For a long time I’ve been impressed with the technology at Wix (our sponsors). The engine behind their flash galleries and SEO optimization caught the geek sides of me. So taking a small step aside form DIY, I asked Ron Uriel, a leading commercial photographer to take them for a test drive. His sample site is here. Full review after the jump.
The Story of Building A Website
Have you ever tried to build a website? I remember the first time I tried… It was many years ago, somewhere in the late 90’s but I still remember it involved some online clumsy page builder and two full evenings wasted on disappointing attempts to create something that will at least come close to what I had in mind… Eventually I gave up.
Years have passed, I learned to build “real” websites, with Databases, easy content updates – and most important – search engine friendly. Google is god, you know… After building some websites for my photography business and blogs I began to get requests from colleagues and people who visited my websites to build ones for them too. So, the business grew… I got more experienced and advanced; nevertheless I realized that building a website remained a complex and time consuming task, which is of course priced respectively…
Let’s face it, not everyone can afford paying thousands of $$$ for a website, and so I was asked many times by friends and tight budget customers to recommend an inexpensive, quality solution for self creation of websites, “but it has to be nice!!” they always said…
Online Site Creators
Occasionally I stumbled upon applications that allow you to build a whole website “in a second” and all the ones I’ve evaluated were, with due respect, thrown to the trash. Some of them were too limiting with what you could do, some loaded with bugs, and some cost way too much to be worthwhile. That’s why when Udi showed me Wix for the first time and told me that it’s actually free, I got instantly curious. Finally, an application that looks smart and generously featured, and not a toy or a website built by an amateur that took a two hours HTML course…
Having said that, nice output is not enough. My experience taught me that to produce and maintain rich websites the webmaster interface is the most important criterion for any website building software. If the interface is user friendly, and the application offers the right features then the software will be a success. I have my “rule of ten“; whenever I try new software I give it 10 minutes of grace. If within that time I get to like the interface and the outcome then I’m in. If ten minutes have passed and I’m still struggling the darn thing? Adios… trash time.
So I decided to try Wix and see for myself if the path to creating a website similar to the one I saw involves blood sweat and tears, or just a few mouse clicks and creativity.
My Experience With Wix
If you can’t wait for the full review go here to see what 2.5 hours of work got me.
I started off on the right foot; when I approached the signup page in shaking hands (strong allergy to long filling forms) I was only requested to provide an email address, a username and password. I was then directed to a “create” page where I could select any of the many ready made websites to begin with, or just start with a clean empty site and create my own design. I took few minutes to view some of those sites and get the look and feel of different Wix layouts, and then I started a blank site, trusting the built in widgets to help me find my way in the new surroundings.
At that stage the editor screen of Wix launched. The adaptation to the interface is fast and easy. It’s very intuitive, and includes several toolbars; some are fixed, while others update to fit the different tools properties as you select them. Navigating the Wix editor environment is easy to understand and does not require you to be an expert.
For starters, I defined a page with the desired dimensions and background color. My main target was to examine Wix abilities for portfolio websites so I immediately went for the galleries area.
I wanted to create different galleries for 3 of my main niches as a photographer; wedding photography, convention photography, and food photography. In addition, I needed a navigation menu to switch between the galleries. It took me few minutes to realize that the photos you upload to Wix are not divided to folders, but all stored in the same place. That means you don’t create the galleries by folder structure; you need to re-sort your photos in another way. OK, plan B… Let’s build three different pages, and plant a gallery in each page. I then discovered a friendly feature; the Mini page. It’s very easy to use.
First, I created a new mini page and named it Weddings. Then, I inserted a gallery widget, using one of the various skins. I decided to use Matrix gallery, that displays small adjustable thumbnails of your large photos, that when pressed launch the large photo to the precise size and position you defined (tip: choose “manual expand” mode to define your own size and location).
Pointing my arrow on the mini page title, I found an option to duplicate it and so with two mouse clicks I had three minipages with empty galleries awaiting to be populated with photos.
The next phase was uploading photos. I had three different folders on my hard drive with photos for the three galleries. I pressed Upload in WIX, browsed to a folder, selected all the files (CTRL-A works) and pressed OK. 3 folders = 3 uploads, no matter how many files you got in them. Nice and fast.
At that stage I leaned back in my chair and looked at the newborn portfolio and browsed through the photos. I was satisfied with the transitions and the overall look and feel of Wix. However, I realized that the photos I’ve uploaded were smaller then the actual size displayed in my Wix, causing reduced quality. I decided to re-upload the photos in the correct size. Before doing that, I needed to delete the old photos in order to avoid duplication. At that stage I added “select all” to my wish list for future releases of Wix, however I managed to delete all the photos one by one, uploaded the larger ones and updated the galleries contents.
OK, so now I had 3 ready galleries. I then wanted to create the navigation menu. Under “Page Parts” I found “Menus”, and the submenu allowed me to select from various designs and styles. Once I selected my desired skin, I was taken to the menu management windows where I realized that I actually have nothing more to do; my three galleries were already there, titled like my minipages. Very nice!
Now I’ve gathered a good momentum. I decided to add a contact page from the widgets. Again, I had many pre-defined styles to choose from and I only needed to define the email address to which the contact applications are sent. Since it went so smoothly I went on and added the About page; I simply dragged an empty paragraph, in which I wrote few words about the portfolio and the making of it, linked to this review and to Wix. Planting links inside the text is simple and intuitive; you mark the text, press the “Link” icon and type in the destination.
That’s about it. My website was almost ready. I was happy to learn that Wix is also search engine friendly, allowing me to add relevant information (description, keywords) and even plant the code needed for Google Analytics; a very useful statistics tool I’m using with my other websites too. Those helped me finalize my positive opinion on this whole solution WIX offer for artists, individuals and even merchants.
One more thing. I couldn’t resist testing the e-commerce capabilities and
was amazed to find out that the Wix way of building an online shop is
as easy as dragging a shopping cart to your page, specifying your
PayPal account, and setting the price and photos of the items you want
One thing to consider; Wix is available for free or for a reasonable cost. The free version only allows you to create your site under Wix.com domain, and have Wix ads embedded. The premium version of Wix allows using your own domain name, adding e-commerce (turning your portfolio to an online shop…) and of course removing the ads.
All that good Karma still leaves some desired features for the next versions of Wix. Here is my wish list for future releases:
- Allow to specify the “default picture” for each gallery.
- Add “Select all” button in the photos window.
- Add folders or categories for sorting photos.
- Make the mouse wheel scroll the photos in slideshow gallery.
To sum up: my advice is start with the free version and once you’re satisfied with the website you created and feel that it qualifies your requirements, then you can upgrade to one of the offered plans and switch to your own domain. Your site will make a better impression when reached through a dedicated domain name, with no ads, and if the path to building this website was relatively short and inexpensive – then I guess you made a very good deal.
Overall, after Wix passed my 10 minutes test, it took me two or three hours more building my portfolio, and even less time upgrading the website to a shop. I think that the main advantage of Wix is the way they managed to combine a well featured application, with a user friendly interface that makes it easier then ever to build a website.