"Free" websites are a bad idea
I have been in Information Technology and in Marketing for nearly 20 years now. I have focused on website development for the last 10 years. One of the mistakes I see too often is that businesses do not invest in their wesbite. I thought that over the years this would become less true but the creation of all these “free” and “do-it-yourself” web services have propagated the false notion that websites are cheap and easy to build. I’m not going to say you can’t build a website for free and in less than a couple of hours because you can but you could also fix a leaky roof on your house with some caulk and some duct tape but I don’t recommend that either.
Believe me I understand what it means to bootstrap a business and how important cash flow is and how difficult it is to bite the bullet and spend the money when you are a small business owner. I have been a small business owner for a very long time. I used to be the type of business owner that did everything himself and wouldn't pay out of pocket for anything if I could do it myself or for “free.” (You’ll notice I put quotes around the word Free a lot. This is because nothing is Free and it’s my way of reminding you that the old adage is true, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’). I have since matured and learned that you can't do it all yourself and the cheapest way is not typically the best way.
I know it’s tempting to cut costs on your website but it’s not a good idea. Today your website is the first place that the majority of customers and potential customers visit. In many cases your website is the first impression that a potential customer gets.
People will often say, I'll just start off with a free website and then get paid hosting after I start making money. This sounds like a logical idea but it’s a bad one. Web hosting is so incredibly cheap these days, it's worth the small investment to ensure you own and control your website. The average web hosting plan costs less than $10/month
Today search engines like Google are smarter than ever. It’s simple really, they want the best experience for their users. They want all the scams and hustles to be gone. This is not an easy task but they are getting increasingly good at it. Also, the search engines give more credibility to paid domain names. If anyone offers to build you a “Free” website I would be very cautious. Or if someone says ‘you can build a free website here...’ I would find out exactly who you are getting the advice from. I don’t ask my Auto Mechanic advice on running new electric in my house. Maybe that’s just me.
A big part of building traffic to a website and building your business is networking, so perception is everything. If someone comes to me and wants to network with me and wants me to promote their business and I see they have a free website, I instantly question how serious they are about their business.
I would rather you wait and save your money then to choose a free website service today with the intentions of upgrading to paid service later.
I can tell you from the e-mails I receive that those who start off free and plan to upgrade later end up regretting the decision simply because switching hosts and moving your website can be painful. So you might as well build right the first time.
Not convinced yet? Read on...
Disadvantages of Free Websites
- Limited space for your web pages
- Can't add additional features (plugins, shopping carts, forums, chat rooms, blogs, etc.)
- Search engines may not send as much traffic due to lack of trust
- Some free Websites are all in Flash and search engines ignore them. I don’t want to mention any names but I know one that rhymes with Fix.com.
- Your visitors may doubt your credibility
- May have ads on your homepage and/or all of your pages
- You don't own your site. You're renting it. This is a big one and the ‘Gotcha.’ There have been several projects I’ve done where the client wants to move their free website over and then they find out they don’t own it.
- No guarantees of website availability and longevity (because you don't own it). The service can go away at any time.
- No branded emails addresses (email@example.com)
- Poor help and support options (if any)
- May not be free forever
Advantages of Owning Your Domain Name
- You actually own your domain (yourdomain.com)
- No banners or popups
- More credibility with the search engines
- You have more control over the look and feel of your website.
- Multiple branded email addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Plenty of web page space for website expansion
- No worries of website being removed unexpectedly
- Looks more professional than freesite.yoursite.com
- More flexibility for design and functionality
- Support is available for problems, technical help, etc.
Businesses Invest Money, Period.
Have you ever read a story about a successful website online? The address is always something.com or something.net. Notice it's never a something.blogspot.com or some random free host.
Real businesses have their own domain names. And don't be fooled by those companies offering free domains. They may be free for the first year if you buy hosting (that's how they draw you in), but the renewal fee may be sky high in the following years to come.
There's always a catch with “FREE.”
If you were starting an offline business, you'd plan on investing some money right? Even an offline business requires an online presence. It’s just not an option anymore. Taking shortcuts will always slow you down and it's just not worth it.
I've been on the Internet since the www came out and I’ve been working in online marketing for nearly ten years now. I have yet to read a success story from someone hosting their website on Blogger.com or Weebly or Wix.
It's no coincidence that successful people own their own domains. Plus, you can't expect people to take you or your website seriously if your website address starts with something like is http://myfreesite...
And if the address doesn't tip your visitor's off, the banners and pop-ups you'll be forced to display sure will.
Think about it. Wouldn't you be a little suspicious if the web address of a business was something like http://members.aol.com/users/myhomepage.html with pop-ups and banners instead of www.companyABC.com? Or for that matter even if your wesbite is http://www/facebook.com/yourbusiness. Yes, even a Facebook website is less credibly than owning your own.
Years ago you could get away with this, but people have become much more Internet savvy and they can smell a "cheap site" a mile away. You don't want to lose credibility and potential customers because of the unprofessional feel.
Any time someone sends me their "business" website on Blogger.com I immediately discredit the site. Sorry, but that's what most people do. Free web hosts just aren't taken seriously in general.
Not to mention, you can only do so much with them. So if you want to add shopping carts, order forms and additional interactive features you probably won't be able to do this because most free hosting companies don't offer that kind of functionality.
More Problems Free Website Hosters May Encounter
It's pretty expensive for companies to run free hosting companies because of the bandwidth costs. So what happens often is they run low on funds.
They try to keep their service free by slapping banners on the member's pages, hoping that people will click and purchase products...but think about it...how many banners have you clicked on lately?
Then some may try to redeem themselves by charging a "small" fee for their service. And of course, if you aren't willing to pay for your site, you can say "bye bye" to all of your hard work. I have seen this happen first hand on more than one occasion.
Also, if you read the fine print when you sign up, you will see that there are NO GUARANTEES with your website and it can be removed at any time without any notice whatsoever. It’s the same thing for ‘Freeware.” That’s software that has no cost but also has no support.
So if you're still thinking of using a free host or website service after all that, then I'm not sure there's much more I can say to convince you. If money is tight, I can certainly respect that and I get it but if you invest correctly into a good website with a solid online marketing campaign at a good company like, I don’t know, how about www.GrimDigitalMedia.com then the investment is just that an investment and with that comes an ROI.
As I said earlier, I'd rather you wait and save some money instead of starting free and planning to upgrade later. Free website services and free hosting is almost always a bad idea, especially for long-term, business/money making websites. If you're a high school student completing your senior project then I get it, use the free website service. If you’re a business owner that treats their business seriously then make the investment and higher a professional website design company.