When it comes to starting a small business, a website is often a high priority in the planning process. Most new business owners understand the importance of having a professional online appearance for their brand, but unfortunately they often don’t have the budget to spend on a highly customized, professionally designed site.
The conflict over needing a great website and not being able to afford one has led to the rise of “free” or “do-it-yourself” website builder companies like SquareSpace, Wix, Web.com and Weebly. These sites offer to design a site for you for free, or provide you with a free template for you to customize. The concept is great, but as with anything being promised for free, there are plenty of catches you should be aware of before taking the plunge.
Each of the factors below can greatly affect the success of your new venture and cause unnecessary stress in a time where excitement should be the order of the day. Here’s what’s hidden in the fine print:
Free may not stay free for long
The majority of the website builder companies offering a free website design or template will leave out the fact that the only “free” aspect of their company is the initial set up of the site. This can either mean you get a free template (a pre-developed site without any customization or branding) or they’ll enter in exactly what you tell them to and leave you to figure out how to change things on your own.
On top of that, once you’ve got your site set up you’ll have to start paying monthly maintenance fees to keep your site up and running. Hosting is a requirement for any site, but these sites are often charging monthly fees for “maintaining” your site without actually doing anything to update them.
These companies maintain control over your site and can change the monthly fees at any time to the point where you may not be able to continue paying to keep your site on their servers.
You Won’t Actually own your site
Building off of that last point, you don’t own your website files when you go with a free website builder. This means that these companies can do whatever they want to your site, including placing advertisements on it or even taking it down at their discretion, no questions asked. Imagine doing all the work to get your site up and running, only to have it disappear without warning, leaving you back at square one.
Since you don’t own the files, you’re also in a bind if you decide you’d like to move your website to a new hosting provider or domain in the future, as these companies either won’t release the files to you or will charge an exorbitant amount of money for you to get access to them.
Limited support for your needs
While the examples you see in commercials and on the websites of these companies look great, it’s important to keep in mind that they’ve been created by a professional designer who has experience working within the system and likely had an unlimited number of hours to make sure it looked perfect. Think of a fast food chain’s photography of their food on their menu compared to what you actually get; without the tools and the time to spend on making something look perfect, you’re not going to end up with the result as advertised.
The limitations of the sites available aren’t made clear until you’ve already spent your time and effort trying to figure things out on your own. If you need help with your site, you’re most likely on your own to figure out how to change things. There may be many things you are unable to change, but you won’t know until you get there.
Last but not least, even the best websites occasionally break. Any time that your website is down, you’re running the risk of losing valuable traffic and potential clients. Without a dedicated team to help you troubleshoot the issues with your site, you could be missing out on that big client you’ve been waiting for.
One of the key factors in our decision to create Emerge was to help small business owners find a way to get a professionally designed website at an affordable price, with exceptional customer service to provide ongoing support and advice to help your company’s online presence grow.
So, before you move ahead with that too-good-to-be-true deal, keep in mind that it most likely is, and that there is a high-quality, low-cost alternative. If you’ve already fallen victim to the “free” website trap and are looking for a cost-effective, supportive way out, we can help you with that too.