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Gator Website Builder review

Build a stylish and professional website, no experience required

New Hero
(Image: © HostGator)

Our Verdict

Well worth a look for the excellent editor, but Gator's blog is weak, and the web store can't match the best of the competition.

For

  • Excellent editor
  • Easy to use
  • Free SSL certificate
  • Excellent support

Against

  • Basic blog
  • Limited web store

Texas-based HostGator also has a hugely popular website builder with plans for every possible requirement, from simple shared products to speedy cloud hosting and powerful dedicated servers.

Gator Website Builder bundles the company's excellent hosting with a user-friendly WebsiteBuillder.com-powered site designer which makes it easy to create a quality online presence.

The service is absolutely stuffed with features, and almost all of them are available in even the cheapest plan. There's unlimited pages, storage and bandwidth, a free domain name (if you choose annual billing), a bundled SSL certificate, 200+ mobile-friendly templates, support for password-protected pages, analytics to help understand your audience, and 24/7/365 chat, email and phone support to keep your site running smoothly.

At the time of writing, Gator offers three different plans. Starter gives you all of the above for an initial $4.99 a month billed monthly, $4.61 on the annual plan, or $3.84 if you pay for two years up-front. These prices include a 50% discount for the first term, and on renewal they'll jump to $10.95 billed monthly, $8.95 over one year, $7.95 over two.

The Premium plan adds 'priority support', which the website says allows 'even faster access to support by jumping the line.' There's no way to reliably say how much difference this will make, but if you're building some mission-critical business site, it could be worthwhile. The discounted first term is priced at $6.49 billed monthly, $6.14 over a year, $5.99 on the two-year plan, and on renewal these rise to $11.95, $11.95 and $10.95.

The top-of-the-range eCommerce plan includes Gator's web site, with inventory management, integrated shipping and tax calculations. It's notably more expensive, but still reasonably priced for what you're getting at an initial $12.49 billed monthly, an equivalent $9.99 on the annual plan, $9.22 over two years, rising on renewal to $24.98, $19.98 and $18.45.

There's no trial period, but if you cancel within 45 days, and you've never had a HostGator account before, there's a refund available.

Readers can take advantage of a slightly higher initial discount, from 50% to 55%, by using the code ‘techradar’ (without quotation marks) at checkout.

Getting Started

Once you’ve given them your money, you just need to build that site! (Image credit: HostGator)

Setup

Signing up for Gator Website Builder is simple and straightforward. Moments after handing over your card details, a HostGator email arrived asking us to verify our email address. We clicked a link, the website displayed a 'verified' message and redirected us to Gator's web dashboard.

The interface is familiar, and generally easy to use. A left-hand sidebar enables managing key areas of your hosting (websites, domains), while the opening screen prompts you to create your website, and once you're up and running, gives you a few very basic stats (unique visitors, total visits, page views, bounce rate.)

Templates

Hostgator has a long list of templates for you to choose from (Image credit: HostGator)

Tapping the blue ‘Create Your Site’ button displays thumbnails of Gator's 150 templates. That's a lot to explore, but you can reduce your options by filtering by keyword or site type (Blog, Lifestyle, Photography, and so on.)

The thumbnails don't give you much of an idea of the individual sites - in some cases, there's little more than a menu and a large image - and they don't have captions showing you the intended site type. If you've not chosen the Photography filter, for instance, you won't necessarily be able to tell which sites are designed for photographers.

Fortunately, a Preview button opens the template site, allowing you to see how it works. This opens in the current browser tab, rather than a new tab or window, potentially a hassle if you want to compare two templates side-by-side. But it's easy to use, has buttons to preview the template in desktop or mobile layouts, and you're able to select and begin editing the template with a single click.

Editor

The Gator Website Builder editor opens with a simple 15 second tour which highlights its various core functions. Sure, it's short, but it gives beginners a quick idea of how to get started. 

Before you can begin work, Gator prompts you to choose a name for your site. This is used to identify a site on your dashboard, and it gives you access to the site via a Gator subdomain (your-name.gator.site), until you choose to link it to your own unique domain name once you’ve chosen it.

Add a Section

You have a wealth of pre-made sections to add to your pages, depending of your requirements (Image credit: HostGator)

The editing interface is familiar and straightforward. A left-hand sidebar enables adding various types of content to the site; a toolbar at the top of the screen has a range of essential functions (page navigation, desktop or mobile views, undo/ redo buttons, Save, Preview and Publish options), and the rest of the screen is reserved for the content of your current page.

Gator's pages are initially built from predefined sections. Our chosen template starts with a header, Section A, and a footer, but you can add further sections to display particular content types (text, images, videos) or to match the page type that you need (Image Gallery, Schedule, Features, Contact Us, Join My Mailing List, and more.

Each section comes in multiple flavours. The Text section has 15 predefined blocks, for instance, each with its own layout and formatting. Sections like Images & Text, Video & Text and Text & Buttons allow you to include further content. Pick whatever most closely matches your needs, then add it in the right location on your page: click when you see a blue line appearing in the right place saying ‘New section will be added here’.

But just because you chose a specific layout for your new section, doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it. You have full control over all elements. You can move them around the section, resize them, crop images, etc. You also have pixel-level control over where to place each element.

Add an Element

You can also add many elements to each section (Image credit: HostGator)

You can also add additional elements. These are found in the Sidebar under the appropriately named ‘Elements’ menu. You have a very large selection to choose from, from contact forms, maps, text boxes, images, a Sound Cloud player, and much more.

Are are limitations. The video player, for instance, only directly supports YouTube channels or playlists, although you can manually link to others, like Vimeo for instance. We couldn’t link to DailyMotion clips though.

There are a good range of elements in most of the key areas: six button types, multiple live feeds (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), various PayPal buttons (Buy Now, Add To Cart, Donate, Check Out) and a range of social media features (social links, sharing icons, Like buttons, Follow buttons and more.)

Customization

Each element has its own custom customisation options, like animations (Image credit: HostGator)

Clicking any object within a section - a text block, an image, a menu, social media buttons - displays a floating toolbar with actions you can perform on it. These start with a decent set of standard options, including the ability to add animations (have an image fly in from the left, for instance), use drop shadows, or have the element move with the page. But there are also a huge number of more element-specific tweaks to explore. 

Add a video gallery, for instance, and you can set up the number of items on a space, how they're positioned, the entrance and exit transitions, the transition timings, SEO information to define what the gallery contains, and set up any custom behaviours for the element (display a pop-up image when an element is clicked, for instance.)

Mobile Preview

See how your site will look like on a mobile device (Image credit: HostGator)

Gator generates a mobile view of the site as you work, and although this typically works well, it won't always deliver the results you want. You might drag a map to overlay an image in the desktop view, for instance, but on a mobile the map will probably appear underneath. 

Although you can reposition elements while in mobile view, you can’t actually edit its content. Should you find a typo for instance, you’d have to go back to desktop view to correct it there.

Key functions are available in a click or two, and most of the complicated stuff is tucked away where it won't baffle newbies. Overall, it's a well-balanced editor which has plenty to offer both first-timers and more demanding users.

Add a Blog

Who doesn’t love writing a blog? Your options are fairly basic though (Image credit: HostGator)

Blogs

Adding a blog to your Gator site, and managing it afterwards, is quick and easy. To start the process, click on Blog in the sidebar and then on ‘Create a Blog’.

As you might expect, you’re offered a choice of templates, 15 in total, and the selection process is the same as when you chose the template for your site at the start. All previews look like they’d help you create a very attractive looking blog, rich with images.

Your new blog comes with a handful of sample posts which you can draw inspiration from or just delete and start from scratch.

Write a Blog

Blogs don’t have access to the wealth of Elements available for other pages (Image credit: HostGator)

New blog posts are created using a subset of the standard page editor. There are all the usual text formatting commands, but you don't get access to the main editing widgets, and the Add Element box only allows for the insertion of images, videos, lines, headings and paragraphs. If you want to add a map, or an image gallery, or any of the other components available in the main editor, you're out of luck.

There are plenty of ways to customise how your post looks and behaves on the blog page. You're able to set a title, a cover image and a summary, as well as assigning tags to help users find related posts, and pin a post to the top of the blog.

Frustratingly, there is no option to schedule posts, unfortunately. Blog comments are supported by the Facebook comments system only, which can't be controlled or configured in any way. The blog has one advanced feature in its optional RSS support, but otherwise it's very much about the basics only, which, considering what most of the competition has to offer, is very disappointing.

Ecommerce

Have products to sell? Hostgator can help you create a simple store (Image credit: HostGator)

E-commerce

Gator Website Builder's high-end eCommerce plan gives you an option to extend your site with a simple web store. You can use it to see physical goods, digital products, and/or services.

Depending on its file type, a digital product can be up to 4MB for images, 40MB for documents, 100MB for music, and 1GB for videos. You’re able to make the download time-limited, or set a maximum number of times a customer can download the same product from a single purchase (the latter is selected by default).

If you need to import a ready-made product catalog, Gator accepts various formats such as Ecwid, Excel, Google Sheets, and CSV. If your needs are more modest and you only have a few products to sell, you can input the data manually as well.

There is very little control over how products will be structured and displayed however. Your time will mostly be spent entering product details and configuring key store data (address, preferred currency, and so on).

Product descriptions are basic, but there is enough power here for many simple sites. You start by entering one or more images, along with some formatted text and a price. There's support for product variants (size, colour, or other) and organising products into categories (shoes, accessories). Setting up and applying discounts should appeal to potential customers, and adding a weight allows the site to automatically calculate shipping rates.

None of this begins to compete in depth and power with specialist e-commerce providers like Shopify, but Gator is undeniably easy to use, and much cheaper. You could manually add three or four products in a few minutes. Shipping and tax calculations (with international support) are built in, PayPal integration enables taking payments right away, and creating a Stripe account gets you card support, too. There’s also an option for Cash on Delivery.

Experienced users won't be impressed, but Gator Website Designer could be a reasonable choice for creating a simple web store.

Support

Lost? Hostgator’s knowledgeable support team will get you back on track fast (Image credit: HostGator)

Support

Although everything is very straightforward if you’re used to website builders, those that aren’t will appreciate the Support section (which is available from the sidebar).

The knowledgeable appears to be thorough and well written, with screenshots helping you see where what you’re looking for is located.

If that fails however, you can set up a live chat with them. As we were trying out the ecommerce plan, we got their ‘priority support’ and were able to chat with someone within minutes. The person was courteous, very knowledgable and were able to resolve our issue extremely quickly.

A service can live or die by its support. Hostgator certainly have trained their staff well.

Final verdict

Gator Website Builder's smartly-designed editor is a great way to quickly create professional and good-looking websites. The integrated blog and web store are relatively basic, though, and are unlikely to satisfy demanding or experienced users.