There are a plethora of website builders available online that offer many free features. They look easy enough to use and in some instances, using a free website builder might be the best option for your business at this time.
Maybe you’re at an early stage and don’t yet have the funds to invest in professional development.
Maybe you’re a blogger or photographer who wants to show off their portfolio, not necessarily being interested in building a large business, relying more on the content than the design and experience for your user.
Maybe you’re testing the water to see whether you can build a website yourself that drives results, without having to make an investment.
Whatever the reason, there are pros and cons to free website builders and being aware of them will allow you to decide whether an investment might be beneficial for your business.
Let’s start with the pros
It’s generally free to build a basic website or there's only a minimal monthly cost. This means that you can start building your web presence without having to worry about where the funds will come from.
Easy to use
Some website builders have a ‘drag-and-drop’ system. A very basic format that allows you to build a website with great ease. You don’t need any technical expertise and can build a basic website in a short amount of time.
No installation necessary
There are built-in external databases for storage. They operate in your browser, meaning you don’t need to download any software onto your computer. You can just log-in online and away you go.
It suits your needs
As mentioned above, maybe you don’t need a website that reflects a brand or provides users with an enjoyable experience towards a call-to-action. If investing in your website isn’t going to create any tangible results, then a professional development would be more out of choice than necessity.
Let’s move on to the cons
Security and vulnerability
WordPress, as an example, is an Open Source platform. The plugins and themes you need to use to customise it are developed by many different people and there’s no way to know whether they contain bugs or malicious lines of code.
When you’re using popular website builders, which millions of people do, they become prime targets for hacking attempts. Hackers look for websites that are less secure with malicious intents, such as distributing malware, spamming, and so on.
If your free website building platform updates, this can often render parts of your theme or plugins unusable and cause compatibility issues. You have to be diligent and keep a close eye on whether everything is performing correctly and to fix any problems yourself.
The large majority of free website builders don’t offer support. Having to find forums to post in and asking advice from people can be time-consuming, stressful, and there’s no guarantee that you’re getting the right information.
Certain themes contain a lot of unnecessary generic code resulting in slow loading times. Without having a solid understanding of what code you need and what code you don’t need, it can become difficult to speed things up. When websites take too long to load, users often jump ship to websites that load instantaneously.
A steep learning curve
Some free website builders require time to learn, not only how to build your website, but to also ensure it drives your user towards a predefined call-to-action. This could be signing up for your email newsletter, sending an email, visiting your Facebook page, or making a purchase.
It can take time. Sometimes upwards of 30 to 50 hours, depending on the complexity. It can be tricky learning how to use plug-ins and to create a website that reflects your brand, whilst offering your user an enjoyable, seamless experience.
When working with a professional website developer, they understand the intricacies of what you do, what you’re wanting to achieve, who your target market audience is, what the baseline standard is of websites in your space and they can build a website that will create results.
Many free website builders don’t offer hosting as part of their basic package. If they do, there is a trade-off and other features are limited. It may not offer options such as additional users, eCommerce functions, SSL security, a sign-up function for site visitors, or custom domain names.
Free website builders often run advertisements on your website in exchange for providing you with a free-of-charge building platform. You will never receive a commission from these ads, no matter how well your website works in making money for the platform, and it can ruin your user’s experience having ads appear.
You don’t own the website
If you decide to leave, you can't take your website with you, as it won’t work outside of their software. When you have put your blood, sweat, and tears into developing your website, it’s important to feel that you have control and ownership of it.
Free website builders aren’t optimised for search engines. They may offer very basic elements, such as meta tags, title tags, and description tags, but nothing more. Free website building platforms often have outdated code that is difficult for search engines to read and many aspects that can’t be edited for optimisation.
If you’re serious about being found online, one of the best ways to do this is to have SEO optimised copy, a marketing plan, and a website that is fully optimised for SEO.
When you’re browsing through templates, some of them look fantastic. Then, you start editing it to make it your own and are left disappointed.
The problem is that a designer made your template. It was built by somebody with technical expertise and trying to make your website look as professional as theirs is going to be extremely difficult. Understanding how to choose the best colour scheme, font faces, and layouts are best left to the professionals or at the very least, somebody who has a great eye for design.
There's also the issue of thousands of websites looking the same. As everybody is using the same templates, it's easy for people to know who's using a free website builder.
They say that you get what you pay for and for a large majority of people using free website builders, the end results can look unprofessional. It can look like a free website because… well, it is. That will tell your audience that you haven’t made an investment into your business. This can leave them wondering how seriously you take your business and how many other areas you also haven't invested in.
If you’re still unsure whether a professionally developed website is the right move for your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.