Are you thinking about building your own website? I highly recommend it. It is fun and a great skill to learn. But not all web builders are the same. And sometimes – but not always – it’s better to just hire a designer.
Free Website Builders – The Good
- They are free. Everyone loves free. But as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for” (see the bad below).
- They are easy to use. Most free web builders use a drag-and-drop system. It is what designers call a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) system. They are typically pretty easy to use with a small learning curve.
- They are typically an all-in-one service. Free web builders are a one-stop shop. This means that you don’t have to find a web host, upload your files and buy a domain.
- They have some stock photo content. Most of these web builders will have a way for you to use stock photos in your website. Basically they are just pulling in images from an internal web search, but still, it eliminates the need for you to do the searching yourself.
- There is no technical knowledge required to publish. Publishing a website often requires an FTP (file transfer protocol) program and/or the installation of a data base. You also have to change the DNS (domain name server) of your domain. Free web builders offer “one-click” publishing making it easy to get online.
- No special software is needed. As a web designer I use Photoshop, Dreamweaver, FileZilla, Phpmyadmin and many other specialized programs. Free web builders will have built-in systems that accomplish your basic web publishing needs automatically.
Now for the Bad
- They are free. Free web builders usually put some type of branding, like “Made with Weebly”, on your site. They also have limited features. Premium features are available, but come at a cost. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”
- Moving your site is next to impossible. Since your site is hosted with the web builder it makes it difficult to get your files off their server if you want to move your site to a new platform. And even if you can get your files, your site was made with their proprietary software, so your site is basically unusable without their web builder.
- Not easy to customize. If you want to change the colors to match your logo, change the size of a column, add scroll over effects, make a slideshow auto-play, or whatever… it is going to take some technical knowledge. Most free web builders are one size fits all.
- They never look like the templates. Let’s face it, the free websites people make never look as good as the templates. That’s because the templates were made by designers. It’s like buying a car off the showroom floor, taking it home, painting yourself, and then wondering why it doesn’t look like it did at the dealer. Making the right choices for color scheme, font face, alignment and layout takes an eye for design.
- They offer limited SEO. This is a biggy. Let me repeat… this is big, big, big. SEO stands for “search engine optimization”. It is what you do to your site to ensure you get found in Google. Free sites have minimal SEO options. All the tools you need to fully optimize your website for Google searches just aren’t there.
- They tend to look unprofessional. For the most part a free website looks like a free website. Some customers will forgive you for this, others will wonder why you are not investing in your business.
My Personal Experience
I have made a lot of sites with free web builders. I can see the appeal. They are easy to use and you guessed it – free. But I always had to hack into the code to get it to look how I wanted. The sites did turn out nice, but it took more technical skill, more effort and more time than I normally spend. And yes – I ended up having to buy the premium versions to get the branding of the web builder removed from the footer of the website.
Try them for yourself. What do you have to lose? They are free. Just set up an account, log in, and give it a try. It really is an enjoyable thing to do and you’ll likely learn some new skills. Here are links to three of the best.
A free web builder is easy to use and can get you online without knowing much about design. And you don’t need any special software. The end results are usually OK. The sites function well and they look decent. But in the end, they do have a cookie-cutter look about them. If that is OK with you, then the free web builder just may be what you need.
But if you want your business to look professional, then invest in a designer who will make your site stand out from the competition and get your found in Google.