Website builders bring web design to the masses, as they let you create attractive pages without coding knowledge. This ease-of-use functionality frequently means a lack in flexibility; you can only change a design so much, with limitations in the form of content and placement. The Canada-based PageCloud wants to open that space up a bit, with far more design leeway than the competition. Unfortunately, while it nails the landing on that point, PageCloud lacks features, including image editing and robust analytics, that you’ll find in Editors’ Choice picks like Duda, Gator, and Wix.
Pricing and Starting Up
With so many site builders to choose from, price is an important differentiator for website builders. PageCloud isn’t especially competitive on price, charging $24 month-to-month ($20 per month with annual billing) for its starting Business plan. That compares with $4.49 per month for Gator, $19 per month for Duda, and $14 per month for Wix. In its favor, PageCloud’s base plan includes a custom domain name for the first year of service, unlimited pages and storage, support and three builder users. There’s no free plan, but you can try the service free for 14 days for the price of an email address.
There’s also a Pro plan for a hefty $65 per month ($50 per month billed annually) that’s meant for larger teams and creative professionals. It lets you build five sites, with two team members per site (plus yourself) for a total of eleven members, and offers priority support. As a Pro, you can join PageCloud’s Pro directory to find clients who need websites designed for them, and participate in revenue sharing if they become PageCloud members.
After signing up, a three-step wizard asks whether you’re building your site for yourself or a client, what the purpose of the site is (portfolio, selling, promotion, or blogging), and your type of business. You can skip these steps if you prefer and get right down to site design.
Web Design With PageCloud
As with pretty much every DIY site builder, you start your PageCloud site from a template. These are categorized into 13 groups (such as Art & Design, Business, and Restaurant), for a total of 38 templates. All of them are modern and good-looking, leaning more toward clean designs rather than clutter. For our test site, we chose the Nuvo template, a minimalist design in white, black, and orange. Then you choose a name for your site and you’re taken to the editor. A brief tutorial shows you where the basic features of the site builder live, and then it’s off to the races. The builder next shows you what pages are included in the site, letting you add or remove to taste. We like that it includes a custom 404 page to handle incorrect URLs on your domain.
The top bar section takes you back to your dashboard, shows which site page you’re on, lets you switch between desktop and mobile editors, undo or redo your choices, and save your work. The design interface uses the familiar left-rail toolbar, which nicely hides and expands when you place the mouse over it. The left bar houses icons for several categories of site elements: Sections, Shapes, Images, Text, Videos, Buttons, Forms, Icons, Site Menu, Apps, and Ecommerce.
You click a page to start customizing it. When you add elements to a page, you get helpful guidelines for aligning them with existing elements. There are no spacer elements, but an arrow handle lets you move elements up and down, and you can add as many shapes, text boxes, and side-by-side images as you want. If you place an item with part of it outside the page width, its box turns red with a warning. Clicking on an element will bring up a contextual menu to change the layout, content alignment, padding, width, and more. Most importantly, you can set content layout to Auto, where the builder will try to move elements to the layout alignment you’ve set for the section, or Manual, where you can drag elements anywhere in a section. We appreciate that you get to control exactly where elements are placed on a page—some strictly responsive-design site builders don’t allow any latitude in object placement.
PageCloud offers lots of social button style choices—round, square, rounded square, colorful, or monochrome, There’s also a good selection of forms you can drag onto your site pages, including newsletter, signup, estimate, survey, reservation, job posting, and RSVP. The Apps section offers a moderate selection of third-party integrations, including YouTube, Twitter, Google Maps, PayPal, and Spotify, but nowhere near what you can get using Duda or Wix.
Working With Multiple Pages
For adding multiple pages to your site, you have the option to duplicate existing pages, add a number of theme-specific pages, or add a blank page. For our specific template, the only choices were Home, Contact, Project, and Services. Oddly enough, when you add a blank pages, you’re allowed to start customizing sections from scratch, or draw from any template in PageCloud’s roster. If you like the portfolio from another template, you can add that to another page on your site. Once again, PageCloud’s flexibility impresses. Other builders, such as Duda, have page presets for Our Team, Gallery, News, FAQ, and more. You don’t control navigation on the Pages menu, but in the separate Navigation Menu panel. Here you can move menu options, edit their text, and create submenus.
Working With Images and Video
A neat trick of PageCloud is that you can drag images from a PC folder right onto your site design. When we did this, the image took up the full width of the page, but you can resize it to taste. You can also simply upload photos the standard way, in which case they’re available for reuse in the Site Images section of the Images panel. The service offers a decent selection of stock photos, and even lets you buy Shutterstock images from within the builder. You can search for just the right image, as well.
An option called Image Mode offers choices of Crop to Fit or Shrink to Fit, and Parallax Effect, but the latter really just makes the image still as you scroll the page.
PageCloud offers basic image editing, meaning cropping, filters, color tint, and changes to opacity. What you’re missing are better options for adjusting brightness, saturation, and other image feature. You should probably use real photo editing software before placing any critically important image on your site, but some simple lighting and color tools would be a real help for quick-and-dirty design and on-the-fly updates. Besides, if you wanted to do it all yourself from scratch, you’d be signing up for a web hosting service, not a website builder. PageCloud does at least let you add add ALT text for SEO purposes and use the above-mentioned zoom effect.
The Video menu choice just offers seven stock videos, and you can’t upload your own media and have PageCloud save it from there. You can, however, drag and drop an MP4 file onto a page to create a player. You’re better off heading to the Apps menu and choosing Vimeo or YouTube and entering a URL of a video you uploaded to one of those services.
Making Money From Your Site
The simplest way to make some cash in PageCloud is not to go through the whole process of creating a web store, but rather to add a PayPal or Shopify button to a page. These are found in the Apps section of the left menu bar, under Ecommerce. You’ll need to grab the widget code for your payment account and paste it in before you can add a button. Some site builders make this even easier, just asking for your PayPal account email. The easiest way is to go to PayPal’s Create Payment Button page.
PageCloud doesn’t offer a full e-commerce store the way Gator or Wix do, but instead lets you integrate a Shopify account. You can add an Ecwid Mini Cart or a Gumroad widget as well. There is, however, no built-in way to handle shipping, tax, promotions, and so on. That said, there is a third-party extension for Mailchimp campaign signups.
As mentioned, there’s no prefab Blog page type you can add to your site through the Pages menu. You only recourse is a still-in-beta blogging option accessible from the Dashboard. From there you can import a preexisting WordPress blog or start from scratch. The blog editor is rudimentary, letting you enter text and add photos and videos using a Vimeo or YouTube link.
You can only format text after you write it and select it, in what the site calls a “focused blog editor.” We like that you can schedule posts by date and time, and that you can add tags. However, there’s no commenting feature, and you don’t have the full panoply of page items you do with a regular page. That’s not so bad, though; we prefer a dedicated blogging interface to simply reusing the page editor.
Publishing Your Site
Only after you pay for your account can you publish a site to the live web, even during the trial period, which makes it a little hard to see exactly what your visitors will see. That said, the builder offers Save, Preview, and Publish options during site editing. That’s better than some builders that automatically make everything you do live. This part of the screen also offers Undo, which works on most edits before you save. There’s no site history to take your site back to a previous state, however, and there’s no portability in case you want to move your site to another web hosting service.
A nice touch is that you can schedule any page to publish on a particular date and time. Another is that you can designate two more editors to work on your sites. It’s also worth noting that while your plan allows a maximum number of published sites, you can have unlimited draft sites in your account to play around with.
Powerful Mobile Site Builder
PageCloud creates a mobile version of your site automatically, but it also lets you create a customized experience for smartphones. In fact, it has one of the most powerful mobile site builder tools around. To use it, you simply head to the top of the builder page, click the screen icon, which opens the Mobile Layout sidebar. This holds a single switch to enable the mobile layout builder, which turns on a new mobile phone icon at the top of the builder page that lets you switch easily between desktop site editing and mobile view editing.
There’s a risk to PageCloud’s permissive site design: Objects you place in spots other than where the template items were will often fall off the mobile view. You can, however, resize and position elements for mobile consumption. We like that a Show/Hide icon in the Edit panel’s Arrange page lets you turn off an object just for the mobile site while leaving it live for the desktop view. If you don’t like what you did while editing for mobile, you can reset to the PageCloud default mobile layout.
Stats and SEO
PageCloud doesn’t include any preprogrammed traffic or analytics tools. You have to set up your own accounts with Facebook Pixel, Google Analytics, or Twitter Pixel. That’s not unusual, but we prefer site builders that can handle traffic tracking for you, such as Weebly. PageCloud’s SEO Settings page simply offers an on-off switch to include your site in web search engines, and some information on best practices for page titles, tags, and URL structure. It also notes that your pages are optimized for speed and image load times.
A chat tool in the lower-right corner of any PageCloud page offers direct chat with support specialists who address you by your name. When we typed a question about store setup at 4:30 p.m. ET, we received a message saying “PageCloud will be back tomorrow.” The stated support hours are Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST; nevertheless, an answer arrived shortly later explaining the whole set of e-commerce offerings (and lack of them). The on-site chat reps were knowledgeable and accommodating.
Website uptime is one of the most important aspects of a hosting service. If your site is down, clients or customers will be unable to find you or access your products or services.
We used a website-monitoring tool to track our PageCloud-hosted test site’s uptime over a 14-day period. Every 15 minutes, the tool pings our website and fires off an email if it is unable to contact the site for at least 1 minute. The testing data reveals that PageCloud is incredibly stable; in fact, it didn’t go down once in the two-week testing period.
Lots of Design Control, But Missing Features
PageCloud is trying to do something that hasn’t been done before because it’s, well, difficult to accomplish: Combine responsive site design with freedom of page layout and item placement. If you miss desktop applications like Adobe Muse, which let you place and size site objects exactly the way you want them, but you still want a responsive mobile site, PageCloud could be for you. It’s a modern, true WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop site builder with good mobile site customization. But it’s sparse on e-commerce, blogging features, and stats. Our Editors’ Choice picks Duda, Gator, and Wix are more mature and full-featured in all these areas.
For more on getting started building your site, read our primer, How to Build a Website. 10 Easy But Powerful SEO Tips to Boost Traffic to Your Website has important, site-enhancing suggestions, too.
— to in.pcmag.com