There’s no such thing as a free website 

Every small business today needs a great website. A website is the voice and face of your business so it's important to get it right.

When starting out, it’s easy to be seduced by the countless services offering DIY “free websites”. But are they really free? We have investigated a number of the big players and were surprised to find the inconvenient truth. Below are the five top reasons we discovered why your free website may actually be prohibitively costly to your business.

1. Time and effort. With free options you’ll often start off with a ‘naked’ site. This means you have to create your own design, as well as sourcing your own images and content. Unless you are a design expert, it’s likely you’ll end up spending a great deal of time and effort and end up with a website that is not professional. If you are a business owner, then your time is limited and certainly better spent running your business.

2. Poor first impressions. The free design templates on offer are often limited in options and poor in quality. As many free website companies are trying to keep overheads low, they do not offer new designs and functionality on a weekly or monthly basis. Nor do they offer any support (ie design, marketing or technical) so you are on your own. It’s all about first impressions online. An unprofessional website will do more harm than good to your business image and ability to get customers.

3. Display ads. Your site provider is offering you a free site in exchange for something. You are paying them back with display ads which can be large advertising banners. Essentially, you are giving up the most prominent space on your website to advertise another business. This will dilute your business message. Would you replace your storefront signs and business cards with an advertisement for another company?

4. Hidden costs. Free website offers are like honey-traps. Unless it is for personal use, you will quickly come to the realisation that you need to upgrade to a paying package because you need the extras, eg removal of adverts, more pages and content, better bandwidth and storage, a real domain name, increased reliability, and improved designs. It’s common to be over-charged for these extras, but you are locked in by this point. It’s no different than getting a free printer but then you pay for it with over-priced toner cartridges.

5. Search engine optimisation, or SEO, can be tough to master if you’re building your own site. Many free websites are Flash-based which cannot be read by Google. Also, free websites are typically hosted on the provider’s internal domain name thereby preventing you from getting any search engine benefits.

Lastly, without expert support, you’ll struggle to improve SEO unless you hire an expert. A website without any SEO benefits is like the proverbial lemonade stand in the middle of a desert. It is easy to get tempted by a free website offer but you may find it does more harm than good.

You wouldn’t dream of setting up a traditional business without any investment, and you should treat your site in the same way. It needn’t be a large investment – there are many great options like bOnline available today offering professional designs, great technology and business-grade support for a small, affordable monthly fee.

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