Lazy mobile strategy and constant upsells sink an otherwise polished website editor.
We reviewed Homestead nearly two years ago, and found their website editor had a lot to offer but was ultimately let down by a lack of mobile options and a strong feeling that Intuit, owners of Homestead, had lost interest in the product. We decided to take another look at Homestead to see if these shortcomings had been fixed.
After choosing a domain for your website, Homestead asks you to select a template before dumping you into the editor. Most of the templates shared the same basic design and were differentiated only by a dominant color scheme.
Homestead tries to help you select from the many templates by categorizing them by business type such as consulting, designer or fashion to name a few. This method isn’t helpful when most of the templates look similar. I found a few templates were serviceable but none felt especially well-designed.
I do have one major issue with Homesteads templates: if you switch templates you will lose everything- all your pages and content! This makes selecting a template needlessly high pressure, which is unfortunate because many business owners will want to experiment with different designs. Homestead discourages this type of experimentation by not providing a simple way for users to migrate their website from one template to another.
Building Your Website
Once you’ve selected a template Homestead places you in the editor where you can add content and personalize your website. A lot of thought has gone into the design and layout of the editor. Core tasks such as adding a page, an image or Google Map is as simple as selecting that element from a drop-down menu. Homestead was fluid and responsive as I moved around my site, adding, editing and removing content.
Homestead has provided a novel way for users to make website-wide changes by providing a global editor. This time-saving feature comes in handy when updating your footer, changing your logo or adding pages to your navigation.
One area where Homestead comes up short is fonts. One way to customize your website is with webfonts, but Homestead only provides 16 basic fonts, and none are impressive. This makes building an attractive website that much more difficult.
The Homestead interface is so polished that more than once I forgot I was in the editor. Some website builders make you feel like you’re standing in the middle of an unfinished building, surrounded by scaffolding and bare walls. But Homestead uses a well designed interface to keep the complexity hidden behind the scenes. A well designed interface allows you to experiment with your website, and that’s how Homestead felt the first time I used it.
In addition to the core features, Homestead offers a number of advanced options for those building a more advanced website. These include the ability to add a web poll, Paypal cart and a donation form, although some features are only available with higher priced business plans. For example, I tried to add a donation form to my website and was presented with a pop-up window asking me to first upgrade to the Business or Business Plus plans which start around $20 a month.
The Upsell Game
Homestead requires a credit card in order to sign up for a 30-day trial. I’d prefer a shorter trial if that meant I didn’t have to hand over my credit card, but Homestead knows enough people will forget to cancel, essentially trading more revenue for a worse customer experience.
Even once you’ve handed over your credit card, Homestead still tries to upsell features of dubious value. For example, before I began building my website, Homestead asked me a few questions I assumed would narrow down the number of templates to select from. Instead, based on my answers, Homestead recommended I sign up for a service called Traffic Booster for $4.99/month and publish my website in the WebListings service for another $14.99 month.
The upsell game continues within the Homestead editor itself. As I mentioned, some advanced features such as adding a donation form cost extra and often require upgrading to a business account. I was surprised that adding a blog to my website required upgrading my account. Blogs are a core feature of website today and Homestead should allow all accounts to add them.
Depending on your needs, some of these premium features may be helpful. But it reminds me of the time I was drawn to a car dealer based on a low advertised price only to show up and find the only models in stock included extra features at a much higher price.
Those expecting a simple and integrated way to create a mobile website in Homestead will be disappointed. Instead of building mobile features into their current website builder, Homestead has taken the lazy route by using a 3rd party service called DudaMobile.
DudaMobile creates a separate website that loads when visitors visit your site from a mobile device. They essentially convert your existing site to a mobile-friendly version using your design or a template at DudaMobile if you prefer. While a simplified free option is available. DudaMobile recommends a Premium account for business use which starts at $7.20 a month paid to DudaMobile, not Homestead.
Homestead is clearly behind the times. With mobile sitting around 20% of all web traffic, do you really trust a 3rd party to provide your mobile visitors a good experience? This is unacceptable in 2014, and Homestead should know better. This issue alone is enough to keep me from recommending it. And that’s before we discuss what a pain it is to keep track of another account that has my credit card.
Homestead strengths reside in its polished website editor, and I would give the service at least another star if that were the only part of the service I were grading. But a decent editor doesn’t cut it when competitors like Squarespace and Weebly provide a modern set of features and superior user experience.
Homestead suffers from several major issues that keep me from recommending it. Given the growth of mobile, it’s inexcusable to expect your customers to sign up with 3rd party for a feature that should come standard.
By the time I finished building my website, I had a headache from being hit over the head with so many upsells. What starts out as an annoyance quickly degrades into a very poor user experience. Homestead has no problem nickel and diming its users for standard features like adding a blog or donation form to you website. At the very least, Homestead should make it clear during the signup process that you’ll need a business account to build much of anything.
Of course, you can’t test Homestead without providing a credit card. On the positive side, you probably won’t need the full 30 days to determine better website builder options are available.