Joel: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Marketing Unleashed Podcast. So today Jim, Nathan and I will be discussing what the real cost of a free or cheap website is.

Now these websites are advertised all over the place and some of the big names that you’ve likely heard of are Wix and GoDaddy. So Nathan, since you’re our lead web developer, what I want you to do is just kind of start us off. Tell us about some of the advantages and disadvantages of using these types of websites. Not just from a cost perspective but development features, what you can do in the future with them.

Nathan: Well, we can start with some of the pros for these website developers. I would say the biggest pro for these simple website development tools is just ease of use. You don’t have to know anything about programming. You don’t know have to know anything about how to style a website, how anything really works on the back end. It’s all visual editors. Everything is kind of drag and drop. You’d take a picture from your desktop and you drag it in and you drop it where you want it to go. There’s easy tools to resize, move things around on the page.

Nathan: And then that sort of mindset of easy to use flows through the whole process where they have forms that allow you to fill in information about your website. So you put in your contact information, you’ve put in information about what you’re selling, what your business is about, your mission statements, things like that. You type in all that information and then the website itself allows you to take those and easy to move and manipulate blocks and move those around on your site, until you get things exactly where you want them to go.

Nathan: So the drag and drop functionality and the lack of having to have a programmer involved is really the biggest pro to these website development tools. Another pro is, they come with pre-developed templates. So you can use the existing templates that they have to organize your website and you know that those website tools are going to be organized in a way that is pleasing and that graphic development designers have built.

Nathan: And they’re responsive so they work for mobile as well as desktops, and they also tend to include in some cases graphic elements, things like that, where people don’t really think about that ahead of time. When you’re developing a website, it takes a lot of graphics. You don’t just need pictures of your product. A lot of times you need things like backgrounds, you need things like icons. Those things come prepackaged with some of these templates and that really helps out small business who don’t have access to all of those graphics.

Beyond the sort of ease of use and ability to build these websites quickly, I would say the support. Usually they have online support that walks you through the process. The problem with that is, if you have more advanced questions or you have issues that you need to work out, sometimes it’s difficult to talk with someone and explain exactly what you want and get the answers that you need. If it’s not a stock question that they get all the time, you may have a hard time tracking down the answers to your questions.

Nathan: And then that sort of leads into the cons. And I would say one of the biggest cons for these tools is customization. If there is something that you need on your website and it does not come pre-packaged with one of these templates, you’re usually out of luck and you have to lose that piece. You have to fit in the box that they’ve built for you and if it’s not there, then you’re just out of luck.

Nathan: Another issue that I find with these website development tools, they are usually proprietary. So if you wanted to ever move your website somewhere else, you could not do that. So if your business grows and now you need something bigger, you need some more advanced tools, you need to expand your website, you’re not allowed to do that. For example, with Wix, they explicitly say you cannot export your website. So if you need to go somewhere else, if you need to expand, you basically have to start over from scratch. And that I would say is a big turnoff for a lot of our customers, because as you’re moving from a starter website into a more established business website and you need those additional tools, that can be very problematic. You don’t want to have to rebuild your website from scratch just to get some additional tools added to your site.

Joel: So let’s just say that you’re a startup. This would be a pretty good solution for you, correct?

Nathan: Yes. One of the other benefits is the cost for developing a website, to have a programmer, some might consider a little high for small businesses. So what they do is they wrap everything into a monthly fee, so you can easily get into a new website, you’re paying a small monthly fee. As long as you are happy with the predefined templates and the options that they gave of you, then you can pay the monthly fee and you don’t have to pay up front to build a website. That’s one of the benefits for a small business. You don’t have to lay out a lot of money upfront.

Joel: Everybody wants to be found on Google whenever they have a website. So how do these website builder platforms handle the Google friendliness?

Nathan: Well, I would say for SEO, most of these tools have built in search engine optimization tools. So for example, one of the things is a meta description, which is the copy that shows up in Google when you do a search and someone finds your website, the actual copy is called a meta description. And they have forms built so that when you’re building out a page it asks you for that meta description. So you’re able to go in and plug that in. Now that also goes back to the predefined template idea. If you want to do some more advanced SEO work on some of these tools, you’re out of luck. You have to use the SEO options that they give you. And beyond those options you’re really stuck.

Nathan: So I would say for most of these website development tools, you get about 70% of the way there in terms of a fully optimized website. The final 30% is really tricky to get that done on these templates, just because those options aren’t always available. There are some techniques that we use to fully optimize websites and those options are just not available in these development tools.

Joel: Okay. All right. So Jim, let’s talk about the perception of these website builder platforms. If you go to a business’s website and you scroll, somewhere in there there’s usually a pretty large wix.com branding logo. Does that hurt your brand, your business’s brand?

Jim: Well, I think in a way it hurts your integrity of your brand. I mean, your brand shouldn’t be shared with anybody across the board, especially someone like a Wix. Their deal is to try to sell websites and they use the word free. Well what is free? Free looks cheap. And that’s how you look when you have a Wix logo that’s hanging around your website.

Joel: I think there’s definitely, I mean, I guess we call it a stigma whenever you’re dealing with these types of platforms. What do you think would be a better solution? Would it be hiring a developer? I mean, you can obviously sign up for these higher level programs.

Jim: Well, I mean obviously, I mean I think Wix has built a pretty good platform to help people get a website. Like Nathan said, there’s a lot of benefits to it. But you have to ask yourself, is there anything of value that comes with free and is there anything of benefit? Who’s the benefit? Who’s the benefactor of this free website? Well, they are. They’re going to hold your website for the most part hostage and that’s your business. And as soon as small business understands that their first foot in marketing, maybe all of their marketing, is related to that website and what happens in the Internet, then they’ll have a better grip on whether or not free is such a good thing. Because you can only get so much with free. It can only takes you so far, and in this case it will obviously … free will own your digital business. Won’t own your business, but it could seem like that after a while when you want to try to make some changes.

Jim: A lot of work has gone into these websites and how they’ve been able to make it a very fluid process and an easy process. But again, people today still don’t regard the Internet as their primary source for advertising. No one will ever call you. No one will ever come to your business without first checking out your business online.

Joel: Oh that’s true, yeah.

Jim: That’s unquestionable now, it’s too easy. Why not know where you’re going, if you’re going to a restaurant for the first time, you’re going to check them out. If you’re going to go to the dentist, you’re going to check them out. If you want somebody to mow your grass, you’re going to check him out and a bunch of other guys. And everybody’s going to ask her the same thing. And when you start seeing the replication of these websites, it’s like, oh, whether it’s just the same people slapping on another logo, who are these people? And consumers, they’re smarter than this now, they get it. Only because we now have the ability to put a lot of things in front of them.

Jim: So being a little bit more discerning towards your website and where you are on the digital landscape, I think is a very important marketing tool. Something that shouldn’t be taken lightly and especially marketing of your business. Because most small businesses don’t have salespeople. Some of them don’t even have brick and mortar. So this is it. Better treat it like it’s the only thing that’s out there for you.

Joel: Right. Nathan, do you have anything to add?

Nathan: I would say, one of the things that Jim was alluding to there is that if you use one of these services, you’re really on your own when it comes to the development. There’s nobody there to help you understand how to market your business. They give you a template, they give you these tools to plug your content and your imagery if you have it, they give you all these templates and tools, but they don’t really explain things to you. They don’t sit with you and help you understand how you’re going to market your business online.

Nathan: And being as your website is going to be your primary focus, especially for small businesses, for marketing, without that guidance you’re really on your own when it comes to how you’re going to present yourself to your customers. And as marketing professionals, we know there is a lot of value to having the types of discussions, to draw out the type of marketing ideas that you need whenever you’re starting a small business.

Joel: I really think that people need to think whenever they’re developing a website or starting to think about their website, they need to think about the longterm. I think a lot of it goes back to what you said in your first thoughts, Nathan, that Wix or GoDaddy, whoever, they don’t let you transfer anything out. You have to start from scratch. So whenever you’re talking about the dollars and cents, it’s almost like you’re paying twice. I mean, if you have a website with them for two or three years and you’re doing a premium plan, well, how much are you paying each month, and that adds up.

Nathan: Absolutely.

Jim: The other thing is, a lot of people don’t have access to a company or marketing company or a website development company. They just don’t have that access. They don’t know where to go.

Joel: Well, they can come to us.

Jim: They could. But even we don’t have time for every one of them.

Joel: Right, right.

Jim: But it is a good resource. I mean, I think it could be better. I would rather see Wix charge people because again, I don’t think anything of a value is free. I think if they went out and got competitive here and charge people and gave people the rights to their websites, it would be a much better program. There’s no reason why you have to dupe somebody into this most important part of their business. Your phone service doesn’t give you a free phone for a new business.

Joel: No.

Jim: The cable company wants their money. The guys that pick up the trash, they aren’t do it for free. Everybody’s charging you something for the service they do. Why would you want to take your marketing to a level where you, “Oh well, I can get this for free.” Nothing’s free.

Joel: Yeah. Well, and I mean, they definitely are trying or they have mastered the freemium, the free to premium onboarding process. I would also, sorry there’s mowers in the background, I would also-

Jim: Guy said, “Probably need a website,” because they’re busy running lawnmowers all day long.

Joel: Yeah. But I would almost equate it to you’re going and buying a car without power windows or a radio. You’re still going to get from A to B but you’re not going to get the features that you want. That’s kind of what Wix is giving you. You’re still paying for it. You’re just not getting everything that you want out of it.

Nathan: One other thing to mention here that we haven’t really talked much about with these website builder tools, they are entry level tools, and that’s really what you get in terms of the technology on the back side of these. Most of these websites that are built using these tools are very slow. That is definitely a factor whenever it comes to SEO. If your website takes more than three seconds to-

Jim: Then Nathan, maybe you should expand on a little bit on the SEO thing. “Why is my website not the first website I see when I go to Google?”

Nathan: Right. That’s a very common question. I think that’s probably asked … With new clients, whenever we talk to new clients, that’s almost always one of the first concerns that they have.

Jim: Okay, you guys going to get me there? Because that’s what hey say they can do, I’m going to be the first on Google.

Nathan: Right. Anyone who promises you to be the number one position in Google, I usually take that with a grain of salt because nobody can make those types of guarantees. We know the techniques, we know how to move you up in rankings. We know the value of search engine optimization and where to go to make those improvements. But no one can guarantee those positions because Google-

Jim: And the value of doing that Nathan, usually cost money.

Nathan: Right.

Jim: Correct?

Nathan: Those types of-

Jim: Google is not a non for profit organization. They are a profit organization, right.

Joel: And they make a lot of it.

Jim: And they make a whole lot of it.

Joel: Yeah.

Jim: And they sell advertising that gets you to those levels. Correct?

Nathan: That’s right.

Jim: Yeah. And again, even they say, they give the consumers or anybody the right to use their search engine for free. But those that want to be seen have to pay the money. So again, nothing is free.

Nathan: Right? Even organic search ranking takes a lot of effort. Nobody shows up as the number one result on Google without putting in a lot of effort. Whether that be someone developing content or developing relationships with other websites that link back to you, all that takes time. And none of that comes from these free website development tools.

Jim: And when you’re in a small business category, like a lot of retail and consumer business type things, I don’t care if it’s a heating and cooling or auto repair or nails or whatever, hair, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of options for people to look at. And if you’re going to attempt to stand out on the Internet, it’s going to cost you money. And do you want to invest a lot of money in Google into a website that just can’t develop and can’t produce the results that you’re looking for? That’s where it really comes down to, you’re looking at it from the holistic investment standpoint.

Joel: All right, so I think we can summarize this conversation if somebody else had something else to add?

Jim: No, we’re good.

Joel: All right, so basically I think where we’re at with this is that the Wix and the GoDaddys, those platforms are pretty good deals for small businesses, startups. But I would say once you need more advanced options or better features or just customization, you need to definitely get into the custom development, whether that be through a marketing agency or learning WordPress yourself. We’ll have another discussion on that. But Wix offers a product for small business, but it may not always be the right product for your business. All right.

Jim: Good enough.

Joel: All right, thanks guys.

Jim: Thank you.

Nathan: Thanks.

Joel: And we’ll be back with this week’s Can’t Let It Go after the break.

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