If you’re just starting a business, the price of getting a website built can be a bit daunting. Many entrepreneurs think about saving this money by building their website themselves using an online website builder that claims to be “free.” But, before you go any further, you need the truth about that free website before you jump in. Yes Weebly and other website builders do a good job of allowing anyone to create a great looking website, but you really shouldn’t use the free option that they provide. Upgrade to at least the most basic paid plan and you’ll be glad.
Limitations of Free Website Builders
The reality is that those “free” websites are far from free. For the most part, the site is all your effort but directed at furthering the marketing campaign of somebody else, unrelated to you and your business. Here are some of the common problems found with these free sites.
You Can’t Customize Your Domain
When you use an online website builder, you’ll end up having to use the domain name of the host. This means that instead of getting to use MYBUSINESS.COM, you’ll have to use a domain like MYBUSINESS.WEEBLY.COM (or whichever website builder you use). For starters, this looks both amateurish and unprofessional. If you do not have control over your domain name, you can forget about creating a multisite, or sub-sites, that are increasingly part of a business model.
Builder Branding Required
There’s also the issue of builder branding, which would appear on the pages of your website. This branding can be included in the header or the footer of your site, but it could also show up in the body on the content area of your website or the favicon. The point is that you do not have any control. This branding is typically entirely hyperlinked away from your website to advertise its own service. This means it is ultimately driving traffic away from your site and business.
Your Storage Is Limited
As cloud providers transition into SSDs, storage space is shrinking and getting more expensive. This is why storage is often the differentiating factor among the various plans. All bets are off if you opt for the free plan. Typically, you’ll get just enough space to display a handful of pages, even if images are hosted outside of that capacity. Do not assume that you would be able to post your 25 MB video clip or even a 5 MB audio snippet. Most likely, you will have to find external hosting for those files separately. If you go for a free download somewhere else, your clients are likely going to have to take a survey or watch an advertisement before getting to the download link.
Ideally, your file should be hosted on your own server and downloaded immediately upon a click request. You do not want to appear small, or as skimping on offerings.
Your Site Has a Limited Number of Pages
Most companies will give you between 5 and 10 free pages before requiring a plan upgrade. This could result in putting two very different functions of your business on the same page just to comply. It also means you can say goodbye to comprehensive blogging that may require category pages, archives, and posts on a running basis. This can lead to a significant competitive disadvantage.
There Is Limited Support
There are no free lunches. A free website often comes with limited, if any, support. To be fair, however, you are not likely to encounter many issues either because of the limited functionality. It’s unlikely you’ll get to place custom code in your pages or anything complex that would require additional support.
You Experience Slow Load Times
Your free site is going to be slow (which will affect your overall traffic). This is because you’ll be sharing server resources allocated to free customers with hundreds or even thousands of others. After all, your hosting company has to look at how this offering will fit in their marketing budget. You can’t expect fast loading times, and in most cases, they won’t even let you put a caching plug-in on there to speed up the site. This also takes away any additional content delivery networks you were planning on, any minification of code, or any other speed-enhancing technology.
You Don’t Get All the Features
Features are reserved for those willing to pay. A hosting company realizes that with additional features additional support is often required. Then, there are additional costs associated with keeping these features updated and secure from attacks, if they don’t want to open themselves up to potential liability. Accordingly, for even some of the most basic features, you may be required to pay up.
Do not go into the free plan thinking you’re all set. All too often, users are in for a rude shock when they find overage charges, bandwidth charges, extra storage fees, mobile use fees, or even fees associated with using a file transfer protocol (required for transferring files over a certain size). Essentially, you should expect to pay as soon as you’re trying to do anything above basically, a high school project.
You Get Stuck
Once you build your site on the platform, it’s nearly impossible to transfer it to your own domain in the future (off-platform). That is because backup and transfers are paid services across the industry. If you were trying to do this job yourself, you would still need to install a duplicating plug-in or have at least FTP access, that is, if your host even supports such functionality. In most cases, it is very easy to move your data into the platform, but significantly harder trying to take it out.
You Are Not in Control
This is one of the scariest parts of a “free” website. The platform you build your site on ultimately has control of your site. How can you expect control when you are locked in a server with a thousand other clients, all not wanting or eager to pay? The best you can hope for in the zoo is some order. That is, for some customer to not upload material that results in the whole server being taken down. If it’s not the host that is going to do it, imagine the FBI doing it! Government agencies are known for ripping apart whatever they need in a server farm and leaving the rest hanging.
Susceptible to Malware Distribution
A standalone VPN server is secure because no one else can upload their files on it and the machine is good as yours. Now imagine a server farm (which is what a free website builder essentially is), where one can sign-up without a financial trail, and just about every kind of file is allowed to be uploaded. Imagine the various use cases that would come out of such an operation. That is what makes a shared server susceptible to malware distribution. Even if you don’t get penalized for the wrongdoings of others, you can look forward to significant downtime in case of an interruption.
A Free Website Will Likely Be MORE Costly
Once you put all of this together, you would realize that “free“ website builder ends up being more costly. It’s not that hard to imagine: a good fraction of your hard-earned viewers will click away to your host. Another fraction will go away to your competitors that have better organization of the material, with separate pages describing activities and contact details. The lack of professionalism in not having your own domain will drive away another fraction of customers. Plus, you won’t be able to share any files or reward your newsletter sign-ups with a download because you can’t host anything on your free account. And this shall be the story on days when the server is up, surviving overuse and hack attempts.
Your web presence should be a significant part of your marketing budget. In this day and age, VPN servers are no more than 5 dollars a month – check Digital Ocean or Linode! That should be more than enough resource availability to firmly establish your presence and is easily manageable with even a modest business. So instead of getting sucked into the honeytrap of a “free” website, start valuing your time and effort, as well as that of your customers, and create your own website where you’re in control.