The Site (Road) Not Taken

For many years I've strongly advocated for having as much control over your website as possible, as evidenced by
several posts in this blog. This perception has grown for the "committed technical novice" with many of the DIY products that have come along since I wrote "What A Website Can Do" in 2010.

But there are still limitations with website builders, not the least of which is the charge for the most basic
requirement, using your own domain; typically about as much as it costs for a hosting package complete with gigs of disk space.

However, let me say at the outset that I'm not as partisan against website builders as I was. They serve a purpose
of getting a presence on the net quickly, and some have a nice selection of templates.

But for a truly scalable and flexible long term solution, to name just a few advantages, there are better platforms.

As usual, knowledge pays.

I was recently contacted by a past client seeking help with their website, currently written in php. My first
contract with them, I implemented a WordPress site, upgrading from a website builder that allowed just 5 pages, addressing one problem of crowded content. A support plan was not negotiated. The WordPress site stayed up for a
while, then I noticed one day that it had switched to a website builder platform.

I don't know why it was decided to go back to a closed platform; I can only assume the WordPress admin dashboard
might have been intimidating (a situation that appears to be common among those who have yet to be convinced otherwise), or were overwhelmed by the nearly daily plugin update emailed notifications (updates which can be managed by -- say it with me -- a plugin).

Some years passed, during which I de-emphasized work for clients who decided to abandon provided solutions, feeling
it might create a negative perception.

Such was the case of the client I mentioned who now needed help updating content. As I said, when I'd last visited
their site it was using a website builder; now it was written in php (a scripting language that can generate html).
(When I learned this my first thought was '...but - but so is WordPress...?')

I agreed to provide an analysis which revealed a few things that went beyond their scope.

For example, I found pages where a tagline was rife with misspellings. I found text obscured by an image.

The template I use for detailing specs and tasks has space to show business rationale/advantages. I think it's important to be as explicit as possible in the hope that what is quoted is agreed to be fair and accurate. At least it helps.

That being said, ultimately the client determines what services they'll receive and the provider must decide if they are the right one to do so. It's not as if disclaimers can appear in mid-air like a holograph when work they may be credited with is viewed by the general public. Cost can be a primary driver, and it is up to all parties concerned what that cost, immediate and future, will be.

My Builderall Experience: Email Marketing

Builderall was eight years old in 2017 according to information I obtained in May of that year. Customer support
also said the size of their user base was > 100,000. I used to be a developer and one of the quickest lessons
I learned was that those who used systems I constructed or enhanced want them to be responsive, intuitive, and
accurate.

I appreciate the engineering skill that went into making Builderall (although I think some functionality
needs to perform more consistently) but there are "little" things that I think should have been addressed with
the first release. For example, setting a password on the email account. There is a static line of help below
the password prompt that tells you what the length of the password must be, but no more than that.

There's also a bar graph that will indicate the password strength.

So various formats are input, the password strength becomes green (i.e. passes), click a button (improperly labeled
in my opinion) and...nothing.

No error message. No sign that input was even acknowledged. With all of the testing I was doing, I don't recall
if it accepted a special character, but I'm almost certain it did not. Password strength still implies it should
have been accepted.

It only worked when I added a number.

Support confirmed they received the same results (and may have encountered it in other password setting contexts
since they said "they all seem that way").

This "little" thing actually has huge import when considering credibility of a system, particularly when a
subscription fee is being paid. And if someone is my subscriber and perceives this inconvenience...I can expect
a high volume of support tickets.

The email address set in "reply to" (verified according to Builderall criteria) must receive messages and be
accessed for correspondence.

I elected to use the internal mail manager Mailingboss, although other tools are permitted such as Mailchimp.

One anomaly encountered was an embedded link in a subscription confirmation email that didn't get formatted properly
even though it worked in previous tests, leading to a 404 error.

I began to feel as if I'd have to constantly record my activities to convince those occasional respondents who
merely replied "it worked for me."

I saw many complaints that emails were getting delivered to spam folders even though domains were verified.
Support provided extensive guidance on email etiquette and best practices, somewhat countering the admonition in
one of the tutorial videos to ensure domain is verified.

(As an aside, I am extremely impressed with the number of tutorial videos that have been generated. The ones in
the dashboard Knowledge Base have been supplemented by a slew of others independently produced on Youtube. Some
became obsolete needing revision. It became abundantly clear that one needs to consume the entire set of these
short tutorials to get as complete an understanding as possible of a feature.)

There are status indicators for subscribers such as "disabled" which I still have no idea how they aid
automation of administration. I was able to send a subscription invitation to a test account with this status
and able to register it. Similarly this account could register for a free trial. There is a provision for setting
certain types of automation rules, one of which checks custom field values. But associated custom fields did not
get changed from "N" to "Y".

While I was unable to fully conclude that assigning multiple values for a custom field -- while allowed --
render a false test for one or the other value to enforce the rule, the testing I was able to complete seems to
lead to this outcome.

My perception is a significant amount of manual intervention is required.

The mail servers were changed/upgraded some months after I began my membership, evidence that Builderall is
sincere in their mission to be "the greatest marketing platform on the planet." It's only a question of one's
ability to fund that mission.

My Builderall Experience Sitebuilder

I learned of Builderall through an affiliate as a subscriber to their list. Note, I will treat that subject in a separate post.

Builderall is a suite of tools, modules and tutorial videos that are accessed from a dashboard, intended to give you (as their tagline as of this writing puts it) "the most powerful and complete internet marketing platform on the planet."

They're trying, but there's a way to go yet. (As I write this they've announced an upgrade and relaunch of the platform.)

One plan I had was to create a product from this platform called Elements Diverse Marketing Tools  Suite. Builderall is a great example of Diverse Elements (Elements Diverse is a division) and actually inspired my new logo. 

EDMTS Symbolic Representation

Elements Diverse Symbolic Representation

Below is a rendition of about 3/4 of the admin dashboard on login, which is similar to the Builderall dashboard as it looked as of January 2018.

Trial registration EDMTS Login dashboard

In my experience one thing has to be made clear right off the bat: Plan to spend time learning all the features because it is loaded. And when I say spend time, I mean devote exclusive attention to mastering it all as quickly as you can, because those monthly subscription fees add up.

One more preface: I'm going to relate the positive and what I feel are the drawbacks of this platform at this time.

The positive aspects are quite impressive.

Under "Builders" there is a Drag and Drop Sitebuilder that contains a desktop/tablet/mobile phone builder/designer, an app designer, and a Responsive site/blog builder. Why is there a separate Responsive sitebuilder? It's explained in one of the tutorials...

After those is the Email Marketing module which leads to list builders and a selection of configuration and design tools.

Next comes the Design Studio which contains a number of template images of desktop and mobile devices.  You employ them by uploading images in specified dimensions that will automatically be fitted to the device, even at an angle. It also contains a Presentation Builder that uses Open Office Impress.

Next are the animated videos and floating flash/HTML video creators/editors.

Following is the Apps category which has Facebook Integration tools and apps, Browser Notifications among a number
of other apps.

The rest of the dashboard involves the 2-tier licensing program and the Franchise Panel button which leads to the
white label dashboard. I won't go into these details in this review.

In fact I won't cover a few things in this review primarily because I hadn't gotten to everything.

This review will be divided into separate posts that are focused on each component for merciful readability.

Testing the email module (choosing "Mailing Boss", which I did as the most expedient set up for professional email
using a new domain) took up an impressive amount of time. As did learning their Sitebuilder. "Why" you might ask? Read on...

One minor concern with Builderall is the mix between English and Portuguese. Some system messages for instance are displayed in Portuguese. One might be able to glean the translation from the context. I'm not saying the platform should be english-only, just consistent
and customizable.

Now, the Drag and Drop Sitebuilder, which has a large and ever growing list of templates in various verticals: businesses (solar energy services, divorce lawyer services), skin care product promotion, event promotion, medical/health and wellness services...the list is quite expansive. And they look very professional, with responsive images. What's more, they provide instruction on marketing. Instead of the "Lorem..." boilerplate dominating every aspect, there's copy that provides marketing education i.e. "People buy outcomes, not features", and "Do not make a new claim in your sub-headline."

Some templates even have video backgrounds and are set up for funnels.

Prepare yourself for some repetitive design work while crafting the desktop, with respect to placement of objects (text, images etc.) on the tablet and mobile renditions. Especially once you have "completed" the desktop, as you (re) align the header, body and footer objects, you will likely encounter a warning that moving an object will impact either the tablet, mobile or desktop layout depending on what you're currently working on.

Update: 7-Feb. Apparently the new "Drag and Drop" Sitebuilder (rechristened) is more automated. See https://youtu.be/RowpADtg3PI

There are tutorials that cover this feature. Some (as is the case with other modules in Builderall) will advise you to view additional tutorials which delve a little deeper into the topic. The Knowledge Base (a module in the dashboard) may not contain the definitive set of videos; you might want to search Youtube for more...elucidation.

With practice, you will reconcile the 3 versions more quickly. The most important thing to remember is the location of the header, body and footer based on the layout. Next, it helps to include as many objects in a single session as you can thereby avoiding the need for major redesign down the road. This is obviously more relevant when using a blank template. It may be helpful to design on paper first. Any unintended edits can easily be undone by clicking the "undo" button or simply closing the editing window and confirming "Leave."

snapshot sitebuilder drag and drop editor

Drag and Drop Sitebuilder

The objects most frequently used will come from within the editor in a side panel: boxes, lines (for borders), several
varieties of image up-loaders (i.e. hover, 3D, regular), text (note that there are 2 text controls, one which is used to set the font styles, the other is to place text in the template), audio/video upload, etc.

Builderall provides an SSL certificate for sites on its platform. I am quite pleased with this feature.

You should test your display on a variety of browsers, but remember that Builderall must use the Chrome platform. If
you try to access it with any other (as of the date of this writing) you will encounter unexpected errors.

I think I'll wrap up the evaluation on the Drag and Drop Sitebuilder here, and will be watching to see what the relaunch
brings, but my review of the other modules will be posted soon.