There's No Free Lunch When it Comes to Your Website

There's No Free Lunch When it Comes to Your Website

Many body shop owners have been seduced by the idea of having a free website while their competitors are dropping major bucks on their sites.

They see a commercial on TV from services like, or and they get all excited at the thought of saving a ton of money. But they never question why it's free in the first place. Haven't they learned yet that when you save money, you also risk sacrificing quality? You buy a cheap paint and you need more coats to paint the cars. You buy inexpensive tape and it doesn't always adhere properly. It's Common Sense 101, yet I see a lot of free body shop websites out there and I always find it both surprising and disturbing.

First off, haven't you learned that free doesn’t always mean free forever? Haven't we all been lured in at some point on a deal that looked sweet, but after six months the promotional price disappeared and now you're paying full freight? It's called the "freemium" approach, which involves providing a service for free at first and then later charging for basically the same service at a date in the future. It was a great deal when it was free, but now you are stuck with a subpar website that comes with a monthly bill.

You got caught trying to save a few bucks and now this so-called free service is socking it to you. Most free website providers aren't inexpensive once the free stage has transpired, so beware. First, they are going to charge you for hosting the site at a rate that is probably higher than most and if you want to make changes or add pages, for example, you better pony up additional funds.

It's never an easy task to customize a free website. They will usually let you change things like type styles, fonts, colors, templates or themes, but if you want to do anything more elaborate than that, you're out of luck.

Free websites usually come along with advertising and they're not advertising your shop. This is how these free website companies make money and one of the best ways for them to do this is by sticking advertising banners in prime positions on your website. One body shop went with a free service and then saw some of its competitors' ads right on their home page, but that is the risk you take when you go cheap with your website.

If you buy a free site, it also could be connected to a link farm. Marketing links is another easy way for website owners to make extra revenue. But if you have a free website and your provider has sold links on your site, you’re setting yourself up to be penalized by Google. And even worse, being blacklisted and re-indexed, which is essentially a death sentence from Google.

In addition, your no-charge website could crash or go offline at any time without warning. In the end, you don’t actually own your website, which means it can crash and you can't do anything more than cry or pray. In a worst case scenario, your website goes down full-time and forever, which means you could lose your domain name as well.

A free website is likely defenseless to hackers. If you want someone from Russia or China playing with your content, then they are more than happy to oblige. Security is not a big priority for free website providers, so don’t be shocked when you get hacked if you have one. Restoring your site after you've been hacked can be a traumatic experience and something you should avoid at all costs.

Another drawback associated with having a free website is that they provide very limited space. So if you want to upload a wide range of photos or videos, you may run out of space rather quickly. Plus, your bandwidth will be seriously limited by using a free website service. This means that if you get a sudden surge of traffic or decide to host a substantial number of videos on your site, it could be pulled by the service without notice.

Another way that free sites are limited pertains to the number of pages they offer and many of them feature three-page sites. A body shop website will look lightweight and cheap with just three pages and what do you do when you want to expand it in the future?

One of the biggest shortcomings of a free website is that its Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is limited. Since you aren't able to access the backend of a free website, any SEO you can achieve is nothing more than rudimentary at best. If one of the main goals of any website is to enable potential customers to find you easily online, a free website is unlikely to enhance your SEO one iota.

You probably wouldn't be surprised if you learned that once you sign up for a free or trial website, the customer service is literally nonexistent in many instances. If you run into trouble with your website, good luck, because you will never get them on the phone and they certainly won't be calling you back anytime soon.

There is a fine line between inexpensive and cheap, and if your website looks cheap, you're probably going to be stuck in the cheap seats. You can save money on things like grocery bags and aftermarket headlights, but don't try to cut dollars when you do your website the first time or re-design an old one.

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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