Website builders often have to contend with the notion that they aren’t suitable for professional websites. Supposedly, outdated technologies and designs place unacceptable restrictions on their users. How is it, then, that companies such as Wix, Squarespace, or Jimdo keep growing, with new record numbers year after year, as seen in our market analysis?
The Website Trends of 2014
One major topic was “responsive design”. Whether you visit a site on your phone, tablet, or on a regular computer screen, the website is displayed to fit your device. This, in turn, reduces loading times and unnecessary zooming.
Global players such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google have been pushing design trends towards the simplified and minimalistic. Shadows and reflections are out, and flat design is all the rage.
Edge-to-edge video and image elements are just as common and usually accompanied by large letters. As a result, many websites look a bit like glossy magazines. Parallax effects are often added, and the website is presented in the style of a single, long page. We could go on forever with this list, but for your sake as well as ours (let’s face it, some of the terminology is a bit boring), we’ll stop here. All these changes and features can overwhelm new users, who then rightfully ask themselves whether a “simple” website builder can even meet all of those expectations.
We have been keeping an eye on the website builder market, and the providers’ reactions to all of these new trends have been very interesting. Our reviews, which we keep up to date in the interest of transparency, give you a better idea of what those reactions might have been.
Let’s take a look at the most important changes made by the most popular providers.
Let us start off by saying that the list of new features Weebly has added to its portfolio is impressive. Among other things, Weebly has updated its editor, which it makes much easier to work with. No more complicated pasting and adjusting of texts and images. The online store, too, has received a facelift. While we do not recommend this online store for sales to European customers due to legal requirements in the European Union, the feature set and ease of use are one of a kind.
If you want to run a blog, Weebly is great for you, too. Blog posts can now be published on a delay, and you can edit the permalink, which is very good for search engines.
Another interesting point is the member area feature. You can use it to give your customers exclusive access to your website and offer every customer different content. In the future, this feature will be integrated with payment options – we’re excited to see the result.
If you buy a domain via Weebly (which can be costly in and of itself), you do not automatically get e-mail accounts to go along with it. A paid Google Apps solution is required to include e-mails. This is an issue where Weebly might want to consider better service for paying customers. Our advice: Buy your domain and e-mail from a different provider.
Some of Weebly’s updates:
- e-mail via Google Apps
- e-commerce 1.1 major update
- e-commerce 1.2 update
- e-commerce PayPal integration as an additional payment method
- individual headers and backgrounds for every page
- improved editor: removed the column element and texts with images
- SSL encryption for the entire page (included in the Business plan)
- blog update (delayed posts, permalinks, etc.)
- Weebly for iPad
- member area
This website builder has a particularly good cost-benefit ratio (e.g. Jimdo Pro for $7.50 (£5)/month). It doesn’t take much work to get your own online presence ready to go, including a blog, an online store, and a domain plus matching e-mail accounts. As strange as this may sound, many providers do not include a domain or an e-mail account.
Our biggest concern were always Jimdo’s designs. This year, Jimdo took care of that, though. Not only has the editor been updated, but with this latest relaunch, new designs were included, some of which are even responsive.
If you use Jimdo, you will also be happy to know that your website can now be edited via mobile app, too. While the app will not be able to fully replace the editor just yet, blogging and editing existing texts is no longer a problem on iOS and Android devices.
As of June 13th, 2014, a new “Directive on Consumer Rights” went into effect in the European Union. While this does concern owners of websites, Jimdo customers who might have been worried really didn’t have to – by the date the directive went into effect, Jimdo had made all the necessary adjustments to meet the requirements of the law for all their customers. Exemplary behavior in our eyes!
We would love to see Jimdo focus on digital sales in their online store module. It would enable customers to purchase music, films, or ebooks right from the shop. And while we must say that the new designs are much better than the old ones, we still aren’t exactly thrilled. We would like all templates to be responsive, a wider selection, and more flexibility. Some areas, such as the logo or the page title, remain static.
Some of Jimdo’s updates:
- blog via the iOS app
- adjust shipping fees (settings per country, etc.)
- major redesign
- online store was updated to meet EU law; particularly to comply with the Directive on Consumer Rights
- PamBill integration for invoices
- Jimdo app for Android
Pages created with Wix always have a very modern feel to them. The website builder is based on HTML5, a technology which requires a modern browser. As we mentioned in the introduction, one general trend was single-page design, and it didn’t take long for Wix to introduce anchor links. These enable linking within a single page, making it possible to put all the content on one long page.
But that wasn’t all – animations for texts are now available. To be honest, we were a bit worried about this, because it reminded us of Geocities, whose pages were colorful and animated, too… but not in a good way. We shall see what the users do with this feature in the future. Another major update was the introduction of a newsletter tool called “ShoutOut”. Finally, you can send out newsletters using a simple tool right on your own website. And as if that wasn’t enough, you can now create special landing pages, too.
Our biggest criticism for Wix is actually the technical implementation of the pages themselves. While the Wix support team says that the pages are indexed by Google with no issues, the URLs and the code remain very cryptic. We are also not in love with the blog or the online store modules. Their feature set is simply too small, especially when considering the price, and most especially for purposes of e-commerce. Add to that the fact that Wix currently does not meet the standards of EU law, they have a lot of work to do.
Some of Wix’s updates:
- Pinterest button
- meta tags for e.g. Google Analytics, Pinterest, etc.
- text and image animation
- e-commerce update (offline payment, individual “thank you” pages, etc.)
- vertical navigation menu
- cookie disclaimer regarding new EU directive from May 2014
- Wix ShoutOut newsletter
- anchor links
- landing pages, 301 forwarding, subscription feature for ShoutOut
- BigStock photo service
- different backgrounds per page
This provider made quite a bit of noise in 2014. Right at the beginning of the year, it was announced that Squarespace would be running a Super Bowl ad. This is a strong indicator that the investors were in a good mood. And, true to form, Squarespace often appeared as a “proud partner” of various artistic events (CMJ Music Marathon, Newport Folk Festival, etc.). When considering their designs, it makes sense that Squarespace would be popular with the artistic crowd.
One really cool feature is the logo creator. Generally speaking, every business website has a logo, and now you can use this tool to create your own.
Much like Wix, the designs are very stylish, but our biggest criticism was always ease of use. Beginners have a hard time creating a website with Squarespace because you always have to switch back and forth between website and editor to see any changes you made.
Luckily, Squarespace worked on precisely that problem. The new version 7 editor has gotten rid of our complaint. Now, the editor even shows what the website would look like on a phone or tablet. We expect to see many more innovations from Squarespace. Whenever we have a question, we happily contact their new support center in Portland.
Some of Squarespace’s updates:
- logo creator
- Squarespace editor version 7
- opening of a new support center in Portland
- Events: Squarespace x CMJ Music Marathon, Superbowl, Newport Folk Festival, Celebrate Brooklyn, etc.
- Android app (beta)
The third place in our ranking goes to Webnode. They claim that more than 15 million websites are run on their software. With such a large user base, one might think that new features would be in high demand. Imagine our surprise that Webnode did nothing but add a few templates (responsive ones, yes, but still).
We are not quite sure how to explain that. Is the website builder just that good? In some ways, it is – after all, no other website builder we tested makes it so easy to create a multilingual website. The fact that you can simply adjust the code at will to create new, individual templates makes the website builder incredibly versatile. And whenever the technical support can’t help, your can try out things for yourself.
Nevertheless, the editor is a bit on the old side, and as the software is targeted at beginners and intermediates, we would have expected more innovation. We shall see what 2015 brings.
If you want to start a website using a website builder, you do not need to worry about being stuck in the digital stone age anytime soon. The more popular providers are highly aware of the fact that, in the long run, customers will only stay if you meet their expectations.
Of course, some requirements might never be met due to lack of demand, or maybe a requirement might turn out to be too specific. In that case, we recommend a thorough analysis of all your options. Take a look at our website builder comparison tool, for instance.
Most of the current trends were taken into consideration, and we are excited to see what 2015 will bring. We will keep an eye on everything and keep you up to date.
Do you have any questions or suggestions regarding website builders? Leave us a comment or contact us directly, we’re happy to help!