Is anything Free?
I must be confused, I know. Maybe I’ve been doing too many kettlebell swings this month and I’ve started to get a bit loopy. What the heck does Free vs “Free” mean? How can something free be against something free? Well in this case, I’m talking about free website builders (like Weebly and Wix). Also, so there’s no confusion, I’ll also talk a little about WordPress.com vs WordPress.org. This is a highly debated topic on the web and doing a Google search will bring up hundreds of comparisons. I’m writing this as a response to some emails I received regarding this topic.
First let me clarify about WordPress. When I say “WordPress”, I’m talking about WordPress.org and not the .com offering. While the .com offering is a great start for blogs and even has a paid option for more enhancements, I’m talking about the “self-hosted” version, WordPress.org. It should hopefully become more clear as I delve into this topic further below.
First let’s discuss the first free options I mention above, Wix and Weebly. Many people (millions actually) have signed up for accounts through these services. Both of these services are hosted by the respective companies on their servers and both offer a plethora of options to customize your site. While that means their offerings are indeed free to use, there are some drawbacks you may want to consider. The first is advertising, and I’m not talking about your advertising. With either of these choices, to make it free, your site will have other people’s ads on YOUR site. I’m not sure about you, but if I have someone come to my site I don’t want other people’s web advertisement taking people away from my site (see below).
If I have someone on my site, I want to people to stay and, hopefully, contact me to help them. If you’re OK with other people’s ads, I’m not here to tell you to stop. Well maybe I am, but I digress. Another key point to consider with these products is hosting. As I mentioned above, these free services are on their servers, which leaves them in control of your information. Should you decide you’d like a change or you’ve grown to large for what these services have to offer, you may find it’s not so easy. Weebly has export functionality, but you won’t find it so easy to get all those blog posts and pictures back that are still stored in a Weebly server. In the case of Wix, forget it, as they don’t currently offer any way to export any site information.
So what is my preferred way to get started? The self hosted WordPress.org. But John, doesn’t this mean it’s not free if I have to find a host? My answer to that is yes and no. Yes, you will need to find a web host, but there are many options out there — some better then others. While it would be hard to find one that doesn’t, the host you do decide on should allow you to run PHP and therefore allow you to run WordPress.org (which is open-source and free). Unlike the other 2 offerings, WordPress is “portable”. Should I decide my hosting isn’t cutting it, I can move my domain and all of my content.
WordPress.org also allows your business more flexibility over time. Out of the box, WordPress is pretty vanilla. Unlike Weebly and Wix, there is no drag and drop editor to make your site look the way you want it. Like them, there are many theme options and once you get the look you want WordPress excels at customization and extensibility. Should you have an e-commerce site there are great options (mostly paid, however) that can help you accomplish this task. As a content management system for your business, WordPress is the leader in this regard. While all 3 have a large community, there are many companies that have a vested interest in WordPress to make sure it stays a viable option. With 1 in 5 of the top 1 million websites running WordPress (like NY Times, CNN, etc.), I only see WordPress growing.
No, it’s not without it’s faults. Out of the box, you may be confused about where to start, but there’s a plethora of information, both free and paid, to help you figure out how to customize your site. Don’t want to waste your time or you’d rather speed up the process, then you can always contact your favorite WordPress expert to help reduce to time to get started.
What it really comes down to with any of these options is what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you see your business growing? Are you planning on selling something? Does the software you’re using accomplish what you want now and will it grow with your company needs? It’s better to establish this upfront and decide which option will be the best for your business now and in the future. I know which “free” direction I chose.