There ain’t no such thing as a free website!

(or a free lunch!)

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free website no such thing

There ain’t no such thing as a free website!

December 19, 2014
Ted Faigle
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Many small businesses looking at web design on Kauai or anywhere else in Hawaii or around the world are finding free website alternatives online.  But what does free really mean?  Are you being smart and economical or are you locking into something with other implications and challenges?  Over 6 million people and businesses have joined Weebly and have set up many more million websites on their platform.  Websiteooltester.com covers the pros and cons of many of the free website providers.  So wouldn’t that be the way to go?  With them or one of their competitors?  Not necessarily.

In economics the principle that there is no such thing as a free lunch is used to denote that everything has an opportunity cost.  The phrase was used early on in the U.S. in the days of saloons that offered a “free lunch” if you purchased at least one drink.  It was also used to talk about government corruption.  But in modern times the economist Milton Friedman helped to make the phrase really popular by using it as the title of his 1975 book.

The concept that nothing is free serves to remind us that there is an opportunity cost to everything.  By choosing one investment you have an opportunity cost of what the alternative would have been.  Even if someone does invite you for a free lunch, there may be some other agenda or obligation on your part.  At the very least there is an opportunity cost of the alternative ways that you could have used your time while eating the free lunch.  Your time has value and that value is determined by how you use it.

What does free lunch have to do with a free website?

There is opportunity cost to accepting a free website.  You are choosing a set of parameters, design styles, contracts, and timeframes for a free website that may sound good in the short term, but have other costs.  After all, who doesn’t want free?  You’re starting a new small business and you’re looking to do everything economically.  However, being economical may not automatically mean taking the free alternative.

What are some of the advantages of the free website?

  • It’s free! (well, mostly anyway)
  • The tools are simple and easy to use
  • It’s fast to do
  • You can do it yourself
  • The complexity of web design tools, domain names and web hosting are masked to you
  • There are a lot of pre-loaded designs available
  • The sites are large and growing and adding features over time

What to look out for with free website providers

  • Is the domain name registered in your name?  Can you take it with you?
  • Are you obligated/required to purchase other services from the free website provider?
  • How long is the hosting contract with the free provider?
  • Is the free part limited to a certain time period?
  • Will they display ads on your site?  Will you be able to control the type and placement?
  • Will they add other external links to your site?
  • What level of support do they provide and in your time zone?
  • Do they provide any system availability guarantees?
  • Do they run regular backups of your site in case of a crash?
  • Do they require a setup fee or other admin fee?
  • Do they charge for monthly hosting and is it a higher fee than the industry average?
  • If you decide to switch later to a custom site can you take the site with you and transfer it to another host?
  • They may say they will submit your site to search engines, but are there any tools or guidelines to optimize your site for search engines to rank highly?
  • Do they provide a branded email address with your domain or is that an additional charge?
  • How much space do they provide?  How expensive will it be to upgrade if your business grows?
  • You have access only to the features they provide
  • There are limits to what you can customize to your business
  • What happens to your site if the company is acquired or goes out of business?

You may be thinking I’ll start out with this free website and then switch to a custom one later.  That may not be possible to do or it may be costly.  You may be disappointed when you are not showing up in search engine rankings, but another web designer can’t help you without building a new website.

Is a free website good marketing?

Free websites continue to improve and add features, but it may still be apparent to your prospective customers that it is a free website.  How serious are you about your business?  Do you look like a business that is investing to succeed?  Or do you look like thousands of other Weebly sites who have chosen the same design template?

Your web site is one of the key marketing tools to reach your new and existing customers.  Are you able to provide compelling content in a way that makes sense to them and that reflects the unqueness of your company?

If upfront cost is the issue, you may be able to work with your web designer or digital marketing partner to bundle the cost into a year long contract that could include web hosting or other social media services.  If they are open to that alternative, you may be able to spread part or all of the upfront cost over a longer contract with them.  You may want to consider alternatives other than just looking at the upfront price and making that your sole decision criterion.

After all, there ain’t no such thing as a free website!

 

 

 

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