Every few months, we feature different websites created using a DIY site builder so that our readers can learn from the experience of others. Recently, we’ve featured two Weebly websites: BenTristem, a compelling business website, and Benk, an artist’s portfolio.
Today, we’d like to share a Webs-powered website that is owned by Strange Bedfellows Theatre. Several weeks ago, Michael Sacco-Gibson, the marketing and outreach manager at the Theatre, left a detailed comment about Webs on our website, so we decided to reach him out to hear more about his experiences with this website builder. Thankfully, Michael was willing to participate 🙂 .
SWB: Hello Michael, please tell us a bit about yourself and Strange Bedfellows Theatre.
Michael: Hi there! I am a multi-channel marketing professional with a background in consulting with creatives and small businesses. By day, I’m a department manager with a passion for strategy, business development, arts and technology from the legal, sales, healthcare, and property management industries. I pride myself on being a man of many hats.
For the theatre, well, I’m going to cheat a bit and simply cite the theatre’s mission to answer that! Strange Bedfellows Theatre is dedicated to finding unlikely companions to theatre and art, while focusing on engaging audiences in experiential storytelling. Simply put, that means that we explore other artistic and external partnerships to strengthen the core message and lasting impressions of our shows. For instance, on our current production of Badfic Love (by Adam Pasen) we have custom beers by Dark Sage Brewing, a graphic novel adaptation of the play, and live music before each performance. It’s all about creating a more compelling atmosphere for our audiences.
SWB: What is your experience in the field of web design and development?
Michael: I started building super simple sites for friends back in middle school. Is it embarrassing to say that I used to get paid by friends to re-code their MySpace profiles? I eventually shifted to creating small pages for friends and family in straight HTML, nothing fancy. Once I began to learn more about code, I discovered Dreamweaver and used that for a time to build portfolio sites for my more artistically leaning friends. Over time, as I developed my skills, I became familiar with php, perl, and css.
Once CMS options began to open up, I used probably a dozen of them, eventually settling on Webs for the theatre, though I do quite a bit of WordPress work as well, and have worked with some Drupal and Joomla sites in the past, and I’m currently building quite a bit of experience with Adobe Experience Manager. I have the most experience with WordPress and Webs, though.
SWB: How did you learn about Webs? What was your first experience with the builder like?
Michael: I found Webs while searching for a CMS for Bedfellows. The cost for hosting and the domain registry were low enough at the basic level that we decided to put the new site up there.
My first impressions of the builder were mixed. On the one hand, I really liked that I would be able to construct the site quickly and easily, and knew that if for some reason if someone besides me had to adjust something, it would be clear enough for them to handle. On the other hand, the grid system was finicky and the lack of templates, even at the higher subscription levels, really boxed us in creatively.
Speaking of premium levels, Webs is obscenely expensive for the services it provides. Over the last few years, we’ve expanded our subscriptions since we haven’t had the time/opportunity to explore moving the site, and we are spending quite a bit on Webs as a result.
SWB: Did you try any other DIY website builders? If yes, what was your impression of them?
Wix had a super friendly UI and the layouts were varied, and their subscription costs are relatively low. If you were to subscribe at Wix’s VIP level, you would still be spending less than what Bedfellows spends yearly after Webs is done nickle and diming us on their add-on services.
Weebly was probably the easiest system I’ve used, but I have to say the part that stuck out in my mind for them is their multimedia support, which I haven’t seen executed better on any of the other DIY sites I’ve used.
Moonfruit was a mess when I used it, but from what I understand they’ve come into their own and even offer HTML 5 support. I might try them again soon.
Squarespace was quick, efficient, and easy, but the lack of good UI/UX and design made me walk away from them pretty quickly.
SWB: What were the biggest issues you faced when creating your site using Webs?
Michael: The one most readily available in my mind actually has to do with the backend and email services. We have several URLs that redirect to our main domain, and they’re all registered through Webs for convenience. Domains, understandably, are set to auto-renew but have a toggle next to them that you can click to turn the service off. However, for whatever reason, if you click this toggle, the “primary” selector shifts to THAT domain, which in turn removes any email addresses you might have set up on your previous “primary domain.”
Last week, we discovered that the hard way and have lost all of our emails as a result. Why in the world would that be how the system is laid out? Also, it doesn’t tell you that has occurred. You click “renew off” and there’s nothing alerting you that the primary domain has changed except a small bullet box to the left side of the page.
Less than a week before our production of Badfic Love opened, I was having to figure out why all of our traffic was coming through one of our secondary domains and stumbled on the problem. Very frustrating!
SWB: If you could change anything about Webs what would it be and why?
Michael: The back end. The builder is generally fine, though not without problems (they could really benefit from finding a way to maintain formatting across text boxes!) but the admin facing pages are really the part that struggles the most. It really needs to offer some more in-depth options for those who want them, and also needs to be more transparent with their services. What does the SEO subscription do exactly? Why can’t I set up email address masking? How can I make sure that when I change a redirect domain, I don’t lose everything in my email accounts? Where in the world is carmen sandiego? Wait…that last part maybe wasn’t for Webs.
If I can continue for just a moment: Mobile. The Webs mobile system is just…astoundingly bad. If you look at the Bedfellows mobile site, please understand we ONLY have that up because without it, search engines lable the site as non-mobile friendly. There is nothing redeeming about that layout. And we can’t change it. With how important second and third screens are, and with many people moving to mobile-only browsing in their free time, mobile is so very important I’m blown away that this doesn’t get more attention from the Webs team.
SWB: What do you consider the most underappreciated feature of Webs?
Michael: Their flexibility. You can set up photo galleries, forums, custom on-site social media pages, link to all external social media, video hosting, and even eCommerce pages! If you have a website that needs to be built quickly and with any combination of these features, they’ll work for you.
They really set themselves apart from most of the other DIY builders by providing easy access to lots of higher-complexity features.
SWB: Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us! Do you have any closing remarks?
Michael: While I think there are several places Webs fails (mobile and admin UI among them) I have to say that for a beginner or someone who needs a site up quickly, they’re very competitive. I would HEAVILY advise against continuing to use them long term, as the costs will stack up pretty quickly. If you’re considering Webs, and need the site to be a long-term investment, I would certainly recommend investing in a designer/coder to build you a wordpress, joomla, or drupal site and go to a hosting service like iPage to put it up. The up front costs are a little higher, but it will be worth it.
I’m not ashamed to say that while we’ve had Webs as our provider for several years, that’s been mostly out of laziness on my part, and that’s changing soon.