This week a certain very frustrating sounding man called asking if I could help him. He said he started a website with one of the more popularly advertised FREE website builders and he couldn’t get the placement of his headers or subheadings right. He offered to pay whatever I wanted to help him sort out his issues with the builder.
This was not the first time a business owner called looking for guidance on their website project that had been started with a free service, or just looking for a complete new start with a professional designer. After much wasted time, several earnest attempts on their own, and more than a few choice words, they usually realize free isn’t always free.
So if you are considering one of the free website builders that claim to be so easy and so versatile, consider the following limitations.
The Pros and Cons of Free Web Builders
1. Time is Money. While the services are free, it may take a considerable amount to learn and feel comfortable with their development tools. Depending on your level of expertise, the learning curve can be considerable. Most business owners struggle with their time on running and growing their business, so they may feel the time to invest in this process may be worth far more than their willing to give.
2. Limited Design Options. Depending on the service you choose, the choices of templates may be varied and offers some customization, but will that template compliment the look and theme of your business? Will you be able to customize the template layout, color scheme, font choices and design features without any coding knowledge? Will that template be used and reused by other businesses, taking away from your unique branding efforts? Quoting from one of my recent blog posts, “If your website is awkward, unprofessional or confusing, that’s the impression visitors will have of your business. Good design gives any website a stronger chance of success.”
3. Limits in Functionality and Content. Are you being given an all-access pass to the backstage of your website? Probably not, and especially not for free. So there may be restrictions on the number of pages you are allowed and simple add-ons like slideshows, photo galleries, e-commerce functionality, and user forms. If you need your site to be an extension of your business, helping attract and engage prospects, as well as grow with your business, you may be disappointed.
4. Compromise in Identity. Free website builders may give you free hosting by giving you a subdomain. So it looks like this “yoursitename.theirsitename.com”. For a personal site, that is fine or possibly even for a blog site, but for your main website, what will that say about your business? Will you feel comfortable adding that domain name to your advertising? And will your customers and prospects remember it? Some website builders will sell domain registration or you can transfer your purchased domain to them, but then it won’t be free. And as an added bonus, they’ll charge you for email accounts.
5. When Free really isn’t Free. Ads. Many of the website builders will place ads on your webpages, as a way to regain some of the monetary value of their free services from you. And at the very least, they will add in the footer, “Another Free Website by ….” Is that the image you want to extend to your customers? As one research group recently found on their study of “Affective Design of E-Commerce User Interfaces”,
“Generally, the more a company is perceived to have invested in its web site, the less likely it is perceived to act opportunistically by betraying customers’ trust, as it would have more to lose than to gain.”
6. The Future is Non-Transferable. Since we have already covered that options are limited to grow your site, you may eventually want to move your site files or transfer your content into the hands of a professional. Be careful in this regard, as most of these free builders will not allow you to transfer the design elements or any of the files when you leave. That means you may have to start from scratch with most of your content.
In the world of web design and development, as in any of the professional services, you get what you pay for. With a professional designer, you will get customized design, functionality, on-going support and guidance with social media marketing, search engine optimization, and all facets of internet marketing. Choose a designer who you feel comfortable working with, who can offer a full list of testimonials, provide a robust quality portfolio, and who is willing to work in your budget.
Even if you are a startup company, Startup Productions can offer a variety of ways to provide fast, affordable and manageable solutions to your web and graphic design needs. Contact me for more information.
*Here is a great video from a fellow web designer on the pros and cons of the free website builders: