Constant Contact is a website builder that aims to make the creation of your own personalized presence online quick and easy, mostly through the power of AI. The firm's landing page stresses how busy we all are, and how we need something quick, reliable and easy to do most of the work for us – well, that’s enticed us right there.
The service makes use of the Unsplash royalty-free image gallery so you don’t even need to take photos yourself – unless you really want to of course. It's touted as creating fast loading web pages, offers an online store, built-in analytics, customized layouts, blogs, visual effects, and more. And to top it all off, you can check it out for free without handing over your credit card details.
As there’s no impediment to trying the service out, let’s kick its tires and take it for a spin…
- Want to try Constant Contact? Check out the website here
The AI side of Constant Contact starts by extracting as much info as possible from your Facebook Business page, but if you don’t have a presence on Facebook, don’t worry, you can fill in a simple form instead to give the service the data it needs to get going.
And as you fill in the fields, you’ll immediately notice what Constant Contact means by AI: type in some keywords in the ‘Category’ field on the left of the page, and you’ll see the right side change to offer you a preview of your page, with sections and royalty-free photos appearing instantly.
Add or remove a keyword and you’ll see the whole layout and appearance changes without you having to do a single thing.
Of course the next steps of the process let you add a touch of customization to your site, such as introducing a logo (if you have one), changing the style of navigation, or choosing your site’s colors from a small number of options, and one of five different fonts.
Once you’ve entered your contact details, the basic building blocks of your site are ready to go.
Customizing your web pages is truly easy. Type on a text field and basic text editing options are available to enable you to change your font’s color and style, as well as being able to add or remove web links.
Don’t like the default image Constant Contact has chosen for you? Just mouse over it to reveal three options. You can edit the image (which only allows you to zoom into it), embed a link within it (which can send the visitor to one of your pages, an external web page, an email address or a phone number), or choose a different photo (from either Unsplash’s huge collection, or one of your own).
Just like WordPress, any photo you add is placed in your site’s media library. This allows you to use the same image in different parts of your site without having to re-upload it multiple times.
If all you need is a landing page, with details of your services and some contact information, then you’re pretty much done. However, many folks would doubtless like to add a blog and maybe sell a product or two online, and Constant Contact has got you covered in those respects as well.
However, be warned: there’s a good reason why the blog feature is prominently labelled as a beta. It’s pretty glitchy, to the point where our way of writing – interspersing text with images – couldn’t be accommodated.
This is a real shame since the whole interface feels simple and inviting. It’s easy to add a cover image, title and introduction. You even have basic SEO options in the Settings. But when it’s time to write the body of the piece, this is where issues arise.
You have truly basic text editing options: all you can do is change the style (bold, italic, underline), convert highlighted words to a hyperlink, and change the heading style of a paragraph to H2 or H3. But there’s no way to go back to H1 unless it’s a recent change, and you can use your computer’s undo function.
Worse still, when you’re ready to add an image, it looks as though you can insert a photo, video or line break in between paragraphs – but do this and the entirety of your writing is replaced by the photo. Even more frustrating is the fact that this isn’t something you can undo, so if you hadn’t saved your copy elsewhere, it’s gone and you’ll have to rewrite it.
You can add an image first and write around it, but you can’t add another photo. Try to do so, and the above glitch rears its ugly head.
As it stands, we wouldn’t recommend Constant Contact’s blogging feature until the developer has resolved its deal-breaking issues.
Sell, sell, sell
The Online Store feature looks much more promising. Not only can you include a store with the free service, you can also choose to sell physical products, digital downloads, or services.
Adding descriptions is very simple and the tutorial guides you through the steps you need to set up your first item quickly and easily.
Payment is done through PayPal, and you’ll be charged the usual PayPal transaction fees, with an additional 3% fee for Constant Contact. Free accounts can sell up to three products.
The free account also allows you to set discounts, global variants (like small, medium or large), and product categories. If you want the site to print shipping information for you, you’ll have to venture into the paid tiers.
You can create an unlimited number of pages, even with the free version, which is very welcome. The ‘Page Management’ section allows you to reorder pages, so you can choose which ones show up first in your navigation menu. You can also use that section to delete unwanted pages, or duplicate them.
You can’t create submenus though, so if you have a large number of pages, it could become difficult for your visitors to navigate through them.
Constant Contact also has a very useful preview section so you can see how your site will look like when viewed on a computer, tablet or phone.
When you’re first introduced to the interface, a quick tutorial pops up teaching you the basics. If you’re comfortable with website builders, you’ll be sorted in next to no time. If you feel you’re not getting anywhere though, the Support Center is there to help you out. You can either chat with an advisor or browse through the knowledgebase.
We went down the latter route and found the instructions clear and easy to follow, and there were numerous screenshots to help you understand everything.
Everything you’ve read about until now, you can get for free, which is pretty impressive; blog glitches notwithstanding. But there are of course a couple of pricing tiers should you need more from the service.
The main difference is once you start paying, the display ads disappear, which could be a big incentive for many if not most businesses. Another advantage of either of the paid tiers is more detailed analytics, a $200 credit offer towards Google ads, and a free domain name for the first year.
Aside from that, what differentiates the two paid tiers mostly revolves around the web store.
The Starter plan ($10 per month) increases the number of products you can sell to 10 and includes phone support.
With Business Plus ($20 per month), there are no limits to the amount of products you can sell, and you also avoid the 3% transaction fee (but the PayPal fees remain). This tier includes Shipping Management features, and offers you ‘priority support’, which means you’ll be bumped to the front of the queue if and when you need help.
Constant Contact offers you a lot for free, all wrapped up in a nice interface with numerous easy to use features. As long as you don’t care about blogging, and only need to sell a handful of products, you may not even need to migrate to the paid service.
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