Why you shouldn’t use free websites

10 Reasons Not To Use A Free Website Builder

Joseph PoirierNovember 17, 2017SEO, Websites

Why using a free website builder is simply a bad idea. 

Believe me folks, I understand – the idea of creating a “free” website is tempting – especially to a small business owner.  With so many companies out there today offering simple ‘drag and drop’ website building platforms, and the seemingly high cost of hiring a professional to custom build your website, it seems like a good alternative.  “Free” website builders come in many forms. In addition to Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc., each industry has its own version of low priced website building platforms that seem too good to be true.

Free Website Builders

Reasons to avoid the “free” website builder you ask? Let me count the ways…. 

1. You don’t own your own website. 

Personally, I feel this is of huge importance, and a major reason I’d stay away from Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, godaddy, Shopify, Yahoo, etc. The website files and code belong to them, not you.  When you run into some of the issues listed herein, or you’d like to increase the capabilities/functionalities of your website, and decide to upgrade your website – all the work that you’ve done so far is for not. There’s no way to migrate your website off of their platform – you don’t have access to site files, backend, CSS, (custom style sheets) code, etc. Therefore, all of your time/effort is lost, and you’re starting all over again from ground zero. 

If you build your website on an open source CMS (content management system) like WordPress or Joomla – you own it all. Everything you invest in your website (time, effort, money, SEO) will always be yours, and pay ongoing dividends.

2. SEO Shortcomings 

While each website builder provides you with what they refer to as “SEO tools”, they all are lacking in what they offer. True SEO (search engine optimization) requires access to make file customizations and modify/optimize settings on your server – but you have no access to your server with these website building platforms. Different site builders have different shortcomings – some will give you access to meta descriptions, headings, and alt attributes on the home page, but not internal pages, product pages, or blog posts (which is crucial).  

Here’s a real-world scenario. We started working for an attorney’s office in July, of 2016. They had spent over four years doing everything they could to optimize their website for organic traffic. The knowledge base from their website builder gave them hope that they would be able to compete for traffic. They utilized a keyword planner, built an SEO strategy, started blogging, added every heading, alt tag, and attribute they had access to. Quite honestly – it was the best, and most optimized website I’ve ever seen on one of these site building platforms. But alas – their traffic was ‘flat lining’ without regular increases; they could not ‘out do’ their competition, and show up in search results. The countless hours (attorney hours, mind you) spent on “SEO” would all be lost. As stated in #1 above, there’s no migration tools to bring them over to an open source CMS. Long story short – here’s a screen shot of their organic traffic. 

Google Analytics monthly traffic

From January 2016 through July 2016, they were averaging about 50 monthly visitors to their website from organic traffic. After moving over to WordPress in late July, we aggressively implemented our SEO strategy. Honestly – our strategy was eerily similar with what the client had done over four years on their previous website builder – so they were weary/skeptical of the results. As a result of their efforts, in October of 2017, they are dominating the SERP (search engine results page) – with over 1,300 organic website sessions monthly. Free website building platforms simply cannot compete SEO-wise. (And by the way…their practice is quickly growing and expanding after joining with us). 

3. Customer Support 

Customer support in so many industries is atrocious today – especially in this industry. I have a big problem with a provider when I can’t pick up the phone and talk to someone directly. Every “free” website builder company I’ve seen has email support only. What happens when your site goes down and you need timely or immediate assistance?  If you can get someone on the phone using their support systems – it will be an overseas office that can offer no immediate assistance. Consequently, you’ll find hundreds of complaints and horror stories on the Better Business Bureau website.

4. What’s “The Catch” with free website builders 

You’ve probably noticed I’ve consistently put “free” in quotation marks. That’s because most “free” websites are not free at all. Keep in mind – they run a business; you’ll have to start paying eventually in some shape or form. Yes, there’s typically a free trial, but most users find that they need to quickly ‘upgrade’ their account (the goal of the platform) for certain services; they suddenly find the need to pay for an app integrator, then some tool, more storage, a scheduler, tax calculator, ftp access, image hosting, email accounts, and on and on. 

As a rule of thumb – If you’re not paying for it, then you are the product. They need to make money from you somehow, and they’re protected by the terms/conditions to do as they wish with your info, so selling your information (email address, etc.) is a common practice.

Other quick thoughts…. 

5. Lack of customization 

Limited tools, fonts, templates and a lack of custom code result in bland, every day, cookie-cutter websites. The ‘average Joe’ is able to identify free websites – typically not a great first impression of your company. 

6. Lack of Speed 

Your website will be on a shared server with hundreds of other sites. Limited bandwidth and no access to server settings mean your website will load slowly. The average visitor will leave your site if it’s not fully loaded (desktop or mobile) in 3 seconds or less. And don’t judge your page speed for how well it loads for you and your devices (cached for quick loading) – utilize your analytics account for page speed insights of your visitors. 

7. Lack of Security 

The shared server mentioned above leads to security concerns. If one of the sites on your server gets hacked, it leaves the rest very vulnerable. Monthly, we receive multiple inquiries from people whose websites have been hacked – come to find out, they’re typically on the same server.

8. Limited Functionality 

Their applications are limited to the tools developed by that one web builder platform. Compare them to an open source CMS like WordPress which, at the time of this writing, has 52,900 plugins that allow amazing customization for businesses of any size and industry. No wonder WordPress dominates the CMS industry with nearly 60% market share. (Wix, GoDaddy, Weebly average 0.8%)  Source: https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all

9. The Future 

As previously stated – Free Website builders do not transfer to Content Management Systems, or other free website builders. What happens if/when one of these companies close down? (Happens every day) Your site, its files and assets will all simply be gone.

10. Personal Experience

Listen – can you make a website on one of these free website builders look good and be appealing to your eye? Absolutely. As with our lawyer client above – they updated the site constantly, added great content, and made it very appealing. But the sheer number of hours invested by their team was astounding – time invested in a website that they didn’t own, and never produced results. Had they invested in a custom, state-of-the-art website with a solid SEO foundation, they would have spent less in the long run, and been on top of the SERP (Search engine results page) years earlier. 

If you must…. 

There are times that Free Website Builders are your only choice, and I totally understand that. I just want people to be aware and informed. I’d rather have this type of discussion with someone now – rather than years later – after the countless hours are invested, and they have to start all over again. So – if you’re going the “Free” website route, I’ve found that Squarespace offers the best design elements and the results look more professional than the others. Limit your hours/expenses/investment, do it yourself, and don’t pay a “web developer” in this scenario. Be weary of someone that calls themselves a web developer and uses free platforms.
See also: Questions to ask your web developer.

 

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When you open a new small business it can be a struggle if you don’t have the right foundation. Obtaining any of the foundation building services offered by Saafenet can help you eliminate much of that struggle. Starting a business is a process. We help you to understand that process and give you the tools to help you get ahead of the pack. Most of whom don’t make it anyway. As a part of your process, entrepreneurs should investigate and apply for inclusion in state and federal procurement programs. Because you’ll find the government can be your best customer. If you’d like our help, here’s what we can do.

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offlineEveryone seems to think the world is moving toward buying everything online. Well that may happen some day, but not today. Customers still enjoy touching and testing a product before they buy it. Many will price shop online for something they have seen at a brick and mortar store. When there is a substantial difference in price they may return and use the convenience of e-commerce. But, many people want the instant gratification only offline sales can give them.

The flood of information available about making a fortune online, has caused many to try to start online businesses. It is absolutely true, you can start a business for less money online than you can start a brick and mortar business. However, It takes a long time before anyone even knows you are online and online sales require traffic. Many aspiring entrepreneurs are completely unaware of this requirement. Many of them are targets for online companies claiming they have the secrets they need to increase their traffic.

Knowledge of this fact, improperly applied to a start-up, can in some cases contribute to new business failure. But, when an offline operation is combined with an online operation it’s highly possible to have a winning combination. And an understanding that your offline operation does not have to immediately include a brick and mortar location.

How this can be done without a brick and mortar location

When you’re selling physical products they can be sold in house parties, which may lead to the creation of a multi-level marketing operation. Services may be sold through cold calls, meetings with potential clients at their offices, and other means. None of these methods require you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on commercial office space and furnishings. You can remain at home, and build up savings while you await the time when you start to earn money online. Revenue from both components of your operation can then be saved for the eventual renting or purchase of commercial real store front or office space.

Operating a brick and mortar business with an e-commerce compliment is commonly called a bricks and clicks business model. This business model is the wave of the future, more than a philosophy anyone can earn money online or offline without combining the two. The time to decide if your business would be better served using one or the other, is during your initial planning.