A Free Website Might Disappoint You
Whether you are just starting out in business or having to cut expenses to the core to survive in the Covid-world, a free website can sound intriguing. In some cases, particularly for hobbies, they can be a great choice. But before you spend time figuring out a free website platform, consider if these tradeoffs are worth it for you.
“Free website” might actually mean “hidden costs”
There are a lot of bait-and-switch providers preying on the super budget-conscious who want a website. Always read the fine print VERY carefully. Are you signing up for a trial? If so, you will lose all your hard work at the end if you aren’t willing to pay to keep it. These companies are banking (literally) on people not realizing they only get free access for a short period of time and will begrudgingly handover their credit card information, regardless of price, at the end to keep their website up.
Other ways to watch out for “free” not being free:
- Unreasonable email fees (most providers will include at least a couple email addresses in your package)
- Image hosting fees (not a thing when you invest in a reputable hosting package)
- High website transfer fees (once you are with them you are handcuffed to them because it is so expensive to move)
- Features they consider “advanced” are expensive
- Truly advanced features aren’t available (Know what you want your website to do going forward and research if the free option you’re looking at will actually be able to do it)
Free websites often have poor performance
Free websites are always hosted on shared servers and it makes sense that a company is going to prioritize the people who pay them. If you’re lucky your free site will only be throttled if the server gets busy. But there is a good possibility that the bandwidth assigned to your site will be permanently low. This will make your site load slowly (people are more likely to click away if they have to wait) and it will damage your SEO. Google doesn’t like slow loading sites. (bonus tip – this is one of the reasons you have to make sure your images are properly sized. We can help you with that.)
Free websites aren’t scalable
Bandwidth isn’t the only thing affected by a shared server. Storage is also an issue. A free site is going to have a cap on how much you can publish on your site. In the beginning it won’t be a problem. But down the road, you are going to run into it and have to decide if you want to pay their price (likely above market) or move your site (painful and as mentioned above, maybe expensive).
Your URL will have their branding
A free website will have an address that includes the name of the company you’re using. For example: YourGreatBizName.FreeSite.com. This suggests to your potential customers you have a hobby, not a business. It’s confusing (confused customers never buy). It’s unprofessional (that isn’t what you want). It promotes their brand, not yours.
Customization is severely limited
Always assume that “free” means limited. That is certainly going to be the case when it comes to designing your website on the cheap. Some limits to look out for:
- No e-commerce functionality
- Limited templates, themes and plugins
- No SEO tools
- No support if you have a problem
- Cap on the number of pages you can have
- Updates don’t get made or when they do, they crash your site
- No backup option (you always want a way to go back to a previous version in case your site gets corrupted)
They may put ads on your site and keep you from monetizing
Again, read the fine print carefully. The last thing you want is an ad for your competitor on your website. And because a free website provider wants to run ads on your site, they likely will not allow you to do so or to even control what types of ads run (think about how badly that could go).
If your goal is to eventually monetize your site, think long term. How much control you want to have over the text, images, timing and placement of the ads that run next to your content? If the answer is more than zero, a free site isn’t right for you.
You won’t have access to your data
A free website isn’t going to give you any analytics and it won’t allow you to add plugins that provide analytics. You will have no way to track what is driving traffic to your site, where traffic is coming from or if you site is being hit by a click farm (Great for whoever is making money from the ads on your site. Bad for you.)
An even bigger issue of not having access to your data and the backend of your website - - You might not be able to take it down if you no longer want it, or parts of it, accessible to the public.
Provider may shutdown your site
Can I mention the fine print again without sounding like a broken record? The terms and conditions box you have to check may have copy behind it that allows them to cancel your account for any reason, including “violation of terms,” a vague catch-all that leaves you no recourse.
If your provider goes out of business your site could be deleted with no way for you to recover and move it.
They may (will) sell your information
The company hosting your free site is making money somehow. Your information is more valuable to them than anything else. Assume you are going to get tons of spam email if you sign up for a free website. That’s just the reality of the business model.
There will be security issues
A company offering free websites simply isn’t going to invest in security for something they are giving away.
You might think that isn’t a big deal because everything you’re putting on your site is for public consumption, it can’t be “stolen” per se. That isn’t the security risks we are talking about. Your site could be hacked and porn could be put on it without your knowledge. Malware could be added to your buttons. When your customer clicks on something on your site it could download a bug that damages their computer or adds spyware (that would be VERY bad for your brand). Your site could be hijacked and ransomed.
Granted, the risks of these things happening when you are just starting out are small. But they are risks that will grow as you do.
You don’t own your free site
If you are going to invest the time, energy and effort into launching a website, you want it to be yours to control. You want it to be safe for your clients to visit. You want it to be able to change and grow with you. Consider those limitations when thinking about going with a free option.
Get a safe, customizable, high-quality site at a fair price
We can build you a site that sidesteps all of the issues mentioned above at a price that most small businesses and startups can afford. Give Russ a call (302-273-0514) or email him (RussB@RgBDesignGroup.com.) to discuss your needs and budget.