We decided to write this post after speaking with a potential client recently on the topic of justifying the cost of a new website. Their stand was:
"Look, no offence, but I can build a website myself for FREE using online tools such as Wix, Squarespace & Weebly — it's just that I don't have the time..."
As a professional web design company in Singapore, when we see those YouTube ads with celebrities or aggressive online marketing campaigns that entice you to sign up so you can start building your own 'free' website, it reminds us of this quote:
"When you get something for nothing, you just haven't been billed for it yet." Franklin P. Jones
So true. Free online website builders will set you up with a free website with basic features as a way to entice you to upgrade to paid or 'ad-free' services. This is called the bait-and-switch, and something that's brought up often when clients come to us to rebuild their 'free' website.
And while your initial goal in building a website may be to simply get a website online as quickly as possible, there may come a time when you wish to add certain features to your website that you think could help your business. These online website builders need to cater their feature set to the masses, so in all likelihood you'll be left high and dry.
But let's get down to the meat and potatoes of why you shouldn't use free website builders for your business website:
No computer program or online website tool can design a stunning, custom website that's built to serve your specific needs, automatically. That 'small detail' is all up to you, and of course, that's the hard part. The really hard part.
To illustrate let us take 3 design disciplines - image, typography, and color:
Images, logos and other graphics for the web need to be cropped, optimized for speed, and stylized to fit the new website design (on all devices). Familiar with or own Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, Affinity Designer? When to use JPG, PNG or SVG image formats?
How many of us understand line heights, x-heights, ascenders, descenders, orphans, and widows? What's the ideal width for a column of copy? What header typeface works best with a paragraph typeface? Machine fonts, Google fonts or premium fonts like Adobe Typekit? Typography is a beautiful and elegant art, there's a lot to learn not only from choosing the right combinations but also in the application, working with typography needs technical knowledge and artistic skill.
What colors work best together? What tone should we set? Should we go with a sharp complementary palette or go for something much more organic? What does hex #333333 look like on a Windows PC? Looks horrid on my iOS Tablet. Web safe only colors? RGB, Hex? The psychology of color?
We've used 3 examples above to quickly get the point across: a 'free' online website builder can 'build' a website, it enables us to easily create a web page; with a navigation at the top, add an image area below and so on. Sure. But that's where it ends. It can not 'design' the website for you.
But wait, there's more! Other important considerations include:
Cross browser testing & device compatibility
Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera for Mac computers, PC computers, iPhones, Android phones, iPads, and tablets, that's a lot of testing. Do you have these devices on hand to test on? Hey, there's always a Courts, Harvey Norman or Apple Store nearby, right?
Responsive, mobile-friendly design
What happens when the website is viewed on a mobile phone - know your media queries and break points? Hide certain elements for tablets - yet show on a desktop? The user experience and the user mentality change from device to device.
Basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Unless you know what you are doing in terms of SEO, you are going to be in for a very steep learning curve just to get your website found. You'll need to add page-specific browser titles, meta descriptions and relevant keywords. Have you submitted a website sitemap to Google and Bing, and pinged them to let them know your website is "live" and ready to be indexed for search? And what about seamless social media integration so you can share your pages and posts directly from your website to your social profiles with a single click? This requires Open Graph tags embedded in the website code to leverage Facebook and Twitter effectively.
The point we're making is this:
To cut through the mediocre, you'll need a professional online presence. So our advice is: use an experienced web design company that will do all the heavy lifting for you.
Of course, ignoring all the above perhaps you can get an 'okay' website up for free: You've got the layout and design to how you like it, carefully selected, purchased and uploaded the stock images, worked really hard on getting the content just right...
BUT when you 'Google' your new services and website — you don't see it anywhere!
Wait.. whaaat? How come? How like that?
Well, that's a whole other story!