SITE123 Review 2023: Easy Setup, But Some Key Limitations

SITE123 is very user-friendly and it comes with a nice list of features, including everything from mobile-responsive templates to e-commerce. If you want to build a personal site, a simple site for your new business, or even an online store with a few products, it should be more than enough for your needs. But if your needs are more complex than that, will SITE123 still be able to provide you with the best website possible?

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, customization options, 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? Does the ease of use mean a lack of functionality? Read on to find out!

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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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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 supportNone, 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 awesomeSeriously.

24/7 Live Chat

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Pricing Is Simple: Pay More, Get More

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Putting the incredible customer support aside, the real question is whether SITE123 is worth the price tag. So, let’s dive in and find out: how much does SITE123 actually 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.)

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