There is an abundance of companies offering websites and hosting - absolutely for free. A simple Google search for free websites and hosting services will give you hundreds of results. As an entrepreneur or a business owner, it doesn't seem to make sense spending thousands for a business website when you can get it at no cost. At one glance, a free website seems like a good and attractive deal. Not only is it free , but it is also essentially easy to create. Usually free hosting providers offer pre-made website templates or layouts that you can easily configure even without the technical skills of a web developer.
But is it really enough to piggyback on free services when it comes to establishing your online presence? Or is paying for your own website really worth the money and the effort, especially if you're just starting up? Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons why a paid website is still the best choice for a serious business.
The number one reason why you are building a website should be your customers. How they will feel and interact with your website should be a high priority. With your own paid website, you have the flexibility to design each page with your customers' needs and preferences in mind. You can add features like blogs, forums, and shopping carts to make the engagement more interactive, productive and memorable. You can keep them coming back for more by adding applications like games or fresh content and new deals. With paid website, you can build the website design around the needs and desires of your customers in every stage of their buying cycle.
However with free websites, not only is there a restriction with what features you can add, chances are your web pages will be cluttered with different banners and ads because this is how companies offering free web hosting generate their profits. Your customers will surely be turned off when in the middle of browsing, a pop-up advertisement suddenly appears. Wouldn't you? The worst scenario would be your customers clicking on the ads and leaving your website. Usually the ads displayed in your free website are relevant to what you are saying or offering. What are the chances that the banners and the pop-ups are paid by your competitors?
Another important reason for building your web presence is to establish your brand. You want to have your own identity, to be set apart from others. You want people to remember you, to talk and to write about you. Your own paid website gives you more chances to differentiate your brand from the rest. Since you have great control over your website, you can customize the theme and the overall look and feel. You can choose your own unique domain name (yourcompany.com). You can have multiple professional e-mail addresses that includes your domain name.
Resorting to a free website, as in the case of directory sites, not only means you will be grouped into the same category where your competitors are but also means a great chance of having the same template and theme as with others. If that is still not a threat to your brand, you might not be offered to use your own domain name and instead do away with long and hard to remember names like yourcompany.freehostingcompany.com. Is that something you can picture printing in your business cards and telling people about?
As a start-up, whether in business or in the internet arena, you might take advantage of free websites as a training ground while you are still trying to learn the ins and outs of internet marketing. But this could potentially turn into a nightmare. How? Well, you are not the only one who will be taking advantage of the free services. In fact, free hosting companies host thousands of websites. This could mean many things. First, you share server space with other websites, some of them could be spammy websites which can compromise the security of your own site. The chances of being spammed and hacked are higher. Second is the very limited disk space and file size. This means you might not be able to upload lots of images or videos and create more pages that are truly helpful in creating memorable user experience. Third, you have restricted bandwidth so there is no guarantee on how long your site will be up and running. What happens when suddenly you received a lot of visitors and your site can't handle the traffic? Either your site will be down or you will be forced to upgrade to a paid account. By relying too much on free hosting providers, all your promotional efforts and time will turn into nothing once they decided to shut down or remove your site.
A paid website and hosting means bigger disk space where you could house hundreds of quality images or add more pages for site expansion. With free web hosting, your content could be taken away anytime, but with your own website you can do several back-ups and the decision to remove, edit or add content is up to you.
Most of the time free is not equivalent to quality service. Most of the time, you get what you pay for. Choosing free websites means no guarantee of any technical support. You design your own template. When you encounter a problem, you do your own independent research to find your own solutions. If you don't have the basic knowledge on web development and design, this could be a major waste of time which defeats the purpose of saving money since you surely are better off focusing your time and effort in your field of expertise. Paying for your own website means you have people with the technical know-how to do all the design and development stuff for you.
Clearly, if you are really serious with providing excellent customer experience and you can see your business growing and expanding, then having your own paid website that you can control is the best choice in the long run. But it doesn't mean you should completely ignore the free websites. You can capitalize on these mini-sites by creating profiles and pointing people to your main website, potentially driving more traffic to it. What is important is that you have an authority website with your own content and a customized theme for your brand.
What is your strategy in managing and monitoring your accounts on free online directories and free minisites? How are you measuring the success rate of each profiles? Do you think an authority website will greatly contribute in solidifying your online presence? Please comment below your thoughts and insights.