The Hidden Costs of a ‘Free’ Website8 min read

Stack of MoneyThere are a lot of so-called ‘free’ website hosting companies out there touting their services. The truth is, a website hosting business costs money. So how are these companies able to offer free websites?  Because they are making money from it, one way or another.

Here are some typical reasons why some web hosting providers are able to offer free packages:

  1. They make money off selling banner ads or pop-ups that automatically display on your website or hosting control panel.  Of course, there’s a chance the ads could be offensive, or might even be advertising your biggest competitor. And, ads are pretty annoying to begin with, so why risk annoying your customers?
  2. They make money off advertisements displayed on forums which you are required to visit and post to in order to retain your hosting.  Who wants to jump through hoops like that, just for a freebie?!  Reminds me of those ‘free’ resort vacations: all you have to do is spend the majority of your only day there sitting through a sales pitch!
  3. They make money by motivating users to switch to a paid package, such as a special ‘ad-free’ option, and the free version lacks the customization options available when you have a designer build your site.  Quite often, the free package is truly a bare-bones, stripped down version, offering little flexibility and NO tech support: to get that, you have to pay.
  4. Start-up entrepreneurs want to see what it’s like running a web host business without risking any obligations to clients, or are simply working out the bugs, before changing it to a paid service. These can disappear overnight – taking your website with them.

Besides the fact that these companies do find ways to make money from hosting ‘free’ sites, there are several other considerations you should keep in mind, such as:

Reliability

As we like to say at Blue Zoo Creative: any monkey can make a website! But, no one will ever see it if the web host isn’t reliable. To find out how reliable a free website hosting company is, you should ask about expected downtimes, traffic limitations, and customer services procedures. You should also ask what type of message will be displayed if the web site is disabled for any reason.

Bandwidth

The amount of bandwidth you have determines how long it will take for your pages to load. To keep costs low, many web hosting providers offer limited bandwidth. The problem with this is that your pages can take ten seconds or more to load. That’s just enough time for a visitor to get frustrated and leave.

Limitations

If you want to build a website that includes pictures, icons, and/or large amounts of text, you may not be able to: some free services place limitations on what you can and can’t include. For example, you may be barred from having more than a certain number of pictures or pages on your site. If you don’t have the elements needed to build the type of site you want, you could end up wasting a lot of time creating something that will end up having to be rebuilt with a different host later on.

SEO/Search Engine Optimization

While content is by far the most important component of any website, there are other background components that Google and other search engines look for when they decide how close to page 1 your site gets. Most companies offer you the opportunity to optimize things like meta descriptions, alt tags for images, title tags, etc. But if you don’t know what these things are, or how you to use them, your site may not show up on search engines.

Marketing Know-how

The truth is that while any monkey can learn how to put up a website, there is a learning curve, and making the right design and content choices can be daunting.  An effective website must be appealing to your customers/well-designed, plus provide the information they desire, and speak in a language they understand.

Some of the questions you need to consider are:

  • What color should the background be?
  • Will your logo fit the space provided?
  • Do you know how to optimize images for the internet so they show up well and load quickly?
  • Do you understand how to write optimized text that ranks well on search engines AND gets your visitors to become clients?
  • Will your website help your business grow and reach your long term goals?

Lack of Ownership

Another serious consideration is ownership of your website. When you use a designer, buy a domain name, and purchase hosting, you own your site. Even if your hosting company goes out of business, you still will have the files and domain name and you can set it up with a different host. However, if you have a free site and the company goes out of business, your site is gone, for good.

Not Mobile Friendly

The percentage of users who will visit your website with their mobile device is climbing higher and higher. Unfortunately, many free sites provide flash websites to their customers, which will not display on mobile devices. This can end up costing your business in a big way, because those users can’t browse your site at all.

The Bottom Line

Your website is an extension of your business. It can be a powerful tool for drawing in more customers and increasing your profits. However, done the wrong way, it can turn people away from your business, and cost you money.

Additionally, a ‘free’ website has you, the business owner, doing all the work. Is your time really free? Our team of experienced professionals usually has a combined time of 20-40 hours of labor on each site we build (depending on the complexity). To start from scratch (and only doubling those hours to account for learning time), your ‘time cost’ will be 40-80 hours.

How much do you bill for your time and is there any other work you could spend that full week or two doing for your business? Depending on your field and billing rate – say, between $50 (massage therapists) and $500 (attorneys) – you could otherwise be earning $2000-$4000 to $10,000-20,000.

So what should you do?

Pay for a pro to do it right.

Whether you use another company, or the group of experienced professionals here at Blue Zoo, a professional can save you time and money in the long run. For example, we will take the time to get to know you and your business, including your short-term as well as long-term goals, and create a custom website that helps grow your business.

Regardless of who you use, just be sure you find a professional for your website – and save your own professional skills for your clients.

Kelly Haggard OlsonAbout Kelly

Kelly was a Creative Content Strategist at Blue Zoo Creative. Her creative background in art, music and photography, experience in corporate HR, and Master's degree in English Literature from The College of William & Mary, she was able to adjust her style of writing for each unique client.