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Free Websites… The Most Expensive Marketing Mistake a Small Business Owner Can Make.

Free websites attract small business owners like a moth to a flame, but just how expensive will they end up being?

There are two categories of “free” websites:

  1. Free with a specific domain (.wordpress, .weebly, Etc)
  2. Free with future charges (Web.com, 1and1.com, Etc)

I’ll start with the first category is the easiest to explain, because it’s the most transparent of the drawbacks associated with “free”. As long as you are okay with your website having a domain extension on the back end, these are a great starting point.

Free domain specific website Pros & Cons:

Pros Cons
Easily built, easily launched. You can literally have a website from WordPress or Weebly up and running within minutes with no experience necessary. Your free website will always have the .Wordpress.com or .Weebly.com domain extension. (www.NAME.wordpress.com) There will also be a link to the developer of the “theme” at the bottom footer of every page.
Easily convert to a paid website. If you decide at a later point to upgrade to the non-paid version it’s relatively easy with no loss of content. Ads may generate on your website that benefit the hosting company. This is how they offset the cost of providing a free service. You’ll also probably will have little control of the content of those ads.
Easy interface with no programming. The user experience is easy enough for most people to master quickly. You rely on your own effort to get the website found. Search Engine Optimization is complex, even for seasoned professionals. If you think it’s easy you’re in for a rude awakening, you can waste a lot of expensive time doing it wrong.
Free popular widgets. If you’d like to have a loan calculator, social media roll call, or most anything else you can easily integrate it into your website. Unprofessional branding. These websites often signal that you took the cheapest route, something you don’t want to convey as a business… especially if you’re in a service-based industry.
Something is better than nothing. If your business is just getting started this is an easy way to have a minimal presence until you can afford something more professional. .

The next category of “free” website comes from marketing companies that claim some variation of creating a website for the business owner at no cost unless they want to keep it. This seems like a great business idea, but the devil is in the details… the many, many details. While I’ve outlined the pros and cons below, I should stress that these types of companies do provide a legitimate service so long as you understand the potential consequences. Remember, if you’ve seen their commercials on T.V. they’re paying for those ads somehow.

Pros Cons
Turnkey marketing solution. If you choose a plan that assigns a developer this type of service can benefit you if you’re looking for a basic site that can be found when people search your business name. Little to no customization. Many of the complaints associated with these types of plans have to do with the fact that there is very little effort on the design & content of the site produced.
Little time investment. Besides your basic business info, you probably won’t have to concern yourself with domain names, website design, Etc. Little or no optimization. Generally there is not going to be a high level of SEO performed for your website, how could they when they have thousands of customers?
Quick to market. Like WordPress and Weebly, these platforms allow you to quickly launch a website and update content using their provided tools. Domain Ownership. There seems to be complaints & concern regarding who owns the domain if you cancel. Some people go so far as referring to it as “domain hostage”… you pay, or they keep your website name.
. Continued billing after cancellation. Of all of the complaints I’ve seen, this is one of the most concerning. Some of the companies offering these plans have been accused, (by more than a handful of upset customers), of continuing to bill for services long after the cancellation request in the hopes that you won’t notice or will forget.
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To my knowledge there is no truly “free” website service that doesn’t have at least some downside. In other words, you get what you pay for. If you are at all suspicious of a company, do a Google search with the company name + the words “scam”, “rip off” or “complaints” and do your due diligence before signing up for a potentially very expensive free trial.