When considering free websites for businesses most people already realise that there is no such things a free lunch. Here is my take on ‘free websites’.
If you are considering your options and looking for a small business website then I am sure you have already seen offers of free websites and free hosting plans. Hopefully you have not been fooled and after reading this article I am sure you will not fall into the trap of building your own ‘free website’. My mum used to say there is no such thing as a free lunch and I think the same applies for websites; there is no such thing as a free website. Here are my top reasons why you should not consider a free website and hosting plan as a viable option when planning a new website for business.
Display of Adverts
Free websites and free hosting packages always come with at least one major trade off, this usually starts with adverts being displayed on your website. Even for someone that has low realistic expectations it would be disappointing to see your new website plastered with third party adverts.
If your website was a personal or hobby website well maybe you could live with the adverts. However if your website was for business then the last thing you want is an advert popping up from one of your competitors!
Adverts on websites detract from the overall user experience and I think this is shown by the extensive numbers of ‘ad blocker’ plugins on the market.
It is usually possible to pay a premium to the hosting company offering the free website to remove the adverts. But of course your website is no longer free with the introduction of this hidden cost.
It may seem when you take advantage of a free website offer that any limitations are fair exchange for a free service. However you will soon find these limitations unworkable and will want to remove them which will cost a premium.
Sometimes there can be a limitation to the amount of pages you can have on the website which when you first start may not be a problem. However once your business and website starts to grow this will most definitely become an issue.
There are also usually limits on the amount of storage space you have available on the server and also a limit on the amount of bandwidth you can use. Storage space being the amount of data that is stored on the server such as photos, pages, documents etc. Bandwidth use is governed by the amount of visitors to your website. Generally speaking the more visitors that view the pages on your website the more bandwidth is used. When this limit is used your website will go offline which obviously is a disaster for any business trying to maintain an online presence.
Leading on from the hidden costs I want to mention domain names. Now for me one of the most important aspects of your new website is the domain name. The ideal domain name should be the same as your business name which really is very important for brand recognition. Free hosting packages usually automatically give you a subdomain of their own domain name
This I think you agree does not look professional and is very poor for branding. I think www.icon-web-design.co.uk looks far better on a business card than the free alternative, don’t you?
Another advantage of having your own domain name is that you can also have a branded email address.
This has to be far better than firstname.lastname@example.org as for me, rightly or wrongly, I associate free email addresses with spam.
Again a domain name can usually be added to your free website but it will be at a premium.
Limited Design Options
Most, if not all, free websites are usually made using a ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (WYSIWYG) platform. These are great for anyone who has no idea how to write html or use a CMS such as WordPress. However all templates have restrictions on design and flexibility and all templates, especially free ones, have already been used by every Tom, Dick and Harry!
Any business that wants to be treated seriously needs their website look and feel just the way they need and should not have to compromise on design. Sadly with a free website you will almost always have to compromise.
The SEO implications for a business website are huge when using a free hosting or website builder. Touching on a few of the more obvious ones I would have to include the lack of branding, poor user experience, higher bounce rates, poor options for onsite SEO, slow page loading times, shared IP address in a bad neighbourhood and limitations for social media integrations and blog options to name just a few.
I addition free websites often have a link in the footer of every page on your website pointing to the free website providers’ home page. All of these are huge fails when it comes to optimising your website rankings, conversion and user experience.
Risk of Loss of Service
With the risk of stating the obvious when you take advantage of any free service or special offer you are only able to continue taking advantage of this free service as long as it is available. You have no contract and no recourse should the service be removed. It is not unheard of in the case of free website packages to find somewhere down the line that this service will cease. This can be because a company has gone out of business or have simply chosen not to continue offering the free service. You are then either left with option of paying for the continued service or even worse the rug is pulled out from beneath your feet and you are left with no website at all.
Can you afford to take this risk or would it be better to pay a small fee for professional hosting and have the security of a paid service?
Lack of Customer Support
You may be unable to hire a professional web designer due to budget constraints and the same may apply to hosting. Most people are not able to write HTML or may not understand how to install and use a content management system. Using a WYSIWYG web builder may seem the answer but if website design is not your area of expertise then you are probably going to need some customer support.
With any free hosting service you are always going to find that there is a distinct lack of customer service. It stands to reason, as of course who is going to pay the wages of the customer service team if the service they are supporting is free?
Slow Site Speed
Have you ever visited a website that took so long to load you just gave up and pressed the back button or returned to the search engines to find an alternative website that did not take an age to load?
Free hosting is usually going to be in high demand, most thing free usually are. However there is only a finite amount of bandwidth available and the more websites taking advantage of the free hosting means a greater load on the server. This results in slower page loading times.
No matter how nostalgic you are nobody wants to return to page loading times that hark back to the dial up era. Slow loading times mean higher bounce rates, a reduction in customers and less revenue earned!
Most business websites will want the ability to add plugins such as shopping carts so they can take payments online. To take payments online securely an SSL certificate, dedicated IP address and a unique website URL are all needed. None of these are available with a free hosted website.
One of the best ways of reaching out and communicating to your audience and potential customers is done by using a company blog. They are great for SEO and also for driving traffic and customers to your website. You will not be able to use an integrated blog as a part of your website on a free hosted website.
I think it is fair to say anyone business looking into launching a new business website should stay well away from free hosting and free websites. I always agreed with my mum when she taught me that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Well when it comes to web hosting and design she was definitely right! Free websites for businesses is not a viable option in fact I would go as far to say it is a recipe for disaster!
Never compromise your business with a shoddy website just to save a little money on hosting. If you can’t afford to get a web developer on the case then at the very least buy a decent hosting package, use a good CMS and quality theme. Be prepared to invest your time in building a website that you are happy with and start to learn about branding and SEO.