As new clients have approached us recently we have noticed a large percentage of them are wanting to migrate from a "Free" or "Cheap" service that advertises "Build your own website it is easy" Why is that? Surely if it is free AND easy it's great, right?
What Do These Sites Offer?
They usually offer an "easy to use" web builder or some drag and drop software that will allow you to build very basic web pages with info and images.
This is great if you run a little local club, all you want are a few pages of information online and have the time and perseverance to sit and learn how to use their system. Is it a great choice for a business or professional use? Probably not, we will cover more of that in a moment.
A Few Questions You Need To Ask Before You Sign Up
Is It Really Free?
Remember that old saying "There is no such thing as a free lunch"? Like any old saying, there is usually some truth behind it.
ALL these companies are making money somewhere that is a FACT. To offer their "free" sites still requires web servers, data centres, support staff and lots of resources. These resources are far from cheap. On top of the cost of providing the service these companies want to make a profit so it is perfectly fine to be suspicious here and ask the question "How are this company making their money?"
Before you sign up dig around their site, look at the small print, look at what extras they DO charge for.
How They Earn From You
Here are just a few ways these companies will be economical with the truth to earn their profits.
Lack of real functionality.
"It's free" well that is true if you just want a few pages of text and photos online, using a template that thousands of others have used too. But if you want your site to have more functionality you will start paying for plugins. Most these companies charge you not once but MONTHLY per plugin.
Or they will say "Our plugins are free" then set very low usage limits on them, the result is the same you end up paying for them to be truly useful.
The Hidden Extras
As an example, let's list some basic functionality that these sites charge monthly for
A simple email contact form
Customer Comments On Posts
Website Search Box
Accept Online Payments
Newsletter Sign Up Form
Live Chat Support
A programme like WordPress has over 39,000 plugins to add a myriad of features. A lot of them free, some of them sold by people who keep them updated however they do not carry silly monthly fees.
The cost of all these plugins can quickly add up to more than a business website with hosting would cost you per year.
Other "Free" website services will cover your site and any emails sent from it in ads to make their money. Ads that you have no control over that may well advertise your competitors.
Not only do you have no control over the ads it is not very professional, is it?
Some site builders will not remove their logo from the top/bottom of your site even if you buy a package from them. Again not very professional. Yes, we ask our clients if we can have a link at the very bottom of their site if they say no we do not put it there...it is THEIR site, not ours.
Other Issues With Free Or Cheap Sites
The Free Domain Scam
"We will give you a free domain with your site. Your very own www. name" Be VERY wary of this it will probably involve one of these two restrictions
1. It will be free the first year and you will pay a PREMIUM rate yearly to keep it. Domains are currently around £10 - £15 a year from a legitimate domain registrar. Some offer deals in the first year but your renewal will not be much more than that if the company is genuine. Look at the small print here! We have seen people pay £30 - £70 for renewals. Again not so free.
2. The Release Fee. This is a very underhand tactic some companies use. Yes, you get to choose a domain for your site but THEY register it in THEIR name. A year down the road when you realise their service is either expensive or too limited, and you want to move, they will ask you for silly money to release that domain name, if they will release it at all.
Even worse you may not have a domain name at all your site looks like this
Not very professional is it? Will it fit on your business card? Will it be as easy for people to remember as fredswidgets.com ?
It's Just A Site
By this we mean if you should want to install some other kind of programme like a forum, an ad directory, A support programme or any other third party script, they WILL NOT do this for you as you do not have a web hosting account with them you just have a site.
Your Site Is Not Yours
In essence, your site does not belong to you. If you build a site using a companies custom site builder you can not move it to another host if you are unhappy with their service, it is their programme on their site that built your site. You want to move you are starting again from scratch.
Costs The Truth
A "Free" site can very quickly start costing you £30 a month when you add a few plugins to give you BASIC functionality on your site that's £360 a year for a site you have little control over.
A pro website of your own with no limitations after it is built with a nice fast, managed, hosting account including all your updates £15.99 a month £191.88 a year.
Yes it will cost you money to have it built but it will be unique to your business, you can enhance it how you wish and after just a couple of years, you will be saving money.
Are you aware that most web users expect a web page to load in under 2 seconds? If your page has not loaded in 3 seconds they will simply leave. If you are selling a service or product every second delay can reduce your sales/conversions by 7% do the maths here, your pages need to be fast or you are losing money FACT. Do you think free services offer top grade web hosting? Would you buy the best web servers if you were offering a free service?
The site builder companies rarely hire web professionals to give you support. You will more than likely get a support rep who will point you at a help section or copy and paste a reply to you. They will not be web designers or server techs.
A good web designer or host will have years of experience building websites. What you should be doing, what you shouldn't be doing, if you ask them they will guide you. Support reps don't have near the knowledge a good designer or host will.
The point of this article it to get you to research properly before signing up for a "Free" or "Cheap" website even if you build it yourself. This is not us dissing our competition, most of these companies are not open, honest or transparent. We happen to love them because we gain clients from them all the time when business people realise they have no real control over their site. What we hate is that these clients have suffered an appalling and expensive experience by the time they get to us.
Let's be straight here (It is how WE operate) Websites cost money. There is a lot more to a successful website than just building it. It has to be built right for search engines, it has to be constructed correctly to achieve what you want it to, it needs to be kept updated.
Are you aware that your website must fit ALL kinds of devices to show up in searches on mobile phones?
Do you know about web design best practices?
Do you know the kind of things search engines may blacklist your site for?
Do you know the things you should be doing to help your site do well in search engines?
If you are serious about your business get serious about your website, it IS your business in the eyes of your customer. Find an affordable pro company to help you.
If you were opening a restaurant would you find a nice building or use the battered old shed down the street you can rent for a tenner a week? Why treat your website the same way? If your clients think you have gone cheap on your website what impression do you think they will have of your business or service?
"Build a stunning website it's free" is a fairly new phrase, but this phrase "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!" has been around for centuries.
About The Author
Gary McHugh is the owner of 3001web.com a company that offers Managed WordPress hosting, professional affordable web design and a full range of services for website owners.