January 21, 2013

The High Cost of Free Web Sites

A few years ago there was a funny commercial on TV featuring the owner of a small barber shop. Across the street from his shop, a large chain “super cheap cuts” was moving in and offering $6 haircuts. Naturally, the barber was concerned because he could not compete with such low-pricing. However, being a small-business “survivor”, he got the idea to print a banner which read “We Fix $6 Hair Cuts”. Eventually, the “super cheap cuts” went out of business.

It was a funny commercial with a happy ending. However, the TV commercial highlighted a common strategy used by big-business. Large companies will often underprice a product or service with the goal of grabbing other related business at full-price (or higher than average cost).

I’ve seen this same trend with web development. Large technology companies are offering free (or nearly free) web sites in order to grab related services such as hosting, SEO, domain names, software sales, tax services, and a variety of other things.

Unfortunately, there is a high cost to these “free” web sites. We’re now seeing new clients come to us as refugees from the “free web site” world. Here are some of the damaging effects of turning your web presence over to a “freebie” web provider:

1. No Identity: A free web site is a “template” site which will look exactly like the 10,000 other businesses that have used the same template. There will be no brand identity.

2. No Service or Support: A free web site often has little or no customer service and support. We’ve commonly seen people unable to get simple updates posted to their web sites.

3. No Reliability: Freebie web sites are often “down” or offline. Companies that host free web sites will load as many sites on a single server as possible to control costs. When too much traffic overloads the server, all of the sites on that server will go offline. This is similar to loading too many people onto a small row boat. The boat is going to sink.

4. No Control: In many cases, domain name control is in the hands of the company offering the “free” web site. If a business wants to move to a new provider, they must leave their domain name behind and find a new one. This is the same as starting over in the web world.

5. No Search/Visibility: We’ve seen many sites virtually “disappear” from Google because a business moved its site to a “free” provider and no search optimization was performed. Alternately, we’ve seen businesses forced to pay huge SEO fees once the site has been transferred to the “free” provider in order to keep their rankings.

All of these translate into loss of opportunity, which equals loss of business, which equals loss of revenue. This is the high cost of “free”.

In today’s technology-driven world where nearly everyone carries the web on their smart phones, your web presence is more important than ever. Turning your web site over to a “free” web site provider is similar to getting a cheap haircut. It might be cheap or free, but in the end, your business will look bad. And unlike a cheap haircut, business will not grow back in a few weeks.