Has Web Design Become a Commodity? Do You Need to Pay A Web Designer to Build A Website For You?

by on November 5, 2014 · 10 comments

what you need to know about a free website

Over in the SmallBiz Experts Group on Facebook (which is a community of small business owners and web designers who have registered for membership on the Expand2Web site) there was quite a lively discussion which began by member Diane Ratliff, Your Friend on the Web, asking the group for opinions on the many ads running that are offering free websites.

As a bit of background, the group meets regularly, about once a week, for a Live Chat or a more organized classroom session, led by Expand2Web founders Don Campbell and Thomas Hasch.  Topics range from search engine optimization, web design tools, customer reviews, and industry news.   As many members of the group offer website building as one of their services to clients the topic of free websites hits close to home and was the focus of our most recent discussion.

I decided to round up some comments made by members and pass them along.

If you:

  • Are a web designer trying to compete with “Free.”
  • Are a small business owner who is minding your budget and your ears perk up at “Free.”

Then please read through the feedback by Don, Thomas and the other experts so you can make the best decision for your business regarding your website.

What You Better Know BEFORE You Go and Get Yourself a “Free” Website

Don Campbell:

  • What will this website do for me? Will this free website meet my goal or solve my problem? There is no purpose to having a website – free or otherwise – unless it accomplishes something for you (like more customers calling or visiting, etc.).
  • Free websites are typically just a marketing exercise to get you in the door and upsell you to something with a monthly fee.
  • Your website is a marketing investment; it isn’t static like a business card so choose someone to work with who understands the full spectrum of what having a web presence means.

Thomas Hasch:

  • The offers are usually to build the site for free, but hosting is a separate cost, which can be significantly more expensive than obtaining your own hosting plan.

Eileen Lonergan:

  • Make sure you know who owns the website, domain name and content.
  • If you terminate the relationship is the domain name, content or images yours or theirs?
  • Are there transfer fees if you leave?
  • Is the content unique, or does it appear on other websites?  Duplicate content is not seen as favorable by the search engines.
  • Are you someone who likes dealing with a human – the same human, whenever you have a question or would like to update your sites content?
  • Are you looking for someone to guide you on your entire web presence (blog, social media platforms, email lists, etc)?  If yes, have that person or company build your website.  Don’t get a free one.
  • Are you able to easily access your website so you can quickly add news about sales, specials or personal changes.

Philip Chow:

  • Can you add apps/plugins (i.e. extra functionality) to it?  Likely not.
  • Your free website may look like others’ free websites of the same theme if you do minimal or no customization to it.

Seth Dardis:

  • Does it include SEO features?
  • Can I keep my domain name when I leave your free service?
  • What about email?

Diana Ratiff: TINSTAAFL. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

  • Ask about the fine print – what is involved in managing and marketing a website goes way beyond building it.
  • And be sure to get, in writing, who owns the domain and the site itself if you should choose to cancel your contract.
  • If your livelihood depends on your marketing – then don’t trust it to a large, impersonal company that will not give YOUR company the time, attention, and honest answers you deserve.

Michael Murphy:

  • Now that you have your website, how do you plan on making it better (i.e. customization, upgrades, etc.)?

Sandra Ierardi: Don’t be fooled. Free is not Free.

  • The initial website upstart might be minimal at first blush; however, a true website is more than what meets the eye. Many hours will be required to keep your site finely tuned. Social media and video marketing play a vital role. The “engines” or functionality behind the pretty picture will need regular updating.
  • Do you truly have the knowledge and time to maintain your work of art in addition to running your business?

Laura Heuer:

  • With a free site you need to know if it can grow with you or if it is one and done. I have redesigned several sites for clients who have used the Go-Daddy free website builder tools.  After time, they recognized their sites could not grow any larger-more pages yes, but no more organic traffic.

Yvonne Herbst:

  • Business owners are best served by aligning themselves with a professional who understands that a website is a piece of your overall web presence.

To summarize:

  • If you understand that your website is a piece of your marketing and messaging and search engine optimization is important to you, then reach out to an experienced web designer / digital marketing specialist.
  • If you understand that an instant website is really a temporary placeholder on the web and you are comfortable without personal interaction, then a free website building tool may work just fine for you.

Free vs. paid is a valid discussion.  As always, the most interesting parts of the discussion happen in the comments.  Please share your opinions / advice / experience below.  Learning from one another is a key ingredient for all.

Thanks for being here!

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Eileen Lonergan is a WordPress website designer with a focus on SEO. To learn more about Eileen and see her work visit http://www.EileenLonergan.com

Eileen has written 14 articles on Expand2Web

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Yvonne Herbst November 5, 2014 at 10:26 am

Thanks for this excellent article, Eileen; and thanks, Don, for being our esteemed leader and providing the forum through which all of us can brainstorm and share insights on how to deal with this important topic and educate our clients on the pitfalls of cheap or free internet marketing and website building solutions.


Sandra Ierardi November 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Eileen, than you very much for summing up the notion of “Free” websites. This is an invaluable reference for all our clients who depend on their website for business generation. The collaboration of the Expand2Web Experts on this topic speaks volumes to the support we can collectively give to all our customers.


Don Campbell November 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

It’s my pleasure Yvonne – I love the ideas and interaction in the group and discussions like this make it even more interesting!


Julie Olson-Rachlin November 5, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Nice job, Eileen! And great input from my fellow E2W experts!


jodie scott November 11, 2014 at 6:35 am

Excellent article and some great points that i am sure to use next time i get that question, which happens more so these days.

I only deal with small businesses, cause i am one, so generally i ask them if they just want to be a number or do they appreciate personal service and do they agree that you have to spend money to make money. Those are the clients that i take on


Elmer Friedman November 12, 2014 at 5:01 am

very nice article, being a freelancer and experienced in web development, I would say never go for the free website builders and get tangled up for the contents after, sure it will cost you some dollars in building your website but knowing that you have the voice on everything you put on your website weighs more than having it for free


Chris Travis November 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Great article on pointing out that most “free” website building tools are really limited and ultimately not free. You’ll end up having to upgrade your account and pay a monthly fee to add a custom domain, remove ads, get unlimited bandwidth, storage and pages. So you end up paying a monthly fee and if you try not to you’ll just be stuck with a really limited “free” site, which is of no use to any small business.

SiteKit => http://trysitekit.com/ is the new way to build websites that are unlimited with no monthly fee for small business owners. SiteKit is passionate about empowering small business owners to invest in the truly valuable aspects of their website, the content. The serving up of HTML/CSS and the website infrastructure itself won’t get small business owners more traffic, a better conversion rate, or more customers. So they shouldn’t be charged you for it.

Instead small business owners should be spending their money on making their website content remarkable and optimizing it to convert. This is where small business owners can grow a greater ROI on their website. The website should be the place where the business can meet the buyer on their terms by providing the right message at the right time to the right person through the right medium. The focus of the business owner needs to be getting that message right and not having to worry about anything else.


febbieta November 20, 2014 at 2:14 am

If you have a business and you are planning to have a website, you should create the best one! It will be a big help to attract more customer because most people go online.


Sells Technique November 30, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Helpful article, as a experienced web developer, I would say never go for the free website builders and get tangled up for the contents after, sure it will cost you some dollars in building your website.


James December 4, 2014 at 11:02 am

Thank you for sharing this, and I am a fan of more people using web designers and developers. However, I believe that a person selling such services should offer (and explain) the services to the buyer. I have a friend who paid $500 for a website a few years ago that has not changed partly because it was built using only html and css. My friend is an entertainer and knows nothing about maintaining the site. It has not changed for 3 years.

I am a fan of CMS websites because even the most novice user can add more content to their blog or website. However, I do believe that there will always be a market for web experts simply because even WordPress is not point and click. A user still needs to do updates and deal with any breaks in their plug-ins after CMS updates. Themes (with lacking functionality and PHP/CSS breaks) are also an area that will keep these experts forever busy.

Thank you so much for sharing this discussion.



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