There’s a good analogy about wine that pretty much sums up the ‘free’ website debacle; you can save money on a cheaper bottle, but taste won’t be so great. To enjoy a nice drop, nine times out of ten, you’ll need to fork out a little more money. See the underlying message here?
Behind the free website builder are people who need to be paid. You’re using their product for free, so this isn’t happening—unless they are giving you the absolute bare minimum so you have to pay for upgrades. Sure, if you’re only looking for a one or two-page website with not a lot of information, you may be fine. But if you want to use your website to grow your business online, a free website may not be what you’re looking for.
We’re going to answer the common questions we hear about free website builders so you can make an informed decision. You’ll also find the solution to each of these problems at the end.
Are free websites really free?
If by free you mean sit on page 3 of Google with the occasional visitor who quickly leaves because they think it’s a fake website, then yes, it’s free. However, whenever something is free, there’s always a catch. There are three main things you need to look out for.
You could just avoid buying any upgrades, but the problem is, you probably need them. Free website builders get you by leaving the sites open for cyber attacks, with reduced online visibility and a range of other problems. Next thing you know, you’ve spent $1,000 on a website you built yourself.
Some of the pricey upgrades you may come across:
- SSL certification to ensure your website is secure.
- Analytic reporting plugins.
- SEO optimisation.
- Mobile responsive functionality.
- Storage upgrade.
- Website transfer.
The list goes.
Not Owning Server Space
When you create a free website, you are sharing server space with many other websites. Why is this a problem? Here’s a few issues that can arise:
- Not enough storage for your images and content.
- Not being able to have an eCommerce store.
- Having other businesses advertise on your website.
- Your website is not as secure.
- Slow loading times (not good for search engine optimisation or user experience).
Even if you have your own hosting, many build-it-yourself providers won’t let you transfer your website. So, check before creating a website as you could be wasting your time.
An Unprofessional URL
A URL is your website address, such as https://business.localsearch.com.au/. By signing up for a free website, you’ll end up with a URL that also includes the website builder’s brand name, such as www.yourbusinessname.freewebsitebuilder.com.au. It doesn’t give much confidence in your brand does it?
You will need to have a domain name to exclude the website builder’s name. If you’re already looking at hosting, find a provider who will include a domain name and custom email addresses so you look on-brand professional.
Is a free website safe?
Most free websites are a standard HTTP (http://yourbusinessname.com.au). A HTTP is an acronym for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and is how the web server talks to the browser. In simpler terms, it takes the information from your website and puts it on the screen.
However, you want a HTTPS and not a standard HTTP. HTTPS is a secure network, meaning the information is encrypted, stopping the information from being tampered with. Unsecure websites tend to be easier to hack, leaving your information and that of your users open for the taking.
For this reason, not having an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate can negatively impact your search engine optimisation (SEO). An SSL is what gives you website the HTTPS. Google wants to give their users the safest, best information possible, so your website leaving them open for cyber theft isn’t great.
Can I use a free website to make money?
If you’re planning on using your website to generate income, you may want to think again. Unless the website builder allows you to do one of the below popular income-earning activities, you’ll be looped into upgrades or having to start all over again.
Here are some of the ways a website can make you money:
An eCommerce Store
The most obvious of them all—an online store. Hosting an online store can take up a lot of room, as you’ll need space for the buying software, images, text, incoming traffic and any other functionalities, such as reviews. As we know, free websites typically don’t have a lot of space, so unless your store is small, this may not be an option.
There’s also the problem of the unsecure and non-optimised website. Before looking at an online store, make sure you have your search engine optimisation and SSL certificate sorted.
Above we learned how being on a shared server may mean people can advertise on your website. As you can’t choose these advertisers, the likelihood of being able to host and make money from your own ads is slim.
If you do plan on letting people advertise on your website, look into your website builder’s guidelines before starting to create your site.
An affiliate link is a tracked link to another web page on your own website that you get paid for when it is clicked. For example, bloggers will often have links to products they mention, which they may be getting paid for. All affiliate links are required to be disclosed to readers.
To embed affiliate links into your website, you’ll need a tracking plugin. This is so whoever is providing the link knows how much to pay you by how many visitors you brought them. Most free website builders won’t have a plugin to allow you to do this.
Building an Email Subscriber List
This may not make you money immediately, but having an email subscriber list will help you run marketing activities to create new leads. However, you need to have a subscription catcher plugin to be able to do this—which you may not be able to do depending on your website builder. If you already have a website and you can’t add the plugin, you’ll have wasted time setting up your first site.
Where can I find a custom free website?
While all free website builders will allow you to pick a template and even potentially move modules around, you’ll still be quite limited in what you can do. Even if you can customise your website to a level you’re happy with, the code behind the scenes may become chaotic, which will negatively impact your search engine optimisation.
And finally…is a free website any good?
At the end of the day, it depends on what you’re using your website for. And there are good free website builders out there, however, you need to remember there are limitations to what they can do.
Web design and development is a skill that takes many years to learn, and even then, it’s ongoing training to keep up with new technology. The free website they let you use on their server space and templates are there as a tester. If you like it, you’ll be more likely to walk straight into their upgrades, but you need to be wary of how much is leaving your back pocket.
What to look out for with a free website builder:
- Storage provided.
- Sharing a server.
- Not being search engine optimised (dynamic, etc.).
- The plugins available.
- Can you take your content and design with you when you leave.
- Do you have around-the-clock support?
- Can the builder shut down your website without warning?
What is a good website?
Now we know what a bad website is, what is a good website? Your website should be doing its job to bring you sales, leads and bookings without jeopardising cyber safety. Every website should be:
- Responsiveness to all devices (desktop, mobile and tablet).
- Have an easy-to-use design.
- Error-free content.
- Contact forms.
- Fast response time.
- Search engine optimisation.
- An SSL certificate for security.
- IT support.
And some things you may or may not need:
- An eCommerce store.
- Content assistant.
- Search engine marketing.
- Email lead generator.
While it may seem painful now to pay for a website that does its job, it will pay for itself in the future. Visit our Websites page to learn more about what a website package should include to make you money.