Free Website Design – Is there such a thing?

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Free Website design – is there such a thing?

Free website design, is there such a thing?

Without wanting to sound too evasive, there is and there isn’t.

There is such a thing as free website design, but only if you design and create it yourself. It’s unlikely that someone is going to make you a free website, and do all the designing for you.

There’s also usually some kind of cost involved somewhere, and there can be quite a learning curve associated with some of the options available if you decide to make your own website.

Hosting providers can provide you with a hosting account and a domain that will allow you to make your own site, but you may need to install a content management system in the hosting to just get started. There can be quite a learning curve involved with this, but it does put you in control of your site to a much greater degree.

There is also the option of purchasing a hosting account and a domain, and then paying someone to create your site for you but the cost of the site creation itself is often between £1000 and £2000 plus VAT for the site creation alone. The site creation services I offer are the same as these but a lot cheaper because I don’t believe cost should be an obstacle to new businesses who need to be found online.

There are also online “make your own website” services that you can use to make your own site in an easy drag and drop manner, with a lot of the technical side of things done for you. There’s often a free package that you can use to make a site. This is the closest you’re going to get to free website design.

BUT…

There are things to be aware of when using this type of service, and it’s a good idea to know about these things before you put a lot of effort in to designing and creating your site.

Two of the biggest “make your own website” type services are Wix and Weebly.

The first thing to bear in mind, is that if these companies gave you everything for free, they wouldn’t exist because they’d have no income. The free packages that they offer are often limited in what they’ll do, and how they’ll function. You’re highly likely to find that you will end up paying them something at some point to be able to do what you want.

There are a few questions you’d be wise to ask yourself before you get started with a free package using Wix and Weebly:

  • Are you going to want your own unique website address?
  • Are you going to want an email address that ends with the same as your website’s address?
  • Are you going to want your site to be free of advertising for the sitebuilder company you use?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, then you’re going to have to pay thesitebuilder company something.

How much you’ll end up paying depends on which of the above you want to be able to do, and if you’re going to want to do anything that the sitebuilder companies charge more for. These could be things such as:

  • Being able to sell products online and take payments
  • Being able to put videos on your site
  • Being able to use facilities such as Google Analytics to monitor site traffic

Using more of these facilities is going to add more to your costs with site builder companies.

The other thing to bear in mind is that these companies charge more if you pay on a monthly basis.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that you could get charged for.


Your domain – Your own unique web address.

The domain is what you see in the browsers address bar after the https:// or https://www.

With Wix’ free package the address of your site will be:

https://something.wixsite.com/something/

With Weebly’s free package the address of your site will be:

https://something.weebly.com/

You might well be asking yourself if this actually matters, if all you want to do is to be able to get your site online.

The main thing that this will effect is the impression it gives to your site’s visitors.

A real world analogy might be along the lines of having a business meeting with a potential customer.

Let’s say you have a meeting in your own offices, in a meeting room. This is the equivalent of having your own domain; it’s your own dedicated space. That in itself gives quite an impression, which is that your business is established, and that it’s doing well enough to afford offices with meeting rooms. As your domain is your own unique space as well, this in itself gives your clients and customers a greater degree of confidence in your business.

Compare what I’ve mentioned above to a business meeting that’s held in a coffee shop, full of other people from other businesses who are also holding meetings in the same coffee shop. That’s unlikely to give the same level of confidence compared to the example above. This is more like how the free packages work with sitebuilder companies. You’re simply another person using another free thing, along with a vast amount of other people.

How much do sitebuilder companies charge for this?

Domain registration costs aside (these are in addition to what I’m about to mention) at the time of writing this, JUST to be able to use your own domain, at the time of writing, it will cost:

  • Wix: £4 per month plus VAT (£57.60 per year including VAT at 20%)
  • Weebly: £5 per month plus VAT (£72 per year including VAT at 20%)

It can also cost more if you’re wanting to pay monthly (rather than anually).

What would I charge for the equivalent, as someone who makes websites?

I won’t bang on about this, but just to give you a basis of comparison, I’d charge a LOT less than my normal rates if I wasn’t going to be making the site. If someone approached me and said “I want to have site, with my own unique website address and I need an easy website builder as I’d like to make the site myself” I’d let you buy your own domain (I’d help you through this process) which would cost between £9 and £15 (depending on the domain you’d like), and provide you with the rest for a total cost of £30.

If you went with a .co.uk domain, that would be £39 annually to get a self made site, an easy website builder and your own unique website address. That’s a saving of 32% compared to the cheapest option above.

***UPDATE***

Since writing this article, the company I work for have started offering a really low cost hosting account. To cut a long story short, you can get a hosting account (which allows you to deploy a site AND a mailbox), a free weebly site builder, and a .uk domain registration all for a total (including VAT) of £20.39 per year! There are more details about this at the bottom of this page, but for now, keep that cost in mind while you continue reading.


Advertising and branding.

So we’ve established that there’s a cost to have your own domain, but even when paying these costs, there’s still “sitebuilder company” advertising and / or branding in place, even when paying the costs above.

If you don’t want there to be any “sitebuilder company” advertising and / or branding in place on your site, you have to pay an additional cost for these to be removed.

Will you want to do this or not?

Again this branding being present on your site can give an impression to potential customers that look at your site. There’s perhaps not as many site visitors that would find this as off putting as not having your own unique website address, but there are likely to be some that draw the conclusion that you’ve perhaps not invested so much in your company’s branding, or maybe don’t have the budget available to do so.

Using a similar real world equivalent to the example above, it might be a bit like having a meeting with one of your clients in your “office” with the office being a desk in a shared office. Although your name and company name might be on a sign above the desk, there’s still an element of “this is actually part of something else”.

The degree to which people might be put off by this is a bit variable according to the individual.

Most likely the main thing to consider is what your competitors are doing. If there’s two companies that offer an identical service or product and one has “sitebuilder company” advertising and / or branding in place on their site, but the other doesn’t, which one is most likely to get the call from the potential customer?

How much do sitebuilder companies charge for their branding / advertising to be removed?

To have your own domain, and for “sitebuilder company” advertising and / or branding to be removed it costs:

  • Wix £7.50 per month (£108 per year including VAT at 20%)
  • Weebly £9 per month (£129.60 per year including VAT at 20%)

As you can see the costs are beginning to add up, and you’ve still got to make the site yourself!


Email addresses.

Almost everyone uses email. Email is one of the most prevalent communication tools you’ll use to communicate with your customers. 

If you’ve decided that you want to have a website with it’s own unique web address, you have your own domain. As well as the domain being in the browser’s address bar, the domain is also the part of the email address after the @s sign. Just by having a site with it’s own unique address, customers will automatically expect you to communicate with them using an email address that ends in address of your site.

If you start communicating with your customers using a free email address (such as hotmail or GMail) is this going to undermine your site having it’s own unique address?

In all honesty, it probably is. 

It goes further than this though. Imagine you’ve had a dialogue with someone at a business that has their own website with their own unique address, and the person you’ve been speaking to says “I’ll email you payment details”, and then you get this email and it’s been sent from a hotmail or GMail address. Would you be a little wary about being scammed? A lot of people would, especially if they’ve been scammed before, and let’s face it a lot of people have.

Your own unique email address gives a sense of legitimacy, and removes the wariness associated with free email addresses and potential scamming.

So how much does this cost when using a sitebuilder type company?

Wix and weebly don’t provide email addresses themselves, they back this off to google workspaces. Whilst you do get more than just an email address (Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Docs and so on) These cost £5 (plus VAT) per month each. That’s another £5 plus VAT per month, per email address. The more email addresses the more cost. Just for example’s sake, lets say you just want one email address, and your costs have just gone up to:

  • Wix £12.50 (£180 per year including VAT at 20%)
  • Weebly £14 (£201 per year including VAT at 20%)

And that’s just for one email address. Costs are going to start going up even more if you start employing people who are going to need their own email address. Just for example’s sake, let’s say you employ someone to help you in your role and a financial administrator, so 3 mailboxes in total, that works out as total costs of:

  • Wix £22.50 (£324 per year including VAT at 20%)
  • Weebly £24 (£345 per year including VAT at 20%)

There is one other thing to take in to account when using Google Workspaces for email. DNS. You might need to have to start administering DNS settings in your Wix or Weebly account just to make your Google Workspaces email accounts work properly, or even at all.

DNS isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I’d go as far as to say (from the perspective of someone that works in web hosting and speaks to customers every day), that it’s the bit that everyone hates. I have written an article on how DNS works, so you might have a look at that to get an idea.


Additional considerations.

The first thing I should mention is that I’ve been working all this out on the cheapest plans that Wix and Weebly offer the allow you to have a site with your own unique address and your own unique email addresses.

The more expensive plans provide more features, such as the ability to take payments, have customer accounts and sell online. You can also find that you might need to upgrade and therefore pay more to do something you would have thought would be available for free, such as put social media icons on your site.

The pricing that I’ve mentioned above is also based on making annual payments as they work out cheaper. If you pay on a monthly basis, yep, you guessed it, it costs more

There are more expensive plans available.

You can’t move sites made with sitebuilder companies.

If you at some point decide you’ve had enough of sitebuilder type companies and want to host your site using a fairly standard hosting company, you’d have to completely remake your site.

Functionality can be limited.

This in part ties in with the upgrade path that you have to pay for, but there’s more to it than this. Sometimes, you’ll have an idea of how you’d like to do something on your site, only to find that it can’t be done using a sitebuilder type service. This is because it’s hard for sitebuilder type companies to provide all the functionality that everyone might want, so instead they provide the functionality that most people will want. As soon as you move outside the “what most people want” bracket, you’re, at that point, a bit stuck.


Sitebuilder company Vs WordPress/CMS’.

Yes, you’re right. You don’t have to use a sitebuilder company. You could use a free CMS such as wordpress, and operate it with your own unique website address and hosting account, at a cheaper cost, with unique email addresses thrown in.

How much does that cost?

To give you something to compare the costs to above, you could be looking at as little as £44.38 per year (including VAT at 20%). That’s quite a saving isn’t it?

But (there’s always a but), there’s a lot that sitebuilder companies have made easy for you, that are harder to achieve when using a free CMS.

To put this in context, and just for example’s sake if you wanted to set up an online store in a free CMS, you’d have to do the part that connects the site to the payment provider. There’s more than just this though. There’s lots of other things you’d need to take on (such as securing your site) when using a free CMS.

There’s also quite a learning curve with free CMS’ and there is no “it’s been done for you” element, you have to do it all yourself working things out as you go.


The conundrum.

I often find myself in a conversation that goes in a circle with people, which goes like this:

Person: I’ve been using a sitebuilder and I’ve found it doesn’t do quite what I want it to, what else can I use?

Me: You could try WordPress, it’s got quite a rich plugin ecosystem, so you can usually find something that will do what you want it to.

Person: Yes, I did give that a try I found it quite hard to use.

Me: Well, yes, it can be a bit tricky, but if you invest some time and effort in to learning how it works, you might well find you get used to it all.

Person: Well, I haven’t really got time to do all the learning part / Computers aren’t really my thing.

Me: You could pay someone to make your site for you.

Person: I don’t really want to pay someone.

And this is the problem with websites: There’s nothing that does everything easily for free.

That problem was why I started making websites for people at a cheaper cost. I’m doing my bit to reduce one of the factors (the cost) without being overworked with no financial gain. 


In Conclusion.

  • There is no such thing as free website design, there’s always a cost, even if that is only your time.
  • Sitebuilder companies provide services that are easy to use, but costs can easily escalate.
  • You can’t move a sitebuilder company type site to a different hosting provider.
  • You can use a free CMS instead of a sitebuilder type company, but you may well need to spend time and effort learning how to use it and making it do what you want.
  • There isn’t anything that’s easy to use with zero cost.

UPDATE!!!! Nearly Free Web design!

Since originally writing this article, the company that I work for have started offering a hosting package called “Starter” at £10 plus VAT per year, which is really cheap. You can see, and buy the package on this page:

https://my.netnerd.com/store/standard-cpanel-hosting/

Starter Hosting package from netnerd.com

Although this package is quite small on disk space at 250MB, you could get this (which can be used to operate a mailbox at no additional cost), a free weebly site builder (there’s a small amount of advertising at the bottom of pages), and a .uk domain all for £16.99 plus VAT per year:

Starter hosting: £10 plus VAT per year
.uk domain registration: £6.99 plus VAT per year
Subtotal: £16.99
VAT @ 20%: £3.40
Total per year: £20.39

So if you’re looking to get a site up and running with an easy so use site editor, want your own unique web address, and a domain specific mailbox, you can do all this for just £20.39 per year! 

You do have to make the site yourself, and you might need to manage your emails (or use a GMail account to collect them from the mailbox you set up), but this is the cheapest way of getting started that I’ve ever seen (and I work in web hosting!).

The equivalent from Wix and Weebly is:

Wix: £150 per year

Weebly: £120 per year

So you could save yourself up to £100 per year, with netnerd.com’s starter hosting package.

Free Website design - is there such a thing?

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