Are Free Websites Too Good to be True?
We've all seen the advertisements on television for free custom websites. They feature shiny happy small business owners talking about how amazing their new free website is and how they got professional copywriting, state-of-the art design, promotion, hosting, support and maintenance all without paying a single penny. Does it sound too good to be true? That's because it is. Here's why.
1) Free? What's the catch?: Creating a successful website takes a lot of work and thoughtful planning. We just glossed over the surface of what goes into it and it took us three blog posts to cover the very basics. You can read about the process from start to finish in part one here, part two here and part three here. How could something you get for free ever be fully customized, supported, hosted and maintained? Nobody gives that kind of thing away for free without a catch.
2) DoIOwnThisWebsite.com: When you sign up for a free website, you do not always own your domain name. We suggest getting your own registered domain name that has the name of your business in it so that people can find you easily if they look for you with a search engine. A free website might offer you a domain name for free for the first year, but possibly upcharge for subsequent years after that. The small print will get you, so proceed with caution and know every last detail.
Some free website domain names have their own names included. For example, if you own a business called Nom Nom Cupcakes, your domain name might look like this: nomnomcupcakes.freewebsitesrus.com, instead of just nomnomcupcakes.com. The first one doesn't look as professional and many people will be wary of it, thinking it might not be a real website.
3) Downward dog? Maybe not…: Free websites are built on templates that are limited and restricted in terms of flexibility and what you can do with them. There is no chance to change the way the site functions or make any design tweaks. It is what it is.
4) Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?: Eventually everyone needs a little support when things are not working correctly. Free website services are frequently understaffed and folks who send out an SOS go unanswered. Having your site built by someone like us will ensure that if things go wonky, there will be a website superhero ready to swoop in and save you.
5) No. That's inappropriate: Adding an ad panel is what typically pays for free websites. This means that your content will have to share real estate with a bunch of advertisements that give your page a cluttered and disorganized look. Furthermore, you have zero control over what kind of advertisements appear. They could be really inappropriate and there's nothing you can do about it because you do not own the website.
6) Cookie cutter anyone? : We know the ads say that your website will be customized, but that doesn't mean that it will be uniquely yours. Thousands of websites will look just like it because these sites are built on a selection of a few different templates. The only customization going on here is that it contains words and images that relate to your business. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with a template website—in fact, we do them here ourselves, but we are able to offer a lot more options to make your site look completely different from one that's built on the same template.
7) You can't get there from here…recalculating: Many free website builders are built on a platform that makes it impossible or very difficult and expensive to add a blog, ecommerce or other features. This leaves many possibilities closed to you since there are no export options.
8) What's in a name?: We wrote a post about the importance of domain names and hosting a while back. We talked about the significance of owning your own domain name and reviewed the three main components of web hosting. Basically, these things are crucial to having a successful website and if you don't have them set up correctly, your website is going to grossly underperform.
There is always a catch with free and we have listed only a few of them here. Don't forget that your business is an investment and that taking shortcuts will only slow you down and likely cost you even more money later on. There are many affordable options that provide enough flexibility and all the support you need so there are no surprises, disappointments or regrets. Your website is vitally important to the success of your business and it's worth careful planning and expert support.
Great article guys (& gals), we see this all the time too. You don't need business experience or an existing revenue flow to know "you get what you paid for". Free marketing service to promote a revenue generating business simply doesnt make much sense.
— replyThu, 01/08/2015 - 1:50pm
Thank you for your comment, Chris! While we completely understand why some business owners would be very tempted to pursue the option of a free website, we really want them to know what "free" actually means. Most of the time, it's better to spend a little money and get a great start.