Free website builders such as Wix, Squarespace and Shopify have flooded the market with TV, Radio and Online advertising – but what is the truth behind some of these ‘free’ services and why would you want a web agency when free tools exist to build your own website?

 

Is ‘free’ really free?

The proposition of a free website for small business owners, startups and growing entrepreneurs seems on the surface like a very attractive option, cost is after all one of the first things businesses are thinking of. So what could possibly go wrong with a free website? Well, drawing on the old adage that ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is’ would be correct, but I will explain more accurately.

The sad truth is that all of these so called ‘free’ website builders are specifically designed as bait for the pocket conscious business owner, and my goodness do they work. Businesses flock to these services to build their ‘free’ websites in droves, and only after investing significant time into building their own website do they discover that their efforts come to very little, when essential features and services are locked behind upgrade payment walls and feature expansion services. Some even require you to upgrade to a paid service to remove their company logo from the bottom of your website on every page!

So is ‘free’ really free? Well no, not really, but once you have spent all that time and effort building your so called free website, are you really going to throw it all away? They are betting that you won’t, and who cares about a monthly fee for the entire life of your business anyway? It’s a cheap trick, but not quite free!

A web agency on the other hand will build a bespoke website specifically for your businesses needs for a single one-off quotation. RiotSpace Creative is one of the very few web agencies to offer 0% interest payment plans over 12 months (to startups and small businesses) when you are using our ongoing support agreement for hosting and other essentials.

 

Can you tell the difference?

A website is super important to nearly all businesses, but remember that not just any website will do. Have you ever wondered why bigger businesses spend up to six figures on their websites and related services? Sites produced using free/paid online services are often only a shadow of what can be produced by a dedicated web agency. Not to say that online web builders aren’t appropriate in certain circumstances, however, they provide a very different service than professional web agencies. Savvy business owners need to know the difference!

All websites are equal, but some websites are more equal than others.
– Dane Caswell

Our growing digital world is producing ever more discerning consumers. There is a good chance that the service or product your business is providing has a direct or indirect competitor within 15 miles. This means that a customer is forced to make a choice between you and your competitors and that choice is likely to be made based on how you present your business online. Of course that is assuming it can even be found online, and that brings us to the first major distinction between a professional website and online website builders.

 

Can people find you?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media optimisation (SMO) need to be top of the list when you think about getting a website for your business. After all, how good is a website that can’t be found? Or if you can’t control your websites appearance/content on social media? Both SEO and SMO is a detailed and time consuming process that requires dedication and knowledge. Online web builders are more often than not missing even the most basic of requirements.

Conversely a website built by a professional web agency would be built with SEO/SMO in mind from the first line of code. A professional agency would also be able to offer you ongoing  assistance, as well as help with the all important content that goes on your website. When it comes to SEO, content is key!

 

As long as it looks good it’s fine, right?

We all know that a having a website that looks good and is well designed is essential. If it comes to a straight choice between a poorly designed cheap looking website that took ages to load on your phone, versus a sleek, modern, professionally designed website that took a few seconds to load, there really is no contest.

However, design is not only about looks. A web agency like RiotSpace will also design the User Experience (UX) for your website. UX design in its simplest form is the art of designing a website to be easy to use and easy to navigate. The attention span of the average user is actually pretty low, in fact, if you’ve read this far, congratulations, you’re already ranking pretty high on the attention span scale. This means that it is really important to keep the user experience clean, intuitive and direct, with engaging content, something which is pretty hard to achieve with a mass produced website.

 

What’s under the hood?

So what about the WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) editor that these services use? Well, again they often don’t stack up against some of the popular frameworks that are available. Many of the frameworks used by web agencies have been developed by experts over years and years, resulting in a faster and more secure systems which really work for you. A web agency will help you choose the right framework that will work for your business goals and can customise it to streamline your business workflow. No one has the time to work with a system that doesn’t work with them.

Online web builders nearly always come with their own hosting services. Whilst this might seem like a perk, it is far from it. Your website will be stored on a server with hundreds, if not thousands of other websites, each sharing the same resources and bandwidth; which are probably heavily restricted as a result. This shared hosting environment is not always a good solution for a growing business especially if you want a fast website.

 

Don’t get caught!

One thing to bear in mind when thinking about your business website is the scope or potential growth. In the future your business will grow, and with it your website and related services will need upgrading. Online web builders design their services to make it really difficult to leave, I mean cancelling is easy enough, but you can’t leave with your website. Some services provide the tools to export your content when you leave, but this will normally just download a simple .xml file, which to most people, unless a compatible system is setup ready to import the data, would be largely useless.

These online services want to make it as difficult possible for you to leave. You can take your content and go (which is probably the best advice), but leaving with a full download of your website is not usually permitted. In fact if you read the terms and conditions carefully, you will find they keep a close eye on their assets in terms of their ownership and copyrights, including assets used in building your website.

A web agency will provide transparency and options from the very beginning. Every project we undertake at RiotSpace is done so with consideration of your goals and needs for the future. When we have completed your project, you own it!

 

Is there anything good about online web builders?

Yes, of course. I know, you’d be forgiven for thinking we are biased, but we are happy to tell you that online web builders do cater for a particular market and it is important to recognise that they are not all bad when used in the right context. The problem is that they are often misunderstood and misrepresented as something they are not. Online web builders can be really useful to single person operations and sole traders who only need to get their name online. However, if you are a business that is looking to start, grow or succeed in the digital world you should not be considering online web builders as an alternative to a professional website.

No matter how small your business is, you may find that a web agency can provide you with a considerably better service, for much less than you may think. You won’t know unless you ask!

 

How to decide?

In the end it’s pretty simple. If you are a sole trader or micro business that needs a very basic page to add to your business card, then online builders are just fine. If you are a startup, small business or a budding entrepreneur that intends develop and grow, then you need to invest in a website that will cater for your needs and grow with you in the future. We can help you there.

If you are not sure what you need then one of our experts (including me) at RiotSpace Creative are only a phone call away. We are always happy to help, even if you only need a bit of direction to help decide what the best option for your business is.