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A website builder that builds a website for you? Won’t that be horribly expensive? With Hibu Smart Sites, the answer is “no.” Hibu is an affordable route to a professionally designed website that you can add to and edit yourself later. The build team incorporates a type of code called schema into your site, helping you to climb up search engine rankings. Yes, it’s more expensive than DIY website builders, but if you’re a busy online business owner, could the investment be worth it?
A New Way to Get Your Website Online
Hibu is a hybrid service, halfway between using a website builder like Wix and hiring professional web designers. You start the building process via a phone call with a Hibu onboarding specialist. Then, Hibu’s professional web designers will build your website for you, and give you access to a simple drag-and-drop editor. That means that once your site’s up and running, you can edit your website’s design and content yourself.
Can you really convey what you want for your website in a phone call? I decided to put Hibu’s service to test and see for myself what it’s like and if you can actually get a functioning website for your business this way, without compromising on design.
Ready to find out what Hibu is really like? Let’s jump straight in.
Is using Hibu Smart Sites really as simple as it sounds? I’ll admit, I was dubious. I’m used to website builders that give me complete control over the design process, and Hibu certainly isn’t one of those.
How Do You Start Working with Hibu?
To get started with Hibu, you simply connect with a Hibu representative, via phone or a contact form, to set up a no-obligation consultation to see whether Hibu Smart Sites is right for you. Once you decide to go ahead, the website building process begins with a phone call from your Hibu account manager (referred to as “onboarding” by Hibu staff).
The call will be scheduled at a convenient time for you. Calls are usually scheduled Monday through Friday during Hibu’s business hours, which are 8am-7pm EST.
How Long Does the Phone Call Last?
My onboarding call with Hibu lasted for around 45 minutes, so you should block out up to an hour of your time for the call.
What Kind of Preparation Do You Need to Do Before the Call?
Because there are so many questions to answer as part of the onboarding call, it does help to have information prepared in advance. These questions are all necessary, as the team uses the information you provide to create the best website for your needs. The questions include questions about my business, like:
The company name and contact details
What services does your business provide?
What category best fits your business?
Do you have an existing website?
What domain name do you want?
What are your business hours?
What sets your business apart from competitors?
When was your business founded?
Are you a member of any associations or societies?
Do you have any accreditations?
What payment methods do you accept?
Do you offer services in other languages?
Do you have a featured message for your business?
Any particular target audience that you work with?
And questions about what I wanted on my website, like:
What contact details do you want displayed on the website? This can include a phone number, email address, physical address (with a map, if appropriate), and social media profiles
What service pages do you want?
Do you want a blog page set up?
Do you want a pop-up box to offer a discount or promote a special offer?
Do you want a portfolio page for your website?
Do you have existing images or would you prefer stock images?
Do you have a layout preference for your website?
Do you have a particular brand color palette that you would like to be used?
How Much Can You Customize Your Website over the Phone?
Obviously, there are limits to what you can customize over the phone. This limited ability to personalize your site is one of the biggest disadvantages of the Hibu Smart Sites building process, as opposed to actual website builders, like Wix or Squarespace, that give you more control over the process. You do have a few options, however. You can choose the layout, the colors, the image style (even if you don’t have your own images, you can specify the type of stock images you want), and the pages on your site.
What Happens After the Phone Call?
After the phone call, you can sit back and relax while the Hibu team creates your website. Your account manager will set up a special sharing folder that you can use to upload any images, logos or other files that you want the team to use.
If you’ve asked Hibu to secure a new domain name for you, you’ll also have to watch out for an email about validating your new domain. It’s critical to click the link in the email to validate your domain. Hibu can’t make your site live until you’ve done this.
What Happens When You Get Your Website Preview?
The building process generally takes around three weeks. When your website is ready, you’ll be invited to view a preview. You’ll then have another call with your account manager to discuss any aspects of the website you don’t like, and what changes should be made.
I was pleased to receive my preview website in just under two weeks. However, the design wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned, so when I contacted my account manager, I had to request quite a lot of changes. That’s the issue with having a design consultation over the phone – it’s hard to get across what you really want your website to look like.
Expert Opinion of How Hibu Works
Waiting around two to three weeks to get the first version of your website can seem like forever. Or at least it does to me, since I’m used to building and publishing websites in a single day using website builders. However, three weeks is actually significantly less time than many expensive web design services will take to create a first draft of your site.
You should bear in mind that the estimated two to three weeks are just for the first version of your site. If you want to make changes (and you likely will, since it’s so hard to explain everything you want over the phone), that will add more time to the process. Yes, I received my first version in under two weeks, but it’s always wise to allow for the full time your account manager predicts during your onboarding call.
For instance, when I received my website preview, I was disappointed to find that the logo that I’d sent in hadn’t been added to the design. It’s not a big issue, and it was fixed during revisions. But given that Hibu Smart Sites costs way more than a do-it-yourself (DIY) builder, I expected to get what I’d asked for.
I also found the experience of describing what I wanted my website to look like over the phone quite frustrating. Personally, I’d have preferred an online chat or video chat setup, so that I could share links to websites I wanted my site to look like, and Hibu could show me layout options in real time. If you’re going to pay a lot of money for a website building service, you want to have control over how the finished product looks.
Nevertheless, when the revised preview arrived, about 4-5 days later, I was pleased to find that most of my requests had been fulfilled. The new preview looked much better than the original.
A Professionally Designed Website, Great – But What Else Does Hibu Offer?
Hibu uses Schema.org, which only 20% of websites online are currently using, putting your Hibu website ahead of most of the competition. It’s not a secret ingredient as such – an increasing number of traditional web designers are using it – but for now, it does set Hibu apart.
Using Schema to Improve Your Visibility
So why did I say it’s a big deal that Hibu Smart Sites use Schema? Schema is a programming language that enables search engines like Google and Bing to see much more information about your business. Without schema, Google only sees the most basic information about your business when it crawls your website. But with a Hibu schema-powered site, search engines see all the details, such as your services, hours, and accepted payment methods.
Schema also optimizes your website for voice search, so even Siri and Alexa are able to find the information users want. What all this means for you is that your website has the potential to rank above your competitors who aren’t taking advantage of schema. In a nutshell, schema makes your website more visible, and with Hibu, it’s built directly into your website code.
Mobile-Friendly Contact Menus to Help Drive Customers to Your Business
Your Hibu website includes a mobile-friendly “Engagement Menu”. Exactly which buttons appear in your engagement menu will depend on your business type. Hibu claims to use custom-designed menus, but when I asked my account manager how this works, I learned that Hibu actually uses broad categories (rather than specific industries) when choosing which predefined menu to use. The categories include e-commerce, service-based, local businesses with physical premises, and restaurants.
Basic E-commerce Tools Can Be a Let-Down
While your Hibu website can include a store, Hibu isn’t really designed for e-commerce. The e-commerce features are adequate, but you’re limited to a maximum of ten products.
More importantly, Hibu’s build service does not include setting up an online store. You will need to set one up yourself once your website has been built. It’s not a difficult process, but if you want a totally hands-off experience for your website creation and want to sell products online, Hibu isn’t for you.See full list of features
Ease of use
Simple Editor to Manage Your Website
Once your website has been professionally built and goes live, you can make changes, add blog posts, create new pages, and more from your Hibu dashboard.
Design-wise, the Hibu editor is very similar to the website editors included with popular site builders. All the editing tools you need are located in the menu on the left. For example, there are design tools for changing color schemes, tools for adding more pages, and options for adding widgets to your website.
It’s actually hard to distinguish between Hibu and other website builders once you’re in the editing phase. The only difference is that a professional did most of the building for you.
The Hibu editor allows you to easily add new content and widgets. Widgets are pre-designed elements that you can customize to your requirements, and they are really easy to manage within the editor interface.
Adding new content to your Hibu website – for example, a new page for a new service you’re launching – is fast and easy. You can use pre-built sections in order to maintain your website’s consistent, professional look. These sections are fully customizable just by clicking on them after you’ve added them.
You can access help at any time when you’re editing your Hibu website by using the tooltips, which explain the settings or options available with the various widgets. For some widgets, there’s also direct access to help articles, accessed by clicking the ? icon in the top right of the widget popup. Help articles will open in a pop-up window on the right of the editor.
Easy Editing Experience for Beginners
The editor is relatively simple, and you should have no problemupdating and customizing your website without your account manager’s help. It’s not the absolute easiest-to-use website builder/editor, but it is intuitive, offers help as you go along, and has a range of pre-built options to make the editing process quite straightforward after Hibu has built your site.
After my initial onboarding call, my account manager sent me his contact details via email, with a link to a sharing folder that I could use to upload any images or other content I wanted on my website.
With Hibu, you have a direct line to your account manager in addition to email. You can also call or email the general support team, but it’s usually best to get in touch with your account manager directly.
My account manager was generally quick to answer emails when I had questions about my website, and he was happy to accommodate my requests, too. However, there were occasions when it took a few attempts to chase him down via email for a response to a question. And although he answered some of my questions about pricing (below), there is still one that I haven’t gotten an answer to, over a week later.
Rather than having set plans, Hibu uses custom pricing – so you pay for what you need, instead of having to pay for with features you’ll never benefit from. This means, however, that you have to get in touch with Hibu just to find out exactly what you’ll be paying.
There’s a one-time fee to pay, which covers the building and launching of your Hibu Smart Sites website, plus monthly fees for your website to stay live. The price will depend on whether you choose a digital marketing package in addition to a website.
The cost of Hibu Smart Sites is higher than DIY website builders, but (generally) cheaper than working with a professional web designer. Of course, what you want to know is, is the service worth it?
Well, the answer to that question depends on your situation. If you do all or most of your business online, and you don’t have the time or confidence to build your own website, then Hibu is worth the cost.
Hibu Smart Sites is a novel concept in website builders, aimed at giving you the best of both worlds — a professionally created site that you can easily edit yourself. Once your website has been built, you can add more content using the website editor. You can even edit on the go from a mobile device. The responsive design of your website ensures that it will look great on all devices, too.
This hybrid model comes at a cost, though. Hibu Smart Sites is definitely a more expensive option than a DIY builder. However, if you’re a small business owner, you could really benefit from the way that Hibu uses schema to raise your online profile. And if you’re a beginner to website building, Hibu’s hands-off approach is a more affordable route to a beautiful website than hiring a web developer.
Ari is passionate about web hosting and design and has been building websites with WordPress for over ten years. When he’s not testing web hosts, you’re likely to find him trying (in vain) to train his three beagles (who are better at training him than he is them!)