GoDaddy's Website Builder is an easy-to-use product which the company says enables anyone to "build a better website in under an hour."
The service provides a simple editor which allows creating responsive websites from pre-built content blocks. An integrated Getty image library means great pictures are never more than a click or two away, and GoDaddy says you can design sites on anything from your desktop to your phone.
Website Builder's starter Personal plan gives you all the basics for £4.99 ($6.25) a month plus tax.
The Business plan adds an SSL certificate, some SEO assistance and simple PayPal integration for £6.99 ($8.75) a month.
Business Plus adds social media integration, including the ability to create a Facebook page for your site (or manage the one you have already). Email marketing tools allow sending up to 50,000 emails a month to a maximum of 5,000 subscribers, and website performance should be improved by "globally-optimized speed" (CDN integration). This seems good value at £10.99 ($13.75) a month.
Finally, the Online Store plan includes a very capable e-commerce solution, with up to 1,500 products. You also get credit card, PayPal and Apple Pay support, and extras including discounts and coupons, configurable shipping and tax rates, inventory management, abandoned cart recovery, and more. There's a lot of functionality, but the price is relatively high at £19.99 ($25) a month.
If you're even slightly tempted, the good news is that GoDaddy provides a one-month trial to check out what the service can do. There are no credit card details required, so no commitments or danger of any accidental billing – you can just browse the interface and see what you think.
Signing up for Website Builder requires you to first create a GoDaddy account. This doesn't involve anything out of the ordinary: you can either hand over your email address and choose a username and password, or take the one-click route by using your Facebook account.
GoDaddy next asks for the name and topic of your website. This isn't to choose a template, unusually – it's just so that Website Builder can select matching images for your starting site.
Surprisingly, that's it. You're not asked to authenticate your email address, provide payment details or even choose a template. GoDaddy skips all that, generates a basic default site and displays it in the editor.
Our first results looked very simple – just a single-page website with none of the visual flash of a quality template. But that's probably no surprise for only two minutes work, and you can tweak and adjust it later.
The Website Builder editor opens by displaying a simple preview of your website. This looks very like the finished product, but it's not a very active view. You can click on menu buttons to move from one page to another, but you're not able to resize objects, drag or drop them, or do anything else from the preview pane to immediately affect the site.
Instead, to carry out any useful work, you must click a website object – a header, a text box, an image – to view its properties in a right-hand sidebar. That gives you access to captions, text, image controls and more, and you can adjust these to customize the page.
While this works, it doesn't feel nearly as natural as editors which allow you to work with content more directly, perhaps double-clicking text to select and edit it in place. Here you're forever switching your attention between the page and the sidebar, which becomes distracting over time.
As the initial site is extremely basic, you'll probably want to begin by making some major edits. You might start with choosing a new theme, a combination of font and color scheme. There are only eight of these bundled with the service, but they look very different and it's easy to create your own.
Scrolling down the page reveals multiple Add buttons in the margins. Clicking these allows adding pre-built content blocks called ‘sections’. These include basic content containers (photo galleries, video and audio players, custom HTML code), standard page elements (About Us, Contact Us, Menu and Price Lists), more complex integrations (blogs, calendars, e-commerce) and supporting tools (accept reservations, collect email subscribers).
There aren't many of these, and the individual sections don't offer many styles. There are just three Blog templates to choose from, for instance, and even a section called Content – which you might think would have scope for infinite variations – only includes five.
You can't add individual elements to customize a section, either. There's no way to insert a divider into the middle, add an image box next to that text, drop in a share button or anything else. If you've added a 3 x 2 grid of images, for instance, all you can do is work with the options that section makes available: size, spacing, maybe delete one of the images and have the grid reformat itself automatically.
There are no significant low-level editor features, either. We didn't notice any keyboard shortcut support, there are no right-click menus, and you don't even get a general Undo, although there is an option to manually back up a site so you can restore it later.
We noticed just one unusual extra. Some website objects can optionally include an Action button as a prompt to the user. If you have a text paragraph about a great product or service, for instance, you can tap a link, enable an Action Button, then give it a suitable caption – Get Started, Contact Us, Buy Now! – and point it to the relevant page on your site. Other builders allow you to do the same by adding a separate button, but integrating the feature into an object is undeniably more convenient.
For the most part, though, Website Builder's editor is horribly basic. If you're looking to knock up a simple website in half an hour, you might not care. But anyone with any interest in tuning or customizing their site will get very frustrated, very quickly.
Website Builder's media support is as limited as the rest of the product. Native widgets allow embedding images, slideshows and simple photo galleries, YouTube or Vimeo videos, and SoundCloud tracks and playlists. The ability to insert custom HTML might allow you to add other content, but there are no other add-ons or controls to extend your website's abilities.
There are a few plus points. The Image widget has a slider to zoom in on the image, and you can drag the viewpoint around to select whatever area you like. If you have a high-res photo where the object you need is in one corner, for instance, Website Builder allows you to select and correctly frame that area in seconds.
GoDaddy offers a good stock photo library, too. We searched on multiple keywords and most of them returned plenty of high quality images. Need a shot of 'headlights', for instance? We found 25.
Elsewhere, though, the editor delivered no more than the core essentials. We could add a URL to our video player, a background color, title and caption, but that's what we would expect from any website builder, and there was nothing else to win us over.
Website Builder includes a blog in its list of online sections, but this is only a frontend for displaying the posts on an external blog, and has no management options of its own.
This has some value. Create a free blog on WordPress.com, add its URL to the Website Builder Blog control, and summaries of new posts will appear. The advantage is you can control and configure the posts from the full WordPress.com interface, which gives you far more power and functionality than you'll get from any website builder's integrated blog aspect.
But the disadvantage is that the blog posts can only be viewed in full on the WordPress.com site, or wherever else you host them, which isn't going to look very professional to your visitors.
After all our Website Builder disappointments, we didn't hold out much hope for the integrated web store. But we were wrong on that score, because it turned out to be a very capable and professional system.
The Add Products dialog is neatly designed, and gives you a huge amount of control over your product details. You're able to provide names, images, regular and sale prices, an SKU for inventory management, and mark products as taxable or not. You can configure both product options (color, size) and add-ons (gift wrapping), and price them accordingly.
A sophisticated shipping system allows calculating costs by weight, product dimensions, or by using a specific per-product shipping price. It's far more useful than the horribly basic flat rate schemes used by many other stores.
Abandoned carts support – often a premium feature elsewhere – allows sending automated emails to remind customers to check out. There's support for accepting payments by stripe and PayPal, and applying tax rules according to your location. Bonus features include the ability to build up subscriber lists and launch email campaigns, handy extras that (again) you won't always see with other builders.
None of this makes up for Website Builder's other limitations, and the £19.99 ($25) a month cost for the store plan is quite high. But it is a surprisingly powerful product, and if you're building a web store then GoDaddy should be on your shortlist.
Website Builder has a sizeable web knowledgebase of support articles, but these can't be viewed directly from the editing screen. You must open the GoDaddy help site in a separate browser tab, and browse the articles there.
The site has a search box, but it doesn't work as we expected. Enter a keyword like ‘video’ and it displays a Google-like list of relevant searches – video background, video choppy, video file size – which seems like a good idea, until you actually try to access them.
Searching for 'video background' doesn't tell you how to set a video as your page background, for instance, because Website Builder isn't capable of that. The 'video choppy' and 'video file size' searches are equally pointless as Website Builder only plays videos hosted elsewhere.
We ran searches for single keywords and although these typically returned many articles, most had nothing useful to say on our chosen topic.
Even when you do reach the most important articles, the results are mixed. Our video search got us a genuinely helpful walkthrough on setting up a video control. But searching for blog help gave us setup instructions based on a different interface and a previous software version, leaving us more confused than when we started.
If you can't find your answer online, GoDaddy offers phone support, although you'll have to get through the automated menu system first. We spent a couple of minutes in an irritating loop – 'please enter your phone number and press hash', 'sorry, you seem to have entered the wrong number of digits' (no, we really hadn't) – before trying another option and finally getting through.
But, when we finally reached the support line, GoDaddy delivered. Our call was answered within 20 seconds, and a friendly agent resolved our simple blog-related question right away.
There's no guarantee you'll see the same results with complex issues, but it's good to know that phone support is there, and it's far better than the 'send an email and we'll reply when we feel like it' systems you might get with smaller website builders.
Basic site designs and a lack of customization options mean that GoDaddy's Website Builder isn't for demanding users, but if you're mostly interested in selling online then its powerful web store might appeal, and the responsive phone support was a plus, too. Overall, it’s worth a look – just about.
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