Okay! The quotes are in.
Your business is ready to rock and the prime piece of marketing real estate is your website.
Three great designers have sent proposals.
Well that’s awkward.
As you take stock of the situation, your thoughts naturally turn to that YouTube ad you tried to click past (yeah, that’s what they’re there for!)
A Free website builder with a domain name thrown in too!
Ooh! That’s tempting…
The skeptic buried deep within you asks:
“But how can I create my own website for free?”
That is a very good question…
WEBSITE BUILDERS ARE AN ANSWER BUT ARE THEY THE ANSWER?
Essentially, there are three options to consider here:
- Use a cloud based website builder like Wix, SquareSpace or Duda
- Create your own WordPress.org site hosted on a reliable hosting platform.
- Employ a professional web designer/developer to do the job for you.
It’s important to note here that none of these options are completely free, not even the “free” ones.
As you will see, a lot depends on how you calculate “free”.
WEBSITE BUILDERS: FRIEND OR FOE?
There’s little doubt that website builder template platforms do a decent job. They’re easy to use and come loaded with starter design templates. You can get your business web presence online very quickly.
“WHATEVER YOU DO, IT’LL LOOK GOOD.” (apparently!)
Of course there are “free” tiers, but you need to check what the limitations are. Most free tier offerings are only suitable for personal blogs or limited trials.
If you’re intending your business to attract commercial levels of traffic, track engagement, sell products and all that good stuff, you’ll need to sign up for a paid tier pretty much immediately.
Calculate the word free as “free trial”.
This is not necessarily a problem. On the upside you get a great looking website for a reasonably predictable fixed monthly payment. You know where you are, even if maybe where you are isn’t really where you ought to be.
“ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD”William Shakespeare
Some of these advantages may not be quite as good as they seem. There are some gotchas that you’ll need to account for.
Those great looking templates look great, but don’t be tempted to stick with the boiler-plate get-you-started copy. They’re optimized for SEO, that’s true, but Google is not keen on duplicate content. If you want to rank on the front page for your chosen keywords you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get writing!
You want your business to really take off right?
Hordes of product hungry customers will be arriving.
You’ll need to check the traffic volume restrictions. To be fair, most platforms will make it clear that unlimited traffic is available on a paid tier. What may be less obvious is that most of them really don’t want you setting up in competition with YouTube.
You might find they take a dim view of you hosting a lot of product videos.
Some specifically exclude video hosting – you’ll need to either link to
YouTube or get your own video streaming service like Vimeo.
While we’re on the subject of ‘taking a dim view’, don’t forget that you’re in rented accommodation.
The “landlord” can pop in whenever they want to. If you’re doing something they don’t like you’ll be out on the sidewalk with your content in a brown paper bag.
At the very least you may get a punitive rent rise.
This is why you need to read the T&Cs very carefully!
It’s also worth noting that your “content” is just the words and images that you’ve added to your site. You don’t get to transfer the template to a new host and transferring your data can be technically challenging.
If you took advantage of the “free domain”, you may discover that it isn’t yours either.
Read the T&Cs!
In short, if you get fed up with their customer service and decide to move, you could find yourself starting again, from scratch.
As the old adage goes:
“BUY CHEAP, BUY TWICE”
TIME RICH, CASH POOR? THIS MAY BE FOR YOU
It depends how you account for your time, a do-it-yourself approach has many advantages over “free”.
All the website builder software you need to create the most sophisticated eCommerce site is available free of charge.
There are thousands of free templates and plugins to cover all the functionality you’ll ever need. You can even get support from hundreds of volunteer techies free of charge.
Recent developments also mean that creating a website with WordPress can be nearly as easy as the website builder platforms.
On the downside you have to find someone to host your site.
On the upside you have to find someone to host your site.
You see, you are in control.
It’s your site, you own everything.
There are loads of options and many have services specifically catering to the needs of WordPress hosting. Most reputable web hosts have deals and plans that may even cost you less than the middle tier on a website builder platform.
If you don’t like the service from your web host, you can move your site. WordPress has plugins that allow you to backup the whole thing and upload it to a new host.
Most hosting companies will offer you the ability to buy your own domain name through them. This is handy but you may prefer to deal with an independent domain registry so you are absolutely sure you can’t be held hostage by a rogue hosting company.
It’s your domain name forever – just ask the guys at Amazon.com how important that is! You and Google can build a beautiful SEO relationship together.
There are tons of great sites dedicated to helping you do all this. It’s not as difficult as you might think.
This is truly owning your own website real estate.
If you want to integrate with an email service like ConvertKit or Mailchimp there are free plugins to do that.
Want some help with the basics of SEO, there’s a plugin for that!
Security? There are plugins for that too.
Granted, a lot of plugins and themes have premium options, but it’s a principle of WordPress.org that the free plugins and themes in their directory must be fully functional. The paid options should only be added extras.
You have the freedom to link to any services you want. You’re not tied to a platform’s supplier of choice.
Your data is yours.
One of the fundamentals of content marketing is to make sure that you own all your marketing data, not just the leads.
When your business really starts moving and you want to take your design up to the next level, hiring a professional web designer may be the next step.
PEACE OF MIND FOR THE DISCERNING BUSINESS WEBSITE OWNER
If you prefer to spend your time building your business and can write off the costs over the next 3 years then hiring a web designer may be for you.
There’s no doubt, this is not an inexpensive option!
No matter how you calculate “Free”, you are looking at a significant financial investment.
So let’s look at what you get for your money.
At the top end you’ll get a unique, bespoke designed site with great images and graphics from the finest photographers and graphic artists that the image libraries have to offer. Your designer should understand what you want for your brand styling and will work with you to ensure that you both understand what is possible and how it will be realized.
The copy will be professionally written to sell your business and rank highly on search engines.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is not just about the content. A very large component is speed and responsiveness on a wide range of browsers. As well as backlinks from other sites.
Your product pages will be optimized to not only attract sales, but also to handle abandoned carts.
The whole thing will be integrated with your email list and social media presence.
Most good web design services will offer various levels of involvement so you may be able to start off with a bespoke look and feel based on a WordPress template which you can then use to publish your own written content and add your own products. You still have the flexibility to move and grow as you wish but you’ll usually get results much quicker and will probably learn a lot about how this stuff works into the bargain.
This is definitely the more expensive option but with the right team on the job you get what you pay for – the “ultimate” in peace of mind.
SO, WHAT IS THE BEST WEBSITE BUILDER?
The answer to this depends on your sense of adventure and whether you are expecting your business to grow.
If predictable cost and minimal input is most important.
If you’re asking “How do I build my website for free?”
Then a free tier on a platform is probably for you.
If you’re game for a fairly shallow learning curve and not in a great hurry then jump in and build your own WordPress site.
The real choice is down to how much you value time over expenditure.
If you know what you need to support your business marketing for the next 3 years of rapid growth.
If you can write off the costs and would rather someone else do the heavy lifting while you get on with running your business.
Then a professionally built bespoke website, fully loaded, optimised and supported will give you the ultimate peace of mind.
It’s all yours too!
Written by Martin Edwards