Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Free web site builders: Weebly vs. Yola

Summary: Pros and cons of using Weebly and Yola free web site builders.
If you need a simple web site, a wide range of providers can offer you a capability to build and host your site for free, assuming that you can live within their limitations. The most common limitation is banner advertisements which will be sprinkled across your web pages. Banner ads may not be a problem for some, but they often make you site look amateurish. If you want a more professionally looking site with no banner ads, your free web hosting options are limited to:
I have checked these sites and used two of them to establish web presence for some friends (small businesses owners). Here is a brief summary of my experience (note: I describe the features of free hosting; all companies provide premium -- paid -- hosting with fewer limitations).

Wix looks slicker than the other two, but it produces web pages that use Adobe Flash technology instead of more common (and expected) HTML. Now that Google can index Flash-based pages this may not be a big deal, but being mostly an HTML type of developer, I can't bring myself to embrace Flash as a web page medium. Call me old-fashioned or biased, but I think that for simple web pages, HTML is more appropriate than Flash.

Yola (formerly, Synthasite) and Weebly are very similar. They give you a web site builder to create web pages based on available templates (some templates are free, some are not). You pick a template (you can change the template at any time), then you add elements (such as two-column layout, heading, text, picture, hyperlink) to the page layout via available widgets. Widgets allow you to customize the page elements, but customization options are often limiting. If you need to add an element that does not have a corresponding widget (such as a table), you can use an HTML widget that lets you enter any HTML code snippet.

Once your web site is ready, you publish it to a subdomain under yolasite.com or weebly.com (e.g. mycompany.yolasite.com or mycompany.weebly.com), or you can use a custom domain (e.g. mycompany.com), which you can purchase directly from Yola or Weebly (for a slightly higher fee), or from any domain registrar, such as GoDaddy.

Yola and Weebly add their company logos to page footers, but the logos are rather unobtrusive.

Here is a list of problems I encountered when I worked with Yola and Weebly:
  • Yola: Web site builder requires Firefox (it did not work for me in Chrome). (This seems to have been fixed.)
  • Yola: CSS customization is tricky (there is no easy way to define common styles, such as fonts, etc).
  • Weebly: Cannot paste formatted text (say you paste text copied from a web page); it messes up formatting and does not let you correct it (the only way is to delete the element and recreate it).
  • Weebly: Customization of a window title is somewhat limited (you cannot define an arbitrary title for a page title).
  • Weebly: Cannot reference already uploaded images (e.g. you can upload an image and reference it on one page, but how do you reference it on another page?).
  • Weebly: Some features of the resulting site work only in Internet Explorer (e.g. ALT properties of IMG elements only work in IE).
  • Weebly: There is no option to preview changes before publish the site.
  • Weebly: Customer support is sporadic at best (I got a response to one out of four questions I submitted).
  • Both: Cannot specify title (tooltip) for hyperlinks (looks bad for image URLs).
The best things about Yola are vibrant user community and customer support. I raised several issues with Yola's customer support and got prompt responses from Yola's representatives. All my issues were resolved. I can say that Yola's customer support rivals (well, it's actually better than) customer support of most big names in software industry. I also found good recommendations at Yola's user forum.

The major limitation of both sites is their page templates. Although, they offer dozens of free templates, most of them look like they were designed in mid-90's for a high school project. I found one relatively decent template at Weebly (which I used for one site), but I had even less luck with Yola (I ended up building one site at Yola, but it's not something I would be proud to show).

If you need a simple and unassuming web site, give Weebly or Yola a try. They could be so much better, but even with current limitations, you can use either service to build online presence for a small business, create a personal or family site, and other simple applications.

If you can recommend another alternative (based on personal experience), please leave a comment (just make sure that this alternative does not use banner ads and supports other features offered by Yola and Weebly: custom domains, templates, site builder, custom CSS, HTML editing).

UPDATE (Dec 25, 2010): I recently published another site on Weebly, and while working on it, I appreciated the feature that let me easily find and incorporate free stock photos into the pages. Being able to select a different photo in the page header for each page was especially handy.

15 comments:

marije said...

Hello Alek - my name is Marije, I work with the Support team at Yola. Thank you for your post!

Just to let you know that Chrome is a Yola-supported browser. If you're struggling to use Chrome, please check that the browser version is up-to-date. If you have seen information on our side saying that it's not a supported browser, feel free to let us know so that we can update it.

Many thanks,
Marije

Alek Davis said...

Thanks for the feedback, Marije. It was over a year ago when I had this problem, so I suspect it has been fixed. I'll update the post.

Gordon said...

Is there any way you can NOT have the weebly/Yola logo at the bottom - eg paying a premium rate.

Alek Davis said...

Do you mean any OTHER way of removing the logo (i.e. other than paying for premium subscription)? I'm not aware of anything, but if you find out, please let us know.

SongCity said...

Hi Alek,

I've found your post after searching for an answer to previewing my site in Weebly before publishing. It seems to me this feature should be a no-brainer.

Aside from the formatting issues with pasted text, (I past first in TextEdit, recopy without formatting, then paste into Weebly), I've been very happy with Weebly.

Naturally I hope they continue to add features, which they have done quite regularly.

Cheers,
Lyndon

Alek Davis said...

I agree. I also wish Weebly had a better customer support. And for both (Weebly and Yola), I wish they had a more sensible pricing structure. I think the lowest premium (or sub-premium, if you will) service should cost around $5/month (i.e. compatible with cheap and popular hosing providers, like BlueHost). For that price, they could remove the logo, allow favicon, and maybe offer a couple of additional options, but not more enhanced features.

Marije said...

Hello Alek - Marije again :)

We released CSS editing for Silver account holders last week.

These links may be helpful:
- http://www.yola.com/tutorials/article/Yola-Silver-FAQ-1285944437175/FAQs
- http://www.yola.com/tutorials/article/How-to-edit-your-Site-CSS/Site_structure_and_design

Many thanks,
Marije

--- said...

Hi-
Thank you for the review, I was leaning toward Weebly and decided to go with it.
I found a solution for using the same image in more than one location on a site. I published it at http://www.myoldohiohome.com/1/post/2011/05/using-a-weebly-image-more-than-once.html, and linked back to your article. Let me know if you want me to remove the link.
I played around with Concrete5 and Wordpress on a local server here at home, and I know someone who does custom design of web sites. All in all, I think Weebly is the best fit for what I want/need to do.

My next goal should be to learn how to paste a link into a Blogger comment.

Thanks again,
Ed H

--- said...

Thanks for the reply and for unspamming my comment.
--Ed H

OneFathersLove said...

Hello,
I found this site while looking for Weebly tips. Here is a Weebly site "onefatherslove.info" that I created that may be helpful to you because it is a Free version. You can edit the html through Design to make the background of the footer the same color as the "free Weebly" text.
The problem for me is the fact that I cannot copy and paste to a Weebly. I am trying to find a place to move my current onefatherslove.com to and need too copy and paste all of the content.
I am in Sacramento, CA and business # is 916-514-6333 or post a reply to this thread if you have some suggestions
Victor.

Alek Davis said...

You can try Weebly support forum, but I doubt that there is an easy way to copy content from some other host to Weebly. And even if there were a workaround, I'd normally not recommend it, since it would've probably made it more difficult to maintain the site in the long run. I would take it easy and migrate it piece by piece taking advantage of Weebly features. I also suspect that you may not be ably to make an exact copy, which again may not be the a bad thing.

California Country GirlL said...

Hi Alek...great info..thanks. We are about to publish our Yola site (CaliforniaCountryGaL)when our blogger smart daughter-in-law stated she'd not heard of Yola and recommended Blogger. We are hoping Yola is the newer, better option and are ready to press on. Any further thoughts?

Alek Davis said...

I haven't looked at Blogger options lately, but the last time I did (when they just introduced an option to use pages), I did not like it. It looked rather unprofessional. Now, Yola or Weebly will not give you the Fortune 500 look, but their templates look way better than Blogger (for intended purpose). Btw, Wix also made some enhancements lately (moving from Flash to HTML 5), so if you're still not sure which platform to use, I'd check it out as well.

jalfc said...

I have a site on yola
http://bridgedigitalimages.yolasite.com/
my main concern is how to monitor traffic and is ok to have the yolasite extension on the address.
also i have web building software from Serif can I use it on the yolasite?

Alek Davis said...

@jalfc: I haven't used Yola in a while (do most site on Weebly these days), so not sure what they have for web stats. I suspect you can plug in Google Analytics per this tutoroial: https://www.yola.com/tutorials/article/Tutorial-Adding-Analytics-1285944435822/Promotion_SEO_Traffic_and_Advertising. Most likely you cannot use any other third party web building software. And having a site at yolasite.com domain is definitely not okay: you should be using a custom domain.