Web Sites Without Tears

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted May 30, 2006

If you're a small business or independent professional searching for a relatively painless and inexpensive way to establish a Web presence, look no further than SiteKreator, a subscription-based service developed by NetClime Inc. SiteKreator offers impressively easy-to-use online tools for creating Web sites from templates and also hosts your pages. SK Business Edition starts at $95 a year with 200MB of hosting capacity.

The intriguing thing about SiteKreator is that it lets you do more than build stripped-down, basic sites. You can add advanced Web 2.0 services for online collaboration and information sharing, including blogs, discussion forums and file areas where you post documents for visitors to download. You can also add online forms to capture information from and about visitors, including registration forms that they fill out to get password access to additional content.

SiteKreator provides hooks for integrating your site with PayPal and other e-commerce solutions and services such as Google Search and QuickBooks. It gives you the tools to add meta-tags (keywords) and descriptions to optimize the site for search engines — so your site's more likely to be found. And it provides rudimentary visitor statistics and an onscreen page hit counter.

Cheaper in the Long Run
The alternatives are to pay somebody else to create your site or build it yourself from scratch. Either way, you'll still have to pay for hosting. It will certainly cost a lot more than $95 a year to have somebody else build it for you — don't forget to factor in the charges from your Web developer every time you make a change. And if you go the do-it-yourself route, you have to factor in the cost in time or money (or both) of researching and purchasing software tools and learning how to use them efficiently.

SiteKreator editing interface screen shot
SiteKreator's Normal view lets you see the site as your visitors will.
(Click for larger image)
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Using template-based site creation tools does limit your design options, however. SiteKreator Business Edition currently offers 25 templates. Most seervices let you choose between at least two color schemes, while others offer several. Still, chances are your site will look very much like somebody else's. There is a certain sameness about all of the templates, in fact. Page and site titles, for example, tend to be in smaller type than most companies will want for their business name, and you can't use a graphic of your logo as a page heading.

Also, all the currently available SiteKreator templates put a common navigation menu on every page. You can add page-specific menus by creating lists of items in content areas and manually linking these items to other pages, but you can't get rid of the main menu. A blog entry at the SiteKreator Web site talks about a new template that will make it easier to create page-specific menus, but it does not appear to be available yet.

SiteKreator has developed a series of Flash-based tutorials that walk you through the steps of setting up and beginning to create a site. Some people may find the tutorial's animated cartoon dragon irritating, and the advanced tutorials, which do not use Flash, are really just glorified Help pages. But, in general, we were impressed with the documentation and found this product easy to learn — and to use.

How easy? Once you purchase the service — PayPal is the default payment method — SiteKreator e-mails you an upgrade code, which you enter into an online form when setting up your account. You actually begin designing your site during account set-up by choosing a template. The dialog includes a pull-down list of templates. When you select one, you see a larger-than-thumbnail-size sample screen. This is not a final selection, though. In fact, one of the cool things about SiteKreator is that you can change the template at any time — on a daily basis if you want — without altering the content or messing up the layout.

With an account established, you can log in with a user name and password and begin building a site. SiteKreator offers two views: normal and admin. When you log in to your account, you're in admin view. To start, SiteKreator creates your main page with the navigation menu that will be common to all pages. You'll see the site name at the top, which you entered in the account set-up process, and one item in the menu — for the main page, where you are now.

SiteKreator editing interface screenshot
SiteKreator's Admin view lets you make changes to your Web site.
(Click for larger image)
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Easy Editing
You'll notice edit icons — either dots or small boxes with letters inside them, scattered around the page in admin view. Beside the navigation menu, for example, you'll find the menu edit icon. If you roll your mouse over it, a pop-up menu displays items such as add (a new menu item) and edit (delete the menu — which deletes it from all pages).

Beside each menu item, you'll see little dots. Mouse over one and a menu pops up that lets you add an item to the current menu, edit the current item (cut, copy, duplicate, delete), move it (up and down in the list of menu items), select it and adjust properties.

If you choose Properties or Add, a dialog box pops up in which you can enter or change the text of the menu item and the text that appears when you mouse over the item in normal view. You select the page to which the menu item links from a pull-down list. The list includes all the pages you've created so far, plus options for creating a new page or linking to an external page.

If you choose the latter, a new field pops up in which you can enter the URL of the external page. If you choose to link to a new page, clicking Add in this dialog creates the new page with the title you give it, creates the new menu item and link — and opens the new page so you can start adding content.

After every change or addition, SiteKreator asks you to confirm that you want to keep the changes. Then you still have to "publish" the changed or added content to your site by clicking the publish button. You don't have to do this right away. SiteKreator reminds you of the publish status with visual cues, including a bright red message/icon in the top right corner. To publish all the changes you've made over several pages, choose site properties from the control panel menu (top right corner) and then click the Publish All Changes button.

To see published changes, choose Log Out from the control panel menu. You'll now see whichever page you were on in admin view, only now you'll see it as visitors will, without the edit icons. To go back into edit mode, click the unobtrusive edit icon at the bottom of the page and enter in your username and password in the pop up.

SiteKreator's editing interface screenshot
You access the text and image editor through the Admin view.
(Click for larger image)
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Adding Content
Template pages are all identical initially. They're divided into three areas: navigation menu (common to all pages), title bar (which shows the site name and the page name of the current page) and the content area. Mousing over the A or area icon brings up a menu that lets you add one of three types of content: text and image, image gallery or file area.

If you make changes in the advanced properties for the site (accessible from the control panel menu), you can also add blogs or forums or objects that link to third-party services such as PayPal.

If you create a text-and-image area, a familiar-looking text editor pops up so you can type in text, format it and add images, movies and tables. You see exactly what the content will look like on the page.

The image gallery creates a content area with neatly arrayed thumbnails of pictures. You tell SiteKreator in a series of dialogs how you want the thumbnails arranged and where to find the pictures on your hard drive. You can add pictures one at a time, but to add a bunch, you'll have put them into a zip file using an archiving utility such as WinZip.

Setting up a file area, blog or forum is just as easy. Adding content always involves filling in information or selecting from pull-down lists in a simple, self-explanatory form. SiteKreator does all the work of placing content properly and organizing it on the page. Adding things like PayPal integration or Google Search is a little more complicated only because you first have to deal with those third-party vendors.

While SiteKreator is an impressive piece of work, it may not be for every small business. The templates provided lack variety and tend not to be as appropriate for business sites as for personal sites. Also, most businesses won't want to use the default SiteKreator domain name they're assigned — http://sitekreator.com/your_site_name. You can use your own domain name if you have one, but getting it to work with SiteKreator adds another layer of complexity, or did with our domain name administrator.

Bottom Line
SiteKreator works nicely if you you're looking for a way to quickly establish a first Web presence, or a permanent site if you're not terribly image-conscious. Your site will look pretty good and you can add sophisticated features. But unless SiteKreator develops new, more customizable templates, most small business owners will likely want to graduate fairly quickly to something that gives them more control over the look and feel of the site.

Pricing

Business account with:
• 200MB storage — $95 per year
• 400MB storage — $150 per year
• 1GB storage — $200 per year

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s. Just for fun, he also authors features and columns on digital photography for Here's How, a Canadian consumer technology magazine.

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