Skip to main content

There's a fascinating new combatant in the business website wars: tiny Simi Valley, Calif.-based Clover Sites.

Google

(GOOG)

,

Microsoft

(MSFT)

,

Intuit

(INTU)

and many others offer relatively simple, DIY websites for small businesses. But 14-person Web development firm Clover Sites has a new idea: a super-simple, design-oriented, site-creation engine aimed at technophobe small-business users with some money to spend on a quality Web service.

Company founders Ben Rugg and Jim Elliston got started in Web design by developing church websites for the Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley. There the two learned there is a market for better websites that cost a bit to create but don't require pricey developers to maintain.

"Our target is people who struggle to program their VCRs but need a top-flight site," Rugg says. "We offer a high-quality Web development tool that just about anybody can build themselves."

I have been giving Clover a test drive over the past month or so. Be warned that the service has a not-insignificant $1,000 set-up fee, plus $20 per month hosting charge. And although the tool is not quite the effortless Web experience Rugg and Elliston like to promote, it does offer small businesses seeking a high-quality website value for their money.

What you get

If there's an easier way to make your own slick, legitimately high-end website, I haven't seen it.

Clover has built its entire tool out of an advanced coding language called Flash. The result is a mostly powerful, easy-to-use interface that controls everything from hosting your Web content to laying out pages to adding multimedia and video.

And the benefits are clear: Once set up, Clover makes tinkering with your site, which is critical to business success, simple. Since you do not need to pay pricey coders, who run roughly $50 an hour, to make adjustments, you can change your Clover site as you realize what your customers want.

For anybody who has struggled to make a website really work, as I have, Clover is a seriously innovative idea.

What you don't get

Clover Sites are not truly first-rate designwise, nor are they completely idiot-proof -- and the price is way too high for some firms.

Yes, sites created with Clover look good, but they don't look that good. There is a homogeneity to its designs and Web experience that eats into the cachet of the content. For some businesses, that's fine. But be sure the Clover look works for you.

Also, while setup is fairly easy, you are still doing wonky Web things such as dealing with your Web hosts and entering content on one screen and seeing it displayed on another. It does take some level of Web savvy to use.

And then there is the cost: $1,000 to get started and what amounts to $240 a year certainly is a fraction of, say, the $5,000 it costs to create and run a truly well-done custom site. But it is still a

lot

of money for a Web presence when compared to Google Sites, which is free.

The company says Mac users should not be frightened of its all-

Adobe

(ADBE)

Flash approach, which is often not supported by Apple technology. Apparently, Clover sites have been adapted to work on all browsers and platforms. Those hoping to work on their sites on their iPhones, though, will probably be disappointed.

Bottom line

For some businesses, Clover will be intriguing. It offers a fresh approach to dealing with customers on the Web.

By all means give the service a demo. Just don't expect the tool to make a truly ultimate, destination website. You still need to pay a real Web developer for that.

>To submit a news tip, email:

tips@thestreet.com

.

RELATED STORIES:

>>Gadget Gift Guide for the Business Outsider

>>Microsoft Office 365 Can't Beat Google in Beta

>>BlackBerry Style Harks Back to Simpler Time

Follow TheStreet.com on

Twitter

and become a fan on

Facebook.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.