There are a number of website services available that allow the owner of a small business to set up his own website at no cost. Some of these have been widely advertised in the media and on the internet. What a wonderful gift! Or is it?
The advertising for these free services makes it seem so easy: Select a template, drop in some pictures and some text and your website is done. Now sit back and watch the money pour in...
In the real world it doesn’t quite work this way though, which is why thousands of professional website developers are skilling themselves up and continually competing for top spot for their clients.
Although it seems wonderful that some caring organisations will give you a website for free, there are a number of reasons why this could prove to be more like a Trojan Horse than an actual boost to your business. Let’s consider a few of the issues:
Building and maintaining a business website is very different to developing a hobby site. A thorough understanding of how the internet works and how to build a website to comply with all the rules is essential. As a non-technical business owner you are most likely not aware of how the coding behind the scenes works and how to use the essential SEO tags and meta data, because the free website systems tend to focus on the visual appeal of your site and not the technical optimisation.
Your business website should be a professional business tool, set up to attract and keep the attention of your target market. It is not enough that the site looks great – nobody will find it if it does not contain some valuable content. The business owner who doesn’t have a thorough understanding of the internet and basic marketing principles often fills his website with meaningless content that adds absolutely no value to anyone. Potential clients want to know very quickly if you can supply their needs, if they can trust you, what is in it for them and why they should do business with you.
The average business owner will tend to copy other websites he has seen and therefore spend hours putting a fancy animation from an animation library on the home page, along with a bulleted list of their vision and mission. Next up is a couple of paragraphs in the About Us section followed by a handful of snapshot pictures of some products. This type of content will do absolutely nothing for the new company website, except a false sense of satisfaction that you are advertising on the internet.
Meaningful content is an extremely important part of your website, and for this to have the maximum effect you really do need the assistance of a professional.
Website developers and business owners all over the world are in constant competition for that coveted top position in Google. They spend an incredible amount of energy and money on developing and honing their skills so that the sites they are responsible for can reach the top of the search results.
The non-technical business owner who has developed his 4-page free website is never going to be in a position where he can compete. It requires specialised knowledge and constant application to make an impact in the world of online marketing.
The business owner who develops a free website for himself will most likely not be in a position to select the appropriate functionality for his website. Not having much experience with website development makes him an easy victim of popular and non-value-adding functionality that has long ago been discarded by professional developers. This is purely due to inexperience and trying to operate in an envrionment without the necessary depth of knowledge.
In business, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Sooner or later the bill will arrive, and it could be a lot higher than you may have expected.
Why would a website company give you a website for free, when they are in business to make profits? The truth is that the 'free' website is an entry level offering. You will soon learn that the bits and pieces that you really need are 'premium' services that carry a cost (often in US Dollars). But, by this time you have already invested so much time and effort in your website, that it is easier just to accept the bill. By the time you have added a handful of these 'premium' services, your 'free' website could easily have cost you more than you were quoted initially for a bespoke development by a local website designer.
When using a free website development tool, you will usually have some online tutorials to follow in order to get started. But later, when you start having some specific questions regarding your individual content, it can be very difficult to find meaningful answers. In some cases you may be lucky that there is an active user community that may be willing to help you, or perhaps there is an email address where the developers will answer you. But don't be surprised if proper support is only available on the 'premium' service (refer paragraph above).
The added complication is that very few local website developers will be able or willing to offer you assistance with your query. Professional developers tend to stay away from these DIY website systems and have therefore not invested any time in learning how they work. Most of us will tell you "forget about your free website and let us do this properly by starting over"...
A factor for success in the business world is to focus on your core business and outsource non-core actvities to the specialists. This includes website development. Why?
One reason is that every moment you spend away from your core acrivity costs you money in the form of lost potential income. In many cases, this loss is of a much higher value than the cost of the website development.
Another reason is that focusing on a non-core activity that you do not have the necessary experience, training and aptitude for will take you substantially longer than it needs to. On top of that is the risk of not doing the work properly, despite many hours of effort.
Free website solutions can be a good opportunity for a business owner that has the necessary technical knowledge and patience. But for the business owner who is non-technical and non-marketing focused, and who is always under time pressure the better solution is to get a professional service provider involved.
If you are not sure how this applies to your unique circumstances or how to get started, please contact us and we will be happy to share some further thoughts with you.
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