The Painful Costs of a Free Website Builder
Why free website builders can be counterproductive for your business
Global lockdowns and travel restrictions due to the pandemic of 2020 has badly affected businesses worldwide. Those who were digitally ready before this crisis have prepared the ground for their survival. Others are currently pushing hard in the direction of digital transformation. Everybody is trying to take their business online as fast as possible to survive, to thrive or simply, in the face of unemployment, to start a new venture.
In the face of shrinking budgets and possible inexperience in conducting businesses online, many may be tempted to set up a website using the multitude of free website builders available (eg. wordpress, wix, squarespace, etc). In this article, I will discuss the pros and the cons of a free website builder versus a custom built one. I want to emphasize that there are pros and cons for each and you will have to weigh up individual factors to decide which web development option will be most suitable for your situation and ambitions.
Free template or website builders
The only Pro
Figuring out what you want
The pro of using a free website builder is that it doesn't cost any money for the initial setup. It can also be helpful in sorting out your thoughts about what you may want and need on your website. This will be helpful in the future if you decide to go for a custom solution as you can specify what you want your online website to look like.
Performance, Opportunity Cost and Monetary Cost
Be aware that the performance will likely be poor and this can have a serious impact on your conversion rate. This means if your online business takes more than 3 seconds to load, you will start to lose customers who may decide to leave the page out of frustration. We talked about it in our article here. For example, there is a popular baking enterprise that has a Facebook page full of unhappy customers who were expressing their frustration over the use of the online shop. The complaints ranged from having to spend too much time searching for products, slow loading of pages, to the checkout page that continually freezes while customers are trying to make payment. These people are potential clients who may have been customers in the past or heard about your products before. They are ready and willing to buy. It didn’t matter how attractive their products were and that their products were in great demand because of the worldwide flour shortage. They were simply losing sales (money!) by having bad performance features (poor loading speed) and poor responsivity.
You are likely to run into problems every time you will want to add a new feature simply because it does not fit the purpose. Free website builders have simple features to help you get started but not to develop an ongoing business which will need to be scalable as you grow.
You may also run into problems with the responsivity of the website.This is actually a big deal as a responsive website means your website will adapt to any screen size and run just as well on desktops, tablets and mobile phones. We mentioned it in our article about website speed that there is a strong push from Google in the direction of mobile friendly websites. This is not an arbitrary decision. People are increasingly using their mobile phones to perform online activities and Google is pushing for a seamless user experience online. You are therefore very likely to be penalized if your web application does not fit Google’s requirements in terms of speed and mobile friendliness. Do note that a free website builder that offers you a general responsive template may not be easily customized. Once you start adding content and features, it may no longer work as a responsive website.
Poorly optimised SEO
Free websites and templates are terrible for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). They are not optimized for search engines and if a customer types in “cafes in Singapore”, your website will be buried in page 13 of the search results. The SEO benefit alone of having a website developed by a professional may be worth it if it gives you more visibility to customers searching specifically for your service/product.
Poor Security leads to Decreased Online Credibility
Big businesses spend millions to build trustworthiness. Poor credibility can hurt your brand. Template websites done using a website builder are also more fragile against hackers and security is a concern that has to be taken very seriously as it can lead your business to lose money (money theft through vulnerability exploitation), credibility (data breach) and opportunity cost (platform down for several days, making your business partially or totally unable to operate)
As a business owner, you will be busy with many things at once and figuring out the technology part can be tedious and time consuming. This time could be better spent doing something that you already do well and that your business needs at the moment. Therefore, you should outsource the tech part to a professional and save time for other business related things.
Avoid free hosting at all costs. You do not want to take the risk of having your website down while your customers are busy filling up their carts before heading off to the “buy button”. It does not cost much to have a proper domain name and it comes with plenty of benefits. Set up a shared hosting service and start building your online platform. I recommend Siteground as they can help you get started quickly and provide excellent hosting performances. It is a reliable company with a good support service.
A Customised website starts on the right foot
A custom website has a lot of pros but it also comes with just 2 cons, if you can even call it that after careful consideration. A custom website, it means that you will need to hire a web developer to help you set up your project. It can involve the development of an application (app) also, depending about what kind of business solutions are needed.
A custom website will come with a price tag and take some time in development. The price will depend on the time required to build your website/application as well as the complexity of the project. That said, it can have a strong beneficial impact on your company results, meaning that if you attract paying clients and they have a great user experience on your website from the very start, you retain good customers and over time, the website is likely to pay for itself many times over. In the end, a website has to pay for itself. The cost of a professional built website or application can be high but it can be negligible if it helps you to increase your revenues. Also be aware that if you are creating a new business, you may be able to get some government grants. This could help you to fund your online platform faster which would help you get better results in a shorter amount of time. You should check if there is some grant in your area granted by the government or other organisation encouraging business development.
The time refining your requirements and getting things right and ready from the start can actually save you time in the long run. Think of it like setting up a physical shop. You want to make sure that the shop front is welcoming, the layout is tidy and people can find what they are looking for and they are able to make payment seamlessly. You also want to make sure that the storeroom is organised and the customer can find someone to help when they need it. If you set it up properly, you won’t need to spend time and money dealing with unnecessary technical issues in the future.
Custom-made to grow with your business
A web developer will listen to your requirements and build the project you want according to your needs. New features can be added with ease in the future and your website/application can scale accordingly as your business matures and your vision expands. Your web developer will help bring your vision to digital fruition.
A well designed customised website will be better optimized for SEO purposes than a free template website, meaning that your website will rank higher in targeted searches. Also, faster performance will improve the user experience, as we already discussed here.
Designed to be On Brand
A custom website will help your business standing out with the use of a design which will represent your company’s brand. A website is not only an online presence, this is a digital asset that can help you bring a lot more money. You do not want to compromise it with a cheaper option. A professional looking and functional website or application is important for your business growth. Forrester Research suggests that a nice UX design can increase conversion rate by as much as 400%! If you want to have a nice UX design, you have to hire a professional web developer to help you out.
Security and Trustworthiness
A professionally designed website will also be more secure than a free one. For example, at Digital Nuage, we use technologies that are very resistant to DDoS attacks. (A Distributed-Denial-of-Service attack is an attempt to disrupt normal service of a targeted server or service by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic).
With a custom website, you will have access to professional support through your web development agency. Any downtime can be seen to and quickly fixed. Hosting will be taken care of by your friendly web professional and this ensures 24 hour performance maintenance so your clients’ experience will always be smooth and trouble-free on your platform.
My suggestion is that if you are a new business just starting out, it may be an option to compromise between the two, this way you could benefit from the short amount of time required to put something up and also from the benefit of having a custom solution in order to sustain your mid and long-term growth.
A fully functional compromise unique to Digital Nuage
Unique to Digital Nuage, we offer a semi-customised website. Meaning that for a fixed small cost, you can have a programmer-developed basic website that we will help set up for you, with some personalisations of colours and fonts according to brand preferences. You will have to purchase the domain name and provide all digital assets of your store which are the texts and pictures which will remain your copyright. Don’t worry, we will guide you through the whole process. Set up will be quick. You will have a fully functioning semi-custom website in a few days. This website is able to grow with your business. Meaning that as your business develops and grows, you can add more features and bells and whistles as your customer needs and business needs change.
A free website is too costly for businesses intent on converting leads to paying customers. A fully customised website may be too daunting financially and in the beginning when you don't know what you want and what your business may need. The compromise may be a semi customised website. For a fraction of what you would pay for a fully customised website, you will get a fully programmer developed basic but lightning fast, good looking and functional website from Digital Nuage to start with. This can be a low cost initial solution, a good compromise between cost and function, that can be fully scaled up as your business grows. Please do not hesitate to contact us for a chat on how we may be able to help.