The thought of getting a free website is tempting. The internet is full of companies offering free website hosting even for self-hosted WordPress. You’re probably wondering what’s the catch? Why isn’t everyone else using a free WordPress website?
There has been a large uptake of free websites by small NZ businesses in the last few years. Reportedly, over 10,000 businesses took up the free website offer sponsored by Westpac and MYOB, and Spark have also been in the market offering a free DIY website solution.
The current trend however is towards free website builder tools like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace and these have quickly become very popular for small and new businesses. Shopify has become popular for online stores and ecommerce websites.
What Do We Mean by Free Website?
Most beginners who want to start their own website want to keep the cost low which is understandable. The thought of having free web hosting and building your site without paying anything is tempting. So, when they see the ‘opportunity’ not to have to buy domain, they jump at it. Until they get a reality check. Once you sign up to these so-called “free website services”, you slowly start discovering the limitations and many of them turn out to be not free at all.
What’s the real value in having a website?
The website has become the front shop for many businesses in today’s online world. It’s often the first touchpoint that prospective customers have and it imparts a first impression of your business.
For many small businesses, the website is their main onramp for obtaining leads and enquiries.
To that end, the website is a mission critical business asset and needs to fulfill a number of requirements, not the least being that it should look good and reflect the essence of your offering in the best possible light.
The value of a new customer will vary greatly by business type and model. If new customers are of material value to your business, then it’s a false economy to invest your effort into a free website that will only limit your ability to attract new web visitors and enquiries.
Components That Make A Good Website
- A good website incorporates a content structure that aligns with search activity and one that delivers excellent usability so that visitors can easily find what they are looking for.
- It should include rich content about your products and services and this content should have been uniquely created for your website. The content should ideally reflect the language, terminology and style of your customer audience and preferably avoid industry terms and acronyms.
- The content should include good quality images that are relevant to the copy. Video should be used where it makes sense.
- The website and its content need to conform to Google’s guidelines for SEO and the pages and content needs to be accurately tuned to target your most important keywords.
- Clear pathways should be visible throughout the content, directing visitors to the areas of the website that further engage or lead to conversion points. This includes utilising highly visible and clear call to actions inviting web visitors to connect with your business offering.
- The above should be wrapped in a highly appealing design that reflects the branding position of your business.
- The website design needs to be fully responsive so that it delivers optimally regardless of the device used by the visitor – mobile, tablet and desktop.
- The website should be coded using modern methodologies and should score highly in the Google Developers Lighthouse page load and usability test.
- The website should include good analytics set up like Google Analytics so that there is clear visibility to performance and areas for improvement, etc.
The Pros and Cons of Free Websites
The price is right! There’s no doubt that the price is about as good as it’s going to get – who could complain about that?
WYSIWYG – Most do-it-yourself free website builders use a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editor so you can drag and drop and see how your website will look as you build it.
Wide selection of templates – most DIY sites have many different types of pre-existing layouts available for you to customize.
- Extremely slow websites
Most free website hosting providers put hundreds of websites sharing the same server. This makes all their websites load at very low speeds. Slow websites create bad user experience and are bad for SEO.
- Unprofessional web address
Having a website address like mysmallbusiness.Freewebsite.com does not look professional at all. Visitors to your website and potential customers would find it quite difficult to take your website seriously when you don’t even have a proper domain name.
- Trial Service is Not Really Free
Many of these free website services often turn out to be limited trials. After a while you are asked to pay for it. In most cases, this price is usually way higher than normal WordPress hosting services. If you added a credit card during signup, then they can charge you without giving you any warning.
- They can lock down your data
Many users who start with a free website and then want to move to a paid service, find it impossible to move their website data. These service providers do not offer any tools to easily migrate your site. Users end up paying freelancers to manually export their content which can quickly increase your bill.
- They can shut down your website
The terms and conditions of these services clearly state that they can shut down your website at any time without providing you a reason. If they shut down a website, they usually don’t give your data or provide you a way to save your content.
- These companies can disappear at anytime
At any time, the free website company can decide to pack up their business and go. They would simply shut down their servers, and you will lose your website and all the data. Their terms of service give them full legal protection to do so.
- You will lose your site address
If they decide to close the service or shut down your website, then you will lose your web address. Most of the time it is a subdomain associated with the service. You cannot replicate that address or redirect users to your new site elsewhere.
- They can sell your information
Remember that these services need to make money somehow to remain in the business. A good rule of thumb is if you are not paying for it, then you are the product.
These companies find other ways to make money such as selling your email address, personal information, and your website address to other companies. Their terms and conditions which no one really reads provide them total legal immunity.
- No site building tools
Unlike a real web hosting service, these companies offer very limited tools and services to their users. Using these tools, the website you will create will look even more unprofessional.
- No WordPress
Many of these free services do not allow you to install WordPress on your free website. WordPress requires a little more resources than a free website service can afford.
- Vulnerable to hacking attempts
Due to poor security, free websites are often more vulnerable to hacking attempts. If your site is hacked, it will be a lot more difficult to get it recovered because these companies give you very limited access to your own files and data.
- Limited bandwidth
Bandwidth is the amount of data transferred from server to user browser. It costs money and most free websites come with a very limited bandwidth caps.