Seeing how difficult it was for their friends to get their work online, three college buddies started the Weebly service in 2007. The website builder, available in 11 languages, is privately funded by Sequoia Capital, Y Combinator, Angel investor Ron Conway and Baseline Ventures.
With its tagline, “Weebly, Let’s Start Something,” the company promotes its website builder as an easy platform to bring your ideas online, whether it’s a website, online store, or blog. In essence, anyone, even those without design or IT experience, can build a high quality site.
Weebly boasts some powerful features, among them:
- Drag and drop interface;
- Mobile apps for accessing the site builder from anywhere;
- Blogging interface;
- Membership site option with log in;
- Full e-commerce functionality.
You can see their full list of features here.
As with most website builders, you have to sign up to get started, which is unfortunate because you’re not able to test it out first. Sign up requires a full name, e-mail address and password. Also part of the initial setup is the selection of a theme and your site’s domain name and URL address. If you’re not ready to do this, Weebly gives you the option of selecting the free subdomain of Weebly.com temporarily and then changing it later before publishing your site.
Once the administrative end is taken care of, the process of building your site begins on the Weebly Editor. The main toolbar features the Build, Design, Pages, Store, Settings, Help, Preview and Publish tabs. In addition, there is a left side toolbar that is nicely organized into three main sections, Basic, Structure and Media, with icons under each section defining the array of elements that will be used to build your site.
For example, under the basic section are the basic content tools, such as text, images, videos, contact forms, maps, etc. To add text, you would simply drag the text element to the spot where you want to add text on your web page, click inside the element and start writing your text. Some elements have toolbars that appear as you use the element. For instance, the text toolbar, with functions similar to that of a word processor, conveniently appears to add enhancements to your copy.
Unlike other site builders that limit you to two columns on a page, Weebly lets you add up to five columns, so you can really be creative in designing your elements on the page. The only downside is that the builder automatically stacks elements on top of each other by default. Unless you have read the beginner’s guide before starting to design your page, you would not have known to choose the Columns element under the Structure section of the main menu to select your column preference before adding content elements.
Also a bit disconcerting is when you add an image by uploading it from a file on your computer. The image takes up the entire design space, however, it can be easily adjusted by clicking on the image and dragging the lower right corner box to the size you want. When you click on the photo, you’ll also get the settings dialog box that lets you turn the image into a link, add white space around the image, add or remove a border around the picture, add a caption under the image, or add a lightbox so visitors can click on the image for a larger view.
The settings dialog box also includes an Edit Image button that opens up the builder’s image editor. This is an advantageous tool for cropping or rotating an image. Weebly expanded the image editor’s functions a step further to add special effects, like fade, opacity, darkness, advanced blur and other filter enhancements.
If you don’t have your own photos, you can choose from Weebly’s ample stock photo library. It is a searchable database that contains free photos and professional photos that cost around $5 each. The free photos only can be used on your website and will display a notation in your website’s footer that credits the photographer. The paid photos, on the other hand, are high quality, royalty-free and can be used beyond your website in other company literature.
The Weebly site builder also does a nice job in giving options for a slideshow presentation, with a choice of displaying thumbnails on the top, bottom, right, or in double line format. And by clicking on the Media section of the left side toolbar, you can use the elements to add or embed videos, music, podcasts, a blog, or other document.
The best way to approach the Weebly editor is to play around with the main and side toolbars before starting to design your site. This way, you’ll become acclimated to their functionality and the options available to you. In doing so, it will be much easier to build your website.
Like many other site builders, Weebly automatically optimizes your website for mobile viewing, browsing and search engine optimization. This means it compresses your website to fit the screen size of the mobile device accessing it. The preview button allows you to see what your site looks like in mobile version.
A time-saving feature is that all the changes you make to your website, such as editing content, adding elements, or removing pages, are synchronized between desktop and mobile versions so the changes are automatically applied to each version at the same time. In addition, the mobile editor allows you to drag and drop elements for mobile version display only.
If you prefer, you can create a mobile website from the start. Weebly offers specific mobile themes and templates to make building a mobile site fast and easy. Among the mobile web design features are social sharing and header images. The mobile website builder tools are located under the Build category of the main menu.
A unique Weebly feature and a helpful one is the availability of apps for iPad, iPhone and Android. By downloading these apps, you can edit and preview your site, and manage your website, blog, or e-commerce store while on the go from your mobile device. These apps provide access to all facets of your site, including e-commerce order tracking, payment tracking, analytics and blogging functions.
Weebly is a bit thin when it comes to its themes offerings. Although the company advertises hundreds of themes, a quick count of the templates totals 55, with 11 blog, 12 business, 11 creative, nine nonprofit and 12 store themes.
One feature that Weebly offers that very few other builders do successfully is the ability to effortlessly change the theme you selected after you build your site. The Change Theme option is located under the Design tab on the main menu.
Another benefit for those who know coding is that each themed template can be custom developed with HTML and CSS using the Advanced Theme Editor tool.
Weebly has been designed to easily scale up as your business growth dictates. Since the free version of Weebly only offers five web pages, the need for more pages may occur soon, which will require a paid plan. These options offer scaling from up to 10 pages to unlimited pages.
When switching between plans, it’s simply a matter of upgrading your account, so your website design stays the same.
Furthermore, Weebly allows 10 websites per account, so as your business grows, you can expand marketing efforts by testing out different landing pages, or your product line with different stores. To build a new site, use the Add Site button located to the right of the Publish button on your account’s My Sites area.
All websites built with Weebly are automatically optimized so search engines can find and rank your site in their search results. Among the SEO strategies built into the Weebly site builder are correct HTML formatting, automated pinging of new content, automatic sitemap creation and meta descriptions.
Weebly also gives you the option to add advanced search engine optimization strategies, such as descriptions for each web page and alt tags on images. The Settings tab on the main menu brings you to the SEO selection, where you can also verify your site with search engines. Weebly provides helpful articles to guide you in building a site that ranks high in search results.
On the SEO analytics side, the Weebly account dashboard contains a Website Statistics Tab that provides real-time stats on your website, such as how many people are visiting your site, the search terms they used to arrive at your site, the websites that referred traffic to your site and the pages visited. You also have the option to add code for Google Analytics data and tracking information.
Weebly is one of the few site builders that allow you to add a blog to your website by creating it within its website builder. Simply select the Pages tab from the main menu, then Add Page and select Blog Page. Your blog will automatically be added to your list of web pages.
Weebly also gives you some flexibility with the look of your blog. You can choose to have a tall or short header, or none at all, or use a landing page layout. You can also give your blog a name separate from your website.
Intuitively, a sidebar has preset content that you can use or change, such as about the author, archived blog posts and categories. It’s also simple to add a new post by choosing the New Post button on the blog screen, or to monitor comments by choosing the Comments button.
When creating a new post, the content area conveniently includes a title and content area containing a paragraph element that you can either delete or edit by adding text, images, a video, or other content elements. With Weebly, creating a blog is done the same way as building a web page, dragging the applicable element onto the page and editing it with your own content.
A nice blogging tool is the Post Settings sidebar that allows you to choose up to 12 different categories for your blog posting to make it easier for visitors to find a particular topic. Also convenient is the option to publish your blog post immediately to your live website or save it as a draft to publish later.
Weebly also built in RSS and social sharing into every blog. Also available are a rich array of widgets to make a photo journal blog, a literary review, a video diary, or a combination of media presentations.
Weebly’s site creator platform supports an e-commerce store, with everything needed to build an online store, including inventory management, a fully integrated shopping cart, shipping methods and SEO strategies. Weebly e-commerce gives you the option of selling products, services, digital services, or all three. The e-commerce platform is optimized to work across all devices, from desktop to mobile.
Building an e-commerce store with the Weebly builder is a very streamlined process, with the function accessed by clicking the Store tab from the website builder’s main menu. Once you select a design theme template, you add your products, select your shipping preferences and the way you want to select payments. Next, Weebly automatically creates your storefront, allowing you to add as much customization as you please.
As with building a non-store website, the same sidebar menu of elements is available. But Weebly has included some additional features that are essential when selling online. Among them are the ability to have multiple images for each product, plus each image can be zoomed in bigger so shoppers can get a more detailed look of the item.
You can also make the product descriptions very detailed simply by dragging and dropping in text, videos, color options, size variations, etc. Your storefront also can be designed with categories that link to each product. The inventory management tool gives you the option of showing available product quantities to customers.
In terms of shopping cart payment processing options, Weebly offers Stripe, PayPal and Authorize.Net. Depending on the Weebly service plan you select, there may be a three percent Weebly transaction fee in addition to the standard processing fees charged by the payment processing companies.
Where Weebly shines with its e-commerce builder is in the filtered product search. It is a very sophisticated tool, allowing your customers to filter search results by specific attributes, such as color, price, size, etc. Equally impressive is the tax controls. Weebly provides the current sales tax rates for cities, states and provinces in the U.S. and Canada. You can decide when, how and where to apply these taxes.
It is evident that Weebly put a lot of resources into building a sophisticated platform for building an e-commerce store and made it highly functional to handle all aspects of doing business online and to sell and ship globally.
Weebly has its own server infrastructure, so your site speed is much faster than those site builders that use a web hosting company and have to share disk space and CPU power among the hosting provider’s full complement of clients.
Weebly’s data center is a cloud-based hosting infrastructure with redundancy built in, so you can expect a fast-loading performing website with 100 percent uptime.
For customers with e-commerce stores built on Weebly, the site creator ensures that your products load and display quickly all the time, regardless of how much traffic may be on your site or other Weebly sites on the server.
Weebly offers four plans: Free, Starter, Pro and Business. All four plans include the drag & drop builder and its tools, free hosting and a $100 Google advertising credit.
The Free plan comes with up to five web pages, up to five online store products and an integrated shopping cart under a Weebly subdomain. Because the site is free, a Weebly link will appear on your site, a practice that is common among free website builders. To remove the Weebly branding, upgrade to a fee-based plan.
The Starter plan is $4 a month and gives you up to 10 web pages, the option to connect your own domain name to your site, customizable footer capabilities, your own favicon, expanded site analytics, up to 10 online store products, an integrated shopping cart under a Weebly subdomain and premium support.
The Pro plan is $8 a month and includes unlimited web pages, connection to your own domain, expanded site stats, a customizable footer, a header slideshow, your own favicon, HD video and audio players, password protected pages, site search, a membership site with log in for up to 20 members, up to 25 online store products, an integrated shopping cart under a Weebly subdomain and premium support.
The Business plan is $25 a month and comes with unlimited web pages, connection to a domain name you already own, expanded site stats, a customizable footer, a header slideshow, HD video and audio players, your own favicon, password protected pages, site search, an SSL security certificate, a membership site with log in for an unlimited number of members, the option to add a member registration button to your site, an unlimited number of online store products, the option to sell digital goods, an inventory management tool, a shipping and tax calculator, the ability to offer coupon codes, no Weebly transaction fee on sales, an integrated shopping cart on your own domain and premium support.
Top 3 Pros and Cons
- Stand-alone e-commerce element that opens up even more sales opportunities. Since it is stand-alone, you can sell products or services beyond your storefront to any page on your website, including its home page, blog, or landing page. This feature of integrating e-commerce with content is unique to Weebly, with very few, if any, other website builders offering it.
- Full control over HTML and CSS for those who know this coding and programming and want to customize the look of their site.
- Automatic shopping cart software that is launched when you create your e-commerce store so you can start accepting online sales immediately.
- The Mobile Editor isn’t all that great. Except for the text, synchronization of other elements is not the same as the desktop view. And if you try to edit the images or fonts to make them more compatible for mobile devices, the editor returns you to the desktop view.
- The limited number of themes. Weebly needs to boost the number of templates in all of its existing categories and perhaps separate the general categories to more specific areas of business.
- The header elements are fixed in place, so you can’t move them around or reposition elements. Weebly gives you this flexibility with the footer, so it’s puzzling why it doesn’t do so for the header.
Weebly has robust support services. There is e-mail support and the online Weebly Help Center with a bounty of articles, tutorials and beginner guides. However, there could be more information on very specific functions within the Weebly Editor, as well as advanced topics.
Although there is no telephone support, Weebly offers live chat from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. It would be helpful in live chat was extended to some weekend hours.
For those building an online store, Weebly provides free, live training webcasts, as well as a site planner, which is an interactive web building guide and planner that walks you through all the steps of planning, opening and managing an online store.
There’s also a Submit a Request link at the top of the Weebly Help Center page where you can complete a help form and attach files to illustrate your problem.
Whom This Website Builder Is Ideal For?
Weebly has designed its website builder to appeal to just about everyone. Its e-commerce platform is ideal for small businesses, its membership site with log in capabilities will suit clubs, schools, nonprofits and other enterprises that require members to log in, and its ease of use is ideal for professionals, bloggers, or for personal use.
The website creator was built to accommodate e-commerce stores, personal websites, blogs and a wide range of businesses. People from all walks of life and businesses of all industries will find Weebly a good, easy and affordable solution for their online presence.
Anyone looking to build a high quality looking website that is highly functional, yet offers customizations, will be pleased with Weebly.
Weebly definitely ranks high when it comes to ease of use, intuitive platform and user-friendly building tools. While it may not have as many tools as other website builders, Weebly provides the basics and does it well, while also offering some advanced tools for those who want to venture into doing their own customizations.
What stands out about Weebly is its simplistic site creator environment. This minimalistic design helps in navigating around the builder to find what you need to create a website on your own. As a result, it’s safe to say you could build a fairly decent looking website without much difficulty in about an hour.
However, if you’re looking for a site builder that provides extensive functionality, deep features and a wide array of tools, this probably is not the website creator for you.
While Weebly’s free plan could include more features, the fee-based plans are affordable. But what’s nice about the free plan is that there is no time limit, so you can build your website and get a feel for Weebly before deciding whether to go further and upgrade. Or, you can keep the free plan for as long as you want.
Although there are many free website builders that are just as good, if not better, than Weebly, this site creator is definitely worth your consideration, especially if creating a website quickly and easily is your only goal.