The site building arena is booming and many companies offer various features thus heating up the competition. By nature the website builders are classified into free and paid based on the hosting. For example, you need a paid hosting service in order to build a WordPress.org site whereas Weebly or Wix does not need an external hosting service. The cost part is one of the major reasons webmasters and site owners go for free site builders instead of paid hosting. But the question is – are free website builders really free and worth? Simple answer is NO, read on further to understand the full story why you should invest time and money at the start and should not use free site builders.
Note: This article is focusing on webmasters and site owners who really want to have a long-term online presence in a professional manner. For those who are merely looking for a sharing platform or run a business with less than ten pages can still go with the free site builders due to the ease of use. It is not worth to learn something for months to build only a few pages.
Methodology of Free Site Builders
In order to understand the methodology of free site builders, we highly recommend you to practice a few weeks with the platform you like. Looking at the features on their site and start building your online dream is one of the foolish thing you will regret later point of time. Think of creating a .weebly.com or .wix.com or .wordpress.com site. What essentially you are doing is simply promoting their site more than making your content popular.
Any single good-looking feature like adding favicon, connecting custom domain, removing footer ad, etc. needs you to upgrade to premium plan. That is the methodology or strategy of free site builders – advertise as free but charge for any feature needed for a professional site.
What Do You Need for a Professional Website?
Well, you can find plenty of articles on the web on how to plan your website. But there are very less people talk about what a professional site needs? The shiny good looking things on your webpage will become useless if you accidently deleted the page and found there is no way to restore it back. Looks interesting??? Yeah…that’s how the free site builders and free hosting works. A good site needs the followings as a bare minimum:
- More precise hosting server control on needed situations like blocking IP or controlling spams
- Able to backup the whole site either manually or automatically
- Able to restore the backup on emergency situations
- Ability to migrate the whole content to another platform
“Free hosting” is one of the attractive features for most of the common people looking for building their site to fall prey to the free site builders. Unfortunately, not having access to root directories will become biggest problem when your site becomes larger and you want to have more control over your content. For example, you noticed there are plenty of malicious login attempts or spam form submission from particular IP address. You can easily block that IP with paid hosting service and relax from the spam, which can’t be achieved easily with free site builders.
Most importantly, whether you are a freeuser or a paid user the hosting service is going to be the same which means your site will be hosted on the same server where thousands of other sites are hosted. This will create headache for many reasons – let us explain one simple example. Assume server A of a Wix hosts 500 sites and there are two porn sites and one illegal site reference to the regulations of Country A. Below are the results of you can expect:
- Due to one illegal site – All ISPs in Country A will block the Server A and hence your site also will be blocked in Country A. this means you will loose the business opportunities arising from Country A.
- Due to two porn sites – again your site will be blocked wherever the porn sites are blocked since most of the ISPs will block the server as such instead of the individual sites.
Believe the complete WordPress.com domain is blocked in China. This not only means you can’t use WordPress.com for creating free sites but also you can’t even view single .wordpress.com subdomain site. WordPress.com is also blocked in many other countries like Turkey.
Think of how pity it is that your site is blocked in many countries without your fault and you have no option to quickly upgrade or change the hosting service to get another good server.
Backup and Restore
As far as we checked, none of the popular free site builders offer complete backup and restoration facility for site owners. For example, Wix claims they host 70 million sites and Weebly claims they host 30 million sites which looks very attractive from the outset. The bitter truth is with Wix you can’t even backup the site to local computer and with Weebly you can’t backup the blog posts. The backup content of Weebly site can’t be uploaded back into the server incase of an emergency situation.
It may look funny how or why 100 million people build their sites without having backup and restore feature. Actual truth is that most of them are not aware that they can’t backup their sites till certain point of time. You will never see these problems are explained somewhere on their platform, also most of the online reviews do not explain the problems well because at the end of the review they place the referral link to the corresponding free site builder platform. So do not reply on the reviews, just try with the platform and spend a week time. It is worth to do this at the start instead of worrying later.
Warning: Very unfortunately most of the people never read the TOS before start building the site. You need to understand that free site builder companies have full rights to delete your complete site without informing you if they think your site is not abiding to their TOS.
Few weeks back we had received the following question from one of the Weebly user:
“I have more than 500 blog posts and after reading your article on drawbacks of Weebly I understand individual blog posts can’t be backed up. Now I am worried and wanted to migrate to WordPress. Can you help in anyway?”
The answers was very simple – please pay $500 as a migration fee so that we will migrate your site besides you should learn WordPress and ready to pay additional amount for premium theme and plugins. The blogging capabilities on the free site builders are so poor that sometimes we really couldn’t understand why people build 500+ posts on a free platform.
Last but not least – Pricing
Another surprising aspect is the increasing price of free site builders. Again taking Weebly or Wix – it costs $4 per month to connect your custom domain. With this $4 actually you can get a paid shared hosting service from Bluehost and create a WordPress.org site with free theme / plugins and build a feature rich site compared to a Weebly or a Wix site.
For an ecommerce site you need to pay almost $30 per month with the limited features offered. We would highly recommend not building a business site with such a high cost without any backup options.
As the proverb goes, saying is easy but doing is difficult, it is very easy to write this article. But what we had done was terrible – many years back we started this site with Blogger then moved to Weebly before finally settled down with WordPress.org.
Summary of what we suffered are as below:
- Lost few years of hard work in SEO since none of the free platforms allows cross domain and cross platform redirects.
- It was pain to setup redirects for each page from .html to no extension.
- It took more than 3 months to migrate from Weebly to WordPress with lot of cleanup work.
- It took more than few months of time to get acquainted with WordPress environment.
So the decision is yours – either spend time and effort upfront to analyze things at the start or suffer later. Of course there is always a cost part which we believe is no more a point of comparison with the rapid increase in the cost of free site builders.
Leave your comment if you still believe the free site builder platform will be the choice of yours.