The High Price of a Free Website
Anyone can build a website these days. One of our front-end developers built this one when he was 9 and the internet has become much easier to use since 1998.
Not only are you able to build a free website, but companies are paying to sell you a free website. You might think that is crazy, but go ahead, Google “Get a free website.” This article will still be here when you get back.
Welcome back! Let me guess what you saw: an ad for Wix, an ad for Weebly, an ad for Squarespace and an ad for webs.com. If I got any of those right you have to comment below which ones or you’ll have bad luck for 7 years.
Just kidding of course, but we all remember those chain emails, and if we all went with free websites, the internet would probably still be stuck back in those days.
A free web presence sounds appealing. You save a couple thousand bucks and get to show off your shiny new website. Sadly, that shine wears off the pretty fast when you look at what that free website is really costing you.
Your Website Does More Than You Think
It is easy to look at your website and see it as not much more than a pamphlet or a brochure that explains what your business does. If your site was built by a former office employee who took a course in HTML or high school student for a school project, it is possible that a brochure is all your site will ever be.
A website can be so much more — it can be a gallery of your company's best work, a live testimonial to how good your customer service is, and most importantly, your website can be your best sales tool.
What Do You Need Your Website To Do
Rank on the first page of Google for relevant keywords.
People need to be able to find you on Google, even if they are not looking for you specifically. If someone is looking for your service in your area — you want them to find you. Google has hundreds of ranking factors, dealing with off-page and on-page factors. Having top-notch site structure is not something you will find in a free website. You could have the most engaging content on the web, but if your website doesn’t have the foundation to back it up, Google will discount it.
Effectively convert visitors into inquiries, leads and ultimately, sales.
You can run PPC campaigns, send out marketing emails and draw people to your site organically, but the next step is converting all that traffic into some leads. Take a look at your landing pages. Is it obvious what action visitors are supposed to take once they get there? The call to action, whether it’s a form submission, a phone call or a whitepaper download needs to be appealing and clear.
Key elements of converting traffic into leads include:
Optimized page headings
Relevant and quality images
Unique value proposition conveyed through the content
Clear call to action
Easy to complete forms
Click to call buttons
When we build our websites for our clients on the Energy Circle Web Platform, conversion is our main goal. You get what you pay for in this world and a free website will not have these conversion factors.
Have special tracking tools in place for optimization on an ongoing basis.
Whether you are using Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel or any other tracking software, being able to see what works will make realizing your successes and failures simple. Running online campaigns is a great way to spend marketing dollars, but if you are not able to check results and quantify success then you might as well be putting up yard signs. Before you start any online marketing tactics, setting up analytics for tracking is step one.
Identifying the Pros and Cons
Which website would you rather have – the free site on page two, three or four of search engine results that has a 2.3% conversion rate or the $6,000-$9,000 website found on page one that converts 13% of visitors into leads? Free is great…for now, but which business owner do you think gets the greater financial return at the end of 12 months?...24 months?...48 months? It doesn’t take an accountant or MBA to answer that question.
A $9,000 investment might seem scary at first, so it is important to do your research on the company you choose, but you don’t want to look back after a year and realize that your “free” website actually cost you $250,000 in missed leads last year.
What else is wrong with a free site?
Advertisements: Often a company that offers free sites will be able to do so because they advertise on your site. Advertisements for other brands look extremely unprofessional on a contractor's website. And it is possible a smart marketer for a competitor might pay big money to advertise on your site and steal clients.
No domain name: Companies that refuse to pay for websites are often left without a real domain name. So instead of ParadeeInsulation.com, you could be sending people to ParadeeInsulation.wix.com. More cobranding for Wix and a huge red flag for your customers that you are cheap.
Limited number of pages: Some free website companies will offer you a free website up to 10 pages. We know the site size is a ranking factor for Google, and can you really get all the long tail keywords in on only 10 pages? I think not. For example HostGator’s free plan allows up to 6 pages, and if you are able to fit all the content you need into 6 pages then you are either keyword stuffing or not doing your keyword research properly.
Easy Now, But Lots of Work Later
You reap what you sow. And if you sow a free website, then it will be a rough harvest for the next couple of years. Eventually when your business is ready to expand or move into another service, you will wish you had an established web presence.
Taking the easy way out with a free website will result in a few problems:
Any SEO effort will be lost on free websites since none of the free platforms allows cross domain and cross platform redirects. Which means that any credit your site has been given from Google in the past may be lost when you transfer to a new platform.
When you do finally migrate to a quality site it will be pain to set up redirects for each page if they end in .html
It can take months to move a site off a closed platform system, and that doesn’t even take into account all of the cleanup afterwards.
You’ll have to learn a new content management system (CMS) eventually. Spending tons of time learning Wix or Weebly will not benefit you at all when you move to Drupal.
A free website and one hour setup may seem great today. But a year from now you will certainly be kicking yourself about how that time could have been much better invested.
To Free or Not to Free?
If you are a photographer in the early stage of their career who needs a place to showcase photos, a free website might be our recommendation. But if you are a home performance, HVAC or solar contractor who is serious about their business and its growth, the ROI on a top-of-the-line site will be more than worth it.
The last thing you want is to Google the terms you want to rank for two years from now and find that your free site is still nowhere to be found. A high-quality website can help increase your traffic and convert that traffic into leads which turn into paying customers. In our eyes, this is the most important investment in your businesses at any stage.
...or maybe in 3 years everything will be in VR and we won’t have to make this choice at all. (But this is not a bet I would take.)