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Review: Serif WebPlus X6

Feature rich web design package packs a punch

Typically web designing is something left only to the pros.  But if you don’t have the money to employ a web designer, then you could be a bit stuck when it comes to getting your own website up on the Internet.

There are free ways of doing it; TME is made entirely using free software, but it can be very difficult to come up with something that’s truly original, and suits your needs.

So we were quite pleased to take a look at Serif’s new web design suite, WebPlus X6.  Not least because it’ll run on any Windows PC, and it’s price tag is significantly lower than some package, coming in at well under £100.

Serif also promise that WebPlus X6 makes it easy to create your own websites, even if you’ve never made one before.  This is something which can’t be said for a lot of web design suites out there.

Features

Before we get into the depths of what we think about it, here’s some of the published features of WebPlus X6 direct from Serif:

  • Customise and create your own stylish website with no coding
  • Build sites optimised for smartphones, tablets, desktops, and laptops
  • Sell products online with trusted e-commerce providers
  • Drag and drop buttons, logos and more onto your pages
  • Add Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as other social media sharing buttons
  • Edit photos, create logos and colour schemes, design backgrounds and more
  • Create as many unique sites as you want, with no limits on pages or features

We can vouch for all of these features, having played around with them ourselves for some time.  We even knocked together a website for a fictional IT provider to test that everything worked.

It would be almost impossible for us to write a review that covered every single aspect of WebPlus, it’s that vast.  So instead we’ve opted to focus on our experiences of using WebPlus to create our dummy website, read on to discover what we thought of the process.

The basics

Although WebPlus X6 promises to be easy to use, it’s also a massive application with more toolbars than you can shake a stick at.  We wouldn’t recommend trying to use WebPlus on anything less than a 24″ monitor.  There’s just so much on the screen at any one time, and you need all of that stuff in order to properly design and create your website.

It might look a little daunting, but one of the great thing about Serif products is that there’s a massive online repository of help guides and videos on their website.

We found their videos to be extremely useful in getting to grips with the basics of the software.  In fact, within a few hours we’d produced a fully fledged website, including social media integrations, an online store and a few other cool gadgets like a Google Maps widget.

Designing from templates

When most people read the three words above, they immediately feel that they’re going to end up with an end product that looks pretty much like everyone elses.

The thing is, although Serif include a number of templates, they’re pretty much just the starting point from which you can go on to create more or less anything you want.

There’s a whole wealth of templates available, and you can download even more for free from Serif’s website.  We found the stock group of templates gave a great starting point; there’s enough variance to cover most types of website.

Even at this stage you can make some pretty major changes to the templates.  For each template there are tons of pre-defined colour schemes available which can be applied to the theme.

It’s a great idea to allow you to quickly and easily get something that you’re comfortable with on the screen.  You can also choose which pages you want to include at this stage (don’t worry, you can add and remove more pages later).

We love this approach to creating a theme for your site.  Not only does it allow you to come up with something unique, quickly.  It also ensures that you’ll keep the same colour scheme throughout your site, which will make it look more professional and keep your visitors interested.

Drag and drop – everything!

So, once you’ve selected your theme you’re dropped into the main design screen.  The large section in the middle contains your web pages, the left hand toolbar handles objects, text styles and any media items associated with your site.  The right hand tab has a list of web pages, colour swatches, line effects and a bunch of other tools.

Your default web pages will be called things like “about us” and “contact us”.  These are pretty standard across most websites, so it stands to reason that you’ll need them.  To this end, these pages are designed in such a way that you could just type in your own text, drag in some photos and publish.  But you’re not limited to that in any way.

Every aspect of every page can be moved, re-sized, edited or just deleted.  You can also insert text boxes, backgrounds, objects, YouTube videos, pretty much anything that you can think of.

What’s more, you can edit common aspects of pages on a “master page” so that the changes will be applied to all pages on your website.  This is an incredibly useful feature for ensuring consistency across all pages.

Social media integration

WebPlus X6 allows you to tie your website in to a whole bundle of different social networks.  You can drag and drop widgets for your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts straight into any page on your site.  You can also drag in a toolbar which integrates your site with an abundance of different social networks.

Of course, you could do this using the code supplied by the individual social networks directly, but the advantage of doing it this way is that you don’t have to worry about integrating third-party code into your site.

You can also quickly and easily drag and drop videos from your PC or YouTube into any of your pages.

Dropping in a video from YouTube will prompt you to simply provide the URL of the video, as well as dictating some other options such as HD playback, allowing the video to playback automatically and allowing a border.

eCommerce

One reason for wanting to create your own site is for your business.  So, it makes sense that customers are able to buy your products directly from your website.

WebPlus has you covered with eCommerce plugins for Paypal, Roman Cart and Mal’s eCommerce.

Most people will probably use Paypal, and it’s an excellent way to accept payment for items securely online.

We had a play around with the different options available and it’s a very flexible tool.  You can specify pretty much every detail relating to the transaction, including the following:

  • Buy now/subscription/donation transaction types
  • The type and design of button used
  • The name, description and photo of the item for sale
  • Price
  • Whether the customer is prompted for an address

You can even opt to import a catalogue of products from a spreadsheet or database, saving you the time and effort of creating a listing for every item you sell.  Need to add or remove an item?  Just upload a new version of your database and all changes will be replicated on the site.

This is about as fluid and easy an eCommerce solution as you’re going to get, and it’s a great way to quickly and easily offer your products for sale with minimum fuss and effort.

Site Preview

Once you’ve created your site, WebPlus X6 allows you view your website using any browser installed on your computer.

You’d want to do this to ensure that all aspects of your site appear correctly across all web browsers, so it’s nice to see a proper preview tool in place of an in-app version.

It’s a great tool, and it works well with all browsers that we tried.  Your website will simply open as a new tab in any existing browser window you have open (or open in a new one if there’s no open window).

We found it a great way to make sure that links did what they were supposed to and that all aspects of the website displayed properly.

Site Checker

The Site Checker is a great automated way to check for things like broken links and incorrectly used widgets.

We’re not sure that it’s smart enough to recognise problems such as links to incorrect pages, so you’ll still need to use the preview function to check that sort of thing.

But, we ran a check on our sample website, and it picked up a couple of things that we needed to take a look at before we even though about publishing the site:

This sort of automated check is invaluable if you don’t have anyone around to quality assure your website before you publish it.  Humans have this horrible ability to skip over problems in their own work, so using the Site Checker would be incredibly worthwhile in picking up potential problems.

In our case, it only picked up the fact that we weren’t using an active Paypal account for eCommerce and a couple of syntax errors.  You can inspect these problems one at a time through the checker.  It’ll even try and fix some problems for you, if it can work out exactly what the issue is.

 Conclusions

We were blown away by the sheer scale of WebPlus X6.  It’s an extremely versatile application which, in the right hands, could create a monumental website.

For the ordinary user, screen size is likely to be the biggest issue.  The interface is clearly designed to be used with larger displays, and can present problems if you only have a sub-24″ monitor to play with.

That being said, it didn’t make using the software impossible, just more difficult.

When you’ve got a big enough screen, the whole process flows extremely well.  The “drag and drop” approach to designing a site means that pretty much anyone with a good understanding of what they want will be able to produce a site to a high standard.

Built in tools for things like social networks, Flash video, YouTube and photo galleries make WebPlus an extremely powerful tool for blogging or fan sites, though we wouldn’t recommend it for sites where content is updated more than once or twice a day.

The eCommerce functionality is executed brilliantly, and should be sufficient for anyone wanting to use their website as a way to draw in mail order business.

Whether or not WebPlus X6 can stand toe-to-toe with some of the more “professional grade” web design tools is debatable.  But it does offer an excellent way for any business owner to create a fully branded website, with excellent social media and e-commerce integration.

Author

Matt

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