5 Things to Look Out For When Building a Free Website
Back in the day, you needed impressive tech skills or a huge budget if you wanted to create a website. The good news is, that’s no longer the case. Nowadays, you can build with no tech experience at all – and even better, you can build for free!
But building a free website can come with hidden pitfalls that can take away from your website’s professional image. We’ll walk you through five things to watch out for when building a free website, to help you create a good quality website without spending a single cent.
1. Check It’s Actually Free
The first thing to look out for is any hidden costs. For example, the popular open-source platform WordPress is free, but you have to pay for hosting in order to build and publish your website.
Hosting doesn’t have to be expensive – cheaper hosting costs about $30 per year – but it is an ongoing cost that means publishing with WordPress isn’t actually free.
To build a website without paying anything, you need a good website building platform that has a totally free plan, with no time limit, with hosting included at no extra cost.
2. Be Wary of Adverts
The biggest thing to look out for when building a free website is adverts. Free website builders will display adverts for their platform on your website – this is their way of making money from your site when you’re not paying them directly.
The trouble with adverts is that they look unprofessional. It’s a clear sign to your visitors that you haven’t spent any money on your site, which can send all the wrong signals, and even come across as amateur.
It’s estimated that the average person encounters between 6,000 and 10,000 adverts every single day, so it’s safe to say that people are pretty used to seeing online ads. But they’re pretty tired of them, too.
In fact, 85% of people say they form a poor opinion of websites that allow obnoxious or intrusive adverts.
The trick is to find a website building tool that places subtle, non-intrusive adverts on your site. The easiest way to see what adverts are like is to create a sample site, or look at existing free sites and compare the adverts you see.
Here are a few things to look out for:
- How many adverts are on the site – you want to avoid more than two.
- Where these adverts are placed – do they take pride of place on the webpage?
- How intrusive the adverts are – do they interfere with the on-site content?
- Whether you can collapse or hide the advert – is the ad constantly visible, or does it disappear?
3. Make the Most of Domain Names
It’s worth knowing before you start building your free website that you won’t be able to use a custom domain name. This is a common stumbling block that a lot of people don’t realize, causing disappointment further down the line.
Even if you already have a domain name, you won’t be allowed to connect it to your website without upgrading to a paid plan. Instead, you’ll have to use the free domain name given to you by the builder you’re using.
You want to look for a builder that lets you customize your free domain. For example, the domain name would follow this structure: “yourwebsitename.buildername.com”. You could then put whatever you wanted in the first part, so it might look like this:
Other builders don’t let you customize your free domain, or they give you one containing tons of letters and numbers.
Avoid these builders at all costs – you want your domain to be memorable, and related to your brand. Here are some tips for making the most of your free domain:
- Keep it short – your domain is longer because it includes the builder’s name too, so your customized part needs to be extra short and snappy.
- Keep it relevant – use the name of your website, brand, or your own name, to make it clear exactly what your site is about.
- Make it memorable – steer clear of words that are hard to spell, or anything that’s too similar to an existing brand.
- Avoid numbers, symbols, and punctuation – you want your domain to be as unique as possible, but don’t go too far. A random mix of numbers and symbols is a huge no-no!
4. Be Aware of Feature Limitations
One reason your free website may struggle to compete with bigger, better, faster-loading sites is that you’ll often find limited storage space and bandwidth on free websites.
Low storage means you can’t store large amounts of data on your site (such as too many videos), and low bandwidth means your website can’t handle too many visitors at once. This is less than ideal for growing an online presence!
Features to look out for when building for free include:
- Storage space – how much storage space do you need? Will you be trying to store heavy media files on your website?
- Bandwidth – the more bandwidth you have, the more traffic your website can handle. If your free website keeps crashing, chances are you need more bandwidth!
- Ecommerce – if you want to sell online, you’ll find yourself restricted on free plans. This is not a feature commonly found on free websites.
- Analytics – often, you only get very basic analytics built into your free website, which can make tracking performance difficult.
- Help and support – does your free website come with reliable support in case you get stuck? This is important to check, as some free plans only offer minimal support to non-paying users.
5. Choose a Well-Designed Template
Just because you’re building your site for free, doesn’t mean you have to forget about beautiful or professional template designs. 38% of people will ditch your website if the content or layout is unattractive, so it’s worth getting right!
First, make sure you filter templates so that you’re definitely choosing from free designs. Some templates are premium ones that cost money, so always check this to start with.
Some free templates might look outdated, so make sure to pick a fresh design you love, which follows best design practices. Here are some of the main things to look for when choosing a free theme:
- Is it mobile responsive? This is crucial if you want a successful website – over 50% of traffic comes from mobile, and Google favors mobile-friendly websites.
- Does it give you creative freedom? Drag-and-drop editing tools let you customize your site however you want.
- Can you create single page or multi-page websites? Some builders only let you create a single page website for free, while others don’t limit the number of pages.
- Does it fit your industry? Many templates are specifically designed for business, blogs, events, or portfolio websites, so try to find one that matches your project.
- Does it look good? Look at the general structure of the page. You can make some changes, but you can’t undo bad design!
Building a free website isn’t ideal if you’re trying to create a professional image. However, sometimes we don’t have much choice – websites aren’t only for those with generous budgets!
By heading into the building process prepared, you can get so much more out of your free website. Don’t expect a custom domain, but be ready to make the most out of the free one you receive. Be watchful for intrusive adverts, and check for any hidden costs in advance.
A free website isn’t a long-term solution, but looking out for these five things should give you a good head start!
Lucy Carney writes for Website Builder Expert, the leading authority in helping people of all abilities build an online presence. She enjoys using her digital expertise to help others succeed online.