It sounds so tempting. Companies say you can easily create your own website for free by using easy-to-use design software and templates. Or the company will create a website for you for free, and you’ll just pay a monthly fee for them to host it. These services may have some benefits, and there are probably some situations where they could be a good choice. But there are some serious drawbacks that most people are not aware of. Specifically, these sites tie you to the company forever, cost more than they seem, and don’t provide everything you need for an effective site.
Committed for Life or Begin from Scratch
Every site I’ve seen that lets you build your own site uses propriety software to do so. What this means is that your site cannot be transferred to another host.
Typically, a hosting service provides a place for your website to live, and they support the use of common content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress. If you want to change hosts, anyone with the technical knowledge can easily transfer the site to another one. This can be done in about half an hour.
But with a proprietary system, you cannot transfer the site. The site does not create standard HTML pages, or use an open source CMS that could be found elsewhere.
That means once you create a website on one of these systems, you are stuck with them. Maybe they are free now, but decide to start charging next year. Or, if they do charge, maybe they raise their rates — perhaps repeatedly. Maybe the provide lousy service.
No matter what happens, you’ll either have to put up with it, or completely rebuild your site elsewhere from scratch. You might be able to cut and paste the text, but that’s all — and would be quite a tedious process.
How Free is Free?
One of the sites I know of offering a free website has a lot of restrictions on what comes free. If you want your own domain name, for example, then you have to pay for their premium service. A URL that is distinctly yours is crucial, so you’ll definitely want the premium account. The cost for that is THREE TIMES what you would pay elsewhere for the hosting, and you have a site you can’t transfer. Not so free, after all.
The other reason for the premium account is that otherwise, they get to put ads on your site, ads which you have no control over. Someone looking for you type of service could end up on your website, viewing an ad for your competitor!
Now that’s only one service. Others do charge a set monthly fee for all accounts, but again, it is typically higher than you would pay a hosting service. Many hosting services also have templates you can use for building a site, but they build standard pages that can be transferred. You can also buy HTML templates for a very low amount. All you do is fill in your information.
And, of course, if you have a reasonable level of computer literacy, you can use WordPress or any other open source CMS and get the same benefits you would out of a site builder.
The Missing Elements No System Can Provide
Site builders and content management systems handle a good portion of the technical skills needed to build a website, though some degree of computer literacy is required, and the more you know, the better off you’ll be.
A well-designed template or theme addresses the design and usability aspects of a website. To be effective, a website needs a pleasing layout with a logical placement of elements, and it needs to follow the conventions of web design, an element known as usability or user experience. If the layout is well-done and followed responsibly, then this will not be a problem.
I’ve seen, however, some site builders that provide all sorts of elements that you can put in wherever you want them. They may also let you choose colors that don’t go well together, or inappropriate fonts (or too many of them), or other items that can destroy the look and usability of a site.
The other thing an effective website needs is engaging, persuasive copy. Too many website have a great design, good usability, and text that leaves visitors unmoved or even turned off. If you are determined to use a site builder, at least invest the money to get a site with quality copywriting.
Think About It
Businesses face a lot of expenses, and any opportunity to save money is tempting. Businesses don’t always understand the value of a website, and investing a grand or two for a high quality site seems like a lot. But when you really understand what these free or low-cost site building services actually cost, you’ll realize that it’s no bargain.
You don’t have to be ripped off to get a great site. The Word & Web Smith provides comprehensive website services at a reasonable cost, and includes everything you need for an effective site. Don’t settle for a false bargain that proves to be costly. Make a good choice to begin with, and you won’t have to rebuild your site from scratch when you realize that service you chose isn’t what it should be.
For a PDF copy of Beware the High Costs of Free Website Services, click on the link. (Right-click and select “Save target as” to download.)
Find out about The Word & Web Smith’s website design and maintenance services.
You may want to read our other articles:
Why You Need a Website
Choosing a Host for Your Website
About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Page Content and Usability — More Vital than SEO
What You Should Know About Using Images
The Website Workout Collection
You might also like to check out The Smithery, The Word & Web Smith blog.