“Free” just means the high fees don’t kick right away, and many use predatory business models that hold your free website hostage to keep you paying inflated costs.
I always feel a little sheepish when writing these types of articles. I imagine the first response of anyone reading them is something along the lines of “Well of course they bash a free website, they make a living charging money to build them”.
I get it. No one wants to spend more money than they think they have to. I also get that those feelings can be amplified further when talking about something intangible (like a website or related service like Search Engine Optimization). I’m no different. Hypothetically, if someone offered me something I needed, and they said I could either pay for it or not pay for it, all things being equal, I would probably choose not to pay for it. Of course in the real world all things are not equal, and we know that very few things come without some kind of cost. It’s true here as well; companies that offer “free” website are not doing so because they feel charitable.
Simply put, there’s no such thing as a free website. Every single company that offers such a thing is doing so to make money. Some generate revenue by using your site to place advertising. In certain circumstances, that may not be a problem. But generally, companies touting free websites are just using a different business model; the customer pays for it over time instead of upfront. They offer you a free trial period which for you to build and launch your site, then begin charging you a huge monthly cost. In many cases, the overall cost of your free website will end up costing you MORE. A lot more. Despite the rosy picture they paint, when you break it down you realize the business model that many “free” website companies use is very predatory, designed to hold your website hostage and keep you paying long after you should have to.
No other industry could get away with what some of these companies call “free”. There is nothing free about them at all. Their business model simply amounts to you paying them for your own website in a never-ending lease agreement. You may pay no money upfront, but once your site is launched, you pay huge monthly fees to keep it live. Over time those fees can easily add up to far more than what it would have cost to have your site built by a professional.
You Have to Build it Yourself
At this point, hopefully you’re thinking, “Wait, over time I’m going to pay the same (or more) as I would pay to have an expert to build the website for me, but if I go with a free website company I have to do all the work of building it myself? How is that fair?” Obviously it’s not. Plus, let’s face it, if you knew even just the basics of how to build a website, you probably wouldn’t be considering one of these “free” services in the first place. Which means…
You’re Probably not Equipped with the basic Technical Skills to Build it Properly
“It looks so simple to use a monkey could do it.”
Watching the commercials, setting up your free website seems as easy as taking a nap after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not. I’ve tried. Even with many years of experience with many different types of website software, it took me a while to figure it out. Now if it took me a long time, how long do you think it’s going to take you? Are you swimming is so much time that you have hours to devote? Or like most business owners, you’ve probably got other things to do…LIKE RUN YOUR BUSINESS. So that being said, every day your website isn’t live is a day your potential visitors are becoming another company’s customers. When you consider that, the cost of that “free” website just went up astronomically. Remember, when you pay a professional, you’re not just paying for the service they provide, you’re paying for their experience and expertise. Do you know how structure a site’s content to maximize it’s search ranking? Can you fix something if it doesn’t look right on an iPhone 4s? These, and a thousand other factors go into building a proper website, and if you don’t understand best practices…
Your DIY Website Will Probably Look Like Someone Tried to Put Out a Forest Fire with a Screwdriver
“Their software will let me make a site that looks as good as anything a professional can create.”
Yes, the advertising makes it look like anyone can be an online Picasso. But as anyone who’s ever tried a Pintrest project will understand, making something look like the pretty picture is never as easy as the person doing the selling likes to makes it seem. While a professional-looking website provides instant credibility for your business, a terrible looking one will have the opposite effect. Have a look at this article I wrote on the detriments of having a shoddy-looking, or out-of-date website. Don’t be that company.
Non-Transferable Proprietary Software
“No big deal. I’ll just transfer the site to a regular hosting company and stop paying the huge monthly fee.”
You don’t think they’ve thought of that? That fancy DIY website builder software your site is built with requires custom, proprietary server-side code to make it work. Unlike most reputable design shops (ahem, like Tangled Web Media) who build websites on a standardized GPL (General Public License) platform that will work on almost any hosting environment, your free site will only work on theirs. But it gets even worse because…
You Don’t Own Your Own Online Identity
“Okay fine, but this is just to get me off the ground. A can pay for a professionally built one in a few years.”
Sure, but there’s one big problem. When we say you lose everything when you stop paying, we mean everything. Not just your website itself, but also possibly the domain name that you’ve been using all this time. Cancel your free website service, and anyone who tries to reach your site using that domain name they’ve come to know will just get some sort of error page saying your site is gone. For all they know, your business no longer exists. All that time invested building online brand equity and gaining ground on search rankings will go down the toilet. Not a pleasant prospect. You’ll need to start from scratch with a whole new site and domain name.
Anyone looking for a new site for their business should steer clear. There is just too much at stake. Tangled Web Media has been in the web business for nearly 15 years. We create easy to use, professional looking websites using freely available content management software platforms, hosted in non-proprietary server environments. Your site is yours and domains are always registered in your name.