4 Questions to Ask When You’re Thinking about a Free Website or Website Template

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Wondering whether or not you need to spring for custom programming, here are a few things to consider.

When you’re starting a business, whether it’s brick-and-mortar or totally online, resources are almost always tight. You want to save every penny, and template websites — especially ones from companies like Squarespace and Wix — have temptingly low prices. Some sites, like certain WordPress sites, are even free. So … is it really necessary to put good money into a custom-built website?

I’ve run a couple of small businesses, and my answer to that question has been different depending on the circumstances. When we started Church Street Coffee & Books a few years ago, we began with a free template website, and I also started my own freelance writing site using a free WordPress template. It wasn’t long, though, before I paid to have both of those sites converted to custom programming.

Why the change? Creating a template site is sort of like moving into an pre-furnished apartment where you’re not allowed to change anything — it’s very convenient to have everything done for you, but it’s not long before you realize that you really need a bookshelf instead of a TV console, or you want to hang pictures on the wall, or the kitchen chairs are uncomfortable and you wish you could replace them. In other words, cookie cutter solutions are fine … until you want brownies instead.

Will choosing convenience in the moment mean sacrificing control down the line? It really depends on your business and your needs — we’re hosting a free event this Tuesday where we’ll go over that exact question, so if you’d like to pick the brains of our programmers and support team for free, sign up for your free Lunch & Learn ticket here.

But if you want to get a head start on deciding whether or not you need to spring for custom programming, here are a few things to consider:

Do you care about how your site performs in Google Analytics?

You can definitely track your Analytics using most free sites and templates, but you may not be able to make the changes you want to make. If you feel like that call-to-action button leading people to your product catalog seems kind of hidden … it probably always will be. Template sites make it difficult and sometimes impossible to change the location of extras like buttons and banners. The more flexible you want your digital marketing to be, the more flexible your website will have to be to keep up.

Many free themes only look good with great photography

Browsing through free themes is exciting because they all look beautiful. But often, those designs lose their luster without high-resolution, gorgeous photography and imagery. Unless you have great photos already (phone photos usually won’t cut it), or you’re willing to pay a professional photographer to take them, you may be better off getting a site designed with your resources in mind.

Are you selling things through your website?

Some template sites have good ecommerce solutions, especially if you’re only selling a handful of products. But if you have an entire catalog of products, your ecommerce might get trickier. Can you offer discounts, free shipping and coupon codes? Can you promote a sale for a limited time and turn it off whenever you want to? How will you issue refunds? Will your sales connect with your existing inventory and POS? If you want custom functionality, it’s probably better to choose custom programming.

Do you have enough support?

Some people love live chat support and find it really helpful — I’m not one of them. Chat support sounds great in theory, but when my site isn’t working and I’m already busy and frustrated, I just want to call someone and have them calm me down and fix the problem. Infomedia’s support team will actually call you — or email or chat with you, if that’s your thing — and with over 20 years in business, they’re able to fix just about anything under the sun. We also offer free trainings to walk you through learning to input content or make small site changes. Oh, and those pesky WordPress updates? We make those for you, too.

Getting a low-priced, plug-and-play kind of site is fine for some very small businesses that don’t need special functionality. But if your business is growing, or you have a lot of web traffic, you might have outgrown your free site. I’m really thankful to have a custom designed website at carrierollwagen.com, and I think you might like custom programming, too. Want to explore the idea more? Swing by Innovation Depot this Tuesday, September 20 to ask our custom programmers about what might be the best path for your business, or use the contact form below to get in touch.

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Carrie has been copyediting and writing for fifteen years. Her skills were forged in the newsroom at The Birmingham Post-Herald and she’s a huge book nerd (she moonlights as Southern Living’s book reviewer), but a love of paper and ink hasn’t stopped her from mastering the digital world as well: She’s had a blog pretty much since they existed, and she’s run social media for companies big and small. Carrie’s always ready to take on a new communication challenge, lecture us about the proper use of semicolons, or defend the fact that her Instagram account is filled with selfies.


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