.
  • Integration with various apps and platforms (Facebook, MailChimp, SlideShare, etc.).
  • Ability to make backups in a couple of clicks.
  • Flexible total customization.
7.1
Templates
1750+

 

  • 25 different pre-made pages for business tools.
  • Over 1750 Business Templates
  • Over 600,000 websites built using CityMax
4
Templates
75+

 

  • SSL certification;
  • Small business listings;
  • Blogging platform;
  • Quality customer support;
  • 30-day money back guarantee.
5
Templates
50+

 

  • Full freedom design.
  • Option to have more than one site.

Promotional Tools

Pay-Per-Click Marketing Campaign is Unique, but Not Much Else

Homestead is the only website builder we reviewed that has a program that runs your pay-per-click marketing campaign for you. You have to pay for it of course, but it's a good idea. Unfortunately, Homestead doesn't have much else for promotional tools beyond this.

Pay Homestead to Run Your Pay-Per-Click Ad Campaign

If you don't have the time to run a pay-per-click ad campaign (i.e. paid search results on Google, Yahoo! and other search engines), you can pay Homestead to do it for you with their SearchLight program. It's not cheap, but it does save you time. They guarantee to bring in a certain number of clicks per month (amount depends on package). They also optimize your campaign to improve return on investment, sending regular progress reports, and they monitor click fraud. And with certain packages, they have a consultant go over your website and provide tips to increase sales. 

There are 3 packages:

  1. Starter: $29.99/ month with a $30 set-up fee. Guarantees 240 clicks/ month.
  2. Standard: $49.99/month with a $50 set-up fee. Guarantees 400 clicks/ month.
  3. Turbo: $99.99/ month with a $50 set-up fee.  Guarantees 800 clicks/ month.

We didn't test SearchLight, but we like the idea. If you have the money to spare but not time, it's a handy program. However, if you have a little extra time in your daily routine, it really doesn't take that much extra effort to run a pay-per-click campaign once you learn the basics.

A Few Useful Articles

In addition to SearchLight, Homestead also provides a few useful articles that give you the basics on how to help search engines find your website (a.k.a. S.E.O. or Search Engine Optimization). They also provide a couple of very basic articles on promotion strategies, but they mostly just explain the benefits rather than actually teaching you how to implement them.

Incomplete Meta Tag Editor

To help get your website found in search engines, you're provided with the opportunity to enter descriptions and keywords to help search engine spiders understand the content of your site. These are known as "Meta tags." It's easy to do through the "Meta Tag" tab on each individual page.

The only problem is that there is no option to enter a title tag (the text that appears in the blue bar at the top of a visitor's Internet browser when they are at your web page). This is one other place in which you can plant your marketing message, so it's surprising that Homestead has left this out.

E-Commerce

E-Commerce Through PayPal or ProStores

There is no easy statement about Homestead's e-commerce system because there are two. One is a simple PayPal based system that is easy to use, though time consuming to create an entire catalog. The other is the full-fledged ProStores shopping experience with all the tools you can imagine. But since it's entirely different technology, it takes time to learn the new system.

Using PayPal - Not Quick But It Does the Trick

For people who only want to sell a few items on their website but not make e-commerce their primary goal, Homestead is a great option. It's simple enough to add the PayPal shopping icons to a page as long as you don't have too many to put up. But if you have more than a few items, it takes a lot of time to set up since you have to create each page element manually. However, you do have the choice of putting up as many products as you want.

No Integrated Shopping Cart in a SiteBuilder Website

When a customer buys a product on a site built with SiteBuilder, a new window opens with the PayPal shopping cart ready to go. It's not as professional-looking as a fully integrated cart. To get one, you'd have to buy one of the Storefront packages. Alternatively, you can get one SiteBuilder package and one Storefront package then link to your store using the SiteBuilder site as your main website.

No Options of Any Kind with SiteBuilder Websites

When you use SiteBuilder to create your products, you can't offer any product or pricing options. You can only create a very basic catalog.  If you want to use a variety of options or have store management tools, you'll have to pay for a Storefront package. Same thing goes if you want to use a merchant account to sell through your site.

ProStores Technology for Full E-Commerce Capability

If you want to get more heavily into e-commerce, you'll have to use Homestead's Storefront (a third website builder), which is really just ProStores's technology re-packaged.  It is one of the most advanced e-commerce systems available, covering everything from shopping carts to buyer membership programs.  Note that Homestead doesn't have transaction fees, though ProStores does.

If you want to use it in conjunction with the features in Homestead's downloadable builder, you'll have to pay for two separate packages then link the storefront to your other website.

The biggest problem is that the set-up is entirely different from Homestead's other builder, meaning you have to learn a whole new system to set up your storefront.  It's also harder to learn than the other builders, so if you go this route, you've got your work cut out for you!

Tools & Features

  • Photo album
  • Mailing list
  • Guestbook
  • Recommend Site
  • Polling Booth 
  • Blog link-up
  • Last Updated
  • Chat room
  • Online forms
  • Maps
  • Simple calendar
  • Site Statistics
  • Sound file upload
  • Video file upload
  • Visitor counter
  • Add to favorite link
  • Time & date icon
  • Weather icon  

Lots of Features but Lacks Business Application

When using Homestead's downloadable website builder, you have a wide variety of features that aren't designed with the business website creator in mind. While it has most of the standard features offered by website builders and even a few extras, it is more suitable for personal website use. For example, you can put up a simple calendar icon displaying a date, but there is no event calendar that allows you to show a business's upcoming events. They also have a visitor chat room but no message board, which would have greater value for business websites.

Online Forms Would Be Better With a Quick Page Set-Up

The online form is an important tool for business websites. They allow you to receive customer inquiries and collect customer feedback. For the business user, it would be ideal to have a quick page set up in which you just pick out your fields and type in the associated text.  With Homestead though, you have to create each individual field as well as the text boxes associated with those fields. This can be time consuming.

Mailing List Not Great for Business but Other Communications Tools Handy

The Homestead mailing list system is good for anyone who just wants to have a simple mailing list as opposed to a business newsletter. So what's the difference? A business newsletter tool might have anti-spam measures to ensure that your subscribers feel confident you won't spam them. A website newsletter can also benefit from simultaneous publication on your website. Homestead's mailing list lacks these functions.

Homestead does have other useful tools that are easy to stick on a page.  The Guestbook, Tell a Friend and Add to Favorites, are sharp little features that add professionalism. The Web Poll is also handy, easy to use, and looks good on any page. And even though the chat room is quite simplistic, it's a nice touch for those who want it. 

We were impressed at first when we saw the option to add a blog. Unfortunately, Homestead doesn't have a blog service rather it provides an RSS (Registered Subscription Service) feed into which you can link to a blog that you have already set up somewhere else. While other website builders also have the ability to set up an RSS feed, Homestead has a quick set-up feature intended for bloggers.

Photo Album Not a Business Tool

Homestead's photo album produces a cute little frame that allows visitors to quickly click through the images uploaded into it.  While it looks nice, it doesn't really address the needs that businesses have in photo albums.  For example, a professional gardener might want to use a photo album to show his or her portfolio.  Usually they would want to post a description to accompany the photo as well.  This photo album can't do that.  The only alternative is to manually upload each image and manually create each text box, but again, there is no quick set-up for something like this.

Access Your Domain Name Email Address from the Web

In many cases, you can only set up your domain name's email address (i.e. [email protected]) to be accessed through MS Outlook.  This means that you have to be at your own computer to access your email.  Homestead has it set up so you can check your email through the Web - an important feature for people on the go.

Lots of Cool Little Features that Add Polish

While some of the main features are lacking business application, there are a lot of little tools that can give your website a polished look.  You can instantly add different kinds of search boxes, including Google, Google Groups, Amazon, eBay, Ask Jeeves, and CBS Marketwatch.  There are also some handy info tools you can plunk down anywhere like a visitor hit counter, time and date, calendar, weather report, and last updated date.  These aren't a major selling point, but they do serve to make your website look more professional. 

The MapQuest features, on the other hand, are actually quite useful.  The map feature automatically generates a map of your location, which can look really sharp on your contact page.  You can also add a driving directions search box courtesy of MapQuest.  These features only work if you have an American address though.

Homestead's Site Statistics Give Useful Marketing Info

By integrating with RealTracker, Homestead provides website traffic info that can help you with your website marketing.  They tell you the geographic locations of your visitors, where your visitors are referred from, what content they looked at, and more.  This helps you understand your Internet market better.

Customer Support

Great Phone Support, but Email Support is Slow

Homestead's phone support is quick and reliable, in contrast to their email support, which made us wait an entire day. Their online documentation had great starter instructions, but the rest of their help docs were not well organized. It took us longer to find the topics we were looking for than it did in other builders.

Phone Support - We Love It!

Phone support isn't absolutely necessary in general, but when you have 3 different editors, 2 of which have very advanced functionality, it's great to be able to call someone and have them walk you through some procedures. It's only available 7:00am-5:00pm PST though.

We called for help several times throughout the building of our website at Homestead. We never had to wait more than 3 minutes on hold before getting through. 

If we had a complicated question, customer support would walk us through the necessary steps. If the question already had documentation prepared for it, they would just email us the instructions. The people we spoke with were helpful and polite.

The problem is that after the first 30 days (if you buy the Silver or Basic Storefront packages) or 90 days (if you buy the Gold package), you have to pay $10 for each call.  If you go with the Platinum program or the Enhanced / Professional Storefront packages however, it's always free.

Another issue we have is that you can't find the phone support number from within the downloadable or the online builders.  We only found it by going back to the Homestead log-in page.

Start-Up Instructional Tools Help You Dive Right in

Homestead has a wide variety of ways you can learn to use their website builders. For the visually inclined, there is over an hour's worth of instructional videos. The videos aren't the highest video quality but they're clear and helpful.  They also have a downloadable guide if you prefer to read. And if you prefer to learn by doing, there is a little helper window at the bottom corner of the downloadable builder in addition to the animated demo that comes up when you first use the program.

Documentation is Clear but Not that Easy to Navigate

For the most part, the online and downloadable builders' help documentation is easy to follow, though it can be a bit difficult to find the topic you're looking for. SiteBuilderLite's help documentation doesn't have images, but you don't really need it since the help docs come up in a separate, smaller window. SiteBuilder, on the other hand, has images.

There are also some articles and how-to documents on the main Homestead page (the one you go to when you first log in). It is searcheable for your convenience. There are also lots of FAQ's as well at the learning center, which is accessible from the main Homestead page.

Again, the documentation for the Storefront builder is completely different (though the phone support is through Homestead).  

Email Support is Slow and Needs Images

The online support form is quick to fill out but Homestead is slow to get back to you.  It took an entire day to get a response to our question.  When they did get back to us, we found the instructions were helpful but needed images to guide you.  Because they're not directly on the builder, they're not as easy to follow.

Value

Too Many Package Options, Some Better Value Than Others

It's hard to decide how Homestead ranks in terms of value.  There are so many package options, it takes a real time commitment to sort through them all. It's so hard to figure out that they even encourage you to call them for advice when picking a package. It's a good thing they have a 30-day free trial to help you decide.

The prices range from $9.99-$49.99 for a SiteBuilder website and $6.99-$59.99 for a Storefront site. And if you want to combine the communications and Web tools of SiteBuilder and the e-commerce of Storefront, you'll have to buy one of each.

If you don't need all the options it may be better value for you to go with a more basic package, however they are not the best value for what you get. We tend to favor all-inclusive website builders; they take out the guess work and give you room to grow. This is important because your needs may change as your business grows. Though you can always upgrade to a different package with Homestead.

Unlimited Websites for Certain Packages

Homestead does have one value advantage over many other builders.  With the Gold and Platinum SiteBuilder packages, you can build as many sites as you like within the storage capacity available. This can be an advantage if you need to expand your business into other areas.

Extra Fees Are Within Reason

Homestead has no hidden fees or contracts, but they do charge a $20 set-up fee for standard website packages.  Extra email addresses are $2.00/ month each and extra disk space is $2.00/ month for an extra 50 MB. Extra bandwidth (data transfer) costs an extra $4.00/ month for 1 GB.

Technical Spec Sheet

Package Silver Gold Platinum
Price / Mo. $9.99 $19.99 $49.99
Set-Up Fee $20.00 $20.00 $20.00
Free Trial Yes Yes Yes
No. of Pages 10 Unlimited Unlimited
Email Addresses None 5 50
Domain Names

Costs
Extra

Included Included
# of Products Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Integrated Shopping Cart* Yes Yes Yes
Accepts Credit Card Yes Yes Yes
Can Use Merchant Acct No No No
Transaction Fees No No No
Shipping Options No No No
Advertising Credits No No Yes
# of Templates 1000+ 1000+ 1000+
# of Images 1,000,000+ 1,000,000+ 1,000,000+
Free Customer Support Yes Yes Yes
Documentation Yes Yes Yes
Site Statistics Yes Yes Yes
Disk Storage 25MB 100MB 300MB
Bandwidth (monthly) 5GB 15GB 25GB

 

*Integrated Shopping Cart is very basic and only uses PayPal.

 

Package Basic Enhanced Professional
Price / Mo. $6.99 $24.99 $59.99
Set-Up Fee None None None
Free Trial Yes Yes Yes
No. of Pages 1 Unlimited Unlimited
Email Addresses None 5 20
Domain Names Costs Extra Included Included
# of Products 10 Unlimited Unlimited
Integrated Shopping Cart Yes Yes Yes
Accepts Credit Card Yes Yes Yes
Can Use Merchant Acct Yes Yes Yes
Transaction Fees No No No
Shipping Options Yes Yes Yes
Advertising Credits No No No
# of Templates 180 180 180
# of Images N/A N/A N/A
Free Customer Support Yes Yes Yes
Documentation Yes Yes Yes
Site Statistics Yes Yes Yes
Disk Storage 25MB 100MB 1GB
Bandwidth (monthly) 5GB 15GB 50GB