Pixpa review 2016 - a website building tool for photographers and creatives
In this Pixpa review we take a look at a relatively new website building solution. How does it compare to more established tools like Squarespace, Wix and Jimdo, and is it a good website builder for your business?
Our overall rating: 3.5/5
What is Pixpa?
Pixpa is a web application which lets you build your own website. Initially geared towards artists and photographers, the product was launched in 2013 after its founder, Gurpreet Singh, realised that a solution he’d developed to help his agency's clientele of creatives showcase their work online had more mainstream potential. Just three years later, Pixpa now boasts thousands of users around the world and is used not just by photographers but by owners of business sites, wedding sites and blogs.
There are three Pixpa plans available:
- Starter - $10 per month
- Pro - $15 per month
- Plus - $20 per month
These plans work out at $8, $12 and $16 per month if you pay annually. To get a sense of how the product works, you can avail of a 15-day free trial.
In terms of the key differences between the above plans, things basically boil down to how three things:
- how many web pages / blogs you can have on your site (10 on Starter, 50 on Pro, Unlimited on Plus)
- how many galleries you can use (10 on Starter, 50 on Pro, Unlimited on Plus)
- how many 'client proofing' galleries you can display (0 on Starter, 50 on Pro, Unlimited on Plus)
As we’ll see later on in the review, Pixpa allows you to build various types of websites, but the fact that two of the three the plan-based limits are focused on galleries gives a clue as to where a key focus of the product arguably still lies: on providing photographers (and other creative folk) with a way to create online portfolios.
Pixpa's interface is designed with 'ordinary' users in mind - i.e., people without advanced web building skills - and as such is uncluttered and very straightforward to use. The sections that users will find themselves toggling between the most are ‘Build’ and ‘Design’. In ‘Build’ mode you create your primary navigation and add/edit pages, and in ‘Design’ mode you choose your template, tweak your typefaces and colours and so on. It’s simple enough stuff and the learning curve should not be at all steep.
The other area of Pixpa which users will find themselves frequenting occasionally is the ‘Settings’ tab. This provides options for adding external scripts, Google Analytics tracking code and connecting social media accounts. The settings section is easy to understand and populate.
Overall, content management is handled well by Pixpa. It’s easy to create pages, edit them and move them around the navigation. A wide variety of content blocks - from simple text to images to maps - can be dragged and dropped easily into position on pages and as such it’s very easy to put nice looking pages together very quickly. Another strong aspect of the content management system is that you can toggle really easily between WYSIWYG and HTML mode - this makes adding elements like third-party forms or inserting widgets into your site extremely easy. (For the record, this approach works much better than in rival Squarespace, where any HTML has to be added via a code block which usually messes up your content’s spacing).
Given its roots as an online photography portfolio builder, you’d expect the gallery and image uploading features to be strong, and they are. You can choose from a good range of attractive gallery styles and you have options around password protecting them too, which is useful for photographers who want to give clients private access to certain selections of images.
Another feature that photographers (and indeed any other users who take bookings) will find particularly useful is the events calendar, which allows you to display upcoming events and take booking enquiries. I’d love to see this eventually integrate with external calendars, for example a Google Apps calendar.
There are some niggles that need to be addressed however.
Firstly, when building your site’s navigation, if you create a page with sub-pages, this parent page won’t function as a proper page. For example, if you have a section called ‘Services’ with three subpages, ‘Web Design’, ‘SEO’ and ‘Copywriting’, you can only put content on the subpages and not on ‘Services’. The problem with this is that on desktop devices at least, some site visitors will invariably attempt to click on the parent page link in the navigation and will be puzzled as to why nothing is happening. (On mobile devices, it makes more sense, because something will happen when the link is clicked on: the menu will expand). Pixpa’s not alone in pursuing this approach to drop down menus - several other well-known site builders handle this in the same manner - but I’m not a fan. I think users should have options regarding whether parent pages are ‘proper’, clickable pages or not.
Secondly - and this is more of a serious issue - it seems as though you can’t currently embed content from the blog or galleries into pages. This means, for example, that you can’t display your latest blog posts automatically on your home page, or the images you’ve most recently added to a gallery. Although you can manually add links to this content, I think many users will find the lack of an option to embed blog or gallery content frustrating.
Finally, I’d like to be able to edit forms more easily. You can drop a form block directly into a content page - but there’s no easy way to add fields to it. With the dedicated contact form pages, it’s easy enough to edit the forms, but I’d like to be able to tweak a form added via the drag and drop builder in situ.
Templates and design
The templates - or ‘themes’ - provided by Pixpa are arguably the best thing about the product, and compare very favourably to those offered by more established website building tools such as Squarespace, Wix and Jimdo. The Pixpa template designs are contemporary and slick, and give Squarespace, a platform famed for its high-quality templates, a good run for its money in the quality stakes. I also prefer the Pixpa templates to Jimdo’s offering and many of Wix’s. However, there could be more of them - at time of writing, I could only find 22 available. Squarespace offers over twice this number of templates and Wix over ten times (and let's not forget Wordpress, where the sky is the limit as far as the number templates go). But the quantity caveat aside, most users should definitely find that there is an attractive Pixpa template to suit their needs.
In terms of the style elements that can be tweaked, you can only change colours and typefaces. On the plus side, this makes editing your site design extremely straightforward. On the down side, it’s quite restrictive - little tweaks like changing the spaces between above and below headers is not possible. Unlike some other site building solutions, direct access to your site's CSS is not provided by Pixpa; I suspect the target audience for Pixpa will not be too concerned about this, but if you’re a user who likes to play about with your website’s design, you will need to bear this in mind before committing to Pixpa.
The typefaces on offer are all from the Google Fonts family, which means you will have a wide range of serif and sans serif options at your disposal, but oddly you’re not given the option to use standard web-friendly fonts like Arial, Times New Roman and so on. Also, I couldn’t see an easy way to make use of a third party web font - this might be an issue if your business’ brand makes use of specific typefaces that are not in Google Fonts. I’m guessing you could use the ‘scripts’ section in the settings tab and tweak the HTML code of individual pages to use them, but it’d be good if there was a more straightforward way of working with other fonts.
Blogging with Pixpa
As with much else in Pixpa, blogging is very easy - and you can add as many blogs as you like (i.e., you could create a blog for topic A, another one for topic B, and another for news etc.). As with regular content blocks you can toggle between WYSIWYG and HTML mode. You can also add excerpts, featured images and SEO info to each post. It’s also possible to integrate Disqus easily too, which is great.
On the down side, some users might like to use categories and tags in their posts; but currently, you can only add tags. And as discussed above it’s not possible to embed blog content on other pages of your Pixpa site.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
SEO functionality in Pixpa is very good - no complaints at all here. You can add titles, keywords and meta descriptions to any page in its ‘properties’ section. (As a comparison, SEO is much better in Pixpa than in Squarespace, which makes things confusing by not providing you with dedicated SEO fields, occasionally making SEO descriptions visible on templates, and forcing users to make use of blog post excerpt fields to create meta descriptions.)
E-commerce isn’t really available in Pixpa yet. Photographers can avail of an integration with Fotomoto to sell copies of their prints, but those wishing to host an online store which sells conventional products would be better off for now considering products like Shopify, Bigcommerce or Squarespace. That said, if the other features of Pixpa appeal strongly to you - or if you wish to add e-commerce to an existing Pixpa site - you could always consider using a widget-based solution like Ecwid to add a full online store to your site.
Import and export of content
A weak link in Pixpa for me currently involves import and export - as things stand, there’s no functionality to either migrate a site from another platform across to Pixpa, or, perhaps more importantly, export your site data for use in another platform.
The reason exports are important is this: you might start a site on Pixpa but as your business grows you may reach a stage where it becomes necessary to switch to a platform which provides more advanced functionality. And if you have been blogging regularly on Pixpa, you may then face a scenario where you have hundreds of posts which can’t be exported from the system. This in turn means that you'll be forced to manually copy and paste a lot of content from Pixpa into your new site, with all the headaches this sort of thing entails.
The other issue with the lack of an export feature is that if in the (hopefully unlikely) event that Pixpa ceases to function as a company, you won’t have an archive of site exports to use to build a site on another platform.
The good news however is that Pixpa are working on export functionality - the sooner it is added, the more comfortable I personally would feel about building a site on the platform.
Support on Pixpa is email only. This is the case with key competing products too: of big-hitters Squarespace, Wix and Jimdo, only Wix provide phone support (this fact being very well buried on the Wix website!). In terms of response times, Pixpa promise to get back to you within a couple of hours and say that often queries are answered within minutes.
Pixpa Review conclusions
As things stand, it’s fair to say that Pixpa is a product that will appeal to people who need to get a simple website together very quickly. It’s particularly handy for constructing wedding websites, photography portfolios and simple brochure sites. It's cheap too if you aren't intending on uploading loads of images.
On the plus side Pixpa is very easy to use, the templates are strong, and the image management functionality is great for photographers. Less great is the lack of e-commerce functionality, missing import / export tools and the way that you can’t embed streams of content from blogs or galleries onto other pages. Overall there is much to like however about Pixpa, and I think that with a little bit more work, it has a very bright future ahead of it. I look forward to seeing how the product develops.
If you'd like to try Pixpa out yourself, you can get a 15-day free trial here.
Pros and cons of Pixpa
- Competitively priced.
- Very easy to use.
- Good template designs.
- Good features for photographers, including Fotomoto integration.
- It’s easy to toggle between WYSIWYG and HTML mode, on both static pages and blogs.
- Good SEO features.
- You can create multiple blogs.
- Basic event management / booking is available.
- No e-commerce functionality available, other than Fotomoto.
- No import / export functionality.
- Blog and image galleries are not embeddable on normal pages.
- CSS is not editable.
- There are no controls provided to edit forms in situ.
Alternatives to Pixpa
There are several alternatives to Pixpa available. Squarespace, Jimdo and Wix are the obvious alternatives for those who wish to build a brochure or portfolio site using a hosted solution; for users who wish to sell products online, Shopify or Bigcommerce should be investigated. And of course there’s always Wordpress to consider, although this will usually require more manual configuration to set up.