In today’s world, having a website is the most basic form of marketing anyone can have. I’d go so far as to say a website has replaced the business card in your marketing toolbelt. A website is cheap in the scheme of things, and can be cheaper than that business card when you look at how easily it can be updated and the long term impact having a good site can have. Can you still find people charging upwards of $10,000 for a ‘basic’ website? Sure. And if you’re a multibillion dollar company, that’s probably an investment worth making.
But there are affordable options and solutions for everyone out there, from the author looking to start their platform, the sales person looking to connect with existing and potential clients, all the way up to the small business owner needing to jazz up their online presence.
Today, I want to look at the pros and cons of free website services, concentrating on three very popular offerings; WordPress.com, Blogger.com and Weebly.com. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but provide solid platforms for folks working with a tight budget.
The WordPress software is called a CMS platform, or Content Management System. It supports third-party software packages in the form of plug-ins, and custom themes via their robust theme system. WordPress actually has two sides; a non-profit software suite distributed through WordPress.org, and a commercial version available at WordPress.com. The differences between the two are many, but it comes down to ‘do it yourself’ versus ‘we’ll do it for you’.
With WordPress.com, you don’t install anything, don’t have to pay for hosting, don’t have to do updates to the software or any of the other technical things that can be a barrier for some folks. You visit the site, sign up for an account, and you can be blogging within minutes. 54.5 Million Blogs are currently hosted on WordPress.com.
Can a WordPress.com blog be my website? Absolutely. WordPress offers a lot of options ‘under the hood’, including the ability to create a home page people see when visiting the site, rather than automatically taking them to ‘the blog’. Just look at the site you’re on right now – I built it using WordPress and the home page is a welcome page, not the blog. They even offer up a tutorial on how to make this happen over on WordPress.com.
Here’s a WordPress.com site:
Pros of WordPress.com: Free to setup and host (basic site), lots of basic options to play with, social media integration, tracks traffic, links, etc., little or no maintenance required, easy to update and maintain, live within minutes.
Cons of WordPress.com: You are limited to a subdomain of WordPress.com, ie, http://mygreatsite.wordpress.com. If you wanted http:///www.mygreatsite.com, you would have to upgrade to a paid hosting plan for that. You are also limited in the themes you can choose from and, again, you can expand the list by upgrading to a hosted plan or purchasing a ‘premium theme’. Same goes for plug-ins and widgets, you are limited to a small number of each unless you upgrade. Last, any real customization of your theme will cost you $30 a year.
Like WordPress, Blogger.com offers a quick and easy setup, free hosting, themes/templates, widgets and plug-ins (called gadgets). Since Blogger is part of Google, they also offer integration with Google’s suite of tools, like Analytics, AdSense, YouTube and the Google+ social media platform. Everything is tied together through your Google Profile (which you create).
Unlike WordPress.com, Blogger doesn’t have a premium package – it’s all free. This also means that what you see is what you get. There are a lot of bells and whistles, so getting your site up and running quickly can happen, but you might find yourself delving into the different areas to see what’s available, slowing down your progress.
Here’s a Blogger.com powered site:
Pros of Blogger.com: Easy integration with your other Google products, plenty of options to customize your theme, 100% free.
Cons of Blogger.com: Slightly more complicated on the setup, theme options can be overwhelming for a new user, I am not a fan of Google’s help documents and Blogger, sadly, isn’t an exception to this – while writing this post, I went round and round within their knowledgebase trying to find things only to come across dead ends or links to videos that had been removed. Disappointing.
My next pick is definitely more of a business oriented site. Like the WordPress.com above, Weebly offers both a free and premium version. Features include a drag and drop website builder, custom themes, blogs, image galleries, image editing, stats, etc. Sign up is free.
As for other costs, well, they don’t list any. For me, that’s always a speed bump. Two kinds of companies don’t list pricing; the one’s that don’t charge anything at all, and the ones who charge so much that they’re afraid to advertise those prices because it’ll turn people off. Most ‘free’ sites subsidize the site by having ads of some sort – Weebly says they don’t do that (they do have a small footer ad on every site).
After a little digging around, I did come up with some pricing: Basic Plan/Site is free with the above mentioned footer ad. The Pro plan will cost you $3.99 per month if you sign up for a whole year. (The prices show up only after you sign up for the free version) There are discounts if you sign up for multiple years. Domain names (if you want your own http:///www.mygreatsite.com) is an extra fee, which isn’t any different from the other services mentioned above.
Here’s an example of a Weebly.com Site:
All of these services have pros and cons to consider. When looking for a website service, remember to keep in mind not only what you need right now, but what you might need later on and choose the service that can best accommodate both.