The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Free Website Builders
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This sounds great to a new entrepreneur who just wants to get started and has very little funds to get started.
There is no doubt that it is a very enticing proposition but is it real? Do they really offer free websites?
Websites like WordPress.com, Weebly.com, Wix.com, Web.com and 1and1.com all offer some form of a free website. That is 5 big time companies all offering a free website, including hosting!
There must be a catch right?
Why They Offer Free Website Creation and Hosting
Yes, these sites do have an agenda. They want you to upgrade to one of their hosting plans. Before we start making these promises of “free websites” sound evil, let’s explore the upside of free web hosting.
The Good of Free Websites and Web Hosting
1. Its Free
Hard to bet free, especially if you are bootstrapping a business or not even sure if you want to create and manage a website on your own. Free is a great way to dip your toe in the water to see if you want to dive in head first.
2. Test Drive The Platform
With the advanced coding that is now common place, these places have found a way to allow you to create good looking websites with no experience or design skills. Pretty good things for a complete beginner. Sites like Wix.com, Weebly.com, Web.com and 1and1.com all offer a pretty intuitive drag and drop platform with templates to format your content in a stylish way. WordPress.com allows you to choose your theme (template) and start building your site. While WordPress is a bit more difficult to start with, it has a greater ability to allow for greater features and flexibility down the road, more on this later.
3. No Skills or Knowledge Needed
With the layouts already done, all you do is drop in the content and you a legit looking website very quickly. No need for a graphic designer, no need to read up on how to access a server or change log-in information. No need to learn html, css, php or any other coding language.
4. Unique Branding
You can style these sites however you want, putting you own logo on them, using your specific font and even get a free unique domain. Essentially you can create the exact feel you want your website to engender to your visitors.
The Bad of Free Websites and Web Hosting
Its free so they are either trying to funnel you into one of their products or making money on your site. They will often put up barriers to selling products on line or any other e-commerce capabilities. Often times these features are reserved for their paid hosting plans and are an up-charge after hosting as well.
Free also means throttled. Your website will no deliver as fast as a paid plan, nor will you have the storage capacity for your digital assets. This can become a problem if you really develop your site, use pictures and videos to convey your concepts or just blog a lot. The storage space in these free accounts is usually quite limited leaving you only room for the basics.
The Loop of Test Building A Website
Using a free account to test a website building platform seems like a great idea. This is also where a lot of people get hooked. Don’t get me wrong, I love try it before you buy but let me explain what happens with building a website on a drag and drop builder.
First you log in click through some stuff to get feel for it, then you upload your logo, put in tag line, add a couple paragraphs of content that pop in your head. Then you realize you need more pages, you click around to see how to add a new page, get it added build it out have way before deciding that you need your full menu built. So you build the framework of each page, adding in pictures where you have the ready, putting in an opening paragraph and maybe an outline of what you want on the page. Then it hits you that you will need a contact form, so you dig through picking and altering a contact form and before you know it you have invest 3-4 hours on something that was only supposed to be a test-drive.
Now you essentially have half of a website built and there is no way to transfer what you built to any other platform and you are faced with the dilemma:
Do I throw away those 4 hours of my life or do I suck it up and continue with this hosting company.
Hopefully after all of that you are happy with the hosting company and their terms for upgrading. Cross your fingers that you don’t want any features that are not possible with that particular platform.
No Skills Needed
No skills need sounds like a good thing and for the most part it is. What it also means is that anything beyond basic that you want your website to do will either cost extra or just is not possible. The e-commerce example from above is a great showcase of this problem. Yeah, we make it easy to sell products on-line…just not on our free account and from our basic hosting account you will have to buy this module or that plugin.
Untrustworthy Unique Branding
With free accounts you get your own unique domain but it is not yours. Most of the time you get what is called a subdomain. An example of a subdomain is:
Versus a real domain of:
While the difference may seem subtle, the effect is very real. Subdomains that are specific businesses scream I don’t have enough money for a website or I am too cheap to pay for a website. Neither of these are good forward facing messages. Not to mention they are really long to try and put on business cards, flyers and similar marketing collateral.
Domains cost money to buy and maintain every year so if you want a unique domain, you are going to have to find the hosting plan to choose from.
The Ugly of Free Hosting Plans
The dirty truth about free hosting plans is that you do not own what you build. The free hosting provider can take it away from you at any time by discontinuing their free website hosting.
Imagine spending even just 3 hours a week for a year to build, maintain and grow your website to wake up one day with an email saying sorry, we dumped that service and your website is gone. But thanks for support.
Starting with a free website builder and/or free hosting plan is a smart decision for a lot of people looking to start a website or blog. (Really great for a personal blog.) As long as you know what you are starting and your transfer options going in, you should be just fine by starting with a free website builder and hosting. Look into the pricing models of the free builder that you are considering to ensure that what you ultimately want out of your website can easily be upgraded and have the features and benefits that you are looking for to have for your website.