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Do free websites really work?

Recently we’ve been looking at whether we really need content amid a culture of ephemeral, disposable communication? We now dig deeper and ask how we get all this new content out to the world. Having looked at whether we really still need websites, we concluded that they still form the bedrock of digital strategy.

We need websites, but we also need content: around 94% of all search traffic goes to organic results over paid ads and “a whopping 90% of consumers said that authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support.”

So content will increase your organic reach, but because is it also hard to do, companies really focus on making sure that content can be found.

When considering budgets, it is always tempting to make decisions based purely on cost. If a provider offers you access to their platform for free, then why not?

Issues to consider when choosing a web design and hosting service

First, we highlight some issues to look out for when considering website design and hosting.

  1. Domain names – do you want a unique name, or can you live with having Weebly or Wix in middle of your domain name? It’s like using a Hotmail address for your business, so it’s not for some.


  1. Adverts – will the platform insert adverts on your site in return for free hosting? Ads can take the form of either headers (visibly intrusive), scrolling (just irritating), or inserted randomly amid the content (incompatible with your content).


  1. Long/unreadable URLs – some providers will not allow free reign when choosing URLs. Some will include unwanted words/terms (some will inert the word ‘free’).


  1. Bandwidth limits – some providers restrict the bandwidth permitted (as do some broadband providers). If you get any amount of traffic you will need an unlimited agreement.


  1. Fixed templates – look out for fixed templates that don’t allow you to move buttons/search bars, or size up one section compared to another.


Having considered some of the issues to be aware of, we now move on to suggest the key services that you should look for when choosing a design and hosting provider. If the provider cannot offer these services then you shouldn’t be surprised if your site doesn’t produce the expected results.


3 key services that will deliver results for your website


  1. Design – Design is the bedrock of your web-platform. It is not just about stylish or pretty pictures. Yes, it should attract attention, but should also include some key processes and some key terms:


  • Project specification – initial meetings with your designer should map out the specification for your project. Starting without one, is similar to rushing out on a family road trip without a plan, and we all know what happens then….


  • Wire-frame design – also referred to as screen blueprint, page schematic or information hierarchy. A good wire-frame design will ensure that pages are best arranged to achieve what they need to, in a logical and searchable manner. It also applies good SEO principles, ensuring that they don’t conflict or compete against each other.


  • Functional tests: All your brilliant content needs to be displayed correctly once the site is complete. Your site should be comprehensively tested on a variety of browsers and devices to pick out any anomalies before going live.


  • Speed tests. All pages should be tested to ensure that they are downloadable in 3-5 seconds. Any longer than this and customers will lose patience or assume your site has crashed and search elsewhere.


  • Fully searchable. The site should allow access for web crawlers (or bots) so that search engines can index it. The index is the basis of search engine listings. If bots cannot search, the page will not be indexed and won’t be listed at.


  • Digital analytical tools – Google Analytics and Web Consol should be enabled with some key reports so that you can analyse how your site is performing. These should include (amongst others): organic levels, bounce rates, average time on site and average number of page views


  1. Service level Agreement (SLA)An SLA ensures that essential elements are in place that will keep your site working for you (remember Seen-it-all-Si?). It will detail what services you can expect from your web designer and ensure that any issues are dealt with in a timely manner. It should cover at a minimum:


  • Updates – of security software and plug-ins: These will keep your site fully functioning and safe. With the implementation of GDPR, your obligation to keep customer details safe with up-to-date security software, should be widely understood.


  • Full testing: Every aspect of your site should be fully tested, once complete, to ensure everything works as designed. Malfunctioning pages will guarantee increased bounce rates…


  • Protection and backup: Server and off server monthly back up, disaster recovery and hack-fix. All of these functions will protect you and your customers. GDPR has highlighted your legal obligation to protect customer data, which makes complete sense anyway, given how hard you have worked to collect it!


  1. Search Engine Marketing


  • Great Content: Writing good, descriptive and creative content is not easy. A talented copywriter will understand and apply advanced SEO techniques to convey your marketing messages effectively and ensure that your messaging is searchable.


  • SEO optimised: Google now requires great content and length of content to achieve high search rankings. Therefore, ensure that each web-page contains at least 500 words and is optimised through Yoast (SEO software provider). Blogs need to be around 1000-1500 words and your copywriter should incorporate some key SEO features into the text. At a minimum it should include: Key phrases, short and longtail focus keywords, meta descriptions, slugs, alt tags, snippet text and SEO title.


  • Content audit: conduct a comprehensive audit of current content to analyse what content currently exists, who it is aimed at and whether it achieves the aim. If not, the cycle returns to re-writing copy and applying SEO techniques.


  • Social media strategy: Google’s algorithms now demand longer, content filled copy. Research has also shown that longer, content filled Tweets achieve better engagement. Consider who will write your content, what channels will you concentrate on and how often you will post. What are your social media objectives? Once you’ve answered these questions then sketch out a delivery strategy.


  • SEO maintenance plan: form a clear plan with regards to SEO maintenance of your site, on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Some tasks will take just a minute, others hours or days, but unless committed to, will fall away. Along with your search engine listing…


  • Delivery plan: Social media marketing becomes ineffective if output is sporadic and poorly written. Form a deliver plan as soon as the strategy has been developed covering who will deliver what and how often. Consider whether the content is deliverable in-house, or if it needs to be outsourced.


Do free websites really work?

As we have seen, a good website reflects the combination of great design, technical knowledge and advanced understanding and application of SEO. We have also highlighted some of the key issues to consider when choosing your web design and hosting provider. If you think you can get all this for free, then great!

Ultimately, however, anything good takes a bit of time – and time is money. Hopefully, you can also see now that it also takes some knowledge and skill. So, to achieve your own website that allows your great content to be found, then treat ‘free’ with the suspicion it deserves and speak to someone who can speak your language.

If this blog has got you thinking about your own website and how it is working for you – but are not sure where to begin, WebAdept have been producing digital marketing solutions and strategies for 20 yrs. Get in touch with us, we would love to hear from you!