The service is surprisingly basic in some areas. You don't get any website templates, for instance. Instead, SimpleSite uses a few very standard layouts, and provides controls to help you customise the colours and the content.
There's better news in SimpleSite's Basic plan, which enables building website up to a maximum of 15 pages, entirely for free. This has some of the issues you often see with free website builder plans - limited design features, ads for SimpleSite - but there's also a very unusual plus: you can sell up to five products in your own web store, a feature just about everyone else reserves for their high-end commercial plans.
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SimpleSite's Pro plan drops the ads, allows unlimited pages and gives you access to all design features, while also throwing in a free domain with up to 5 email addresses. The web store still only supports a maximum of five products, unfortunately. But if that's not a problem, you can sign up for £8.33 ($10.83) per month billed annually.
The E-Commerce plan allows unlimited web store products, but doesn't appear to add anything further, and it's expensive at £23.33 ($30.33) per month. Shopify's Basic plan has vastly more features and many more addons available, but is fractionally cheaper at $29 (£22.74).
A chunky 'Get Started' button on the SimpleSite home page makes it very obvious where to begin, and one click later, SimpleSite's Design Wizard began walking us through the process of creating our first site.
This started by choosing the purpose of our site (personal, business), before moving on to pick a colour scheme, a page background, main opening image and site title. We're not sure it makes sense to select all these design elements before you've even begun to work on the site, but you can always accept the default settings and change them later.
Design wizard complete, you're prompted to sign up with your email address, before being asked to choose your URL. You can get a subdomain for free (yourname.simplesite.com), but we were also given the option to register a .co.uk domain for only £1 ($1.30).
We took the subdomain option and were redirected to the SimpleSite editor, where a couple of tiny tutorials explained the basics of adding content and previewing the results. These contained no surprises, so we cleared them and were ready to go.
The SimpleSite editor is one of the most stripped-back and minimalist we've ever seen. Forget the usual densely packed sidebars or other screen clutter, SimpleSite has a single toolbar with only five buttons Preview, Share, Design, Pages and Account - and a Help button, bottom-left.
The body of the page is devoted to a view of your website. Hovering your mouse over any component on the page displays some basic actions you can perform on it, and left-clicking the component gives you access to more.
Unusually, SimpleSite doesn't allow you to add new page components by dragging and dropping from a sidebar. Instead the service displays 'Add Content' buttons everywhere you're able to insert objects on the current page, and clicking any of these displays a toolbar with items to choose from.
SimpleSite's choice of objects is, well, limited, to put it politely. We were offered just ten: Headline, Text, Image, Divider, Slideshow, Video, Poster, Contact Form, Map, Signature.
These objects are generally very basic. There's no image editor, for instance. The text object doesn't support bulleted lists. You can't have a slideshow play automatically. You can't customise the Contact form to use it for other purposes. You get the idea.
Perhaps the most interesting editor feature is how easily you can add objects side by side. Add a video, for instance, and you might want to insert an image or block of text to one side. That's fiddly in some editors, impossible in a few, but here you simply click the Add Content button alongside the video, and choose the Image object, the Text box, or whatever else you need.
This can be a neat touch in some situations, but there's a problem: it's very inflexible. Your image can only go to the left or right of the video, for instance. Each object gets half the allocated space, with no resize option, and no way to separately align the objects (centre the video, maybe, and right-align the text.)
SimpleSite offers some site-wide configuration options in its Design panel. You can switch between five layout options, for example, altering details like the width of your website (does it take all the available space, or sit somewhere in the middle of the browser tab?) and how content is ordered. You also get to choose colour schemes and combinations of fonts. The most interesting feature is the background option, which not only allows using static images, but also offers a few video backgrounds (clouds, snow, waves and so on.)
The Design panel doesn't allow you to turn off the visitor counter on your website footer, unfortunately, a feature which was laughably dated fifteen years ago. But this can at least be hidden from the Visitor section of the Account panel, where you'll also find a hidden option to allow visitors to comment on your site, and some very simple analytics to help you monitor visitor numbers over time.
Overall, SimpleSite's editor may appeal to newbies, as it's easy to pick up and build very simple pages. But if you're looking to do anything advanced, it's not the service for you.
The SimpleSite image object is a little short on functionality. You can add pictures from your own system, with a maximum file size of 5MB, and we like the integration with Pixabay's free image library. But there's no way to add images by link, or import them from other services. There's no editing features beyond crop and rotate. And there's no server-based media library where you can store commonly-used images for easy access later.
A basic Slideshow object helps you present multiple images to your visitors, but this also has its limitations. For example, there's no obvious way to reorder the images, once they've been added. You can't prevent the slideshow from automatically playing, or define the number of seconds each image is displayed. The free plan also restricts the Slideshow to just five images, potentially a real annoyance.
The Add Page section includes the ability to add a Photo Album page. This is basic, little more than a page of thumbnails, but there's no obvious limit on the number of images, and you can reorder them by dragging and dropping.
The closest we could find to a highlight was the Video object, which not only allows embedding YouTube and Vimeo clips, but can also upload movies of your own up to a maximum of 100MB (the free plan also limits video length to a maximum of ten minutes.) That could be very useful for a family site, perhaps, where you want to share clips with friends, but without having to host them elsewhere.
If you're more interested in standard video embedding, though, SimpleSite is a little underwhelming. You can enter a URL, add a heading and description, but that's essentially it. You can't hide or tweak the player controls, or prevent the 'related videos' displaying at the end of the clip.
There were odd technical issues, too. For example, when we previewed our page, started a video, then returned to the editor, the video would continue to play, with no way to turn it off (until we hit Preview again.)
Once again, then, SimpleSite managed to produce one or two interesting features, but these were drowned out by the general lack of functionality and the poor implementation.
Blog and e-commerce
SimpleSite advertises itself as being able to create a blog, but that's a very questionable claim. There is no separate blogging system, no concept of blog articles, no way to add regular metadata (author, tags, metadata), no way to schedule article publication, and no generation of a front-end page with summary text and images for each post.
All you can really do in SimpleSite is create new pages to represent posts, then manually build another page to summarise and link to them. There's some supporting technology in the ability to allow users to add comments to each page, but we don't think that's enough to call this a 'blog'.
SimpleSite deserves a little more credit for including a web store with even its free plan. Okay, it may only support five products, but that could be enough for casual users.
Explore what the store has to offer, though, and you begin to realise why SimpleSite is giving it away. The platform is horribly underpowered, and utterly unsuitable for any form of serious application.
There's no option to import product catalogues, for instance. Product descriptions don't support rich text, and can't have attached videos. There's support for ordering products by size, but you can't add custom variations of your own (colour, material.)
SimpleSite isn't equipped to take orders from overseas. The service can't vary taxes, shipping options and prices or quoted delivery times to take account of the destination.
The only automated payment method available is PayPal, although you can opt to handle payments yourself via email.
If you understand the issues, and you're happy with the 5-product limit, then SimpleSite's store could still be a useful element of its free plan. But again, if you're looking for anything even slightly advanced, this isn't the product for you.
SimpleSite isn't exactly crammed with features, but it has so many quirks and issues that you're sure to need help and assistance occasionally.
The editor's reassuring green Help icon suggests that's never far away, but click it and you should prepare to be disappointed. There's no knowledgebase, no links to helpful articles or in-depth information on the service, just a handful of very basic tutorials which tell you little more than "this button does that."
There is a little more help tucked away in the Account section, which seems bizarre to us. Why is anyone going to look there? But if you do stumble across it, you'll find a few very basic FAQ pages on getting started, marginally more technical issues and the terms and conditions of the service. It's better than nothing, though totally inadequate for any serious troubleshooting.
If your question still isn't resolved, then you can contact the company via email, but the website statement that "we try to respond to all requests within two business days" isn't exactly encouraging.
This may not be a major issue for everyone. If you just want to build a very basic free site, with some text and a few images, you might never need urgent technical support at all. But if your website is genuinely important, SimpleSite's laid-back approach to support is likely to be a major problem.
Outdated and underpowered, SimpleSite doesn't deserve your cash, although the free plan and web store could be interesting to some.
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