The true cost of “free” websites

Every day, there are more and more companies offering a "create your own free website" service. While that may sound good to you if you're on a tight budget, it's not always a wise decision. Read on for some critical factors to be aware of.

Every day, there are more and more companies offering a “create your own free website” service. While that may sound good to you if you’re on a tight budget, it’s not always a wise decision. Read on for some critical factors to be aware of.

Poor search engine ranking

Most free website builders don’t give you any control over your website’s technical data (known as “metadata”). Metadata is important to your search ranking because this is the information that search engines use to add and update your listing in their results pages. If you have no control over this, you have no way of tweaking that metadata to improve your search engine ranking.

On top of this, many website builders use a website technology called Flash, which is typically used for animations and other effects but isn’t so great for readability and ease of use. Search engines generally have a very difficult time finding information about your website if it uses lots of Flash.

Lack of flexibility

While some free sites do allow you to add on extra features in future, many do not. If you’re establishing a new business, your needs are likely to change fairly quickly and you may find yourself creating your website all over again after just a few months.

Lack of scalability

Generally the company providing the free website service recognises that people who want a free website are either operating a hobby rather than a serious business venture, or they simply have no marketing budget. In either case, it’s reasonable to assume that your website traffic will be fairly low, and your email needs will similarly be minimal.

When the day comes that you outgrow your website, in some cases you’ll need to build a new one, and in other cases you’ll need to start paying ongoing monthly or annual fees — and these fees are sometimes pretty steep. It’s far better to invest in a quality website that is just a one-off expense and will meet your needs for a long time to come.

Lack of control

What do you do if you want to add content somewhere on your website that you don’t have access to edit? Nothing. You’re stuck. With a professionally built website, your website developer can provide access to virtually any area of the website you need. Even if you can’t edit that area directly, they should be able to carry out the changes for you.

Lack of advice and support

When you build a small business website with a developer, they can offer you guidance and feedback on your goals, and advice on how to achieve them. Furthermore, you can work collaboratively to create a design that works for you, rather than picking an off-the-shelf design and trying to force it to do what you want to.

Ultimately, a website is a key component of your marketing toolkit. While it’s all well and good to have your website address on your business cards or other materials to hand to prospects in person, if your other potential customers can’t stumble across your website in Google, or the have a difficult time trying to find what they’re looking for on your website, you’ll be more likely to convince those prospects to avoid you than employ you.

The bottom line

If you’re serious about growing your business, avoid free website builders. They won’t provide you with many leads, and they’ll soon become more trouble than they’re worth. If you don’t have the budget to develop a website, contact your financial institution to organise a business loan. Having a professional website which can actually generate more sales is well worth the investment.

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