The claims sound great: "Create your stunning website. It's free." "Create a Free Website, Online Store, or Blog." "A simple & elegant website builder (and it's free)." And given that this is a blog about web design and development, and these sorts of companies are in direct competition with us, you might be thinking that all I'm trying to do is run down the competition to make us look better.
But if that was the case, I probably would've done this a long time ago. The only reason I'm writing this now is because the number of problems I've seen on sites built with these free website builder platforms has reached a tipping point where I feel I really need to say something to prevent people who might be considering using one making what will ultimately be an expensive mistake.
Because what these website builder platforms don't tell you is that…
They're terrible for SEO
SEO, search engine optimisation, the process of making sure your site can be found in search engines when people type in keywords relating to your business.
Basically if you build your site with one of these platforms, you can pretty much forget about anyone ever finding you via a search engine.
The only way they'll find your site is if they already know your domain or do a search on the business name itself. Which isn't much use if you're trying to attract customers who may not know about you yet.
To be fair, the SEO problems these sites have are only partly the fault of the platform itself; the other part is that the people creating the sites don't know what they don't know, and so miss out some crucial steps. The sort of things that someone who does web design/development for a living wouldn't forget.
Nowhere to be found in search results
To give some examples of the sort of problems I've encountered:
- Doing a search for a local takeaway recently I searched for "Business Name Suburb Name". I could find a link to their Facebook page but their own site appeared nowhere in the results.
- Last year I rebuilt a site whose business name was so unique that a link to its site should've come up in first place in search engine results. Before, when the site was powered by a free website builder service, it appeared nowhere. After moving it off that service, it is now at #1 as it should be.
- If you were to take a random sentence from any website and paste it into the search field of a search engine wrapped in quote marks, e.g. "this is the phrase I'm searching for", you should get a link to the page you just copied it from. For one of these particular website builders, that doesn't happen. That means sites on this platform are pretty much invisible to search queries. In one example I looked at recently, I did the above test and got several results to other sites where the business has created profiles, but a link to their own site which had the same piece of text was nowhere to be found.
If you read through the promotional copy on some of these sites, they will try to persuade you that they do have all the SEO bases covered, but in my experience of them from sites actually live on the Internet, those claims just don't stack up.
More and more we're being approached by people who have started out using a free website builder but want to get their site rebuilt because of poor search engine performance.
The cost is…?
For some, being found in search engine results isn't a priority, they view their website as an extension of their business card, something to display extended information about their business for people who already know about them.
But those are in the minority. Most businesses want to attract new customers who may know what product or service they want, but don't know of the business itself.
So while it may not cost you anything to set up a site on a free website builder initially (other than your own time), the cost is that you're potentially losing business if no-one finds your site. And if you're spending time on an on-going basis updating the site, if no-one ever sees it, that's time wasted.
So if you're a business owner who already has a site built on one of these platforms that's not performing, or you're considering using one but would like to talk about alternatives, drop us a line.