Review: Homestead

Website Builder: Homestead
Pros: familiar interface based on desktop applications; extremely simple to use
Cons: editor works only in firefox; requires credit card details to register for the trial; designs look stale and old-fashioned at best; functionality is limited; canceling the service is needlessly complicated
Price: Packages range from $4.99 for the Personal package to $49.99 a month for the Business Plus package.
Ideal for: anyone about to create their very first website

Homestead is one of older sitebuilders around. Founded in 1996, when it competed against then popular Geocities, the company was eventually bought by Intuit (best known as the creators of the Quicken financial software package) in late 2007.

Using its links to Intuit’s financial and business solutions, Homestead targets business owners looking to create an online presence for the company.

Signing up for Homestead’s 30-day free trial is a 3-step process. The downside is that these are lengthy steps and Homestead wants to know a lot, including your credit card details and other personal information.

Once we get to step 3, we get to select the package we would like to use. Options here include the Personal package (billed at $4.99 a month after an initial 30-day free trial), the Business package ($19.99 a month after the 30-day  trial) or the Business Plus package ($49.99 a month after the 30-day trial).

We decided to try the Business Plus package, because it is the only package that offers email newsletters as an option.

With over 2000 designs to chose from, one would have thought that it would be quite easy to find a suitable design. The only sorting option Homestead provides for its designs is by business type, and the choice nothing to get too exited about. Differences between designs are mostly in the background image used — photos of buildings or roles of architectural drawings in the Real Estate themes, beaches and hotel interiors in the Hospitality themes and paint brushes or strips of photographic film in the Freelance artists themes.

Once we settle on a design, we get to edit our website content. Along the top we find pull-down menus that mimic those on desktop applications. The menus are marked File, Edit, Format and Help, from left to right.

Below that are three rows of icons that let us add content elements to the pages of our website. The top row provides New Page, Open and Save, as well as Preview and Publish icons. The second row has all available types of content grouped in panels (kind of like big pull-down menus) that are labelled as Content, Design & Links, Communication, Information and E-Commerce. The bottom row contains a series of buttons for individual content items; Text, Image, Photo Gallery, Media File among others.

On the right, we find a properties panel, which displays the properties of any currently selected item.

The individual pages of our site are arranged in tabs along the top of the screen.

All content elements in Homestead appear directly on the page, inside a bounding box. Any editing is done straight on the page, or in the Properties panel.

Image resizing is extremely easy; either enter a new size in the properties box on the right, or click and drag one of the handles of the bounding box. This last method is a bit quirky as images tend to jump  all over the place while you are resizing them, as you’ll see in the video.

Besides text, images, thumbnail galleries and YouTube videos, Homestead lets you embed maps as well. This is not as useful as it seems if you are outside North America. Homestead uses Mapquest, otherwise a decent service, but has for some reason opted to limit addresses to the US and Canada only. If your business is anywhere else in the world, you will have to copy-paste HTML code to embed a map into your site.

Homestead’s blogging platform is another weak spot of the product. Entering a blog is cumbersome, and blog posts can only be viewed after they have been published. If your users want to enter a comment, the “leave a comment” link opens a separate window.

Lastly, we signed up for the Business Plus package because of the email newsletter options. For this, Homestead uses the Intuit Email Marketing tool.

With Intuit Email Marketing, we can create and manage mailing lists. It also lets us create an opt-in form that can be easily embedded in our website. The integration with Homestead exists only at the level of a combined monthly fee and shared login though, as you’ll see in the video.

Final words
During the process of writing and recording this review, we’ve had repeated problems where Homestead’s SiteBuilder software did not load the pages of our site and we were unable to make any edits. Customer support first had us remove cookies and the cache of our browser. When that did not help, we were told “usually SiteBuilder will open the pages of the template initially but not always.”

When we decided to cancel the service before the end of the trial period, Homestead told us we had to do so by phone, during office hours (Pacific Time), and gave us a long list of details we would need to have at hand. Oh, and the international call was not toll-free.

Homestead offers a no-frills, point-and-click, sitebuilder that, admittedly is very easy to use.

Customisation is done on an item-by-item basis, making it hard to create a consistent look across many pages.

Homestead is not for designers or serious bloggers. But if you are a North-American business owner, looking to set up your very first website ever and all you need is a handful of pages with static content, a few photos and a video, Homestead might be for you.

To sign up for your free Homestead trial, click here.

If you use or have used Homestead, we would like to hear your experience in the comments below.

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