A Free Website Designer Sounds Great, Right?
Not so fast…
When I finally decided to write about free website design and free hosting companies, I reflected on the hundreds of clients I’ve served and the numerous conversations we’ve had about custom website design. These conversations date back as far as 1999… In those days, my wife and I lived near Athens, Georgia. (Go Bulldogs!!) Many prospective clients wanted to use GeoCities. It was a very popular free web hosting and design company. My hunch was just as correct then as it is right now. GeoCities was eventually bought and subsequently shut down by Yahoo!
GeoCities is no longer around…..and guess what happened to the 38 million websites they hosted? Gone! They’re all gone! None of the businesses that used GeoCities anticipated that would happen. Unfortunately, some went completely under. These businesses knowingly put all their eggs in someone else’s basket.
You would think this type of cautionary tale would be enough to convince small business website owners to build a custom website and purchase their own domain name and hosting services. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough. I field phone calls every day from prospective clients who are frustrated. They have wasted weeks or months of their time only to discover they are not professional web developers – nor do they wish to be – and the ‘free’ website they signed up for is only a loss-leader for a company who reeled them in. These companies thrive on ill-informed customers who they absolutely know will want more ‘premium’ features, which are only available using the paid version of their software. What many business owners don’t know is that those features come with a premium monthly or yearly fee! At the end of the day, they would have spent considerably less money over-time with a properly planned and professionally built website.
If you are one of those people who think free websites, free domain names, and free hosting are the way to go, please keep reading.
Here are Bulldog Webs’ Top 10 Reasons Why No Business Should Ever Use a Free Website….
1. You Will Not Own Your Site
- You are not the owner of your website – the company who provides the ‘free’ site is actually the owner and all the content on it. Your content is stored in their databases, and you will never have access to that.
- Your website can be shut down for any reason. Read the Terms of Service carefully, and you will see that this is certainly true.
- Not only can your website be shut down on a moment’s notice (think GeoCities), you can’t really dictate how your site gets used.
- You can’t move the website to another hosting provider if you decide you are not happy with the customer service you’re receiving. This means all the time and energy you’ve invested in learning their proprietary content management system and playing with fonts, colors, and layouts are lost forever. Remember, their ultimate goal and/or business model is to get you to pay monthly fees for features that are not included in their ‘free’ package.
2. You Will Own an Ugly Domain Name
Typically, the ‘free’ website companies attempt to sweeten the deal by offering you a free domain name. This can be somewhat misleading. What most of them actually do is let you borrow a subdomain.
Without getting too technical, you don’t get to use www.yourcompany.com. Instead, you get the highly unappealing www.theircompany.com/yourcompany or www.yourcompany.theircompany.com. This looks terrible on marketing materials; it also is extremely unprofessional! This is almost as bad as using a Gmail, Yahoo! or AOL email address for business purposes.
More on that later…
3. Your Business Will Have a Lack of Credibility
Most search engines do not regard sites that are built by free web hosting services with credibility. What does this actually mean for you?
- Start-ups and not-for-profits usually fall into this trap, but eventually, you will be calling a professional website development company like Bulldog Internet Marketing.
- Prospective clients psychologically connect the dots that you are a business that cuts corners. This sends a message to your customers that you are cheap.
- Almost all ‘free’ website companies place their links and advertisements alongside your content.
4. You Will Have a Complete Lack of Flexibility in Design and Functionality
Have You Hit the ‘Pay Wall’? When you choose a free website template company, you take the time to upload your logo, write all the content, play around with fonts, colors and layouts. I promise you, you will absolutely end up wanting more features than you can get for free.
Are You Experiencing the ‘Elastic Velvet Rope’? A free website template company lures you in by offering features you want, but they will eventually charge you hefty fees over time for features they know you need.
5. You Will Have Poor Search Engine Performance.
When a company uses the same exact code for hundreds of thousands of websites, search engines notice!
- Google and Bing prefer custom websites because they know you have skin in the game. Many fly-by-night companies and spammers utilize free websites…or at least until they get caught. Properly built custom websites absolutely perform better in search engines – and your ranking becomes much higher.
- Free website templates are easily recognized by the search robots. For example: If 50 companies in one geographic area sell widgets, and 45 of those companies have the same exact website code (with a few pages of content that uses slightly different wording), the 5 custom websites are going to stand out much better than the 45 that chose the easy/cheap/free route.
- Your website should not just be a list of services and products. Your website is a living, breathing extension of your brick and mortar operation. High performance in search engines is all about unique and properly formatted content which includes the code behind the scenes. Bulldog Internet Marketing are experts at Search Engine Optimization (SEO); that’s our specialty. The fact that you found this blog post is proof of that!
6. You Will Have Hired a Company Who Does Not Care About Your Success.
You get what you pay for.
A free website template company does not care about your online success. Why should they? If you hit the paywall and give up your credit card information, the only thing they are interested in is selling you more features to increase the monthly draft from your bank account.
By the time you read this post and decide to go for a professionally built website, your free website company won’t lose any sleep over your decision. Their business model is built on churn. As long as people are signing up, they don’t care how many leave…especially when you are asking for support or custom programming or functionality they don’t currently offer, you become a thorn in their side.
7. You Will Give Someone Else Free Advertising Space.
The most common revenue model for these free website template companies is advertising. They advertise products and services to your prospective customers, right on your website. Of course, you can always pay them more money – they will gladly remove their ads! However, they almost always place links to their company at the bottom of your website. (Re-read point 3!)
8. You Will Have Limited Feature Options.
Outside of adding a few pages of text, just about anything else you might want to do will cost you. Prices for those add-on features add up quickly.
At the end of the day, website owners like you need almost always need custom programming, especially as your company grows. This is not possible with free web design companies because:
- they consistently employ the 80/20 Rule. Free web design companies build features that 80% of their core customers are looking for…most of which are available for an additional fee. They are willing to lose the business of the other 20% because the cost to retain those customers is deemed too high;
- they are not in the business of building one-off websites;
- they use a common core of code for thousands of websites, and they will not modify that core code just for your business;
9. You Will Have Limited Storage Space and Bandwidth.
With a professionally designed and hosted website that you own, your storage options are virtually unlimited. This is not true with a free website. Review your Terms of Service carefully.
Most free website companies place thresholds on the amount of traffic and storage you are allowed to have. Not only that, but most do not have uptime guarantees or service level agreements (SLA). If your website goes down, good luck getting anything except a blanket apology from their social media feeds or an email newsletter.
10. You Will Have Hired a Company That Will Sell Your Data and Make You a Target for Outside Offers.
In business, there is a rule: if you are not paying for something, then you are the product. Free website companies need to make a profit too, so they supplement their margins by selling your email address and marketing your content. Again, read the Terms of Service. They can legally sell your personal information, content, and website address to affiliates. This means you will receive relentless phone calls and spam emails.
While this rounds-out our Top 10 List of Reasons Never to Use a Free Website…..know that many more reasons exist, not the least of which is our Bonus 11th Reason:
11. You Will Be a Target for Hackers.
Free website hosting companies are extremely large targets for hackers, spammers, and malware distributors. Think of any large metro area like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta or Los Angeles. Crime rates are high because these areas have a dense population. An organized crime ring is less likely to target Toccoa, Georgia. They favor large cities like Atlanta or Athens, Georgia, where a higher concentration of vulnerable targets lives. Bulldog Internet Marketing offers you the type of security and the quality of protection your business needs.
Give us a call today so we can provide you with a quote for a custom website that we know you will love!