What is the best free website builder
A few people have asked this lately. What are the best free website builders for building a website or blog for free, so here are my thoughts.
A reason you may be considering creating a business website on a free host is usually because it’s free.
After all, you don’t want to spend any money on something you’re not sure will work yet.
You may still be testing the idea or concept out.
Perhaps you’re on a shoestring budget. So you think getting a free website for your business is a good way to save money. Especially in the fragile early days.
Some people already have a website but don’t have control over it. They may not have the ability to add a blog within their site. For instance many MLM businesses and/or franchises may provide a shop front but there’s no blogging facility.
Blogging is good for SEO, good for showcasing your expertise and getting more sales.
So first it’s important to realise that nothing is truly free and the same is with websites.
How do free website builders make money
There are plenty of web hosting companies that will host a website for free but providing you with a free website is not free to them.
They bear costs of providing and maintaining their servers and marketing/advertising costs to get customers.
Typically, these free website hosts start you off with a free plan. They have limited features and to access more features you upgrade to a paid level.
Those different paid levels can vary enormously, so it makes sense to do your research and choose carefully.
The purpose of your blog or website will determine whether you can put up with the limited features provided by free website hosts.
Are free websites for small business
If you want to represent your business or organisation then don’t use free websites.
For businesses, I don’t recommend building your site on a free platform.
Websites built on free platforms stick out like sore thumbs. Potential customers aren’t stupid. They can see from all the advertising signage plastered all over your site that your site is free.
And if you’re trying to sell products and services there’s an incongruence of values.
You’re effectively telling potential customers you don’t invest in your business.
So why should they invest in you? Or buy your products and services.
Who are free websites for then?
If the purpose of your site is to be a brain dump of your ideas or personal projects.
Where you’re not concerned about growing a brand/list or selling products, then these free website builder platforms are fine.
If you are going the route of getting your website hosted for free, then at least go in eyes open. Be fully aware of what the limitations are so you don’t get stung later when you’re forced to upgrade to an expensive plan to get a feature you thought would be included.
Here’s my list of the limitations of free websites, and what they mean.
The true cost of free websites
The primary source of income is through placing ads on your site. They can be quite intrusive to your content which is annoying for your readers.
You have no control over what ads are shown or where in your content they appear.
They could easily be showing competitors ad, which will potentially lead your readers (potential clients) away from your stuff.
Ads are annoying and interrupt the flow of what you’re reading.
In fact, anything annoying for website visitors is also a negative in Google’s view.
Google’s AI can detect annoying things on websites now and from May 2021 this will be a ranking factor. Intrusive ads is one of the things on Google’s naughty list.
I wrote a post about Google’s new algorithm here.
So, if you don’t mind ads taking your visitors away (to your potential competitors) and having no chance of ranking in Google searches then this compromise is acceptable.
2. No support
If you get stuck or encounter a problem, then there’s no-one to call for help (unless you upgrade – possibly, but not always).
And sometimes even then, the support is not instant.
When you want help, you usually want it now, while you in the problem or question!
Slow page loads will be annoying for you as you build the site.
Even if you do battle through your impatience, the finished site will be just as frustrating for your visitors. Visitors won’t be as patient as you waiting for the page to start/finish loading.
They’ll click off, which will give you a high bounce rate. That in turn will affect your ranking. Google doesn’t want to serve up websites that give a poor experience for searchers in their search result listings.
Free website builder hosts don’t prioritising investment in the servers carrying their free sites. That’s why they don’t really care that your free site is slow.
Speed may be better on the paid plans, but not always.
4. No own domains
A domain with your business name makes you look like a proper business.
However, you won’t be able to connect your own domain to a free site without upgrading.
There’s one exception.
At the time of writing www.ucraft.com do allow you to connect an existing domain for free. However, do check the other limitations they impose are acceptable.
The host will give you a free domain name. However, it will usually have the provider’s name intertwined in it (e.g. customername.provider.com).
5. You could get shut down
If you inadvertently break their rules (which is easily done – who even reads the full terms and conditions before checking the box ‘I agree’) then they would have the power to close your site down without any recourse or warning.
Some free website hosts (e.g. WordPress.com) specifically don’t allow commercial sites. So if your site is for your business, then you run the risk that your site could be shut down. And then all the work and pages you created are lost.
6. Stable Business Model
And while we’re on the subject of being shut down, if the free host’s business fails then your site disappears with them.
This could happen if for example they haven’t got enough paying customers or their product is pants and customers leave and it’s no longer a viable business.
7. Everyone can tell it’s a free site
A non-custom domain combined with ads screaming that you have a free website built is a big give away that you don’t invest in your online presence.
Which means they know you are running your business on a shoestring budget.
That might be true, but do you really expect customers to pay you money for your products and services, when you don’t pay for basic web services yourself?
I believe that like attracts like, and if you’re putting out that you have no money, guess what? You’ll attract clients who also have no money!
8. The hosts logo appears in your site
‘This site was created free by xxx.com’. Another tell-tale signal that you have used free website builder and don’t invest or believe in your business. See the point above.
9. No ecommerce
No free site has an ecommerce facility where you can take online payments for your products.
The free platforms like Etsy and eBay do allow you to sell physical products however, that’s a topic for another article as technically they are not blogging or website platforms where you can add other pages and customise the look to suit your branding.
10. Storage/page limits
Yup, it’s free so you can’t expect unlimited pages or storage for images you might want to include in your site. Usually, you can upgrade to get more storage and/or pages, so you will need to check what else you get and compare that to the other options.
11. No SSL
SSL is the padlock symbol that appears in the address bar of the browser.
SSL provides a secure channel between two machines or devices operating over the internet or an internal network, so there’s no danger of your data being stolen by a fake site pretending to be you.
You know you have SSL if your web address starts with https://
SSL has become a requirement and if you don’t have this, then Google won’t rank you well.
Given SSL has been a requirement for a few years now, I’m surprised that web hosts sell sites without this, but seems they do.
12. Not mobile optimised
Another big one and a way to get you to upgrade.
Being mobile optimised these days is essential and if your website isn’t, then you’ll be on Google’s naughty list and your rankings will always be rubbish.
13. Limited SEO settings
SEO settings allow you to customise what search engines show about your site in search listings.
If you don’t need to people to find you by search, (for instance, the only people who need to access your site will be given the URL by you) then having this facility is of no consequence.
14. No blogging facilities
Blogging allows you to post articles about your thoughts, ideas, showcase your expertise, share tips etc.
Blogging is important for SEO. It’s an opportunity to rank for many more terms related to what you do.
Some free website plans don’t include blogging or it’s a payable upgrade feature.
15. Limited templates
If being able to customise the look and feel of your website to your branding, then having limited templates to choose from may feel too restrictive, particularly if there’s nothing suitable to match your style.
However, since it’s a free website, limited template choice may be a limitation you consider is ok to put up with, especially if you haven’t decided your branding yet.
16. Unreliable hosting – drops/go offline regularly
I think this is a non-negotiable.
Unreliable hosting comes back to the fact that web hosts don’t put much money and resources maintaining hosting services provided by free website builder companies.
It’s annoying for everybody – you as the web owner and your potential customers.
If the site is down, you have no hope of fielding enquiries or generating business.
17. When you change template, you lose all your content
Some providers don’t allow you to switch templates.
Once you’ve chosen a template, then that’s it. You’re stuck with it.
So be careful when choosing your template that it suits what you want.
Further down the line, when you’ve added your content and then decide to switch templates, you may, without warning, lose all your work and have to start again.
18. You have to upgrade to expensive plans to get more features
The model these free website hosts use is to get you in on free plan.
Then, as you realise you need more features, you’re forced to upgrade.
Sometimes, the upgraded plans can turn out to be more expensive than if you had a web designer design and maintain it for you.
So, before you commit to a free website plan, check and compare what all the upgraded levels provide and at what cost.
The Best Free Website Builders
Here’s a great post that details the pros and cons of 21 free website builders.
The list includes reviews of some popular free website builders Wix, Weebly and GoDaddy and a few less heard of like Webnode, Ucraft, Site 123, Webflow, Mozello, Strikingly, Jimdo and Webstarts.
They’ve taken the time to road test each of them and have detailed what they like and dislike for each of the free sites including what they do/don’t include in the free plans.
How to create a good website
You now have a list of downfalls to using free website builder tools and the implications.
Most of the free hosting sites will give you the features they’ve restricted when you pay for an upgrade and some have tiers to release more features.
Make sure you check out what those costs are and plan for them and compare that against other low-cost hosting plans where there may not be a free plan.
But the truth is that even expensive sites that look beautiful and professional, doesn’t mean that they attract traffic and convert dream clients.
If you would like to know how to make sure your website attracts and converts dream clients, then get my free 5 minute guide ‘6 STEPS TO INCREASING WEB CONVERSIONS WITHOUT INCREASING TRAFFIC’