by Jonathan Garro
Published on 18 September 2013
In the information age, having a website for your business is essential, regardless of the industry you operate in or the size of your company. Professionally constructed websites offer credibility and give current and potential customers a number of important resources that they need. However, learning how to code your own custom site is impractical for most people, and hiring a design firm to do the work for you can be prohibitively expensive.
In this Homestead review, we will examine this impressive sitebuiler that allows you to build and host professional-quality web pages for your company without having to learn any complicated design skills.
Once you sign up for a Homestead account, you will be guided through several steps to get your site up and running quickly. The first decision that you will need to make is regarding the domain. Homestead offers a free domain with their business monthly packages, and you can either bring one you already own through a registrar or get a new one. Securing a new domain can be done directly within Homestead, and you have as much flexibility as you would with the most popular registrars. If you choose to bring your own, you are presented with instructions for pointing the domain to Homestead's servers.
Once you have the domain question squared away, you are ready to start designing your business' website.
Rather than have to create graphics and original photographs from scratch, Homestead offers thousands of templates that bring a solid framework for you to build upon. These templates are organized by category, so you can easily find a theme that best matches your company's needs.
The SiteBuilder offers an incredible level of customization, allowing you to control everything from the images to the background color. Most changes that you make can be done with dragging and dropping. The interface is, in general, very intuitive and simply clicking on an element allows you to make changes. You do not have to deal with complicated file paths for the media you choose, although you are given total control over how images are displayed. Your subscription also offers free access to a huge 250,000 images library of stock photography. That level of control extends to every piece of text as well. Choose from dozens of fonts and styles, and easily create links to other parts of your site.
Clean, modern websites use more than just text and images, and Homestead offers integration with a number of professional site tools. You can embed YouTube videos to display your products or services, and you can insert widgets to help visitors share your site on popular social networks. Other available elements include user polls, guestbooks, and custom maps.
Every action you take can be undone, and you can jump back and forth between your actions with arrow buttons at the top of the SiteBuilder window. When you are ready to see what the site looks like without the controls, the preview function displays exactly as visitors will see. When you are ready for everything to go live, hitting the publish button saves your work and the site is ready for your audience.
With your subscription, you also get access to email accounts that use your company's domain. As I tested Homestead, I found the email server to work quickly and reliably, and setting it up with my desktop email client was simple.
There are various tutorials and videos that are offered to help you learn how to use the many features of Homestead. Video walkthroughs are comprehensive and easy to follow, and the community forum contains great guides submitted by other users and Homestead's staff.
A host of add-ons are available, from promotion tools to optimize search engine results professional design services. If you have a product that you would like to sell from the site, you can choose from a few different solutions. Homestead's SimpleStore feature lets you sell up to a 100 different products by integrating payment processing. For larger volume sellers, the Homestead Storefront is a more appealing upgrade, as it offers inventory management tools, integration with popular accounting software like Quickbooks, and selling services like eBay.
There are three basic packages to choose from: Starter, Business, and Business Plus. The packages are monthly subscriptions, costing $4.99, $19.99, and $59.99, respectively. There are dozens of features that each package offers, but notable upgrades center around storage space, bandwidth, number of pages and email accounts that can be created. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the Business Plus upgrade is the included design service that will produce a company logo.
Having a web presence is important, but cheap-looking websites that offer sparse information can negate the benefits. I found Homestead to be simple to use and was continually impressed at the deep customization options of every element. Having access to the SiteBuilder interface for as long as you keep your site hosted with Homestead means you can easily update pertinent information and make changes to the layout as you desire.
If you are looking to get your company onto the web but don't want to learn how to code, I can confidently recommend Homestead for its robust set of features and dead-simple interface.