So you’re finally ready to start building a website for your business! There is a plethora of website builders available on the web that you can use. Like most, you’re searching around for the best deal and are starting to notice ones that are offering free services. You’re intrigued! They look simple enough—and if you’re like the vast majority of people out there who aren’t web designers by trade—you might think that what they offer is pretty attractive.
But as it is with many things in life, free is never free.
Free Website Builders Are Never Really Free
Yes, almost all website builders offer free plans and that’s not to say you shouldn’t use them. Many of the best ones on the market offer free plans as a starter. Pretty much all website builders, in general, offer a free plan in order to acquire new business. It’s a great marketing strategy for them. It works, and drives millions of signups. After all, who wouldn’t want something for free?
Even HostGator offers a free plan with their new website builder. So, why this post against free website builders?
The problem with most free website builders is that while they are a great starting place, they’re typically inadequate for fully building out a professional website.
In most cases, you’ll sign up and invest a lot of time and effort building your free site, only to find the result to be inadequate. At this point, you will either have to upgrade or switch to a new service and repeat the process all over again. Either way, you’ve caused yourself a lot of undue frustration.
This is one of many ways HostGator’s builder is different. They offer a free plan like everyone else, but once you decide you want to unlock additional features, it’s a seamless upgrade and all of your previous work is saved. HostGator didn’t want to come out with just another website builder. Instead they sought to improve upon what was already out there.
In reality, a business cannot—and in my opinion, should not—offer you a service for completely free. Everyone needs compensation for offering a service. Free is never free and here are some reasons why:
Limitations of Free Website Builders
Although every website builder may differ, here is an overview of some common limitations that come with free plans.
Limited number of pages
Many free website builders typically limit the number of pages you’re allowed to create. For example, they may allow you to publish up to five pages per website. Most sites will need more pages and in order to expand your content, you will be required to upgrade to a paid plan.
How is HostGator’s website builder different? HostGator’s free plan allows for six pages.
No domain name
Free plans often do not allow you to use your own URL. They will assign you a free URL to use which consists of your business name plus their own URL. For example, instead of sarahsbakery.com, you’ll be stuck with sarahsbakery.wix.com. All in all, not very professional.
How is HostGator’s website builder different? HostGator includes the free builder with their web hosting, so you can use the product on your own domain.
Almost always, free builders require their branding to be displayed on your web pages, either in the body of the page or in the header or footer. For example, Wix’s free plans come with branded badges that aim to direct users away from your site to purchase their own builder plan:
How is HostGator’s website builder different? HostGator’s free plan does include a default Snappy favicon (the small icon that appears next to your website name in the browser tabs), and a link to HostGator in the footer. You can remove both of these once you upgrade your plan.
This is another big one. Many ‘free’ website builders will require ad placements on your site. This is how they justify the free-ness of their offer. You pay nothing, and they get to serve their ads to your people. Some may even go so far as to inject affiliate links onto your page. You may be getting something for free, but it’s taking you down a notch or five in the eyes of your potential clientele. You may even lose a lot of people along the way who click on these ads, just because you thought you could save a few bucks.
How is HostGator’s website builder different? With the exception of the two branding elements mentioned above, none of HostGator’s builder plans place ads on your site. The only ads you’ll have will be the ones you place there of your own volition.
Both free and paid builders will limit your allocation of bandwidth and storage, but with free builders you’re given much less. You may only have a couple megabytes of storage to use, which will severely limit you in terms of content and prevent you from hosting high quality images or other media.
How is HostGator’s website builder different? Because HostGator’s free builder is included with your hosting plan, you can enjoy the unmetered bandwidth that comes with all of their plans.
Limited or no customer support
You might not even get any customer support at all with a free builder (which is understandable—after all, it is free), so if your site is having issues, you’re pretty much on your own.
How is HostGator’s website builder different? HostGator provides 24/7/365 Live Chat and telephone support for all of its products, including the free builder plans.
Free builders limit the variety of nifty features that you might find useful or want to have. These might include an SSL certificate, access to an online store (ecommerce), website analytics, plugins, add-ons and domain-based email accounts, or it may be as basic as not being able to use the fonts you like or being stuck with a site template that you don’t like. Frustrating, either way.
How is HostGator’s website builder different? HostGator’s free builder plan comes with PayPal integration, SEO markup tools, and 100+ mobile-friendly templates. Since the free version comes included with hosting, you’ll also receive unlimited domain-based email accounts, $100 credit offers for Google AdWords and Yahoo/Bing, and more depending on which hosting package you choose.
So Free is Not Best. What Now?
Now that you know what the limitations are on free, it should be easy to understand why the value just isn’t there as a long-term solution. Free website builder plans are great for trying out different site builders and getting the hang of how they work. Once you’ve found one you like, you can upgrade to unlock all the features you’ll need to fully build out a professional site.
Website builders are complicated and sophisticated tools. They undoubtedly took a lot of time and resources for the company to create and manage, so it’s understandable that these free builders are limited. It is rather unfair to expect a company to provide a complex service such as this, for free.
Keep this in mind: you get what you pay for.
It’s unrealistic when people say they want a website, but they don’t want to spend any money on it. If you have a budget, even a small one, there are professional website building solutions that are easy enough, affordable enough, and accessible enough that you shouldn’t have to think twice.
How Much Should You Pay?
Hiring a professional web designer could cost thousands. Doing it yourself will cost significantly less, but 1) you’re not a web designer and 2) you will need to allocate enough time to get the job done.
It’s true, website builders can be more expensive than hand-coding it yourself, but keep in mind these are complex, feature-rich tools that provide an all-in-one service and hosting platform. Aside from their monthly or yearly subscription fees, you won’t likely need to pay much more than their nominal fee to get your site up and running. Just pick a template, customize it with your branding and away you go.
Depending on the plan you choose, a website builder can cost anywhere from $10/month to $20 or more. Options such as eCommerce, email hosting, and bandwidth, are some of the things that might drive your cost up. At $6.99 and $15.99/mo, respectively, both of HostGator’s plans are especially affordable, given the marketplace.
The most important thing here is not to skimp out on your budget. Already, you’re going to save yourself a significant amount by doing it yourself, but it’s still going to be challenging. It takes time and it takes money. And as a new business owner, you’re probably already realizing what a precious commodity those two things are.
Hopefully, this article has given you a little insight as to the potential pitfalls of free website builders. Sure, they might be great for your personal page or for that zen dog yoga blog you’ve been thinking about starting, but if you’re serious about what you do, you probably want to appropriately convey that to your customers. Ultimately, you want to look professional, and building your site with a free website builder is just not going to get you there.
If you feel confident that a website builder is what you need (and there are some pretty cool ones out there), bypass the ‘free’ options and sign up for a premium builder offered by a well-known company. You will need to invest in something that will deliver the design tools, as well as the functionality required, to support your business practices.
So put aside some time, because you’re going to need to do some planning. You’ll definitely learn a lot about web design best practices and current trends along the way, but the time you invest into your website now will pay dividends in the future.
Try the HostGator Website Builder today!
Jay Douglas is a web guru with nearly a decade of experience building and hosting websites of all kinds. He is an online consultant and founder of How To Get Online – helping small businesses learn about web technologies and getting their business online. Jay loves learning and he loves teaching. That’s what the Web is all about for him!