Sound too good to be true? Often it is – without wanting to come across as too cynical, whenever someone is offering you something for free, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?”
Many have fallen prey to the lure of free websites over the years and lived to regret their decisions. I don’t want you to fall into the same trap so I’ve compiled 50 reasons why you shouldn’t have a free website that you may not have considered:
1. It looks unprofessional. Whether you’re marketing yourself or your business, having a website address like coolwidgets.myfreewebsite.com is not going to make a great first impression.
2. “Free” doesn’t always mean free forever. It’s become common practice for businesses to lure in customers under the “freemium” model. This involves providing a service for free initially and then starting charging a few months down the road. By that point you’ll have got used to using the service and it’ll be a hassle to change so you’ll probably just pay up.
3. If they start charging later, it’s not likely to be cheap. One of the other tricky aspects of these freemium services is that they often work out to be more expensive than just using a paid service in the first place. As they’ve already got you as a customer by drawing you in with a free trial, they don’t need to compete on price as much as other website providers.
4. You lose ownership of your content. Using a free website service is like renting instead of buying a house, except you’re not even paying rent. While you can add lots of great content to your website and make it look beautiful, you never really own it – the provider does.
5. They might even use your content. It’s unthinkable that you would be renting a house for free without providing something for the owner. The same goes for a free website and in some cases, the content you upload is considered “payment” for hosting it. Make sure you check the small print – once you’ve uploaded content to a site, it’s possible that you’ve agreed to give up your ownership rights.
6. Your site could go down at any time. As you don’t really own your website, you have no control over it being live. Your host can decide to pull your site at any time and don’t have to give you any warning.
7. You have no control over your site going down. Free hosts are notorious for pulling websites for a host of dubious reasons and no matter how much you protest, they don’t have to put it back up. Once it does go down, your content is probably gone for good – or they’ll charge you to bring it back.
8. If your site goes down, you’ll also lose your domain. If you had a website like coolwidgets.myfreewebsite.com you’re probably not sobbing over the loss of your domain anyway. But with your domain, also goes any SEO benefit that you’ve built up over time. If you had a decent page rank or page authority, you’ll have to start from scratch.
9. You can’t set up automatic redirection. When you host your own site, it is possible to retain the SEO benefit of an old domain when you move to a new one by setting up a 301 redirect. This is not possible on free sites, so if you move your site, you’ll have to include a link for your visitors to manually click to get to your new site, as well as losing all your domain metrics.
10. Your site may be plastered with advertising. As we’ve already mentioned, it’s unlikely that anyone will give you a free website out of the goodness of their heart. No, they want to make money, and one of the ways of doing this is by sticking advertising banners in the premium space on your site. This not only looks ugly in most cases, but you may even end up advertising one of your competitors.
11. Your site may be used in a link farm. Selling links is another easy way for website owners to make money. If you have a free website and the provider has sold links on it, you’re putting yourself at risk of Google penalties and even being de-indexed.
12. It may be vulnerable to hackers. Security is often not of the utmost concern to free website providers so don’t be too surprised if you’re the victim of a hacker. Not only is it difficult to secure a website on free hosting, but restoring it can be a huge pain and you may well lose data.
13. You’ll have limited disk space. Free services are almost always limited in terms of disk space (because it costs money). If you upload a lot of photos or videos, you could find you’ve reached your limit in no time at all.
14. Bandwidth is limited. For the same reason, free websites usually have quite strict bandwidth restrictions. If you suddenly have an influx of traffic or you host a lot of videos on your site, expect your site to be pulled without warning for going over its bandwidth limit.
15. Sites may be limited to a certain number of pages. Another common limitation in the world of free websites is number of pages. Think you can live with a 3-page site? You may end up frustrated when you want to expand.
16. Moving your site is a hassle. Free services often make it incredibly difficult and time consuming to move your site. This is especially true when they’re trying to get you to upgrade to a paid service – they hope that you’ll find it so hard to move your site that you’ll just stick with their service, and in many cases this is exactly what people do.
17. Site visitors may doubt your credibility. If you’re trying to run a business from a free website, forget it. Would you buy anything off a free website?
18. Your design options are limited. Free websites usually come with a limited number of templates and you don’t have the option to create your own design.
19. They’re difficult to customize. Sometimes you may be able to change the colors or fonts on a template or theme and upload a header graphic, but that’s about as far as it goes.
20. You can’t add additional features. If you want to add some useful plugins to your site or set up an online store with shopping cart, you’re probably out of luck. Free websites are usually limited to the basics and you’ll have to pay up if you want to upgrade.
21. Your ability to do SEO is limited. As you can’t really get into the backend of a free website, any on-site SEO you can do is limited to including keywords in your titles and content.
22. Search engines give less priority to free domains. Free websites are usually considered to be less important and come up lower in the listings. Whole domains may even be penalized if there are a lot of websites on them considered to be spam (which is a high probability for a free service).
23. No branded email address. As you don’t have your own domain, you also don’t have a branded email address. This looks rather unprofessional.
24. Limited or nonexistent help for setup. Confused when you’re trying to set up your site? You’d better hope there’s a good support forum. Support staff are expensive so free site providers often don’t hire them.
25. Limited or nonexistent help when you have problems. For the same reasons, don’t bother looking for a number to call when your website is down. You’ll just have to wait for it to come back up (if it ever does).
26. You could lose your domain name. If you opt for a package that comes with a free domain name, you may think this is a good deal as it looks more professional. That’s fine until the time comes when you want to move your site and realize you don’t own your domain. You’ll usually have the option of buying it back at a premium price.
27. You can’t make money from your website. Thinking about making a bit of extra cash by putting adverts on your website? Check the site rules and you’ll probably find this is forbidden – if there’s any money to be made off your site, it certainly won’t be coming to you.
28. Other websites will look the same. The problem with having a free template website is that there are hundreds of other people all using the same design. Don’t expect your site to look any different from all the rest.
29. Backups are difficult. When you have a self-hosted website it’s easy to backup your files by making sure they’re saved to your computer or by using a backup service. With free websites this is less easy and it’s often impossible to backup properly at all.
30. Someone could steal your website. I already mentioned that security is often lacking on free services. As well as making your site vulnerable from hacking attacks, this also means it’s easy for people to steal your whole website. If you let your user account expire, it’s usually the case that someone else can register it again straight away, stealing all your traffic in the process.
31. They make you look like a cheapskate. As well as just looking unprofessional in general, using a free site shows you aren’t willing to invest any money in your business. Who wants to work with someone who scrimps on the basic business essentials?
32. Free sites are ugly. Those free templates aren’t only incredibly common, they’re also not usually the best example of great design. Stick a few advertising banners on top and you end up with one ugly website.
33. They’re difficult to delete. The internet never forgets and there are many hundreds of people haunted by a free website they set up in their teens and now can’t get rid of. Don’t be one of them.
34. They look childish. If you’re 12, this is fine. If you’re not, get a real website.
35. You can’t use custom error pages. With WordPress and other self-hosted websites, it’s possible to set up custom error messages so you can direct lost visitors to files they may be looking for and other useful things. With free websites, you’re stuck with the default error messages.
36. Analytics are limited or nonexistent. In order to grow your website, it’s important to know how many people are visiting your site and where they are coming from. With free websites it’s common for this information to be limited or for there to be no analytics available at all.
37. You can’t move your template to a new platform. Even if you like your common, ugly, free theme, you can’t take it with you when you move. If you want to move your website, you’ll have to create a new design.
38. There’s no guaranteed uptime. You’re not paying for anything so the provider owes you nothing. If they’re unreliable and your website is down every 10 minutes, there’s no point in even trying to complain.
39. Your details may be insecure. As well as your site being vulnerable to attack, your personal details may well also be at risk. There have been a number of high-profile cases where hackers have gained access to lists of users from free services including names, emails, dates of birth, addresses and even credit card numbers.
40. You may be bothered with emails and upsells. It’s a common practice in online marketing to give away something free in order to get your email. They’ll then continue to bombard you with emails trying to sell you products and other services. Often unsubscribing means that you’ll lose your website.
41. The owners may sell your contact details. As well as using your email for their own purposes, it’s not unheard of for companies to sell lists to other marketing companies. Make sure you read the small print and that your details aren’t being sold on.
42. They encourage you to be lazy. Free website builders may be easy to use but learning how to do something yourself is rarely a bad thing. Self hosted websites and platforms like WordPress are great to help you learn how to build your own websites so you can make changes yourself and fix things when they go wrong.
43. Free websites often load slowly. Your site will likely be on a server with thousands of other websites, also sharing bandwidth and resources. If it crawls along at a snail’s speed, you’ll know why.
44. They’re not responsive. Want a responsive design that works well on mobile phones and tablets? You’ll be lucky to find one on a free website.
45. They’re difficult to fix when something goes wrong. As you can’t get into the backend of hosted websites and support for free services is limited, you’ll probably be stuck for ideas if your website breaks. Another common trick of these “free” services is to provide premium support for when things do go wrong so your free site could become surprisingly expensive
46. File uploading is limited. While you can upload files to a self-hosted site via FTP, with free services you’ll usually be limited to a web-based interface. These are often a pain to use and very limited so you may only be able to upload one file at a time or files that are within a certain size.
47. There’s no way to stop people stealing your images. If you’re an artist or photographer, you should seriously think twice about using a free website. Not only may your images become property of the provider on upload, but there’s also no way to stop other people from hotlinking them as you would with a plugin or editing your .htaccess file on a self-hosted WordPress site.
48. They may be run by unethical corporations. As I’ve pointed out several times, these free services are out to make money, not to do good deeds. You may well be supporting a somewhat undesirable business.
49. They have a bad track record. Scores of free website services have come and gone over the years. Remember Geocities? The chances are that if you host your website on a free service, it won’t be around for very long.
50. They’re just not cool! Having a free website won’t do anything for your image or your online street cred, so just put your hand in your pocket and hand over the few dollars a month it costs for a fully hosted site – you’ll thank me later!
So there you have it – 50 reasons why you should ignore that tempting offer of a 100% free-for-life website and back away from the computer. Free websites may be fine for your grandmother to upload her crochet patterns or for a temporary school project when you’re 9, but for anything else, forget it.
You may be wondering if free websites aren’t the answer, what is? Well, there are some paid website services which are worth considering, but most of them suffer from at least some of the problems we’ve discussed with free websites.