Building a website shouldn’t be difficult.
Thankfully, there’s a long list of website builders out there that can take the difficulty out of getting yourself or your business online - and LightCMS is one such platform.
Although, it would be unfair to say that LightCMS is just another hosted website builder.
Chosen to be covered in detail on Website Builders Critic, LightCMS has come on leaps and bounds in 2014.
The LightCMS team has made improvements to areas of functionality including blogging, eCommerce, their drag-and-drop interface, and have also launched their Partner Platform to boot.
Plus, they have recently managed to retain their People's Choice CMS Award for Best Cloud CMS for Small to Medium Sized Businesses. A sizeable feat.
But that’s enough of tooting the LightCMS horn. With this review, I intend to dig deep into what LightCMS does well - and what LightCMS does not so well.
It’s time to find out just how good LightCMS really is. Or isn’t.
Here’s a video to get things started.
As with all of my CMS reviews, I’m going to start where any normal customer would. The vendor website.
LightCMS’ website is clean, simple and professional. You are greeted with happy testimonials as soon as you land on the homepage, which is relatively unique in the website builder space. It gives it a homely feel.
Features are well detailed, and the website also does a good job of explaining the LightCMS Partner Platform, which has become a large part of the LightCMS project, and is something I will focus on in more detail later on in this review.
All in all though, the website is inviting. The signup process on the other hand? Not so much.
Clicking the “Sign Up Now” button brings you to a page where there are yet more testimonials, with no sign up form in sight. For that, you’ll need to scroll down.
The process doesn’t require - but does ask for - a company name and a telephone number. I don’t think these fields should exist at this stage. It makes the process look more long-winded than it needs to.
I can forgive the requirement of the URL however, because unlike some other website builders, the website you create for free (which is essentially the trial period) will actually be live on the web. Other platforms require you to begin your monthly subscription before this occurs, so that's pretty cool.
The good news is, after you complete this signup form, LightCMS will whizz you right to the homepage of your brand new website.
LightCMS start you off with their default theme, which is clean and tidy. They also throw in some example content.
Because LightCMS allows you to live-edit your website, most of your time will be spent looking at your website in edit mode, otherwise known as the "Content" page.
The Content page essentially shows you your website as a visitor would see it, along with some tabs and buttons across the top of each page element, allowing you to quickly edit text areas, sliders, images, and so forth. Plus, there's a neat side menu on the right with some added editing options.
Overall, I like the way LightCMS is set out, but it could definitely be better. Sure, it's relatively easy to use, but if I look at the admin panel through the eyes of a complete newbie, it can become a little daunting.
The monochromatic design is a bit dark, and the admin options within the top menu bar just seem a little too executive and uninviting (it feels a little WordPress-esque in that sense).
Furthermore, I'm not sure how I feel about identifying and selecting page elements. The tabs are fine, but I feel as though the element in question should be highlighted or outlined in some way when I hover over them. Right now, everything just seems a little too difficult to distinguish when in edit mode.
As previously mentioned, example content is included with each LightCMS website, which includes pre-populated pages.
You can either delete existing pages totally, or just change them around a little to reflect whatever it is you want your website to be about.
Adding a page on LightCMS is quick and easy. When it edit mode, you just have to click the "+" button.
This takes you to the page creation screen where you can configure the title, URL, hierarchy and then some basic content. The content manager allows you to edit visually (by inserting images, formatting text, etc), and also gives you HTML access.
You can also decide whether or not the page is hidden before publishing. Further elements like slideshows, forms and so forth can be added back on the "Content" page, which is the default admin page where you can live-edit your website.
Deleting a page on LightCMS however, is not as quick and easy as it should be.
To delete an existing page, you need to navigate to it, click the gear/cog button on the sidebar, scroll down, and then click "Delete page". You then have to confirm your decision.
It's not an incredibly long process, but it can definitely be improved.
Editing Page Elements
Adding, editing and removing different page elements is what will make or break LightCMS. A website builder is only as good as its drag-and-drop system.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I feel as though the LightCMS edit mode can still do with some tweaking. Page elements are topped with a tab containing editing options when you hover over them, but I would prefer if the entire element in question was highlighted or outlined once hovered over.
When there are a number of different elements in a small amount of space for example, things can get a little confusing to look at. Not so confusing that you will actually end up confused and disillusioned by the platform, but just enough to make you want some extra response from the interface. Highlighting elements when they are hovered over would fix this issue.
But that's purely about aesthetics. as far as actual functions go, LightCMS page elements and the options surrounding them are brilliant.
There is a healthy selection of elements which include text boxes, images, blogs, forms, products, calendars, e-vites, donation buttons, login buttons and more. The only thing that is missing which I feel should be there, is a video element for easy embedding.
All elements can of course be dragged-and-dropped to wherever you like on the page (within a grid system, so things don't get messy), and you can also choose to move elements up or down, swapping their positions with elements above and below. The fact that each element has its own set of customization options is obviously a big plus, too.
Take the donations element as an example. After selecting it and dragging it to where you like on the page, clicking "Settings" presents you with options regarding button text, PayPal email address, pre-set donation amounts, and so on.
Themes & Design
Clicking the paintbrush icon on the side menu on the "Content" page will bring up a sidebar filled with design customization options.
These options include setting background colours, background images, fonts and font colours for headings, links, and so on. It all works very quickly and very smoothly.
LightCMS allows you to customize these design options for pages, sidebars, navigation bars and other areas. The options strike a nice balance between simplicity and detail. Every area of the website is customizable, but not to such an extent that you can get lost.
To switch between themes, you need to click the "Design" button on the top navigation bar.
This brings up the LightCMS theme gallery, where you can scroll through the long list of themes, or browse via categories like eCommerce, Business, Photography and Non-profit. Clicking on a theme will allow you to preview it live on your website. Clicking "Apply" will make the changes live.
You can also add themes to your personal collection, edit the source code and download it for a more detailed look under the hood. Generally, I found all of the themes offered by LightCMS to be of a high standard. They are all professional, sleek and responsive.
You may also be pleased to know that you can switch between LightCMS themes at any point. You can switch before, during or after your website content is in place, with no limitations. This is unlike some other website builders, which force you to leave content behind when you switch templates. I also noticed the speed at which LightCMs makes these changes. No boring loading times or pauses.
Blogging with LightCMS is simple, which is a good thing, and a bad thing. To begin blogging, you need to add the "Blog" page element to your page.
Thereafter you can hover over the tab above the blog element, and click "New Post". This obviously takes you to a page where you can write out your blog post, with a visual and HTML editor included just as with pages.
You can also configure URLs, schedule posts, add tags, META tags, add attachments, disable comments, add HTML to the head of the post, and so forth. Plenty of options.
However, there doesn't seem to be a way to categorise posts beyond tags, nor are there any social options. Categories are important, but some may argue that the missing social options are a major issue. At the very least, I expect there to be some social sharing buttons at the bottom of each blog post.
The plus side is that most - if not all - website builders are pretty basic when it comes to blogging. So although LightCMS is a little basic on this front, it's probably on par with most of its competitors in terms of blogging functionality.
Over on Website Builders Critic, I've shown how to build a blog on LightCMS within five minutes.
As previously mentioned, you can add products to a page just like any other page element. However, in order to take control of LightCMS as an eCommerce platform, you'll need to flick the switch on the top navigation bar.
Flicking that switch presents a new menu dedicated to online store management. The first thing you will see, if the store setup screen. It prompts you to configure general store settings, payment processors and then to add a product.
The store settings include general contact information, order ID formats, currency settings, and so forth.
The payment gateways currently supported are Stripe and PayPal, and those can be configured in the next step.
You can also switch to Test Mode, which activates the sandbox mode for each gateway. You can also set up email newsletter opt-in settings, confirmation emails, policies and more.
Finally, adding a product will complete your store setup. Again, LightCMS throw in some example products, but you can go in and delete those and/or add your own.
The product page displays all existing products in a searchable and filterable list, along with a big blue "+" button for adding news ones.
Adding a new product consists of giving the product a title, optional variations like colour, properties like weight, and a general description. You can add images too of course, along with tags. Just like with pages and blog posts, URLs can be individually configured too.
Further eCommerce Features
Other eCommerce features offered by LightCMS include the ability to; set shipping and taxing options, view all existing and past orders via the "Orders" page, view customers, their location and total spend via the "Customers" page, and also to configure discount codes.
Taxes and shipping costs can be set by location, to include or exclude VAT, and more.
Discount codes can be created easily too. You can configure the actual code to be used before setting a percentage or amount that the code knocks off of products. Plus, the code can be set to give the customer free shipping.
Overall, LightCMS offers quite a solid eCommerce solution. It's more detailed than its blogging function, and although it's not going to be competing with dedicated eCommerce platforms anytime soon, it's definitely a decent feature from amongst LightCMS' offerings.
Over on Website Builders Critic, I've shown how to build an online store on LightCMS within five minutes.
The LightCMS Partner Platform
The LightCMS Partner Platform gives web designers the chance to use LightCMS at the core of their business. Partners have access to LightCMS' full suite of website design and management tools to handle multiple client websites at once.
Here's an introductory video.
When you become a partner, you won't notice much difference at first glance. In essence, LightCMS functions exactly the same for non-partners as it does for partners - which is part of the beauty of it.
The good stuff happens when you navigate over to "Account", and then "Websites". Here, you can see your existing website, along with a big blue "+" button. That's for creating your next unlimited website.
When creating a new website for a client, you can set the monthly fee which you wish to charge them. LightCMS will charge you $19 per month, so you can charge your clients a higher fee in order to make a monthly profit.
To automate the process, you can even add your client's card details to the system.
However, perhaps the most lucrative part of LightCMS' Partner Program, is the savings you can make.
I will touch on pricing in more detail later, but to cut a long story short, the Partner Platform enables you to make a saving worth over 80%, as a standard LightCMS Unlimited Plan comes to $99, whereas Partners can get the same benefits (each website you purchase as a partner comes with unlimited pages, storage and products) for just $19 per website.
As far as I'm conerned, this offering is pretty damn impressive.
It's a way to offer clients hosting, website management, website design and an overall powerful web presence, all in one streamlined package. Certainly worth checking out if website design or website management is your gig.
LightCMS serves up a fair amount of extra functionality to round off its platform. Some of which are worth detailing, and so here they are.
Forms, like images for examples, are page elements in LightCMS. but they work in an interesting way.
The form editor is a full screen drag-and-drop interface, where you can choose from a (very) long list of form options. These options include drop down menus, dates, times, prices, multiple choice, file uploads, and more.
On the form settings tab, you can set the name of the form, give it a description, set up email notifications, enable payments, redirect users to another page after completion, and more.
There are enough options to build an extremely comprehensive form, yet it's also easy to build a very simple one. I think it's a pretty awesome feature.
No website builder is quite complete without some built-in reporting, and thankfully, LightCMS delivers on this front fairly well.
Clicking "Stats" on the navigation bar brings up a long list of different stats, most of which can be configured to display results from the last 2 weeks, and from all time. Others can also been seen over a 30-day period.
Such stats include unique visitors, bandwidth, page views, top referrers, search queries, and more.
It's not a reporting system which will blow you away, but it's nice to have, and clients will definitely appreciate it because of the convenience factor.
Search Engine Optimization
A lot of LightCMS' search engine optimization is done automatically, which is great. This includes automated search engine friendly URLs, automated XML sitemaps, and automated user friendly sitemaps.
You can also get your hands a little dirty with the SEO when you create pages, blog posts and products. This is because each time you create one, you can adjust the URLs manually as well as page-specific META data.
Also, if you navigate over to the "Settings" page, you'll see an "SEO" tab. Here, you can set up 301 redirects, insert Google Analytics code, and even an area to add to your website's robots.txt.
Another notable feature is the built-in photo editing.
Usually these features are either very gimmicky, or are simply there for resizing and orientation purposes. But LightCMS goes a step further.
All images can be enhanced and edited in a seriously impressive range of ways. You can zoom in, sharpen, whiten, resize, orientate, brighten and darken all very easily. But that's not all, either.
Other editing tools allow you to add effects and filters, giving your image a brand new look and feel. You can also apply colour fixes, adjust warmth, contrast and more. Using just these tools alone, you can really give all of your images a unique spin, which in turn can impact the overall look of your website.
LightCMS offers up a fairly sound support service.
Clicking “Help” on the admin navigation bar takes you to the help page, where you can access the LightCMS support site, user guides, forums, email support and more.
The support site has video tutorials and FAQs, whereas the user guide goes into more detail about specific features and how to use them. It’s well populated and quite informative.
It's also worth noting that small "Help" buttons appear next to almost every option and feature within the LightCMS platform. Clicking one will allow a small help window to pop up and explain what's going on.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of live chat support, and I never quite feel that a support system is complete without such a service. The forums are exclusive to members of the LightCMS Partner Platform too, which is a bit of a shame.
Overall, a solid support system.
Usually, platform prices increase in exchange for more features. pages, storage and so forth.
LightCMS though, offers all of its features up front, on its lowest plan. Higher plans only serve to increase the amount of pages, storage and products.
I don't find this to be a bad choice, because it means that even those on the lowest of plans can make use of LightCMS as a total platform, instead of just some bare basics. However, this means that although the starting price of $19 is still (just about) reasonable, it's hardly cheap.
Thereafter, the plans continue to rise to a relatively hefty $99 a month until everything gets unlimited. Now that's definitely not cheap.
When compared to Squarespace's most expensive plan at $24, Wix's at $16.14 and Weebly's at $19.54, LightCMS suddenly becomes an expensive option. It can be argued that the saving grace is the LightCMS Partner Platform, which basically enables you to make a decent saving of 80% per website. However, this would only apply to those with clients on hand to make use of the partner platform in the first place.
LightCMS is simple, fast and functional.
Although the user interface is uncomplicated, LightCMS hasn't achieved this by stripping down on functionality. You can still create a perfectly good business website, portfolio, blog or online store without any trouble.
In a way, LightCMS is unique. Don't get me wrong, there are many hosted website building solutions on the market. But not many of them strike the fine balance between offering a simple website building tool, as well as a workable business building tool. LightCMS does both very, very well.
I'm not a huge fan of the overall design of the admin panel, mainly because I think it's a little too dark and professional to appeal to the average web design newbie looking to create his or her own website. But I'm starting to wonder whether LightCMS is even focusing much on that area of the market, particularly since the release of their Partner Platform.
In any case, LightCMS is robust, feature-filled and can produce genuinely powerful websites in seriously short spaces of time thanks to a simple drag-and-drop interface paired with some easy-to-edit page elements. It comes highly recommend by me as one of the best website builders on offer today.
- LightCMS is feature rich, yet very user friendly.
- The drag-and-drop interface and easy design customization tools make designing pages easy, without the need to touch any code.
- Extremely fast at carrying out tasks like switching themes, adding elements and customizing design.
- Has a nice selection of professional and responsive themes, none of which cost any extra.
- Boasts a very powerful and very flexible drag-and-drop form builder.
- Built-in photo editing which is actually worth using.
- Built-in stats.
- Built-in blogging functionality.
- Built-in eCommerce function - and a pretty solid one at that.
- Even the lowest plan gives you access to all LightCMS features.
- The LightCMS Partner Platform makes for one of the most powerful website design, managing and white-labelling/private labelling tools on the market.
- Pricing is heavy if you aren't making use of the Partner Platform,
- It's certainly not difficult to use, but it's not the most inviting website builder to use either. This is mainly because the interface isn't as welcoming and friendly when compared to competitors.
- LightCMS' blogging functions are okay, but for the prices LightCMS are charging, I'm not sure that okay is good enough. Some extra functionality and better post/media management is needed.
LightCMS can hold its own against the biggest and best website builders around, but it is through its Partner Platform that it shines brightest.
For a web designer with multiple clients to please, the LightCMS Partner Platform streamlines the rough stuff, making it easy to host, build and then re-build again and again, for as many clients as he or she can muster, New sites can be created, fees can be set, and clients can be billed in a matter of seconds. It's fantastic.
But it's only fantastic because of LightCMS' core features. There are many white-labelling/private labelling website builders on the market, but not many combine this awesome service with a genuinely great website building tool, like LightCMS has.
That's also why LightCMS can hold its own without its Partner Platform. The user friendly interface and good looking templates mean that website design newbies, small to medium sized businesses, and freelancers of all kinds can jump in, drag, drop, type and upload their way to a stunning website.
I may have some gripes about pricing and the general aesthetics of the admin panel, but if you look at LightCMS holistically, one must concede that it ticks all the boxes that a good website builder should tick, and then some.