The high cost of “free” when it comes to web design.

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Having actually lived through the first wave of “free” websites (think Geocities, etc.) I figured another wave would come around. It’s not like all these types of services ever fully went away, it’s just that a new surge in popularity is happening. I’ve even seen tv commercials for 2 or 3 different services now.

First rule of free: you get what you pay for.

Companies throughout the years have offered free website builders and free templates. If you’ve got no budget and want a website, I guess that’s your best option. But if you’ve got no budget, how do you expect to run a business and put your best foot forward? A free template with your own business information can get you up and running, but what if your business and a competitor decide to choose the same template? It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities.

While researching some of the options out there for this article, I signed up for one of the most popular free website services and discovered pretty quickly that the free websites come with banner ads that you can not control (in other words, just about any type of product or service could come up advertised on your site). There were hundreds of basic looking templates (some were only available with certain types of sites), and for the adventurous, there were about 6 standard layouts where you could upload all of your own images. As with all of the online, DIY web builders, there’s a learning curve. So expect to spend some time figuring out what to do, watching video tutorials, etc. If you want to use your own images, you’ll need to upload and edit them, and fiddle with the interface to do so. I’ve been designing and coding websites for years and even I got frustrated with some aspects of the editor after about 10 minutes. Then again, I’m not the target market for free website builders.

Oh and much like the old Geocities, expect your free website to have an address like: and a “website created with” at the bottom. To me, nothing says, “I’m not serious about my business” quite like a freebie URL, a freebie email address, and a “this site made with freebie-company-name” disclaimer. In order to have your own URL, you’ll need to buy one, then upgrade to a paid plan in order to use it.

Second rule of free: of course there’s strings attached!

The next thing I noticed with these services was that just about everything beyond putting up the most basic of websites requires you to upgrade to one of their paid options. The paid option fees were comparable to monthly regular website hosting or 3rd party ecommerce hosting (where you pay a monthly fee to have an online store).

I view a lot of these types of services as stepping stones. Many of the clients that end up hiring us have come from DIY solutions. Typically they’re lured in by free or low-cost or just the fact they can do it themselves and then over time realize that there are downsides. By the time those realizations are made, there’s no telling how much of an impact the, “cheap and easy solution” had on their overall business and how much of their own time (remember, time is money) they had sunk into it.

While free websites have come a long way since Geocities, it’s my opinion that the more services like these are popularized, the more a custom website is going to stand out. The bottom line when it comes to putting your best foot forward is there’s no good reason not to invest a little money in your business and get something tailor made for you, your target market, and your goals by an experienced professional. It’s like the difference between off-the-rack and custom tailoring. Custom tailoring is always going to be a better fit and make you look fabulous!

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