Recently I was asked to build a couple of new sites for start-up businesses. I’m an experienced WordPress developer, and in the past I would happily build on WordPress for most types of businesses – it is perfectly capable of catering for both small and large websites, from one-page sites to complex commerce sites and even membership sites if you know what you’re doing, and you’ve got a good hosting environment set up for WordPress.
However, last month my favoured WordPress host, WPEngine, announced some enormous price rises – now $35 per month for a single site. For a major site needing close attention and rapid support in the event of any queries, that price is absolutely reasonable. But for a small site – a freelancer’s showcase or community charity, for example – there are better value options out there. Yes, there are cheaper WordPress hosts, and I use those too, but I get tired of managing the many WordPress updates and hosting peculiarities, and on the whole I foresee that alternative hosted systems are the future for small websites.
I have been recommending Squarespace to website DIYers for about five years, but before I started to build the start-up sites on Squarespace I thought I’d check out Weebly, which I’d heard has improved considerably in the past year. A cursory look at fees showed that it is currently cheaper than Squarespace, especially for annual policies, e.g. an annual Weebly Pro subscription for £96 compared with an annual Squarespace Basic subscription without commerce for £155 annually.
Here are the notes I made about working on Weebly.
The Weebly Drag and Drop builder is pretty good. This is actually the best thing about Weebly, and I firmly believe that Drag and Drop is the basic building block for the future of web building. MailChimp has the best Drag and Drop builder I’ve tried. Weebly’s is not quite as good as MailChimp’s, but it really is so good to be able to reorganise page content quickly and easily with Drag and Drop. I certainly wish WordPress had Drag and Drop. The upcoming Gutenberg update to WordPress will have some level of block building, but I don’t think it will be as easy as this to use. (Update August 2018 – am testing WordPress’s Gutenberg in beta, and it IS really good! At last!)
The price of Weebly for 2 years – currently £129 on Pro plan – is very good value for a hosted system.
Weebly has a very good selection of fonts. Font selection is streets ahead of WordPress.
There are quite a lot of 3rd party apps available for Weebly, extending its core functionality for a bit extra cost. Nothing like the number of plugins for WordPress (millions), but quite a lot for a hosted system. They are cheaper than, for example, Shopify plugin apps.
The biggest drawback is that Weebly support time takes up to 2 working days. It is probably typical of the hosted low-cost web builders, but a major problem if you are trying to knock out a website and don’t know if something slightly beyond basic is possible. There was a Weebly pricing issue in dollars, which took a day to get support for. On these grounds alone, I would probably recommend Squarespace rather than Weebly, as Squarespace support is much quicker, and that probably accounts for the higher costs of Squarespace.
I wanted to make some changes to the CSS and found that Weebly does not create automatic unique ids for divs, therefore making it quite tricky to target elements in the CSS. It also took several clicks to update and preview every CSS change: this was very tedious, and made me long for WordPress.
Though I was using responsive templates, there were several issues on mobile, especially when using manual font size change within the Text Builder.
The difference between themes was something of a mystery, as all Weebly templates seemed to have the capability for font changes and Drag and Drop building blocks. Whatever system I’m working on, I don’t have time to look through multiple themes trying to work out if some have much greater capabilities and functionality than others. I would much prefer Weebly to have MailChimp-style blank starting points, where the main vanilla selections are between basic building block containers – edge to edge or limited width. The look of everything else can be customised easily with images and fonts.
A major annoyance I found was that I initially put both my sites into one Weebly account. However, the transfer of ownership had to be done via a Weebly support query and I lost the apps on one site in the process, which had to be purchased again, and my custom CSS edits had to be recreated. Far better to open a Weebly account in a unique email address, then simply change the email address when transferring ownership.
There were also quite a few disappointment with image management. There is no media library, as in WordPress, so you have to re-upload images each time you want to try them out. The image editor doesn’t offer resizing whereas WordPress will create a series of smaller images each time you upload an image. In Weebly you can resize the image manually on the page, but it is fiddly and for most images I ended up resizing them in Photoshop before uploading to Weebly.
The other major drawback is that there is no way to roll back changes if everything goes wrong in Weebly. Accidentally deleted a page or section? No way to recover it; you will just have to recreate it from scratch. However, it is quite easy to copy the whole site in the dashboard as a reference backup. (Oh, how I appreciate WordPress on WPEngine’s easy rollbacks when clients add elements that break my design!)
Domain and email management
Weebly can handle .com, .net and .org registrar with email service, but no others at present. Squarespace can handle all domains but has special cases for .co.uk, see https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/115013899008
Both Weebly & Squarespace use G Suite for email management.
Notes by Rosalyn Ellis, Thameside Media