Weebly is a very clean cut sitebuilder that edges into the eCommerce site space. Although not suited for large eCommerce sites, it does give smaller players a very cost-effective way to enter this arena. Also great for personal websites and to a lesser extent – blogs since there is a free plan available. Learn more.
August 06, 2020•
Although technically branding itself as a web host, Weebly is more than that. It joins the ranks to top sitebuilders such as Wix in offering rapid-build capabilities for websites. In fact, the amount of extended functionality you can build into Weebly sites are suitable for eCommerce.
For the uninitiated, sitebuilders offer users a set of tools, usually like building blocks that they can use to visually assemble a website. Yet what makes Weebly a little more special is the fact that even with such great features, anyone wanting a website can use it and even publish their site for free. With a few caveats, of course.
This means of building websites is becoming increasingly common, with many sitebuilders sprouting up across the net. Some are good, some are great – so what makes Weebly special, if it is? Starting up in 2007, Weebly grew to host around 50 million sites globally before it was acquired for a whopping $365 million in 2018 by Square, a payments processing company.
This indicated two things to me – that Weebly was thriving and that eCommerce was going to get even bigger on the platform. Of course, the purchase also meant that Square would be able to gain a leg up on the global eCommerce business scene as well.
Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of Weebly as it is today.
Pros of Weebly
Cons of Weebly
Weebly Plan & Features
Weebly registers a solid A rating in the BitCatcha speed test. Not unexpected given that it is intended to host eCommerce sites. Response rates are fantastic in the US but tend to drag on the further they are from that zone.
Although this is fairly normal given that their servers are most likely to be based in the US, the response rate from Asia as indicated by the results from the Japan server were a little disturbing.
Although showing good Time to First Byte (TTFB) in WebPageTest results, some weakness was revealed in image compression and content caching which might have contributed to the poor response from some servers.
Overall however, these are pretty good results, nonetheless.
Many moons ago, Weebly has a ton of templates to choose from but for some reason they cut it down to a more manageable 35. I’ll be honest here and say that I’m a little on the fence about the whole ‘number of templates’ thing.
On one hand, it feels as if a reduction in the number is cutting cost somehow. It is probably due to the necessity of pruning out older templates that would not fit well for mobile responsiveness.
Overall, I feel that the templates on offer do give users a broad enough spectrum to act as a launching pad into designing their own sites without turning them into mindless zombies who are hoping for a one-size fits all.
Once you’ve chosen your template you can then move on into the drag and drop editor. With some rapid sitebuilders, the term ‘drag and drop’ is figurative, but with Weebly it is literally a drag and drop editor.
To build the pages you want, all you must do is to drag objects from the tool bar on the left of the screen and drop them into the page area at the location you want. There are many things you can add, from plain text boxes all the way to complex product listing blocks.
You are ready to go right from the time you hit the editor – no need for additional downloads, no ridiculous loading times or any extra steps needed. If you want a basic site, everything is right there from the start.
Given the simplicity of the layout and ease of use, I would say that it would be hard not to be able to use the Weebly editor to build regular sites. This makes it a great choice for absolute beginners to website building.
Additional Editor Features
This is something I haven’t seen yet, other than with Weebly. Don’t be fooled by the term ‘mobile’. The Weebly Mobile App is exactly what the whole term means – Weebly has an app that will work on your mobile device and let you edit your site there.
The world is shifting to mobile and even on my own websites I am seeing mobile users far exceed the number of visitors that come from desktops. So why not shift the development experience to mobile as well?
The Weebly Mobile App is available on both popular platforms – iOS and Android. This means that you can use it on your iPhone, iPad, Android phone or Android tablet. Not only can you check your site statistics and other data, but you can actually edit your website as well.
It offers users a true touchscreen drag and drop editor that not only works with the basics, but even lets you manage complex backend tasks such as order processing, fulfilment, inventory check, acceptance of payments and so on.
If you choose to, you can work offline and be able to sync any changes made when you get connected back to the Internet. This is a truly powerful app and seriously extends the capabilities of Weebly.
Aside from website building, here’s what else you can do on the Weebly Mobile App;
All these features in a single mobile app makes Weebly really stand out from the competition. From their offerings, I’ve seen a high focus on smaller eCommerce sites and this app just solidifies my belief. It would be ideal for the small-scale entrepreneur who would likely be working on the go a lot of times.
Not to be confused with the Weebly Mobile App, the App Centre gives you add-on options to increase the capabilities of your website. This is something that I believe every sitebuilder should have, since it keeps core business and extended functionalities separate.
This way, users who only need basic functions won’t get an interface that is bogged down with tons of extras they will never likely use. At the same time, users needing extra features can have a selection of them to suit their needs.
The Weebly App Centre covers five main categories of apps – eCommerce, Communication, Marketing, Social and Site Tools. They come in a mixture of either free, free to try or premium, so not every extended feature will cost money.
Prices vary greatly though, so do pay attention if you intend to use any of them. They might start from as low as $3+ per month or cost as much as over $100 a month depending on which app you choose.
Here are some of the Apps which I think can help some eCommerce sites stand out for very little cost;
While there is a great deal of apps that are from third parties, Weebly also has some that it has built itself. Some of them are interesting, such as the Code Block app. This app allows you to show users formatted code – great if you are maybe running a programming tutorial site.
There are even apps to help you build more advanced site features such as tables and tabs!
Aside from their main feature which is as a free sitebuilder, Weebly comes with a couple of bonus extras;
There are many reasons why you’d want to move away from a service provider – increasing prices, better deals elsewhere, not being able to acclimatize to the platform or even deciding to move to a new platform like WordPress. No matter the reason, it’s always good to have an option.
This was something which I found to be unrealistic about Wix in that it locks its users in and requires them to ‘do or die’ with the platform.
Thankfully, Weebly is more realistic and allows its users to export their sites and even has a tutorial to teach you how to do so.
Most website builders lock you into their ecosystem and don’t let you move. The only way is to delete your site and start over. You may never need to do so if you’re happy with Weebly, but at least you can if you wanted to.
Of course, I can’t really blame Weebly for this since it costs money to give away domains (and why should it give them away for free?!). However, facts are facts and free plan users will have to be content to have their site named www.something.weebly.com.
There is also another small technical problem if you are a free plan user and that is you’re basically stuck with the Weebly subdomain even if you own your own domain. Weebly only allows custom domains if you’re either made the purchase through them or are a paid plan user.
You also get stuck with Weebly branding on your sites, by the way.
Although you can have a blog section on Weebly, it’s a bit different compared to WordPress which is more dedicated to content and allows extended functionality there. Weebly’s blog posts are sort of made up like their sitebuilder in which you drag and drop bits and pieces onto a canvas.
The experience is a little strange, but that might just be me since I am used to the WordPress environment. There are limits on how you can construct each blog post – the format is fixed, as in title and content.
Given the massive number of bloggers floating around the web and how Weebly has a free plan, I just felt that this was one area in which they could have put a lot more focus. After all, it’s not as if they are restricting themselves to eCommerce sites only.
There isn’t any way to put this neatly, so I’ll just lay it out – you can only do a few things with Weebly’s built in photo editor – Zoom, Blur, Darken or apply a colour filter. I’m not sure why but I just have this very odd feeling about an image editor that won’t even let you crop one.
That’s something which is very basic and given the scope of what Weebly has accomplished, I am really at a loss to explain why they’ve crippled image editing in this manner.
I understand that to support customers costs money, but Weebly takes that a little further than necessary. Your help/support level depends on which plan you buy in to. Naturally, it does have the basic stuff which is available to everyone. This includes a knowledge base, FAX and even some video tutorials.
It also has other channels of support – live chat, phone or email. Unless you are on anything other than a free or starter plan, you won’t have access to their phone support or priority support.
While it does have a community forum, I browsed the area briefly and it did not seem very active. There were several topics, but very little interaction. I’m not sure if you can depend on the Weebly community for assistance.
At the entry level, Weebly has a free plan that comes with a lot of restrictions. Yet that is expected, and it is a wonder that they offer it as entirely free instead of a trial. This is something that not many are willing to do these days and I laud Weebly for having it.
If you’re a little more serious about your website, then plans start from $4 per month onwards all the way to $25 per month.
The Free plan gives you storage space, a Weebly subdomain and free SSL but nothing else more. This would still be good for some use though – for example a personal website, blog or portfolio. These can be basic and don’t need to be overly snazzy.
The Starter Plan at $4 per month isn’t much better but it does include a free domain name which Weebly values at $19 (although a .com elsewhere will set you back much less). This plan doesn’t include eCommerce features.
Once you go above those, the Pro and Business Plans are for those who, well, mean business. These plans allow you to list products for sale and turn your site into an online store. There is a catch even though you are paying more though and that is the transaction fee of 3% that Weebly levies on your sales.
In all honesty this rate is reasonable since you can make use of their payments and shopping cart features. If you were to go it on your own, you’d likely have to pay more to process payments online through a third-party.
The number of products you can list depend on which plan you choose and only the most expensive Business Plan allows you to sell digital goods such as software licenses or things like that. It also gives you access to coupons and inventory management.
I love Weebly because it doesn’t feel the need to oppress customers through mandatory buy-ins and extortionate rate. In fact, even for the Business Plan at $25 per month, you’re getting features that would cost you much more than if you were to implement them yourself on another web host.
While the editor is nice and spiffy, it does have some flaws – but I can live with those. If I were to compare this with another eCommerce oriented sitebuilder, my thinking is that it would come out a champ in certain areas.
It does seem built for entry level eCommerce stores, however, and anyone who needs to have a big product catalogue may need to shop elsewhere. Unfortunately, at the same time they seem to be weak on the blogosphere zone.
The end result has left me wondering if Weebly really expects to compete purely on small to medium eCommerce sites alone.