Odoo is a versatile service which offers thousands of integrated business apps, covering areas including website building, e-commerce, sales, marketing, inventory, accounting, helpdesk and more.
That's not as intimidating as it sounds. Individuals, as well as businesses, can sign up for single apps alone, and ignore everything else. In this review we're going to focus on Odoo's website builder and a small number of related features, including the Odoo blog.
Odoo's real strength, though, is the way you can extend your initial app choice by integrating others as you need them. You might start with a website, for instance, then add the core e-commerce app, eBay, perhaps invoicing, email marketing, whatever suits your requirements.
Pricing is certainly more oriented to business than home users. As a new customer, you'll pay an initial fee of $21.09 per user per month, paid annually; the website builder is $18.75 per month on top of that, some associated apps are free (blogging), but many other apps are priced individually (e-commerce is $9.38), shipping integrations for DHL, FedEx, UPS and others are each $28.13, the eBay app is $75.
Odoo's vast library of add-on services is appealing, though, which is probably why the company now claims to have more than three million users. If you might be interested in joining them, a free 15-day trial (no payment details required) gives you time to find out more.
Launch Odoo's free trial and the website offers you ten apps to explore. Select more than ten and the ‘configure’ button becomes unclickable.
Make your selection and you're prompted to register with your name, email address, phone number, company name and size. A company name is important as your account and its URL inside Odoo will be based around it (for instance, ‘Amazon Films’ can access that company’s features via ‘amazon-films.odoo.com'). Odoo doesn't need any payment details for the trial, so once you've filled in the form, the company activates your account in seconds and kick-starts the setup process.
With the Website Builder app, that means choosing your theme. Odoo only has 25, but they're good-looking, responsive, and well presented in Odoo's theme browser. The full-screen previews don't just give you a general look at the theme's look and feel, they act more as a presentation for what it can do. For example, the themes all have a Blocks page which includes all the major content blocks and shows how they're presented by this theme.
Odoo themes aren't just about the visuals, either. They're intelligently built using Bootstrap, HTML5 and LESS/CSS for a cleaner structure, easy customization and all-round professional results.
Make your theme selection and it opens in Odoo's web console. This is generally very simple and straightforward, but Odoo does its best to make your life even easier by using a wizard-type approach to guide you through the initial setup steps: opening the editor, dragging and dropping in a cover block (a background image, headline, subtitle and paragraph of text), editing the text and saving the results when you're done.
While we were trying this out, an email arrived from Odoo asking us to confirm our email address and 'activate our database.' We tapped the link, received a 'Success' message and were asked to invite up to three additional colleagues to join the trial. Provide some names and email addresses here and they'll receive invitations to create their own free accounts, allowing them to also access and work on your site.
Odoo initially opens and displays your website as an active preview, rather than in the editor, and that's probably a good choice. Instead of being immediately confronted with cluttered and widget-packed sidebars, the bulk of the screen is available for viewing your site, and you can click page links or switch between mobile and desktop views with a click.
Tap the Edit button, left-click in an area where you'd like to add content, and start typing. There’s a ‘customise’ button above the section you’re editing with a selection of tools: text styling, alignment, lists, tables, and the ability to add images and files. This enables adding simple content immediately, just as you would in any text editor, without any of the usual hassles of dragging and dropping multiple widgets to create even the most basic layout.
A left-hand sidebar allows you to add more complex content blocks. These start with basic page structures, including titles, cover blocks, various arrangements of text columns and images, sliders, feature blocks and more.
More specific blocks include timelines, feature grids, event lists, pricing and comparison tables, individual and team profiles, FAQ lists, social media share buttons, and more.
There are a small number of modules you can install to add more features, including a form builder, a Twitter Scroller for favorite tweets, newsletter subscriptions, a discussion group and 'local events' list.
As widget selections go, Odoo can't begin to match the choice you'll get with more consumer-oriented website builders such as Wix and Weebly. But it's quick and easy to use, and some of the more business-friendly blocks could save you a lot of time.
Whatever blocks you choose can be dragged and dropped onto the page as required, then moved as necessary. You can only place them in approved areas of the page, but the editor highlights these as you drag the block, so it's easy to see what you can do.
Customizing blocks was very straightforward. It might initially be confusing at first because Odoo doesn’t highlight blocks by default, but click on an empty area inside a block (between text and an image, say), and the border around the block is revealed.
This means that you need to be aware of where you’re clicking as you’re editing: depending where you click within a Features block, for instance, you might select one of the columns, images or blocks of text, as well as the block as a whole.
Sometimes double-clicking an object allows you to do something useful, perhaps replacing an image. Odoo tends to help you out as well: if you single-click on a button, a small message will appear advising you to double-click on it should you wish to edit its content. Sometimes, such as with the Twitter Slider, there are no setup options at all, and you must configure it in the Settings dialog before you can do anything. You'll learn how each control works, over time, but Odoo would be simpler if there was a consistent approach to seeing everything you can do, such as right-clicking, or displaying all your options on the Customize menu.
Odoo's media-handling features start with its Image widget, which despite its limits, has a little more functionality than you might expect.
You can upload images to a server-based library, for instance, or import pictures from URLs, enabling them to be easily reused on other pages.
The Image widget also doubles as a Video control, and directly supports more video sharing services than just about anyone else we've seen: YouTube, Instagram, Vimeo, DailyMotion, Vine and Youku. That's not all. When we tried a YouTube link, it gave us considerable control over the video, including options to enable or disable autoplay and looping, and to hide or show the player controls, fullscreen button and YouTube logo.
The Image widget also features a Document tab, which allows you to upload a file like a PDF for sharing via the site (don’t be confused by the ‘Upload an image’ button, this section accepts documents). Once added, an icon appears on your page from which you’ll be able to download the document. You cannot see the actual document on your page though.
Elsewhere, the Image is missing a few features you'll see with most other website builders. There's no full editor, for instance. No simple Crop or Rotate function. Integration with the stock image library Unsplash is provided via a handy search field.
Odoo's Carousel is even more basic, unfortunately. You can add and remove slides, or change the slide duration, but there are no other functional controls. You can't even manage the slides as a group, for example displaying them all and dragging and dropping to reorder them.
It's a thumbs-up for the video control, then, but otherwise Odoo delivers less media functionality than most of the competition.
Blogging and e-commerce
Odoo's blogging platform requires installing a separate app before it becomes available. That's easy enough, but it does highlight an issue with Odoo's app-based approach. With other website builders, extra tools such as blogs are always available in toolbars or menus, making them easy to discover. Here, users might not even realize there is a blog unless they go looking, or happen to notice it in the Apps list.
Find and install the app and it adds a Blog page to your website. Tapping New > Blog Post then opens a page where you can create your first post. It's all very easy - just enter the title, subtitle and go to work - and uses the regular website builder editor, which means you're able to include all the same widgets and content blocks as any other page.
Odoo doesn't give you any real control over the post, beyond entering the content. You can't organize posts into categories, for instance (there's apparently a Tag system, though it wasn't clear how to use it). There's no way to give a post a custom URL, or schedule it to be automatically posted at some future time. And when it is online, there's no browser-based comments system.
But on the plus side, it looks good, and is easy to use. Social sharing buttons (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) are included automatically, and there's feed support thrown in.
Odoo's e-commerce app works in a very similar way. Installing it equips your website with a page called Shop, and the New button gains a 'New Product' option where you can create a page to describe whatever it is you're selling.
At first it doesn't look like there's much else you can do, but that's only because Odoo hides most of its e-commerce power in the Settings dialog, and turns it off by default. Users who think to look there will find some very worthwhile tools, including the ability to create product variants (colour, size), support customer wishlists, sell digital as well as physical content, configure tax and shipping rules, and more.
This is a better set of features than we expected, but it's still not competitive with the best of the of the competition. Wix's high-end VIP account gives you more features and functionality, a free domain and 10 email marketing campaigns a month for only $20.62 a month, a fraction of what you'll pay here.
Odoo has plenty of website-building quirks and oddities, so we were looking forward to reading some expert advice on the website’s Documentation section. This area is broken down into categories: Applications, Practical Information, and Business Mementoes. We looked for information on the editing process in the Applications’ Website subsection and only found six articles:
'How to use my own domain name', 'How to translate my website', ‘Manage Multi Websites’, 'How to do Search Engine Optimization in Odoo', 'How to track your website's traffic in Google Analytics' and 'How to track your website traffic from your Odoo Dashboard.’
At least this content should be professional and complete, right? Wrong. The article on using your own domain name, for instance does give you the basics of how to choose a name, where to buy one and how to link it to your account, but a more advanced request like “how to enable SSL for your Odoo instance” simply suggest you look for information on a different site without even linking to one: "To enable SSL, please use a third-party CDN service provider such as CloudFlare.com." That would probably work, but it's the most basic of all solutions, and not a good match for the more professional business customers Odoo is presumably trying to attract. A decent web host would give you Let's Encrypt certificates for free, allow you to set them up from a control panel, offer fairly-priced certificates of its own, maybe be able to import and install certificates you've bought already.
If you run into trouble then you can turn to Odoo's own support team. These are available via live chat and email, but only 24/5 (Monday to Friday), and Odoo qualifies this by saying they only "provide functional support and bug fixing services on standard features."
That may be enough, but it still compares poorly with many more consumer-oriented website builders who provide a capable web knowledgebase and 24/7 support for much less cash.
Odoo's website builder is overpriced and underpowered, but its huge library of integrated business apps could help you with other tasks.
- We've also highlighted the best website builders in this roundup