Don’t fall for the DIY, free website builder time-sink.
Do-It-Yourself website builders promote getting a “professional website” for free. We’ll explain why you should hire a professional designer.
Free. Free is good. But free is sketchy.
Remember when Facebook faced scrutiny earlier in the year from the Cambridge Analytica hack? In the Cambridge Analytica hack, hackers obtained your and your friends’ information through a free, seemingly innocent personality survey taken by approximately 270,000 individuals. That number scaled up to 87 million users information being processed and shared without permission.
There is an old saying of “If it is free, then YOU are the product.”
Wix, SquareSpace, and Weebly — the most popular site builders — collect, store, & process a ton of your personal information. They also collect information on your site’s visitors without your knowledge.
For example, when you upload your email contact list to (insert free website builder), said provider can then access your friend’s/family’s/customer’s email addresses – those e-mail addresses can be used in whatever fashion said company desires. That sounds comparable to the old “information collecting” technique that the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook hackers used.
Free websites load slowly.
I have used Wix and Weebly in the past, and they work just fine for creating a simple webpage that can be accessed by anyone on the web.
The pages just take forever to load.
Think about it: the way a website builder works is much different than that of real programming. Instead of telling the web browser what code to read (using traditional markup and scripting languages) you are telling an interface, through a web browser, how you want an object to appear on a website by creating a “layer” through specific properties that you set one by one until you have a design that looks good. If you thought that sentence was long to read, that’s exactly the struggle that a web browser has to go through.
Popular website builders can create a site similar in aesthetic to a site built from scratch, or created in WordPress. The problem with these free website builders comes in how they apply code to the site. As you build, website builders create the code for you, often bloating code, slowing down performance, and subsequently leading to higher bounce rates.
Since Snark Media switched from Wix to WordPress, loading speed and site performance have improved drastically.
No Customized Themes
Free website builders offer static, simplistic layouts with minimal animations. Not to say you CAN’T animate buttons/graphics… but it goes back to that whole “code bloat” thing. It will slow down the site tremendously.
Free website builders do offer templates, or prefabricated layouts that allow changing of pictures, colors, fonts, etc. but not much more.
Professionally designed websites allow for full customization and optimization for web browsers. Professional websites can also allow for more advanced features: customized photo albums that can change in the background, different scrolling effects, customized plug-ins that can do so much more than a basic, free web-builder website. Plus, professionally designed sites can have as many pages as needed with minimal to zero slowdown. Free website builders will suffer in speed/usability after more than just a few pages.
Just for fun, run a search for “websites made with WordPress” and then search for the same with Wix sites. Try to tell yourself there isn’t a huge difference overall in the quality and aesthetics of the sites overall.
“Free” doesn’t always mean Free
Free website builders will certainly allow you to create a website for no cost, other than the time sacrificed to design and layout the site, and the cost for a hosting plan.
The problem will come from when it is time for your users to find the website online.
The reason being is that having a catchy, easy-to-find domain means paying a price for it. Otherwise, free website builders will assign you a free domain name, with their company name wedged right into it for all to see.
An example domain would be:
Not as flashy and easy to remember as companyusername.com is it?
Having another company’s name inserted into your “professional” web domain just doesn’t scream “professional” to me. This is where web builders can reap the cost of offering a “free” website by charging you for your premium domain name… and that is typically after you have already spent the time painstakingly dragging & dropping everything in place.
Website builder companies will also plaster their logo at the top/bottom of the page saying “this site brought to you by Xcompany.com” – just another distracting element for your users to see, and free advertising your website builder company.
To get rid of these annoyances, the minimum monthly rate (as of Fall 2018) with Wix is $14.50/month, but that doesn’t include the domain name either, which you will need to purchase separately.
To get an included domain name for “free” you can opt to sign up for a 12 month agreement at $11/month… but the “free domain” will need to be paid for again after the promo period of 12 months has ended ($14.95/year) after that.
So for over $200.00 after taxes, you can get a premium domain name and a site with no advertisements and with no annual contract.
This next part is where most people decide to throw in the towel… I have kept it as brief as I can when it comes to pricing out labor, but you may want to grab a cup of coffee here…
You need to factor in your time. Most web design professionals start their hourly wage at about $60/hour at a minimum but go up to around $150 or more. This is because experience in a profession demands a wage worth their skills. You may find a freelance “designer” who will charge less, but the axiom holds true… you get what you pay for.
Even Wix (a DIY website company) has a design team that you can hire, but it lists its MINIMUM budget at $500-$1000, and scales up to an option of $3000+.
Let’s assume you value your time at even half of that of a minimum web designer… lets say $30/hour.
Wix currently lists 21 articles in their how-to-begin section. Even if you are a speed learner and were able to digest this information in a timeframe of 30 minutes each, you would be looking at 630 minutes, or 10 and a half hours… just to learn the process to design a site! Now, not every article will apply to every site, generally speaking it can take 10 hours to get comfortable with all of the available tools Wix offers.
Total time spent training: ($30/hour x 10.5 hours) = $315
On to designing the site.
Most small business websites these days average around 8 pages (Home, Contact Us, About Us, Testimonials, Products/Services Offered, etc.). Plus, depending on the industry you are in, each of these pages could have several sub-pages as well.
Even with a minimal effort of having only 5 pages, you would be hard-pressed to create a clean, easy-to-navigate page with original proofread copywriting, photos, and additional content in less than 3 hours each.
Total time spent designing: ($30/hour x 15 hours) = $450
With the majority of internet traffic on mobile, you will have to go back and tweak all of your content to work on cell phones and tablets as well. Even though free website builders claim this is an easy process, trust me it is not. Layers will not properly align, some elements will not translate to mobile, et cetera. This means going through and deleting or “hiding” these features from the mobile version of your site, thus hampering the overall experience to your largest crowd… mobile users.
Time spent optimizing for mobile ($30/hour x 5 hours) = $150
Don’t forget all of the extra things that go into a great website as well.
Some free website builders offers free photos, a lot of which are great to use. But don’t forget about the original photos you will need of staff, locations, products, etc. Cell phone photos won’t work, visitors to your site will be looking for high-quality photos. You could rent a professional camera and attempt this on your own, or hire a local photographer.
Let’s assume either way, you are out $500 on the low end for a few hours of photo shooting.
By the way, don’t steal pictures you have found online that aren’t legally yours. This could lead to you getting sued and/or having your site shut down: don’t create bad karma for yourself.
Next, you need to optimize your site for search engines. Most DIYers assume that since they now have a website on the Internet, potential customers will find their site easily.
There are millions of other websites competing online to float to the top of search engine results. Even if you assume you have a unique website in a small, niche industry, in a small city or town, it doesn’t matter. Other companies have already honed in on similar keywords and other SEO techniques to rank higher than you.
Let’s say you use some free online keyword analysis tools, and combine those with the suggestions some website builders offer you as well. You’ll quickly find even investing two-three hours hardly scratches the surface for adequately optimizing your website to rank highly. It is terribly boring and almost bottomless when it comes to understanding this process.
Even getting through 3 hours of actual SEO effort here is commendable… $30/hour x 3 hours = $90.
Finally, we get into promoting and advertising your website.
Everyone knows Google is the number one search engine: approximately 75% of search traffic goes through Google.
So it would make sense to promote your site using the world’s number one search engine, right?
Well, again this opens a whole new can of worms. Educating yourself on Google AdWords platform is a science demanding several other hours of training. Depending on your aptitude, learning AdWords can take 20-40 hours or more to learn. Without investing the time to learn it, it’s hard to get any return on your AdWords spend.
The minimum amount of money that Google will even allow you to “throw into advertising” is $100/month. But more than likely you are in a business that has competitors… and thus spending $100/month, when your competitors are likely spending more, is equivalent to just burning money. Trust me, I did this myself and got nothing out of it. Success in AdWords requires both a time and money commitment, as you need to monitor the performance of your ads and adjust as necessary.
Google Advertising for a month: $100 x no. of months
Total spent on the “free website”… approximately $1805+
Do you and your business a favor and trust a professional when it comes to website development and design. Not only will your wallet & schedule thank you, your customers will as well.