Do a search for free websites or free hosting on Google and you’ll get 191,000,000 or more links to websites that offer this so called deal. If you are planning to setup a family site, with the latest news, photos of the kids etc, or you’re a genealogist and would like to post your family tree and information for other genealogists, and all the traffic you want or need is your family, friends and whatever strangers you happen to meet and would like to send to your URL, then by all means take advantage of their offer. Because that is probably all the traffic you are going to get to visit your site. However if you are seriously considering becoming an internet entrepreneur, find yourself a reputable web design company and an affordable hosting plan. Too expensive? Not at all. Actually, the start up costs for an internet business is usually less than a hundred dollars (this figure is based on the average cost of a domain, a professionally designed website and set up fees).
Naturally custom built websites would be substantially more expensive but, unless you require the addition of unique features in order to manage your business, your most cost effective choice would be a professionally designed website.
There are three factors which I encourage my clients to keep in mind when selecting a website for their online business venture. The deciding factors when selecting your web design should be the ease of navigation and the suitability of the page layout to your content. Customers come to your site searching for a product, service, or information. If your site does not provide easy access to the content they want, they not going to hang around just to admire the design elements of your website. By selecting a layout suitable for the content you intend to place on your web pages, whether its product images and descriptions or informational content, like this article for example, you can save a lot of time and–if you intend to have your support staff setup your content– money as well.
The third factor is the basic web design. While many experts, and myself as well, believe customers are sub-consciously motivated by colors, (red encourages them to take action, blue promotes a sense of trust, yellow and orange, a sense of well being or contentment, etc), the basic design elements of your website such as the background colors, images, bullets, flash etc, are really a matter of personal preference.
Your free provider offers templates you may use to create your website. However, before you go to the trouble, read the fine print. Those templates are the property of the free provider. You may only use them as long as you use the free provider’s services. If you decide to move your site to another hosting provider in future, that lovely site you worked so hard to design isn’t going anywhere bucko. On the other hand, once you purchase a professionally designed website, it’s yours. You can move it to Timbuktu if you’re so inclined.
A good support staff is an extremely valuable if not totally indispensable resource for a new website owner. Unfortunately it is also a resource that very few free website providers offer.
Would you like to know how to determine whether a web design company has a good support staff before you purchase your website? Simply email the seller these two simple questions.
1. How do I setup links on my site?
2. What software will I need to manage my site?
If you don’t get a response to your questions within 24 to 48 hours, look elsewhere for your website. If the only answers you receive are an offer to setup the links for you for a small fee and a list of expensive software products, look elsewhere for your website.
A good support staff will respond to your request within 24 to 48 hours. A good support staff will offer to setup links on your site for you for a small fee–and provide you with a list of links to free software you can use to manage your site. The list will probably include some optional software products you may find useful for the management of your site. The key words here are free and optional. An excellent support staff will tell you up front whether a product is optional or not.
The two software products you absolutely must have to manage your website are a good text editor and FTP program. Any support staff worth their salt will tell you that there are several free text editors with WISIWIG (what you see is what you get) capabilities available on the internet. These editors are an excellent choice for those of you who don’t know HTML. The staff will also tell you that there you can get free FTP programs as well. An excellent support staff will offer advice similar to the advice given in the following paragraph.
With a good WISIWIG text editor, you can easily set up your links even if you don’t know HTML. Refer to the help section for “hyperlinks” in your WISIWIG text editor to learn how to use this feature on your editor. By the way, if you don’t know HTML, it’s actually an extremely easy language to learn. There are free HTML tutorials available on the internet. You can learn more about it here (www.tizag.com/htmlT/).
A domain is an extremely valuable asset; you should most definitely have one of your very own. Without a domain of your own, you may as well save yourself the time and trouble of trying to start an online business at all. The average cost of a .com domain is approx $ 8.95 per year. You’ll find that some web design companies will include your domain with your professionally designed website at no extra charge.
If you are planning to use a free provider, then don’t bother purchasing a domain for your new site unless you intend to shell out the provider’s membership fee. Most free providers provide you with two membership options–free or paid. If you choose the free membership option, the provider will set up your URL for you website like this: FREE PROVIDER DOMAIN/YOUR USER ID, or even worse, like this: FREE PROVIDER DOMAIN/DIR/YOUR USER ID. Settle for either one these URLs, and you’ll be lucky to even get your site indexed by the search engines and directories at all. You see, many search engines and directories will not accept your website submissions if your URL contains a forward slash. Some major search engines and directories categorically refuse to accept submissions for websites hosted with free providers at all. Google rarely indexes sites hosted by free providers, and even more rarely gives the site a ranking greater than 0/10.
Even if you are lucky enough to land yourself a few customers for your site, the inclusion of a free provider’s domain in your URL can also have an adverse affect on your ability to get repeat customers for your site. Yourdomain.com is fairly easy for your customer to recall. Your provider domain.com/your user id would be extremely difficult for them to remember since they have probably never done business with your provider. .
Look at it this way. Your URL is the name and address of your online company. If you were operating a brick and mortar business which name and address would you want to print on your business cards, forms and advertisements? Your Free Provider’s Company Name/ Your User ID, we’re located inside Free Provider Company’s premises. Or Your Company Name, we’re located at 123 Main Street.
Of course your free provider will be more than happy to setup your website under your own domain–provided you pay their membership fee and purchase the domain yourself to boot. Sort of defeats your purpose of saving a few bucks, doesn’t it?
Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of your hosting plan. They are not providing free hosting out of the goodness of their hearts, my friend. Read that fine print again. The majority of free providers offer limited amounts of web space, bandwidth and features. Better check the number of web pages you’re allowed to setup under your free account while you’re at it, because some providers set a ridiculously low limit. If you exceed whatever limits your free provider allows, you’ll have to pay their membership fee and/or purchase one of their hosting plans.
Paid hosting providers offer you a choice of plans tailored to fit your needs. If your needs change, you simply upgrade to the next plan. Although prices vary, hosting plans range from 8.95 to 14.95 per month, based on the amount of space, bandwidth and features you want. I’ve found some free providers who offer small quantities of additional memory for as much as 5 bucks each. Choose that option and you may find yourself paying twice as much for hosting as a paid provider charges for the best hosting plan they offer.
Again, you need to make sure your hosting provider offers a good support staff. So before purchasing a hosting plan, email them a couple of simple questions, such as; how do I set my DNS (Domain Name Servers) and will you set up my site for me? A good hosting company offers 24/7 support. Their support staff will respond within 24 hours and give you two options to both questions. A good support staff offer to set up your DNS at no charge and setup your site for a small fee An excellent support staff will also give you simple instructions on how to do these tasks yourself. Even if you have no intentions of doing these tasks yourself, you may want to learn how to do some tasks yourself in the future. You should make sure that if and when you do, your support staff will be willing to provide you with the information you need should you require it.
If you are determined to succeed in the online marketplace, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you start out right. Before you leap on that free website, free hosting offer, do your research. Read the fine print and see if the deal they are offering will meet your needs now and calculate the cost that you could incur if you have to exceed the allotment of services they provide for free in the future. If you want your own domain, then add the cost of the provider’s membership too. Talley the costs of “free provider’s services”, then set it aside and shop around a bit. Visit a web design company offering professionally designed websites for less than a hundred dollars and see what they have to offer. Take a look at the hosting plans available with all the features you need. Now, compare the costs of both options. Keep in mind that, as with any business, you will eventually have to invest a little money if you truly want to succeed.
While we’re on the subject of money, please be very, very careful when it comes to investing your hard earned dollars. Sadly, many of the businesses deals you’ll find offering your own website and free hosting are at best affiliate sites or multi-level marketing schemes. Most major search engines and directories will not index these sites. If their sales pitch includes claims that you can make hundreds or even thousands of dollars within a very short time with no effort you’ve found yourself a full fledged scam.
You can make money on the internet, but just as with any business venture, you are going to have to invest some time and money in order to achieve your goals. The secret to being a successful entrepreneur is investing your time and money wisely.
Loretta Wright is the CEO of [http://www.topcat-web-design.com] and also serves as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for [http://www.topcat-hosting.com] She also oversees the operations for seven other websites she currently owns.