In 2020, having a premium and well-designed website is the standard. Every business owner accepts this, but that doesn’t make it any less of a daunting task. Going the cheap and easy route is tempting, but are free websites any good? Are free websites worth it in terms of quality tradeoffs?
There reaches a point when every small business needs to create or upgrade their online presence. Creating a website can be a time consuming endeavor. It’s for this reason that business owners may opt to do the bare minimum. Once they have a website set up they may feel like they have ‘checked that box’ and happily move on.
Months pass without adding new features or content. In reality, this approach could actually be harming their brand. It’s worth pointing out that competitors can see this and may be taking full advantage.
A company’s website is arguably the most important asset and should be treated as such. Business owners that dedicate time, care and attention to their website fully understand its value.
A website is no longer just a place for prospective customers to view a company’s About web page. Websites are a central hub that allow customers to reach out to a business. Maybe ask a question, follow them on social media and make a purchase without leaving the house.
A small business website can also be used as a vehicle to promote special offers and events. Information can be strategically broadcast across social media and other channels so it reaches the largest possible audience.
For many companies, advertising revenue is now solely spent online and makes up the largest chunk of their annual marketing budget. Without a premium and well-crafted website, this effort could be wasted.
Getting a free website sounds good, right?
Yes – free is good, considering that spending too much too soon on a new venture is risky. Every entrepreneur understands the value of an investment. Despite being an old cliché, needing to ‘speculate to accumulate’ does indeed hold some truth.
Every penny counts, especially for small businesses that may not have been around for very long. Getting what we need for free or for the lowest possible price is a real benefit. It allows businesses to be profitable, especially if they’re still building a stable client base. But are free websites worth it?
Getting a free website is certainly attractive, but there are strings attached. First and foremost, it’s likely being operated and managed by a large third-party provider.
Now ask yourself, does it make sense to hinge your entire business on a website that you don’t fully own? What happens when you need to launch a customized online sales tool or a new killer feature? Are free websites worth it?
Why small businesses should avoid free websites
A well-presented and professional website is absolutely necessary for every small business. It’s something to take seriously in order to cultivate a brand and attract customers.
Business owners are typically masters of their craft and likely have a decent grasp of how to do business online. However, understanding the intricacies of website building, SEO and how to edit code is a step outside of their comfort zone.
In time, they may take on technology and marketing staff, but this could be months or even years away. It makes sense that so many business owners opt for a free website builder to begin with.
Popular website hosting companies may offer business owners the option to create their own site online for free. A custom domain name is usually included. The problem is that a successful business will outgrow them in a very short space of time. Free websites generally suit those who are starting out as sole proprietors or start-up, but should only be used temporarily.
If you get a free account, free domain name and free hosting services, they might be worthwhile in the first year. Steer clear of any offers to upgrade to a paid plan until you speak to a web development expert.
Still wondering are free websites any good?
If you’re still not convinced, here’s three reasons why they’re not worth it:
1) Risk to brand and reputation
Your customers and clients can tell that you’ve opted for a free website. They know because it probably looks remarkably similar to other personal websites that are hosted at the same company.
This has the potential to cheapen your brand. It certainly doesn’t demonstrate success. Especially if your competitors have a custom website that outshines. Using a free website service could demonstrate that the business owner isn’t prepared to invest in their own success. If this is indeed the case, then why should anyone else?
On the other hand, it’s fair to say that many people won’t notice the website is free (or care). But, for those that do, they may see it as being unambitious and perhaps unprofessional. Ultimately, this is not a message any company wants to convey.
You may save some money in the short term. But you may have missed opportunities to make a lasting impression with potential customers.
2) No custom web design or functionality
Most free website platforms do offer a plethora of web design options which can work well for a basic startup-style site. What they provide pales in comparison to the flexible and professional options that you’ll get from a custom-built website.
Sites created using WordPress are designed to be easy to use, but it’s another thing entirely to build from scratch.
Ongoing maintenance also takes a lot of time and effort. It can be a full time job in its own right. This is why many businesses use WordPress and also hire a trusted third party to do the heavy lifting for them. This approach is actually preferred by business owners who have initially tried going the free route.
Free sites have got better in recent years, offering improved social media integration and search engine optimization (SEO) tools. But, quite frankly, they’re still very limited and a long way off what a freelance website developer could provide. Having proper website accessibility, for instance, requires a lot of technical knowledge and is a specialist skillset.
SEO is absolutely necessary for a business to build their visibility online. Having an expert on hand who can correctly apply these tools and techniques is critical to success. While some business owners will be able to accomplish this themselves, most will not. It’s vital to seek outside assistance from a professional rather than rely on basic free tools.
3) Poor performance and customer support
To put it plainly, free websites just don’t have the necessary level of reliability and support compared to premium sites. Due to the service being free for the user, technical support leaves a lot to be desired. It exists, but not at the same level guaranteed by a specialist on retainer.
Website errors and outages are usually logged using a ticketing system or a generic call center phone number. Those tickets are then put in a queue to be addressed. Don’t expect a quick response – you could be waiting up to a week!
For those running a business this could be catastrophic. What if they rely on their website to market and sell their products? Are free websites worth it? This sort of thing is less common for those who hire a specialist. That person can prioritize a smaller set of clients and work with them directly to resolve issues in a timely manner.
Are free websites worth it?
Having a website created for free is certainly better than not having a website at all. For a small business just starting out they do provide a quick and easy online presence. Those looking to create a website and use it for something other than business purposes may also find benefit.
For those looking to build a successful online presence, free websites should only ever be used as a temporary measure.
Hiring the services of a WordPress freelancer makes more sense from both a quality and budget perspective. They are specialists and can provide a top-quality website with everything you need to be successful online. What’s more, hiring a freelance website developer is far more cost efficient than a full-time employee.