When your business is new and you’re short on cash, but you know you need a website to send people to, it’s natural to look for the least expensive option. Many hosts these days even have fairly decent free website builder tools compared to what we had available to us just a few years ago.
I understand the concern. I had it myself when I was just starting my business. I even still have trouble paying for Facebook ads even though I know if I did them right they’d be worth the money.
That said, you’re making a mistake if you decide a free website builder can get you a website just as good as a professional designer.
Think of it this way: sure, anyone can build a website. Anyone can build a house too, but there’s a reason we pay builders who do it for a living.
Please read this article before deciding to use a free builder. It will at least help you pay attention to some things you may not be thinking about yet.
Why you shouldn’t use a free website builder
They make it so easy, right? It’s drag and drop! It has pre-built templates! It’s perfect!
It’s handy, certainly. But it’s not ideal.
1. You don’t know what you don’t know
You can absolutely make a website that looks better than most of your competition if you use a free website builder. However, just because it looks better doesn’t mean it’s actually a well-built website.
Especially if you think your website is just a glorified business card, you really should talk to a professional web developer.
Building a website that actually works for you rather than is a simple overhead expense is something that people spend their professional lives studying and refining. It’s not just putting up a nice picture, coming up with a well-crafted tagline, listing your services, and adding a contact number.
Here’s an example: should your “about page” should be about your company’s history? Absolutely not. Not many people care about your company’s history. Even on your about page, people want to see how your company helps them solve their problem, and you have less than 5 seconds to convince them. So unless you can craft a really good story, don’t talk about your grandpa.
2. You haven’t studied design
There’s a difference between a picture and a photograph. You’ve seen the difference even if you haven’t noticed it. Think of it this way: a picture is something you snap in the moment. A photograph is something you could frame and hang on your wall.
Website builders help you get to the next step, kind of like learning the rule of thirds (which actually helps in web design too). It helps, and you can definitely tell the difference between your old pictures and the ones you take after learning composition. But you still need to practice to get really good at photography.
The builders and layouts help you incorporate some design basics, but you still need to practice to get really good at website design.
3. You haven’t studied user interaction
This is related to website design, but it takes it to the next level. Keeping with photography, it might be like learning how to use your aperture and shutter speed. Once you learn how to compose a good photograph, there’s still a whole world of exposure to get into.
Design is one thing. Understanding how people interact with your website is a different ballgame. Where should the call to action go (your website has a call to action, right)? What’s the flow you want a visitor to take on your site? When they click the button you want them to click, how does the next page capture their interest and keep them going down the path to becoming a customer?
I’ve talked to a lot of people who already have websites, and they’ve explained to me (because I don’t think they knew I am a website strategist) that websites shouldn’t be too salesy, and you should just use them to give away information.
What they’re saying is kind of true, but there’s a way to craft the website such that it is totally a sales tool without being “salesy”. In fact, a really well crafted one does it without the visitor realizing it. When you do it right, you are actually helping your clients, you’re not selling to them.
But if you don’t understand how they’ll interact with your website, you are not able to help them as well as you’d like.
4. You haven’t studied SEO
Optimizing your websites for Google is the main way people find you at the top of their search results. There are ways to do it right, and then there’s throwing spaghetti against the wall.
Is your business based in a certain area? Local SEO is what’s going to get you at the top of the local listings when someone searches for your kind of service in their area.
SEO used to be all about keywords and putting them everywhere, even if makes the title of a page sound weird. Some SEO consultants who aren’t keeping up with the times are still using that strategy. Did you know you shouldn’t even use a list of keywords on your pages anymore?
SEO changes ALL THE TIME. Google is constantly revising their algorithms for ranking. That’s why SEO is literally a full time job.
Yes, there are certain things you can do that help and are fairly obvious. You can learn pretty quickly how to write posts on other blogs to get links back to yours. There’s just way more to a good SEO strategy than you might realize.
I use tools on my website to make sure I’m doing the best I can. I’m not aware of website builders that give you those kinds of tools to make sure your content is optimized.
5. You haven’t studied digital marketing
This goes a little beyond the website itself, but it still centers around the website. When should you use pop ups vs banners? What should you offer your visitors in exchange for their email addresses (you are collecting email addresses, right)? What should the email sequence look like when someone signs up?
How do you create a proper Facebook ad? What’s the right way to use social media to promote your services? Should you buy ads in the yellow pages still?
When you build your website, you may not know to think about these things. That’s OK, because you can learn them later. A good website designer will start asking questions early on, though, to get you thinking about them. A good branding expert will get you images to use on social media profiles so your brand is consistent.
Bonus: You don’t get to keep your website
I remembered this one as I was writing the article and it’s well worth the mention.
This may begin to change as time goes on, but at the moment when you want to switch hosts (and you very likely will – I’ve switched 4 times in the past 15 years) you don’t get to keep your website. You own the domain and all of the content, but you can’t just take the website you build on GoDaddy’s tools with you to another host.
When you have your site built by someone else (or if you are able to do it yourself without a builder), you can literally pack it up and take it somewhere else. When I moved this site from one host to another, I had everything switched in under an hour. Doing it from a website builder means you have to build another website and add all the content back.
You can build your own site, but do you really want to?
When you’re strapped for cash, it’s totally understandable. I won’t judge you for using a builder. Hopefully you’ll look into these points before getting started so you’re at least thinking about them as you build your site.
Think about it a second time, though. Your job is not to build websites. That shouldn’t be your focus. You should be focusing on what you do best to get your products sold and clients helped. Leave the stuff you aren’t a pro at to the pros. It will be well worth the financial investment.