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Are you sprouting a new business and looking to minimize your startup investment? Is your organization falling on tough financial times, driving the need to cut back on planned marketing expenditures? Maybe you’ve been offered a “free website” as part of a packaged marketing campaign related to ‘phone directory’ advertising. Whatever the situation may be, you’re not the first to wonder how cheaply a website can be made.

A Need to Minimize Risk

If you’re like many business owners, the thought of marketing your business online is a massive unknown, and anyone venturing into uncharted territory will feel the need to minimize any potential risks. If launching your business into cyberspace is a novel strategy, you may not know how to accurately forecast a return on your investment. On the other hand, if you have experience owning a website and are now looking to bring your 90’s design into the 21st century, you may still not be sold on anything resembling internet marketing, especially if an online presence has yet to produce a red cent for your company. As web developers, we’re always hearing these rationalizations. And the answers to why business owners look to invest as little as possible for anything online include:

  • We’re a new business and can’t afford a professionally built website
  • We just need a ‘basic website’ to legitimize our business in case someone looks us up
  • We’re planning to market our business in other ways, such as advertising or referrals
  • We’re not really a ‘website type’ of business and our clients aren’t tech savvy
  • I doubt that the web will do anything for us, so we don’t want to spend too much
  • I think free/low cost websites are good enough for what we need for now

Website designers hear this literally every day.

The Cheap Comes Out Expensive

Free websites are extremely tempting and a seemingly viable option, particularly if you’re seeking a quick fix.  Many free website companies offer acceptable looking design templates with a clean & simple look that can meet the expectations of most who sign up. There are those who believe that something is better than nothing, which is a valid argument.

It goes without saying that there are a long list of strategies that free website companies use to become massively successful organizations, and why “free” somehow equates to billions of dollars in annual profits for those that play in this arena. Free website companies are banking on what you don’t know about internet marketing and website design.

Why Free is Bad

But let’s get beyond some of the more obvious reasons of why free websites may not be the best idea; limited capabilities, limited customization capabilities, template-looking designs, or the fact that one of your competitors may have the exact same look to their own website.

Let’s look at the countless other ways that “free” may eventually cost you money and why. Here are the top 10 reasons a free website could cost you, either through hidden fees or in lost opportunities:

You’ll Need to Pay for Expensive Hosting

Yes, the website may be free but the hosting certainly is not. Oh and, by the way, you will pay handsomely for this service. While setting up your own hosting could be arranged for as little as a few dollars per month, you can expect to pay 10 to 20 times this amount through free website builders, and its users have no choice but to host their websites that rely on proprietary content management systems. Also important to know is that entry-level, economy plans are very limited and are designed to prompt users to fork out even more cash for an upgrade. This is especially true for e-commerce websites, where transaction fees reach among the top levels in the industry. In addition, necessities like registering your domain and security certificates (SSL) will be offered at a premium.

Your Website Will Display Advertising for Other Companies

Yes, it’s true. The only thing worse than hosting ads on your company’s website is doing so for your own competition. Many free templates play host to Google and Bing display ad networks, where you risk the possibility of displaying an ad for your competitor (likely that one you hate most). At the very least, you can bet there will be an advertisement on your website’s footer section telling your website visitors (and the world) that you’ve employed a “free” service to build your website. Yikes! This is a clear demonstration to some that you’re operating on a shoestring budget and your own company isn’t worth investing in.

You Don’t Own the Website, You’re Borrowing it

That’s right. The genius sales strategy behind “free website” offers start the moment you click “get started today”. You may then discover that you are a permanent resident of the domain you reside in and the website content, email accounts, images and any graphic design elements are non-transferable. Free website companies are counting on your lifetime loyalty, either through revenue gained by delivering their advertising, or through your monthly dollars for hosting and other plan upgrades. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep you as their customer. Protecting their assets & business include making it very difficult for you to cancel your agreement and move out. Signing up is far easier than canceling. Always read the fine print.

Your Web Address Will Smell of “Cheap”

Using a free service to register a domain name and establish a web presence usually means the service will get to attach their name directly onto your URL. This of course means that the name of their company will piggyback on all of your promotional materials, not to mention the abnormally long web address your customers will struggle to jot down. Your URL might look something like this: Potential clients may not take you seriously, resulting in lost opportunities, virtually defeating the purpose of having a web presence to begin with.

Your Website Will Not Rank for Keywords

If you’re at all concerned about ranking your website for keywords that people may use to find you, the “free” route isn’t your best plan. This is largely because critical areas of the website such as page titles and URLs may not be areas that you are able to easily modify in templated, free design themes. Many experienced web developers are challenged enough to properly optimize website for search engines – imagine someone building a website for the very first time. No organic keyword rankings could mean a website void of any visitor traffic.

Your Domain Will Not Be Favored by Search Engines

Major search engines, such as Google, will judge you by your domain name. By nature, even the most well-intentioned, free websites don’t stand the tests of time. Many are created and, in short order, abandoned. If your domain is rubbing elbows with other fly-by-night websites, chances are you won’t score too well in the ‘trust’ and ‘domain authority’ departments, regardless of content quality. And since technically your domain address is just a ‘sub-domain’, in most cases, search engines won’t recognize your site as an independent resource for trustworthy information.

Minor Changes Will Mean Major Costs

Can’t quite get the page border the proper shade of rouge to match your company logo? Need to make that heading font a wee bit larger? Free website companies are banking on your desire to get your website looking just the way you want it, and are known to charge top dollar for even the most minor customizations. Special requests, template modifications and custom features are really where the money is made. Either you’ll need to get comfortable with a website that is largely imperfect or shell out big bucks to upgrade. This is partially why so many users abandon DIY websites, ultimately forfeiting their valuable time & energy.

You’ll Need to Upgrade

When it comes to large corporations turning profits with ‘free products or services,’ their inherent strategy is all about the art of the upsell. Free plans are designed to be very restrictive and often prove to be pointless. It won’t take much to reach the well defined limitations of the entry-level “free” product. Free or economy plans often restrict design flexibility, page count, bandwidth, memory allocation and/or visitor traffic, leaving you with little choice but to upgrade (again).

Your Rates Will Increase

Inevitably, most business tools will not stay free forever. You may eventually experience a ‘pay or get out’ fork in the road, just like the thousands of frustrated, would-be webmasters before you. Countless free websites have graduated to a pay only option, and you should be prepared to receive that email justifying why you now need to pay for your free site. You’ll need to decide whether to pay up or abandon all of your hard work.

Your Time is Better Spent Running Your Business

We’re willing to bet that the time spent trying to figure out how to create a website complete with original content, images and graphics, would be better spent running your business and mining for new opportunities. The same goes for anything you try and learn to do yourself, compared with hiring a professional who already knows how.  Sure, you’ve dodged another invoice with that DIY solution, but chances are good that you’ve stunted the growth and development of your company.

The Bottom Line

Heartbreaking but true: you’re not a web designer. You may have experience helping others creatively, or perhaps you have an artistic side and like the idea of trying to create a website. But creating a web presence for your company takes a trained professional; one who understands how your business should be seen online. The internet is a powerful means to promote your business worldwide and it’s an opportunity that should not be squandered. If you have your doubts, if you believe that the web does not offer a marketing solution for your business, it might just be that you haven’t had a conversation with someone who sees your company’s full online potential. Start the conversation. Get in touch with us now.


Whether you’re a startup or multi-million dollar organization, we’re up for anything.

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