Building a website: Free sites vs designed sites

08th Oct 2015

We occasionally get new enquiries from clients where they raise the question about free sites - meaning those online services where you can build your own website yourself for free.

So why should you pay a web designer/developer to build a site for you, when it's allegedly so easy to build one yourself with little/no knowledge about it? Good question.

Building a site on a free service might even suit you, if you're able to turn a blind eye to the telltale signs that your website is built on a free service.

1) Domain name

On a free service, the default web address (URL) of your website will usually be a subdomain of their own domain (e.g. This doesn't look very professional, especially if you want to advertise your URL on your marketing literature, business cards, vehicle grpahics etc. Without your own custom domain name, it says to the client that you're not even prepared to part with a small amount of money to attempt to look professional and established.

So, tip #1 is to invest in your own custom domain name (e.g. At the very least, you'll be able to redirect your domain name to your 'free' website, so you can at least advertise your custom URL instead of the free one.

The advantages of your own domain name include having your own custom URL for your website, as well as professional-looking email addresses (e.g., plus if you decide to move your hosting elsewhere you can point your domain name to the new host very easily.

Contact us to help you find an available domain name to register. 

2) Adverts on your website

Most free web services aren't just providing everyone with free websites because they have nothing better to do. They've created these services because they're a business themselves, and they want to make money! So generally speaking, a free website will come with unwanted add-ons that you can't get rid of - usually in the form of adverts appearing on your website, either as pop-ups, or a banner area at the top or bottom, or a column of ads down one side. The free web service will actually be earning money from those adverts when people click on them. To get rid of those adverts, you'll need to pay a subscription fee.


3) Website templates

You'll usually get a good selection of templates/themes to start building your website with. Just choose a template you like and away you go. Some of them are customisable in terms of colours etc, so you could indeed choose a layout and make it fit your company's colour scheme. That's great - but how many other people have chosen that same template? The chances are, several people already have built their website using the same template - so already your website is not 'unique' as such. This may or may not matter to you, but just be aware that search engines are getting more clever nowadays, and they're looking for ways to distinguish and reward good/genuine sites in their results from sites with duplicated code and content. So in time it might become even more of a concern to present a unique website if search engine ranking is of importance to you.

A 'professionally designed' website will be unique to you and your business. This is where we come in. We would design a look and layout for your website, tailor made to your requirements.

4) Custom features / programming

Free web services often provide a good selection of pre-built add-ons too (e.g. slideshows, enquiry forms, site navigation etc), but what if you need to create a feature that performs a very specific function that isn't within the scope of the add-ons provided? (e.g. you need visitors to be able to create an account in your online database, and allow them to upload files, but only specific file types; or you need a sortable list etc). On a free service the chances are you'd probably need to forget those features and just use whatever tools are provided for you. But when a site is built for you professionally, when discussing your requirements with your developer you should be able to mention all the features you'd like and these can be built into the programming plan. Custom features will of course require specific programming, so be prepared to spend that little bit extra if what you need isn't so straightforward to write for you.

5) Hosting

Often misunderstood, or not given proper consideration, the quality of your web hosting plays a pretty important role in your website and how it performs - both in terms of speed and also in terms of SEO.
There are various different levels of hosting. At the lower end there's 'shared' or 'resold' hosting, where your website could in fact be on the same server as a pornography site (possibly harming your potential SEO / page rank); or it could be sharing a server with another site that is resource hungry and is sucking the life out of your website's potential operating speed. Unfortunately, being the cheapest end of hosting, there's no control over who/what your website is sharing with. It's not all bad, and serves it's purpose well most of the time, but if you REALLY care about where your site is hosted, shared hosting can be like a game of Russian Roulette.

Then, as we increase the quality we get to VPS hosting (Virtual Private Server). This is often a popular choice for clients who have a more demanding site than a simple 'brochure' site, or they have specific requirements and need access to the server's operating system. Much more affordable than a dedicated server, it's like having your own dedicated server, but you're sharing hardware resources with other VPS's, and you're guaranteed a set amount of memory/RAM, disc space, CPU power etc. The VPS will have it's own IP address and you have control over what sites are hosted on the VPS.

A dedicated server is where you have the entire hardware to yourself, and access to everything, so you're not sharing anything with anyone. Often the choice of large companies, these are the best way to keep your site running at it's best, but they do come with a much larger price tag.

6) Support

A professionally built website by TRM Web Design comes with customer support (support available during office hours), where we'll be happy to talk you through how to perform common tasks in your CMS and help you understand and learn. This can be done over the telephone or by email, it's up to you how. We treat all support requests as important, and aim to answer everything as fully as possible without using 'techno speak' where possible. For more bespoke or unusual issues that need further investigation, we aim to get back to you as soon as possible, hopefully with a solution in hand. 

Although the 'free service' websites may say they offer support, what they actually provide you with is access to a library of articles on their website that try to answer as many common questions/issues as possible, so that you can try to resolve your query yourself. What they're trying to avoid is having to pay staff to field hundreds, even thousands, of support queries individually. After all, they're already giving you a free website, so they can't afford to give you free 'human' support as well! Again, a subscription to their service may open up the possibility of using a manned support service, but it's worth checking first before parting with any money!


So, just on those points alone, your "free" website isn't looking so "free" if you care about what you really want, and how it's presented to the public. We're not knocking those free website services as they do provide some great facilities on the face of it - we just want to open your eyes before you decide to invest hours of valuable time building a free site.

At TRM Web Design, we're more than happy to discuss any sized project with you. Just give us a call or drop us a line.