I need a website. Should I do it myself?
You decide you need a website. You are confident to try and build that website for yourself or you engage a friend who says they will do it for free. You then go to Google and type in “Free Website” and along come the results, Wix, Square Space, Weebly, WordPress.com, Blogger, the list is endless, but is it worth building a free website yourself. Let’s examine this a little bit further.
Built with a poor template? It says free website on the cheap every time.
Most free website building platforms have a number of templates you can use. This makes it easy to get a site up and running quickly however, nothing substitutes for a designer who knows how to lay out copy correctly for users who view content on the web, who knows how to optimise for search engines and social media, who provides second to none customer service and support and who also cares about your business and their own reputation as a designer. A designer will often spend time researching the trends and what’s happening in the world of the internet, as this is their passion and it keeps them ahead of the competition.
A free website will usually have some kind of catch that doesn’t make the site truly free. There’s onsite branding, advertising that you can’t remove or paid for plug-ins. You might as well just pay a little bit more and get the value-added that a good designer brings.
You never really own your website.
You are effectively locked in. Your website doesn’t really belong to you and if the free website company decides to start charging or they go out of business, there is very little you can do to get it back up and running somewhere else. They won’t provide you with the files or the backup. This has happened to one of my customers recently and now we have to get a site up and running as a matter of priority.
Search Engine Optimisation and Moving your Site
Leaving the platform means rebuilding the site, which can harm your SEO (google search results) and reputation of your site if you aren’t very careful about how you rebuild. Often free sites aren’t well optimised.
Sometimes (not always) you can’t use your own domain and have to use some derivative of the companies domain which looks unprofessional. The cost of a domain is less than the cost of going out for lunch. How cheap do you look now?
In just the last year, I have had clients who have been hacked and defaced (by friends who initially built the site and then went on to fall out with), sites with malware from a previous site design, clients wanting to move from free sites that have started charging, clients dissatisfied with the level of support and functionality provided by their free website and clients who are just not cutting it with their previous provider for one of the reasons mentioned above. Each time the client has wished that they had paid for my services at the outset. I have been there at short notice to put it right because I know how important it is for my clients site to be up and running. They know where I am and they know they can call me.
You don’t get the value of the Designer’s Experience
A designer’s experience is what you pay for. When I consult with my client at the beginning of the process, I meet them to find out more about the business and their competition, about how tech-savvy they are, what their budget is and how they want to be portrayed on the internet. I note their market sector, the density of their business in the marketplace and various other things relevant to being found on the internet. All optimisation is planned before I even start building the site. Then I focus on getting the image right for the marketplace. I give advice on the type of images people require before they engage a photographer and how they might best use video in their website, recommending business partners who can provide quality web-ready content. Then I assess whether my client needs a full blown e-commerce system or a free or rented site or whether they just need a brochure site with one or two updates throughout the year. I have a conversation about how they will use their website and whether they need content management. Most of the time they don’t. (There’s nothing worse than a site with no content.)
Then and only then do I start building and doing all the technical stuff. The design process is a two-way consultation between myself and my customer until we match the brief and sign off the site.
Get what you can afford and build from there.
If you can, try and afford just a three-page professionally designed website. From there you can always build onto it and you will find it’s much cheaper and easier to do if the correct framework has been used at the outset. Your designer is an important part of your business and should work with you just like your accountant and bank manager.
If you choose to go down the free route, talk with a designer to see if they can help you set up your site. It may only be one or two hours of work to them but it will make the overall effect a more professional one. Remember they are the designer and your time is your most limited and valuable asset. You could be spending those valuable hours on your own business.
Conclusion – Free Website Platforms.
Having spent time networking, building your sales and your reputation you don’t want to spoil your first impressions. Your website is often the first contact your customers have with you. Customers often visit your site to find out whether your business is credible or not. How many times have you hit the back button when you have reached a site that is ugly, disinteresting or lacks the small details that make a good design. Design really should be invisible and the user experience should be all about your products. Don’t destroy what you build up by skimping on a cheap or free website design solution. It’s the difference between bargain basement and high-end class.