Launched more than 20 years ago, Homestead Technologies was an early pioneer of drag-and-drop online website building, becoming so successful that it was acquired by financial software giant Intuit back in 2007.
Unfortunately, Homestead's new owners really didn't know what to do with the company. Only five years later Intuit sold it to Endurance International Group (EIG), the power behind brands such as HostGator, iPage and Domain.com.
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These days, Homestead shows few signs of life. The company blog has had two lightweight posts in the past two years, its social media posts are little more than filler, and we've seen customer complaints of problems dragging on with no sign of fixes.
Sign up anyway and you'll find Homestead is mostly just reselling services you can already buy elsewhere. Right now, the company is using SiteBuilder as its main website builder, for instance. That might not be an issue if this firm was cheaper, but oddly, Homestead's plans can have both more restrictions and higher prices.
The $7.99 (£6.15) a month Starter plan, for instance, gets you the core SiteBuilder software and toll-free US phone support (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm). But you're limited to one site, five pages, 5GB a month bandwidth and 25MB of storage, and you can't use a custom domain unless you pay extra.
The $22.99 (£17.68) a month Business plan gets you support for three sites of up to 100 pages each, 5GB storage and 100GB bandwidth, and throws in a custom domain and support for only five email addresses.
The $62.99 ($48.45) Business Plus plan is the top of the Homestead range. It gets you three domains and up to 50 email addresses each, as well as lifting storage to 10GB and bandwidth to 500GB a month, and allowing as many pages and sites as you can manage. But even this plan doesn't include a web store, which is a $14.99 (£11.53) per month optional extra.
There's far better value to be found elsewhere. If you're looking for a basic site, something like the 1&1 Personal plan gets you unlimited storage, pages and bandwidth, and a wildcard SSL certificate, for only £2.99 ($3.89) a month for the first year, £6.99 ($9.09) on renewal.
More demanding users could get the Wix eCommerce plan, with 20GB storage, no page limits, a quality web store and a bunch of valuable extras for only £11 ($14.30) a month. If you only need to build a single website, it's a far better deal than Homestead Business Plus.
Signing up with Homestead starts by handing over your email address to create an account.
The site then asks you to enter your payment details. This must be by card only – there's no support for PayPal or anything else – but you get the first 30 days for free as a trial period.
After entering our information, Homestead prompted us for the purpose of our website (personal, business), and then asked us to select the plan we wanted to buy. We thought we'd chosen that already from Homestead's Pricing page, but hey, no problem, we chose it again.
Homestead's setup wizard next allowed us to choose the domain we'd like to use, or select our preferred subdomain (name.homesteadcloud.com.) We selected the subdomain option, tapped the Save button, and Homestead explained that our site would be activated and ready within minutes.
Some web hosts take a while to get things set up, but this wasn't an issue with Homestead, and we were able to log in to our account console almost immediately.
Editing your site
Homestead offers a decent selection of more than 200 site templates, which can be filtered by industry or keyword. The templates are displayed via a large thumbnail of the home page, but unfortunately you can't preview the template full-screen before you select it.
Choose a template and it opens in SiteBuilder's appealing editor. A left-hand sidebar has options to manage pages, add content sections or elements, add a blog, a web store (if your plan supports it) and more, and the toolbar has buttons to undo or redo actions, switch the page between desktop and mobile views, and preview or save your site. If you have any website builder experience, you'll feel at home immediately.
Clicking any element on your template page displays toolbars and dialogs giving you settings to tweak and actions you can apply. Text boxes give you all the usual alignment and formatting options, for instance: images can be edited via Adobe's browser-based Aviary. Or images galleries can be reordered and reformatted, and you can variously tweak borders, backgrounds, shadows and opacity for everything else, as well as applying fun animations in very few clicks.
An Elements section on the sidebar enables adding all the usual website components to your page, including text, images, shapes, videos, social media buttons, maps, forms, PayPal buttons and custom HTML. You can drag and drop elements with pixel-level precision, then configure them to suit your needs.
If that sounds too much like hard work, SiteBuilder also provides prebuilt content sections which you can drop in as a whole. These start very simply, with headers, footers, text, images and so on, but also include several more sophisticated options. The Schedules section, for example, provides various layouts to display events calendars, and these include plain text formats, calendar-type designs, images with text, and more.
There's a lot of functionality here, but SiteBuilder's nicely presented interface keeps everything well-organized and relatively easy to use. That’s all good news, but of course you don't need to choose Homestead to get this, and it's probably easier, and cheaper, to buy directly from SiteBuilder.
SiteBuilder's media options cover the basics, with elements to display images, galleries, YouTube and Vimeo clips, SoundCloud content, and a custom HTML editor which may enable adding more.
These elements aren't particularly configurable, but you do get one or two surprising extras. Image Galleries can source their content from Facebook and Instagram, for instance, as well as local images. Similarly, a Video Gallery option makes it easy to display multiple videos from a YouTube channel or playlist.
Image management is also well presented. Not only can you upload multiple images for easy use across your site, but you can organize them into a custom folder structure. Images can be added from links in the same way, allowing you to view and manage pictures from multiple websites in one central console. And if you don't have the pictures you need, no problem – searchable integration with the excellent UnSplash library gives you access to as many free photos as you can use.
Your SiteBuilder website can have its own blog, and the service does a better job of visually implementing this than most. Choose to create a blog, for instance, and SiteBuilder doesn't just present you with the usual fixed layout; you get to choose from a visual preview of 15 appealing and quite different blog templates.
Blog posts are created in a stripped-down custom editor. This can only include a very few elements, like text, images and videos, which may be an issue if, say, you want to post a map. It's otherwise easy to use, though, with clear options to enter loads of post-related details (title, author, friendly URL, tags, cover image, summary and more).
The blog isn't as powerful as some of the competition (you can't schedule posts to be published in the future, and comments are only supported via Facebook, with no Disqus option and no integrated comment system), but it delivers the basics very well, and first-time and novice users will find plenty to enjoy.
You can upgrade to get Homestead's web store, but we wouldn't recommend it. In short, it's overpriced and underpowered, and you'll get much better deals elsewhere. If e-commerce is a big deal for you, a specialist provider like Shopify will give you more features for a significantly lower total price, starting at $29 (£22.30) a month for the Basic plan.
Heading off to the Support area of a hosting company will usually take you to a web knowledgebase, but Homestead is a little different. Although there is a collection of articles and tutorials, most of its web-based support happens in the Homestead Community, a simple forum where customers can post their current problems and get a response from official support reps.
We browsed the questions and answers, and found some significant concerns. If you're building a serious website then you'll almost certainly want to equip it with an SSL certificate, for instance, but the best Homestead can do is recommend you change your website to use Cloudflare. That works, to a degree, but it's hardly a professional solution.
Forum posts often highlighted Homestead's inability to make relatively simple changes. Customers were asking for the ability to add an Instagram social media button for two years before it came close to being delivered, for instance.
Even significant problems may not be resolved in a hurry. Customers had been complaining for four weeks of an error message during the 'cancel account' procedure, for instance, but the support agent could still do nothing more than say Homestead was 'aware of the current issue' and was 'working on getting [it] fixed'.
If you can't find an answer on the Community site, you can always call telephone support. That's only available on a US number, though, and hours are limited to 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday – not much use if you've got a critical problem with a business site.
The review did at least end on a more positive note, when we ran a few performance tests on our allocated server. Whatever else we might say about Homestead, there was nothing amiss when it came to server speeds, which were well above average for shared hosting.
Once a major name in website building, Homestead is now just a shell, reselling other firms' products. Don't waste your time – you'll be better off almost anywhere else.
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