Site123 May Be Easy, but Is It Any Good?
ABC, easy as 123…are simple as do re mi. ABC, 123…
Every time I open up Site123, that old Jackson 5 tune bounces around my head like little dancing fireworks. Whether having 70s pop endlessly looping through my mind is a good thing is up for debate, but the real question is whether this simple website builder can do enough to make me sing its praises.
I got to work testing Site123 to bring you answers. In this detailed review, I’ll show you what Site123 offers in terms of templates, customizations, and more. I’ll also expose the MAJOR differences between Site123’s free and paid plans (little spoiler alert here: unlike Wix’s free plan, which lets you do pretty much anything with your website design, Site123 will give you lots of reasons to upgrade right away.)
In my colleague’s comparison of the best website builders on the market, Site123 came up in one of the top places. So does it strike the ideal balance – easy yet powerful? Is it really “by far the easiest free website builder?” And if so, does the ease of use come at the cost of lacking functionality? Read on to find out!
Attractive, Mobile-Responsive Templates
Site123 offers more than 180 website templates. You can scroll through the main Templates page until you find one you like, or you can click on one of ten recommended template categories, such as Business, Blog, Event, Restaurant, or Online Store.
As you browse the templates, you’ll see mock-ups of how each template looks on both computer screens and handheld devices. By clicking on any template, you can preview a working version of it in both formats.
I’m happy to report that all Site123 templates are free to use, but there’s a significant catch. The free plan allows you to use templates only in their most basic form. What you see on the Templates page is pretty much what you’ll get, with only limited changes allowed to fonts, colors, and other design elements.
To unlock the most interesting customization options and add-on features, you have to upgrade to a paid plan. That’s frustrating, but all in all, this pricing system seems pretty fair to me.
Here’s a major plus: All of the templates are mobile-responsive, so you won’t have to do extra work to make your website look good on smartphones or tablets.
A Few Notable Limitations to Site123 Templates
Sounds good so far, right? Lots of templates, all free, all mobile-responsive. Wouldn’t it be nice if the story ended right there? Sadly, there are two noteworthy drawbacks to Site123 templates:
- The best customizations require payment. I’ve said it before, but I feel it’s one of Site123’s major drawbacks: You can only unlock the full range of editing options for your template by purchasing a paid Site123 subscription. Even fairly small changes, like accessing the full font library or custom color schemes, require an upgrade.
- The templates look very similar. Most of the 180+ templates share a very similar base design, with large hero images, centered headlines, and parallax scrolling by default. You can, of course, make changes to individual components (especially if you upgrade), but it’s pretty hard to revamp the overall look. So if you don’t like the aesthetics of the first 25 templates you scroll through, then there’s a good chance that Site123 isn’t for you.
Further restricting your design options, you can’t buy Site123-compatible templates anywhere else. You also can’t access a template’s source code (like you could with WordPress.com, for example). So although there is a decent number of customization options available, you can never truly alter or expand the template itself. If you’re a beginner, this probably won’t bother you.
Bottom line: A large selection of free-to-use templates is great, but you’ll be locked into what Site123’s templates offer, with little creative freedom to make your website your own. Depending on your website needs (and budget), these limitations may or may not matter to you.
Robust Features, If You’ve Got the Cash
Templates are the foundation of any website builder, but the customization features are where things get really interesting. Here’s a closer look at some Site123 features that I find especially useful for growing a business.
All the Essential E-commerce Features
Site123 offers easy and fairly robust e-commerce tools. Most of these features are reserved for the two highest subscriptions, called Professional and Gold. But if you’re looking to open an online store, the investment might be worth making. With these two plans, you can:
- Accept online payments through Stripe, PayPal, Square, AmazonPay, and more
- Display an unlimited number of products
- Process an unlimited number of orders per month
- Send up to 10,000 marketing list emails per month
- Gather/display customer ratings and reviews for products
- Allow customers to create personal wish lists, saved to their accounts
Site123 does not take any sales commission, so the only sales-related added cost you’ll be dealing with is the transaction fee from your chosen payment processor. (This is standard across all e-commerce platforms; transaction fees usually hover somewhere around 3%.)
Speaking of transactions, you might be wondering, just how secure is Site123? Good news here – even free users get SSL/HTTPS encryption, so your customers won’t have to wonder whether their information is protected.
It’s also worth noting that you can actually add an e-commerce website page even with the free plan. You just won’t be able to accept online payments or use your own domain. So the Site123 free plan definitely isn’t the best option for an online store, unless your customers love making offline bank transfers to a random Site123 domain. (In which case, I have some follow-up questions about who is buying your stuff. Just saying.)
Apps and Plugins for SEO, Live Chat, and More
With either of the top two subscriptions, you’ll have full access to Site123’s library of plugins and App Market. However, not all of these tools will be included in your plan. You’ll have to pay extra for some of them, even if you’re a Gold subscriber.
Available plugins allow for seamless integration with some of the biggest names out there, including:
- Google Analytics for SEO
- Hotjar for UX and conversion optimization
- Drip for multichannel marketing
- Zendesk and Facebook Chat for customer support
In addition, the Site123 App Market offers tools for form building, pricing tables, online bookings, and more.
While these apps and plugins add a lot of functionality to your Site123 e-commerce shop, they still aren’t as robust as the features offered by specialists in e-commerce. If you’re running a medium-to-large business, you’ll probably want the more powerful built-in tools provided by BigCommerce or Shopify for shipping, invoice management, inventory tracking, customer relationship management (CRM), etc.
You Can Display Your Website in Multiple Languages
In addition to using the Site123 website builder itself in 21 different languages, you can set up your website to display in up to five languages (out of hundreds available). It probably won’t surprise you at this point to learn that in order to get this multilingual option, you need a paid subscription. The higher your subscription level, the more languages you can use.
Bottom line: Site123’s features are versatile enough for many personal and business users, although you get the most functionality by paying the highest price. Keep in mind that just like with the templates, you’ll be limited to what Site123 offers. You can’t purchase/integrate any third-party plugins or apps.
Ease of use
It’s Not Drag and Drop, but It’s Definitely Easy
Site123’s simplified editing bar absolutely does make it easy to edit your website’s content, navigation, and general design (within the confines of your template). However, since Site123 does not have a drag-and-drop interface like Wix, you can’t freely place elements anywhere on your page. At every stage of the design process, Site123 focuses on quick building, not total creative freedom.
Website Edits Are Hassle-Free (Within Limits)
All of Site123’s editing options are listed in a bar at the left-hand side of the screen. Just click on any category, like Pages, to see all of the customization options available.
From the editing bar, you can easily:
- Add, edit, or delete site pages
- Upload photos and videos
- Add new content blocks to any page, like FAQs, galleries, or testimonials
- Add an e-commerce block for products
- Change your site from single-page to multi-page
- Change fonts and colors
- Add call-to-action buttons
Most of these changes are super simple to make with a few clicks. But again, with that simplicity come some key limitations.
First, as I’ve mentioned a few times now, you can only change the elements that are included in your subscription plan. Free users have very limited font choices, for example, while Basic paid plan users can’t add plugins or apps.
That said, depending on what you need from your website, you may not actually care about plugins or apps. You can build a perfectly functional and attractive website on Site123 using only the free pages. These include useful sections like contact forms, image galleries, blog pages, and even appointment booking – which are paid add-ons with many other site builders. The apps and plugins simply add more power and pizzazz, along with advanced business features like website analytics and marketing.
The small crown icon tells you which actions or edits require a paid upgrade:
Probably the biggest bummer is that you can’t really switch to a different website template once you’ve started. If you do, you’ll lose all your edits.
This issue becomes even more of a headache if you’ve already purchased a paid plan. Sure, you could create an entirely new website for free (to start fresh with a brand-new template), which would enable you to copy and paste over your content. But you will not be able to transfer this new site to your existing paid plan. So you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: either change templates and lose your edits, or start a new website with a different template and then get stuck having to purchase another paid plan.
The bottom line: be very careful about choosing your template! You could waste some serious time and money if you realize that you need to change templates later on.
Need Help? You’ll Get a Guided Tour
Whenever you start work on a new site in Site123, you’ll get a quick “guided tour” of the editing bar. Each pop-up includes basic tips, as well as quick videos and Site123 tutorials to get you started.
There’s also a box in the lower corner of Site123 pages for live chat support. I’ll share my experiences with this and other support options in just a bit.
Manage Everything Through a User-Friendly Dashboard
Once you’ve created your website, you’ll manage its features through your account dashboard. Under the Activities panel, you’ll get a quick view of how your website is performing, including form submissions, sales, and mailing list signups. Any plugins or apps you install can be viewed and managed here, too.
Under the Settings button, you can reset your website to its last published version, which is helpful if you make edits that you decide not to keep. Just remember that resetting your site will permanently delete all of your recent changes – so be very careful about clicking Reset!
Connect an Existing Domain
The dashboard shown above is also where you’ll manage your domain:
- If you want to purchase a new domain through Site123, you can check its availability and purchase it here. You’ll also get a voucher for one free year of domain registration with any paid plan.
- If you already own the domain that you want to use, you can connect it to your new website by purchasing any of the four paid subscriptions. (Custom domains are not available on the free plan. You’ll be stuck with a URL that includes me.)
Connecting your existing domain is easy, and Site123 even has specific tutorials for connecting domains from other providers like GoDaddy.
So… How Easy Is It?
So yes, I’d say that Site123 solidly lives up to its promise of easy site building overall. Is it really the absolute easiest website builder of all time, ever in the whole world? With the massive number of website builders out there, I’m going to say maybe not. But its features do provide a great balance of ease and functionality. You definitely don’t need any experience to build a business website or even an e-commerce store on Site123.
Support Is Refreshingly Fast and Helpful
I’ve reviewed a lot of website builders and other services, and I almost can’t believe I’m saying this: I have no complaints about Site123’s customer support. None, zero, zilch. The only downside I could possibly name is that phone support is not offered. Everything is done by email or live chat.
Normally, I definitely would count a lack of phone support as a negative, in spite of my personal dislike of the telephone. (Truth: I’ve never quite outgrown my childhood fear of talking to strangers on the phone.) But in this case, it’s really not a problem, because Site123’s live chat is awesome. Seriously.
24/7 Live Chat
Live chat support is available in English 24/7, and in 16 other languages at various times:
That’s a pretty impressive variety, at least for European languages. And there’s a box for live chat on every page of the site, so you’ll never have to go far to find help.
I’ve used the live chat feature on four separate occasions, and I’ve never waited more than 30 seconds for an answer. The support agents are polite, helpful, and clear, and they give enough information to really answer my questions. They never left me feeling like they’re only interested in upselling me.
Another helpful feature: You can download transcripts of your live chat conversations, in case you want a reminder of the answers later.
You Can Send an Email, Too
I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t, but if you don’t like live chat, you can always send an email with questions to email@example.com. I sent a message asking about the live chat language options, and received an initial response within about 12 hours. Getting a full answer, including the hours of availability for each language, required some back-and-forth over a couple of days. Still, I was very satisfied in the end.
Bonus: Support Center and Relevant FAQs
Another reason I rate Site123’s customer support so highly is the detailed, helpful Support Center. There are hundreds of Q&As divided into 20+ categories, with both written answers and links to Site123 tutorials on YouTube. The answers are clear and direct, so you won’t have to deal with the frustration of thinking you’ve found what you need, only to discover that the answer is so vague it doesn’t get you anywhere.
There are also great FAQ blocks at the end of almost every page. And amazingly, the FAQs are not just copy-pasted across the site; they actually relate to each individual page. I took the screenshot below on the Templates page, and you can see that every question is indeed about templates.
Having FAQs that are actually relevant to the page you’re on might sound elementary, but I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen FAQs used as page filler rather than actual support. Site123 just does an outstanding job at turning FAQs into the useful tools they’re supposed to be.
Pricing Is Simple: Pay More, Get More
Amazing customer support aside, you ultimately need to know whether Site123 is worth its price. So exactly how much does Site123 cost?
Site123 has four paid subscription plans, each of which is available in four payment periods: you can either pay every three months, or every one, two or three years. The longer you subscribe for, the cheaper your monthly rate will be. Of course, since both business and technology change rapidly, it’s hard to be certain that the plan that works for you today will still make sense in three years.
The free plan gives you the bare minimum required to build and publish a new website: access to Site123 templates, basic customization, 500MB of storage, and 1GB of bandwidth. You’ll be stuck with a Site123 domain and ads on your site, and you won’t be able to access the best customization features (like custom color palettes, plugins, apps, cool fonts, etc.).
Upgrading to a higher Site123 plan means getting:
- More storage
- More bandwidth
- Custom domain
- Option to display your site in more languages
- More marketing emails per month
- More custom email addresses
- Access to plugins and apps
- More e-commerce features (like credit card payments, customer wish lists, etc.)
As long as you like the platform overall, then the Site123 cost for a paid plan is very likely worth it. By upgrading just to the Basic plan, you’ll not only get a much more professional-looking site (without the Site123 branding or domain). You’ll also get 10GB of storage (which is over three times more storage than Wix offers on comparably priced plans).
Site123’s e-commerce plans are also comparable to Wix’s, offering similar functionality in terms of product pages, online payments, email marketing, Google analytics, and advanced business plugins. For roughly the same price, Site 123’s plans include as much as five times more storage, along with multilingual display capabilities.
You can pay for any Site123 plan by PayPal or credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover).
But again, upgrading only makes sense if you really like the Site123 platform, and the lack of design freedom doesn’t bother you. That’s why I recommend starting with Site123’s free version. Build a basic website with it and see if you like how it looks and performs. If you’re happy with the balance of simplicity and features, you can easily upgrade to a different plan from your account dashboard.
Cancellations and Refunds
Site123 offers a 14-day money-back guarantee on all paid plans. However, the cancellation process is not automated, so it’s not as easy as clicking Cancel and waiting for your money to arrive.
Instead, you have to request to cancel by filling out an online form. You’ll need to share your contact information, select a reason, and write in some more details below that. Then you’ll have to wait to hear from a Site123 representative.
It can take up to 72 hours for a representative to get back to you. To avoid any problems with timing (i.e., going past the 14-day mark), fill out this form as soon as you realize you want to cancel, and grab a screenshot to document the date and time when you submitted your request.
Heads Up: How to Delete Site123 Accounts (This Part Is Not Easy)
Another thing I’ve found that you can’t do from your Site123 dashboard is cancel your account entirely. If you’re wondering how to delete your Site123 account and vanish from the platform, the answer is…you can’t do it without help. You have to request account deletion by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Easy website builder but free version has minimal space
Site123 is a very easy website builder to use and offers a range of customization tools. For me, as a blogger with no HTML skills whatsoever, it was a good choice. The navigation bars were easy to use and I had minimal issues.One thing I will say is that if you are planning to grow your blog and your audience, the free plan is very limiting. I found myself very quickly running out of space and bandwidth due to multi-media features and an increase in traffic. If you are going to update your website and grow your audience, I suggest going with a paid plan. Site123 does make it easy to upgrade, so that was good. Also, upgrading gets rid of the annoying Site123 ads, which was a nice bonus.
Modern-looking website, but restricted design
I feel that my final product looks good overall. However, the page templates tie your hands and make it impossible to do some customization that my site really needs. One example is that If I want to use a template page that has 4 pre-built boxes with pics, but I only need 3, it doesn't let me move the boxes around on the page to center the content. Or, if I decide to remove a box of pre-built content, I cannot re-center or move the items as I choose. It is very frustrating. Sometimes, I must completely re-do a page using a different page template to make it look better if I need to remove content. Also, I would love to put information below each video so that the users know what each video is about. But the only way a user will know the content of the video is to hover the mouse over top of each video until a brief description is displayed. It would be so much easier to be able to show this info below each video, so that a user can quickly assess which video to watch. I also found glitches on at least one of the gallery photo templates. I brought it to the attention of the IT team, and even created a powerpoint presentation showing exactly what the problem was. Using e-mail, I sent the PP presentation to the IT team, and I was told that they were working on it. However, it was never resolved over the 30 days that I put my website project on hold, and I HAD to move on without a resolution. I almost completely trashed the website building project out of frustration and the creative restrictions, but I was too far in to quit. So, I just launched it without really getting what I needed. I am still looking at other website builders, but for now, this one will have to work.