Free websites are not always what they seem. Find out why getting a free website is a bad idea and can end up costing you more time and money than starting out with a small paid plan. Be warned: the following story is not for the faint hearted!
Let me start with a story. Once upon a time there was a small business owner called Bob whose business was growing but didn’t have a website. Since he was just starting out, he googled ‘how to build a free website’. He got pages of ads for free website builders that made loads of wonderful promises about their service …
“build a stunning website in 5 minutes” “easy drag and drop templates” “build your own high-quality blog, website or online store”
Ooh, he thought. Sounds perfect!
He signed up and built a good-looking website using one of their templates, pressed publish and lived happily ever after.
He couldn’t use a good web address.
His website ended up being called www.bobsshop.FREEwebsite.com and he couldn’t change it unless he paid for a custom domain name. It looked unprofessional on his business cards and people couldn’t remember it when searching for him online. He couldn’t even create a branded email address. email@example.com just wasn’t going to impress his customers.
It all made his business look less credible.
AND it also made his business look less credible to the search engines.
Google likes to show good helpful websites in its results. Free domains are given less authority and shunted to the bottom of the results pages. Bob’s website just couldn’t compete for traffic.
So, he had to Pay for a custom domain name through the FREE website service, which cost him £15 plus £6 a month to upgrade his FREE account.
FREE WEBSITE COST SO FAR: £15 plus £6 per month
His website ran slower than a snail in syrup
His website was one of hundreds on the free server all sharing the same resources. Sometimes his website took a full 20 seconds to load! (we generally think a website taking over 5 seconds is loading slowly – when waiting for a screen to load I swear time actually slows down). His website visitors would just click away.
AND Google didn’t think much of this either. Google doesn’t like slow websites as it likes to show fast helpful sites in results. Poor Bob’s website lost more authority and got sent further down the results page.
So, he had to Like it and lump it. The free service didn’t offer any other servers.
He ran out of room
Bob had big website plans and lots of information with gorgeous pictures to get online. But he only had a limited amount of free storage. He even found he couldn’t add more than a set number of pages.
One day, he decided to run a campaign to get more traffic on his website. He did increase traffic but got a big warning that he had reached his bandwidth limit.
So, he had to Upgrade again to pay for more bandwidth and storage for an extra £2 per month
FREE WEBSITE COST SO FAR: £15 plus £8 per month
Bob became a money earner for the free website service
Free website services need to make money. Because Bob didn’t pay for their hosting service he needed to earn them money another way.
His website included a sticky (always on screen) ad for the free website service – very unprofessional. People knew his website was free and it reflected on his business.
Irrelevant ads would spring up on his site with no warning so the website company could make money out of his content. They were often ugly and distracting and once even advertised his competitors!
He started to get marketing messages from other companies – often the terms and conditions of a free website state that the company can sell your email address, personal information and web address to other companies.
His website became part of a link farm – links were added to his website to bump up scammer sites, fake drug and gambling sites. Obviously Google hates this and downgrades sites that do this.
So, he had to Like it or lump it or close down his website.
He couldn’t sell on there
Bob had a pretty 5 page website, but he wanted it to actually do a job. He wanted it to earn him money. But the free website service didn’t include adding a shop.
So he had to Upgrade to their business package to add an online shop with online payments at £18 per month
FREE WEBSITE COST SO FAR: £15 plus £20 per month
But he still couldn’t get it to do…
Coupons Variable products Variable taxes Delivery options Add all his products See site visitor numbers and analytics Add forms Integrate with his social media and listbuilding software
Bob was now paying £20 per month plus £15 a year for his domain name and still not able to do what he wanted to do…
So, he decided to move away to a paid service
But he couldn’t. There was no easy way to export his website from the free service to move it to a paid service. After all, it isn’t in a free website service’s interest to provide him with a nice easy tool to move away from them.
So, he had to Pay a freelancer to move his website for him which cost £150 and even then the website looked very odd because he had used the free templates. He then had to learn new website tools to rebuild his site.
FREE WEBSITE COST SO FAR: £15 plus £20 per month plus £150 for a freelancer to move the thing!
But don’t worry, there is a happy ending
Bob escaped the clutches of the Free Website Service to live a long happy online life with many sales and much website traffic. He learnt new easy website building tools that meant he was in total control of his website and online business. And lived happily ever after.
The Free Website Service disappeared in a puff of smoke and took many websites with them as they got shut down without warning or backups.
Even now, in the depths of night, if you listen carefully, you can still hear the ghostly screams of dead websites echoing through the abandoned internet.
Costs of Bob’s free website
Upgrade to custom domain £6 per month* Custom domain through the service £20* Upgrade to shop service £18 per month* Extra bandwidth £2 per month* £150 paid to freelancer to move the website away from the free service 2 laptops as he threw them out of the window in a rage Untold missed opportunities as customers were turned off by his naff website
(costs based on 3 well known free website services) It’s often cheaper and far better to start as you mean to go on with building a website. Starting out with a free website is a bad idea and can actually end up costing you far more. Invest a little time and money early on to set up on a paid service. You won’t encounter the problems Bob did and you will learn how to use tools that will enable your website to grow and earn as your business develops.
Paying for hosting can start at as little as £2.95 a month and doesn’t come with the limitations of the free services. Need more services, don’t like the customer service or want to upgrade? You’ll be free to move wherever you like. You are in control!
Starting a new website can be tremendously exciting. You’ve got all these plans for how it is going to look and all the products you are going to sell on there. Your wishlist for widgets and doo-dahs is a million miles long and all you can think is that it HAS to look better than that other lady who is doing the same thing as you whose online brand looks oh so shiny and professional.
Your website will shine!
Your customers will fall in love with you and your business and traffic will hit the roof!
If only there were likes on websites too – you’re going to be so popular.
But in going from ‘ooh, I’m going to create me a new website’ to ‘agh, there is so much I need to add on there’, the simple things can often go astray.
Things that you would never forget when introducing yourself at a business meetup.
Things that would ordinarily be the first things you tell people about your business.
Things that business owners leave off their websites time and again and wonder why their new shiny site isn’t doing the biz.
Here is a little list of oopsies that you may have left on the shelf…
The 5 critical essentials you need on your website:
1. Easy to find contact details
If you own a bricks and mortar shop you would want people to be able to see it on the street. If you were located down a side street you would probably post a sign out on the main street to guide people to your shop.
But contact details are something I see hidden or left off websites time and time again. Even for bricks and mortar shops and local services!
People will want to contact you so make it super easy for them.
Places where people expect to find contact details:
At the top left of every page – a great place for a phone number
The last item on the main menu – this is where we expect to see the contact page.
In the footer on every page – a link to the contact page or your address and phone number make your business look open and professional
2. A really simple explanation of who you are, who you help and what you do
Many websites go straight in with the sales pitch. BUY THIS, they scream at you the moment you land on their site.
But many people who land on your website will want to know a bit about you and what you can offer them before they press the big red BUY NOW button. They need to be welcomed in, made to feel at home and offered a selection of your finest before feeling they can buy from you.
Make sure you tell people very clearly who you are, who you help and what you can do for them. Upfront and in plain English.
Where you need this to go:
At the top of your header on your home page
3. Tell people what you want them to do
Your website has a purpose, and it’s not just to sit there looking pretty. When designing your website consider what your objectives are. Are they to get more online sales of your retail products? Build your list? Build a bigger brand presence and build a community?
Each page and post should help you with these objectives.
Ask yourself what now at the end of each page and blog. What is the next step you want your visitor to take? And then tell them to do it! Don’t rely on them to carry on exploring through the menu. Lead them through your website to the good stuff.
Ideas for Calls to action (that can go on a page OR a blog)
A sign-up form for a great freebie
Customers also liked products (just like Amazon)
You might also like (great for beneath blogs to get them to stay on your site)
The good old buy now button (make it stand out!)
Share buttons for social media
Clickable text to share on social media
A clickable selection of your most popular products or services
4. An easy to navigate menu
The menu is not the place to get creative. Blog should be blog. Contact should be contact. Your site visitors don’t want to be kept guessing what each menu item is for, they just want to find what they are looking for.
I keep my main menus to under 10 headline items at the very most. If you have a retail business, the main menu should showcase your selection of product categories. Nice and simple – like a well-organised shop.
You can do all sorts of whizzy things with menus and some of the more whacky sites will just include the hamburger symbol for the menu, even on desktop. But there is nothing more frustrating as a website user as having to search to find the menu. Don’t hide it away in a dark cellar with no stairs and a jaguar guarding the door for the sake of being creative. Make sure it is where people expect it to be.
5. The legal stuff
I know, sigh, this is not the most sexy part of a website. In fact, it’s downright dull and boring. But completely necessary!
What legal type info you need on your site
If you are selling anything online you will need a terms and conditions page, just like selling in a shop
It can be very easy to lose sight of what your website needs to do. Our businesses are constantly growing and changing so we often end up piling all the new stuff on top of the old stuff until it becomes a bit of a confused mess.
Keep your website easy to navigate and everything easy to find.
Make sure you have these basics covered even as you grow.
So, you’ve decided to start an online shop. You’ve decided to GO FOR IT!
This is the year you finally get your business online and selling. This your chance to share your beautiful products with more wonderful customers through the magic of the internet. This is the year you GET IT DONE!
You sit down to create that beautiful shop you have in your mind’s eye and…. nada. The screen looks stubbornly empty. You start scanning google for ideas, tips and walkthroughs to understand what buttons do what. You’ve absolutely NO idea what you are doing and just feel like you are randomly clicking things to find out what they do. AND that drop-dead gorgeous theme template you have chosen needs your pictures, your pages, your products, YOU!
This is where the doubts can creep in.
HOW the hell do you get started? Maybe you aren’t cut out for this? HOW does everyone else make this look SO easy? I SAID I wasn’t techie!!!
But before you consign your online shop plans to that lonely dusty shelf for another year, try going in with a PLAN!
You wouldn’t start a trip of a lifetime without packing the necessities (unless you are one of those who can travel with only a toothbrush and a pair of pants – but even that is preparing a tiny bit). You would know where you are going, how you are going to get there, how long you are staying, what the weather will be like and what clothes/toiletries/ best-loved foods /kitchen sink you’ll need for the trip. Go prepared and you’ll have a great trip.
Plan your new online shop as you would plan that trip. Be prepared and you might just enjoy the journey and love the destination!!
Here are 5 Online Shop Planning Essentials you NEED to pack before starting
1. A map
Otherwise you’ll get lost!!
Grab a pen and paper and jot down what pages your shop needs. You’ll at least need a home page, a blog page, a contact page, a main shop page, an about page and terms and conditions (sorry, that boring page is essential!)
Sort your list of pages into menus. How will your visitors navigate your website. I tend to sketch out 3 menus – the main menu, a top menu (going across the top of the screen) and a footer menu (going across the bottom of the page).
2. Organised packing
Sort your products into categories.
Just as you wouldn’t leave all your products in a heap on the floor of your real-life shop or stall, you shouldn’t lump them all together on your website. Make it easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for.
It’s really easy to add new categories later as you work out what people are looking for. You might want to add categories for gift ideas for special occasions for example. So don’t worry about getting all your categories setup before you start, just get started planning it into some order!
3. Take your pictures
So much of your website is going to be visual that starting off with a good pile of images of your products, your shop and you (!) will really help you to build a fantastic looking online shop quickly.
Take some good quality pics of your products, from all angles and with closeups to show texture and colour. Yes, you can use your phone is you’ve got a good one, but make sure that the end result looks good and not a ‘that’ll do’! People need to get a good impression of your product as if they are standing in your shop.
Take some good quality pics of your shop, stall or workshop, inside and out. People love to know that they are buying from a real person and, if you are making your own products, they love to see behind the scenes.
Squish all photos down to a good data size. I use www.tinypng.com to make sure all my images aren’t enormous and slowing down my websites.
4. Decide on your branding
So you aren’t all mismatched and umming and ahhing about which shade of green looks best on each page.
Pick no more than 5 matching colours and 2 fonts for your branding. Write the hex code (looks like this – #ef54r7) for each colour down before you start. Choose one dominant colour to be your ‘action’ colour for buttons and links.
If you haven’t yet thought about branding or need a refresh, have a look at my easy BrandUP! Branding mini-course to help you create consistency across all your marketing, including your website. (It’s a fun one too!)
5. Write your words
Having your words already written makes building MUCH easier as you can visualise what needs to be said on each page and how it will be best laid out.
Try to collect all these together before starting the build:
Product titles and descriptions (even if you are starting with only a few in each category to begin with)
Your home page title and straplines – to welcome people to your website and tell them what you are all about
Your about page – so much easier to write before thinking about laying it out online
A couple of blogs – it’s hard to build a blog page before you have any blog posts on there!
6. Plan the journey
Sketch out (again, good old paper and pen works well) what you will put on your home page.
Some ideas of what you could include:
Your main product categories with a good description
Links to your most popular products
Links to sale products
Links to new products
A special offer
A sign-up box
Decide where you want visitors to go next after the home page and make it REALLY obvious how to get there!!
Making sure you have everything you need BEFORE you jump into creating your lovely new shop will make your website building experience SO much easier and quicker. You don’t have to have ALL your products ready to go on there but enough to make building your shop enjoyable and looking good from the outset. This will stop the blank screen of doom scenario and before you know it, your online shop will look as good (actually better, because it is yours) that those website templates.
And if you need a guide through the techie gubbins of building your online shop, grab a copy of my Build an Online Shop mini-course, on offer at only £27 until April 20th 2020!
My Hair’s had a rebrand! Find out how it just goes to show that done for you branding is better value than off-the-shelf.
I’ve got a gorgeous auburn shiny brown barnet now! Do you like?
My old hair was making me feel washed out and old 😟 I was even starting to be embarrassed about the state of it and avoiding mirrors. I’d not had time to visit the hairdressers to get it all done ‘properly’, because for me ‘properly done’ took 3 and a half hours. I have A LOT of hair!!!
But every time I’ve tried out an off the shelf hair dye affair, it’s all turned out a bit pants. I always miss a bit, or a lot, I run out of dye because I have a lot of hair and it always looks as if I’ve bought the cheapest hair dye is Poundstretcher I could find. This nearly always resulted in me getting another hair dye for round 2 or booking a hair appointment to get it done properly. Not a classy look.
So, not having the time or having got my arse in gear to get a hairdressers appointment I decided to try out a new type of hair dye online. This one promised to create a special for me hair dye that would take into account my multicoloured, roots down to my ears, current hair colour. It promised that my new hair dye would be created just for me by a stylist who I could contact if I needed to.
I uploaded photos of my hair (cringeworthy at this point). They didn’t laugh! And then sent me through a beautiful package of made for me Hair Dye (called Katherine’s Hair Dye – nice!) with very detailed instructions how to use it to get the exact colour I had chosen online.
What a different experience! I had special gloves, a dye brush like the ones they use at the salon, a skin protector cream, a wipe off any smears on the skin cream, shampoo and conditioner. I’d bought a special dyeing kit that included hair clips, a bowl and everything else I’d need to make this work. I can now give my online stylist feedback on the colour so she knows what to supply next time. Needless to say, I’ve subscribed so I don’t have embarrassing, urgh hair again!
And since then, I’ve been complimented on my new hair by everybody. All were very surprised that I didn’t get it done at a salon! Bingo!!!
You may be wondering why you need the full account of my hair experience. Well, apart from being able to highly recommend the company that creates this lovely hair dye (eSalon), it’s a fantastic story of why off the shelf is more of a quick fix that can go wrong and why done for you can be much better value.
Was the done for you dye more expensive than popping a hair dye from the supermarket in my basket? Yes, but not a lot. And I didn’t run out, I got the result I wanted and didn’t have to go to the salon. Yay!
Grabbing a quick logo or predesigned brand can be great to get you off the ground but it’s not going to get you the results longterm. Throwing something together in Canva for social media is fantastic when building your audience but to up your game, turn them into buying customers and keep you and your message top of mind, it just doesn’t do the job.
I love how my hair dye experience was a mixture of DIY and bespoke. I got exactly what I wanted because it was created for me and I was given the tools and information to make it work.
Every ‘done for you’ branding I create is designed with my client’s business in mind, their audience, their personality, the message they need to shout out to the world.
Every ‘done for you’ website I create is built with SEO (to make the website easy to find) designed around the problems they solve, the results they can get and the answers they can provide.
Every ‘done for you’ website I create is built to make buying simple and easy for their customers.
Every ‘done for you’ website I create is designed to appeal to their ideal customers and match the rest of their gorgeous branding.
AND every client I work with is given the tools to use their own branding and website so they can grow and create spot-on branded marketing for themselves.
Can you buy off the shelf brands and off the shelf website packages? Yes! Is it the same experience? Nope! Get started with off the shelf because getting started is the most important part of business, but don’t limit your potential. Investment in ‘done for you’ is key if you need to grow.
Spend money on a website = invest in your business
Yes, there are loads of fan dabby dozey FREE ways you can market your business online. Networking on social media is a brilliant free resource and one of the major ways I have built my own business over the years. Emarketing can be completely free and gets you right up front and personal (ooh er) with your most interested customers. Even creating a website can be free – a simple wordpress.com website or a free Wix website won’t cost you anything to set up (as long as you don’t use your own domain name and use their free templates).
But (you knew that one was coming!), the free stuff is great … to a point. After that, you are missing out on oodles of opportunities.
Here are 5 ways that a beautifully crafted website can boost you beyond what free can do…
1 Help your crowd
My Facebook page is packed full of tips and advice in posts and videos but if I had a question it is not easy to search and find the answers there. My Instagram videos, posts and stories can be seen, but beyond a few highlights aren’t easy to explore. Youtube hosts videos but for people searching for an answer to their question, it won’t just show your stuff – you are competing for attention.
Designing a website to host all your content is a must if you want to help your crowd. A well-crafted website can guide visitors to the right information and then point them to read more, or sign up to receive more help with a freebie or newsletter, or even buy something! Once they are on your website, they are reading only your stuff – no distractions.
You can not only guide them to buy, but you are helping them find what they need. A good website developer will help you design your customer’s journey through your website.
2. Brand Consistency
This is the part that the free websites really fall down on. Using a pre-made website template means that you are shoehorning your brand into something that wasn’t designed with your business in mind.
At best it can seem disjointed or confusing to people clicking through to the site from your social media as if they have clicked through to the wrong place, at worst it can look unprofessional and put your customers off.
A specially designed for you website will make your brand shine and boost your business, not harm it. A beautifully branded website sends a clear message about the quality of your business, your products and services. A beautifully branded website will be perfectly aligned with your core message and communicate just the right things to help you serve the pants off your crowd.
3. Be discovered
Yup, the free stuff is great for being found on social media but if you don’t have a website you can’t take advantage of boosting your own Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – you are reliant on algorithms and time-consuming networking. Since 93% of online searches start with a search engine, that is an awful lot of traffic you are missing out on.
Great SEO should be a key part of your website and there are some fantastic tools to make sure each post and page is doing its bit to get you noticed. All that content you have produced can be working away for you in the background, helping new and old customers find what they need and BUY FROM YOU!
4. Make selling easy, make upselling even easier
We are in business to sell things – whether they are physical products, services or teaching, CIC, LTD company or freelancer, we don’t just run a business for the fun of it.
There are lots of ways to sell, a simple paypal link from Facebook, Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Infusionsoft (Keap now apparently), Teachable etc. But they will charge you commission on sales or require a hefty monthly subscription fee for the service or take people off your platform and breaking up that nice smooth journey to buy. A well-designed website can guide people to buy, all consistently branded up to give your customers confidence in your service.
5. No website is a no no
One of the first things I do when buying anything, particularly but not exclusively, online is to check out the website. If they don’t have a website or if it looks naff, then that is a HUGE turnoff. ‘Proper’ businesses are expected to have a ‘proper’ website and if you don’t then you can’t be a ‘proper’ business – at least, that is the impression we give. Don’t give that impression!
If you are just starting out or are concentrating on getting your bricks and mortar business selling then don’t panic. A little free website built with a free template can be a good way to say hello to online. Getting chatting on social media, networking and building your crowd is more important at this stage and branding up a beautifully crafted website can come later when your message is clearer and your crowd is raring to hear more from you.