The purpose of this article is to identify the pros and cons of a small business developing free versus a custom website. Based on a survey done in 2013 Inc.com has highlighted that over 50% of all small businesses don’t take the time to invest in a business website primarily because they don’t want to expand their business or they find it a waste of time. The mentioned reasons may be justified in the minds of the small business owner but the responses highlighted that an in-depth review of the total cost to ownership and its benefits needed to be thoroughly explored.
What is a Website?
A business website broken down into its simplest terms is simply an online book with structured pages that are interlinked using keyword phrases about the business. The most common of these pages includes an about us page, a contact us page, a careers page, a product or service page, as well as a list posts of recent activities or contributions made by the company usually displayed in a chronological order. Anything published online whether it’s on a free or paid website service is crawled then indexed by search engines such as google.com, yahoo.com and bing.com. These search engines usually give credit to the website to which the content, images or videos which was crawled first and all other instances on the web is considered to be duplicate data.
Pros and Cons of a Free Website
As both a website developer and advisor, I have seen websites vary in prices starting from the free services to the expenses running into the thousands of dollars. The free drag and drop website services provided by companies such as wix.com and weebly.com are great. These free services provide their users with the ability to develop stunning websites within a few minutes to hours without having the need to know anything about programming languages sucha as HTML ( Hyper Text Mark up Language), Java or CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Another major advantage to using these free services is they are already a brand with daily visitors and therefore a new business can benefit almost instantly from new visitors once pages are developed.
However these free services are not without their drawbacks. If a new user were to read the service agreements they would realize that these free services usually assume ownership of the information you place on their platform. This allows the provider of the free services the rights to data mine the website pages visitors or republish small business owner’s images, content and other information without permission. Even if someone argues that this a negligible cost for using a free service shows they have not calculated their personal costs such as time taken to develop the free website, cost of images or even cost of developing content for their website. Essentially the contributor is indirectly on behalf of the free service provider.
An additional drawback is if the free service platform were to be discontinued due to the company falling into receivership or change of policy then business users are subjected to these conditions allowing for days, months or even years of hard work to be lost.
All these just mentioned has a cost variant frequently overlooked. Consequently people who actually use these free services are contributing to the reputation growth as well as perceived dollar value of these platforms. After years of use and data mining these sites may eventually sell for millions to billions of dollars.
Pros and Cons of a Customized Website
An advantage to a custom developed website, the user has ability to contribute to the look and feel. The downside to having a custom built website is the cost attached to it. This cost can be attributed to form conceptualization phases to the actual development and hand over process. The usual cost for custom designed website includes the purchasing a domain name that identifies the business for example supporttips.com, then purchase hosting from reliable hosting providers such as hostgator.com or xsmarketing.com, a content writer and a reliable developer who can translate their needs into a practical and affordable website. A custom small business website should range no more than 350 to 600 USD for a few pages. If however the desired functionality is complex in nature then prices can be increased.
The main point to consider when developing a business website is to attribute a cost from idea to development of the website. This in turn will be attributed to the (TCO) Total cost of Ownership of the business thus allowing it to be viewed as an asset of the company rather than an undervalued item. This means that the business should not consider a website as a mere display of words and pictures but view it as an opportunity to be branded online with proprietary content.
In conclusion both free and paid options have their advantages and disadvantages but it will definitely be a benefit to the business to use a hybrid of free and customized versions. It is definitely a benefit to use the free version to drive traffic to customized website with the proprietary information about the website. This will contribute to the custom website organically growing as a building an increasing online presence.