The Myth of the “Free” website

There are lots of companies offering cheap websites right now. Many of them offer "FREE" websites that they say you can easily build and update yourself, with no coding or knowledge of HTML required. Sounds like an incredible deal, right?

But there’s a huge catch – you do know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Your free website, hosted on their web server is probably going to contain advertising – either with their branding, or banner ads paid for by their REAL customers – the advertisers.

Many hosts offer you a way to build your own website using their templates and applications, and for around $20 a month for hosting they will get rid of their branding or ads. They offer “professional templates” and a content manager (it may be their own branded one, or just WordPress or Joomla,) a few plug-ins, maybe e-commerce if you are lucky, and very little else.

Many low-priced web hosts also offer WordPress – which is another popular way to build your own site. Of course, there are some security issues with WordPress - spammers like it a lot, because it's so easy to inject with Malware that will infect your visitors' computers. And depending on which version your host uses, the template you want to use may not work with the version they have, and if you have no idea how to install a template, very likely your site is going to end up looking like every other WordPress site you’ve ever seen.

Now if you are particularly web-savvy, and you don’t mind spending some real time on your site to make it look great, are good with graphics to customize the out-of-the-box template, know how to write your content so search engines will love you, can take some great photographs of your business and product, know how to edit a CSS style sheet – in short – if you’re already a fairly competent writer, web designer, photographer and graphic artist - one of these solutions might be a perfect fit for you.

If you aren’t any of those things, you could probably still pull off a reasonable-looking website – that still looks like a lot of other sites out there. And the biggest catch is, you can’t move the site anywhere else if you are unhappy with their service, because you probably won’t have access to your site’s files, and in fact, if you decide to leave, you’ll very likely have to start from scratch because it was built on their proprietary platform.

And even if the site is free, and they say they’ll build it for you and maintain it for free, and it has no advertising and no branding, and they just want a per month hosting fee, how much does it really cost you?

One local company offers to build you a free website if you sign a contract for hosting at $99 a month. That works out to roughly $1,200 and that’s just for the first year. And naturally, it will cost you $1,200 for every year you have your site hosted with them after that.

So, how much would it cost if hypertext built your website? Here’s an pricing example based on a couple of real-world sites we built recently. These are typical small business sites – we’ve certainly done projects that were far more complicated cost a lot more. But these sites are comparable in scope to the type of website you can expect to get with the “free website” guys. One was for a consulting firm, and another was for a bed & breakfast. They are both pretty simple sites, the B&B has a vacancy calendar and request form, and the other is a 5-page site with a specially designed slide show. Both sites came in around $700 and cost their owners about $7 a month to host and approximately $15 a year for their domain registration.

Over a year – the cost of one of these sites comes to about $800 (plus HST.) If you add in a couple of hours worth of maintenance and updating, that comes to under $1000. You’ve just saved yourself $200 and change. And that’s just in the first year.

So, in this scenario, on top of ACTUALLY saving yourself some money, you’ve also gotten a custom designed site with no hassles, no work or time spent on your part other than getting your information together, and it’s a site that was properly built and maintained by someone who REALLY knows what they're doing.

With hypertext there are no long-term contracts to sign and we do not charge a monthly fee or retainer. We do not re-sell domain names or web hosting. If you want to pack up and change hosting service providers, or even decide to hire a new webmaster, you are totally free to do so. We’ll even move your site for you.

$200 and change