15 Comments

Summary:

I wasn’t sure what to make of Sitemasher when I first heard of it. With Sitemasher, you can build a web site, manage the content, get analytics, implement basic SEO, and you get managed hosting to boot. But at $99/month, I felt the kerpow of sticker […]

Sitemasher

Sitemasher

I wasn’t sure what to make of Sitemasher when I first heard of it. With Sitemasher, you can build a web site, manage the content, get analytics, implement basic SEO, and you get managed hosting to boot.

But at $99/month, I felt the kerpow of sticker shock. I knew that I had to think about Sitemasher differently to fully appreciate its value.

So after a demo with the company, here is what I’ve learned.

Web Developers Rule at Sitemasher

Sitemasher is really meant to be a tool for Web developers to help them provide integrated Web services to clients and either hand over the finished site to the client or continue to easily manage the site for the client. There are two views to Sitemasher:

Dashboard View: This is more for the marketer or business owner who wants to have some admin controls such as viewing site analytics, adding some basic SEO code into the site like easy-to-construct meta tags, and set user levels. Depending on a person’s role on the Web site development and maintenance process, their user access can be set up with limitations. The user roles tool allows admin to specify exactly what each person is allowed to do on the site – from edit to approve to publish. Tasks can be created and assigned.

Basically, Sitemasher lets the site admin turn features on and off based on the client’s needs and the workflow everyone wants.

Studio View: This is the heart of the Web developer’s domain. In Studio view, the developer can build the site from the ground up and tweak their development environment to their preferences. There is also a Style Sheet manager and a Database creator. So when a developer creates a form, for example, Sitemasher’s system automatically ties it to a contact database to manage the contact information.

Not being a Web designer myself, I didn’t grasp all the designer speak, however, I got the impression that even someone with my 1990s HTML and Web design skills would be right at home with the easy-to-use site building tools.

Back to the Price

After seeing how robust and feature rich Sitemasher was, I began to think again about the price. Would I, as a site developer, have to pay $99/month to build a site for my client?

The answer is NO. Web developers can use Sitemasher for free as their development tool for multiple clients. Each client gets private access into their site during all stages of development. Then, when the site is ready for debut, the developer triggers the site to publish it live.

Sitemasher analytics

Sitemasher analytics

At that point, the $99/month kicks in and this is a cost that the developer can pass on to the client. They could then choose to be done with the project as the CMS, analytics and SEO tools are easy enough for a non-programmer to use so a client could handle the site from then on. Or they can remain on hand – if the client has a capacity issue – and use Sitemasher to manage the site for the client. The client still pays $99/month for their site and all the features while the developer can charge for their time as webmaster.

Breaking down $99/month, I needed to remember that we’re talking about:

  • a really powerful site builder (ex: Dreamweaver $399US);
  • a detailed analytics tool (ex: Google Analytics which is FREE but something like WebTrends isn’t free);
  • basic SEO (this could entail hiring an SEO expert for hundreds of dollars);
  • simple CMS (this could be pricey – $1200/year); and
  • managed hosting (this could range from $25/month to hundreds of dollars per month).

Frankly, just the CMS alone could make Sitemasher worthwhile to the business owner who doesn’t want to mess with code and also wants a good degree of autonomy from their Web developer.

$99/month is the Basic level where only 2 people can be users (Web developer and customer and then later could be switched to two customer staff members). The next levels, $249/month allows 5 users (with the ability to add), approvals, different user roles, and versioning while the $699/month gives you unlimited users on top of all the features.

NOTE: On October 8, Sitemasher announced the Sitemasher Website Design Contest which runs through March 1, 2009. Find out more about how you can enter. First Prize: $1,000; Second Prize: $500; Third Prize: $250 as well as a one-year subscription to Sitemasher Basic and a few other bennies.

Have you tried Sitemasher yet? What do you think of it? What other multi-featured Web development tool are you using and do you pay for it?

  1. Colin Robertson Monday, October 20, 2008

    $99 per month seems an awful lot, and your post seems like you’re desperatly trying to justify it. I would disagree with nearly everyone of the costs you mention:

    A really powerful site builder: Microsoft Visual Studio Web Developer Edition – Free

    Detailed analytics – Free (as you mention google analytics)

    Basic SEO – TBH I don’t really understand what that means! Do they populate your Metatags for you? Do they reformat your content to make it read better in a search engine? Or are they just submiting your sitemaps to Google/Yahoo etc.? Which can be done for free.

    What non-hosted “Simple CMS” costs $1200/year? Graffiti CMS costs $99. I say non-hosted because you can’t really compare it to hosted if you are then going to take into account the costs of hosting.

    And managed hosting you probably got about right.

    Share
  2. I think you are comparing apples and pears. Tools like SiteMasher and our own tool, HammerKit (www.hammerkit.com), allow those of us with the coding skills of mortals to create dynamic, data-driven web sites.

    I think the clue is the phrase “Developer Edition” – which points out the folly of most of the tools in use right now…they are never a single solution, they generally require a high degree of programming skill and they do not include hosting and management.

    A service that incorporates all of that is definitely worth it to an individual that just wants the job done simply and easily. The key, as we have found here in Finland, is everything 100% online…it makes everyones life easier…

    Share
  3. [...] came across my feed reader from WebWorkerDaily: I wasn’t sure what to make of Sitemasher when I first heard of it. With Sitemasher, you can [...]

    Share
  4. Thanks, Aliza, for the review, and Colin for the quick comment. Colin, your points are valid, and we get a lot of similar questions. It’s a bit of a change from traditional systems, so I hope you will bear with me on my long response.

    The biggest differentiator from traditional solutions is probably the integrated builder/CMS in environment. Most content management systems need to be mapped to the website, which requires integration and upfront costs as well as the maintenance fee to remap the CMS when the site changes (regardless of whether the CMS hosted or not). Sitemasher’s CMS is totally integrated to the website building environment, so movement between the builder and CMS is imperceptible, only differentiated by user rights (for example, you can assign design rights to only the designer, and assign the ability the change content to a marketing person within the same tool). So, if you create a new page, you can dole out responsibility to content managers to create or change content on that page (with rights restrictions, of course). Because it is all hosted (the tool as well as the site), the collaboration is really rich, as there is not a bunch of emailing mockups, pdfs, site changes, etc…back and forth.

    On the website building, I agree that Visual Studio is a powerful visual programming tool (and there are a lot of other programming/ website building options out there, many of them free). At the end of the day, it’s still a programming tool (with Sitemasher, you don’t program), and you still need to also solve the CMS, the hosting, the Analytics, the SEO, etc. It’s all integrated so there is not a bunch of coding and knitware to construct a website.

    On the SEO,to begin with, Sitemasher leverages some best practices to help build SEO-friendly sites with its code output and the site infrastructure And, yes, Sitemasher auto-generates meta tags within the pages, updates Google sitemaps and urllist.txt when new pages are added (so it has built-in generators that do not have to be installed by website owner), it also auto generates robots.txt, info.txt and more elements. Also, Sitemasher has a SEO simple editor which exposed SEO tools that help the non-techie tweak, further optimize their site and give them full control of optimizing (we’ve exposed page redirects, advanced metas, sitemap.xml, url.list and permalinks into a text editor that would normally need a coder to access the different files on the server and use specific coding for each element to help with seo) so no need to hire a webmaster/coder to implement  SEO tweaks –  the website owner can implement or hand over to SEO firm (cuts out the middle man).

    On analytics, we wanted to provide some internal analytics that are site specific (ie. time spent on site) and basic site stats that are probably enough for most businesses so the owner can have it real time within the platform and/or over a mobile device. But Sitemasher integrates with other packages such as Google Analytics and advanced analytics packages as well.

    Hope this makes sense! Thanks again for your post.

    Share
  5. Most of my web development clients are nonprofits, and probably that contributes to their being cheap bastards who don’t want to spend a lot in recurring monthly costs.

    I recently had a client specifically ream me because I had built our 18-month contract with low front-end costs and high (to their minds) monthly maintenance costs. Ouch! And this for a complete web development project that cost them under $20K total.

    So, I would not be comfortable selling a client a $100/month website package when apparently comparable shared hosting plans are available from $5-$30 per month, from providers like site5.com and pair.com and a slew of others.

    The benefits outlined by Nicole don’t set Sitemasher apart from their free and low-cost competitors like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, along with the plugins that are developed and maintained by independent developers.

    I am not saying there’s not a good value proposition hidden somewhere in Sitemasher, just that neither Nicole nor Aliza is putting it where I can see it.

    Share
  6. Hey Sara,

    Thanks for joining in. I see what you are saying and I hope I can make a distinction between the other solutions you mentioned.

    On the web hosting plans you mentioned…it’s that it’s not just the website that is hosted….it’s the whole tool, end-to-end. So, you build your site, preview (and share the preview with customers), and do the CMS, SEO, and all the forms and the associated database/data are hosted as well…all within the platform. And the managed, cloud hosting environment provides a whole host of benefits vs. the traditional hosting model.

    The tools you mentioned (WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal), while great for content management, lack in the area of creating pixel-perfect websites. If you want to create a pixel perfect site, you typically would create a site exactly how you want it, then either integrate a CMS on the backend (big bucks), or have service contract with the design firm for the maintenance. The other option is to use a CMS from the beginning (using the CMS environment), but then you lose the control of the pixel perfection. So, it comes down to a conundrum where you have to decide whether to build a custom site ground up and then integrate a CMS, or build the site on the CMS and sacrifice some of the control of the look and feel. That is one of the fundamental things Sitemasher tries to solve by having pixel perfect design (drag-and-drop, Visual CSS, etc,.) combined with a really rich, role based, CMS. Since Sitemasher is aimed at professional web designers, the idea is to allow them to create pixel perfect designs while still allowing the content management to be easy (either for the designer or the customer).

    With the pricing, it’s a lot more about TCO when you look at how much it costs to build the site, manage the content and site updates, perform the SEO, etc.

    Looking forward to more feedback.

    Share
  7. Aliza Sherman Monday, October 20, 2008

    Colin – Not trying to justify $99/month – but trying to understand it and realizing that when all is said and done, some organizations and companies spend more than that on a monthly basis (sometimes amortized) to have an integrated solution. I still do get this feeling of sticker shock but am actually warming up to the idea. It is not right for everyone, but I can definitely see times when it makes sense.

    Share
  8. An interesting idea.

    But I’d suggest some more basic features like a calendaring module, newsletter feature, ability to send newsletters by email (Listserve), etc.

    Share
  9. If you’ve ever had to implement a CMS such as Drupal or WordPress, you understand the processes involved. If you run a VPS, you have to setup MySQL, IIS or WAMP, setup anti-virus and then install Drupal or WordPress, edit config files, permissions, maybe a mod-rewrite function to prevent SQL injection attacks.

    Now that that’s all installed, you have to go out and search for modules that support your clients needs and then you have to implement a theme. Of course you could go and grab a theme off the shelf, but do you really want to hand off a site with a theme that 100s of others have used. Either you create a custom theme (no small feat I may add) or tweak an existing one (easier but still a task).

    Then you have to “manage the code”. A new release or update, you now have to go and update 15 wordpress accounts, 20 Drupal systems, all the while being aware that the modules you used have not been updated yet. And that’s just one site. ughh. I don’t even want to think about it. All this time spent “managing code” when you could be busting out 3-4 new designs for new clients, moving forward.

    Plus, the pains my clients have had in the past with custom broken, unsupported CMS’s, $99 bucks a month for something they can simply update and manage themselves is a bargain.

    Share
  10. [...] the client or continue to easily manage the site for the client. There are two views to Sitemasher: Read more [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post