As you might have noticed throughout the year, I’m making an effort to actually teach you things on Funny Strange every once in awhile, rather than just spending every single day being the wise-cracking smart ass in the back of the classroom of life.
With that in mind, here is a little tutorial on free websites. I am writing this here so I can memorialize it, and so I can point people toward it in the future when they ask me this question. It’s a win win win!
This is question I get asked quite a bit, actually—people want to make a website for free, and they want me to tell them the best way to go about this. Let me qualify my answer by saying that I am the biggest advocate for saving money and/ or getting things for free, but I think a website is not where you want to be saving your money. In my mind, free websites are a “get what you pay for” situation, and that is because when you agree to put your website on someone else’s free platform, you are essentially giving them the right to tell you what to do and to do what they want with your content. If you are a writer, an artist, you own a small business, etc, it is really important that you start out by controlling your web presence, and you really are not in control of a website built on a free platform. I feel like, if you have an idea, at least give it the respect of a domain and some hosting.
Before I go on about this, though, let me give you some places where you can make a free website, in case you are determined to make a free website and are going to ignore my advice anyway. I accept this. It's your life.
Wordpress.com. This is the “free hosting” version of Wordpress, where you can essentially go and make a whole website for yourself right now. The domain will look like this: myfreewebsite.wordpress.com. The difference between this version of Wordpress and Wordpress.org, which is what you would use to build a website on your own domain (like mywebsite.com) is that Wordpress.com (and all the websites built on it) belong to Wordpress, whereas a site where you own the domain and the hosting and are using Wordpress.org (the software) to build it belong to you.
Confusing? Totally. Let’s just boil it down to say this: anything that ends in “wordpress.com” does not really belong to you.
Blogger. This is the free blogging platform provided by Google, and you can go over there right now and start up a website/ blog for free. In that case, the domain will look like this: mywebsite.blogspot.com. Blogger is user-friendly and intuitive, so even beginning beginners can get in there and start blogging right away.
Tumblr: This is a popular platform that is used mostly for blogging, and (even more specifically), for more visually-oriented blogging (so, photos, animated gifs, drawings, stuff like that).
Weebly: This is a free platform that will let you make a website that looks more like an actual website. Yes, they are probably going to make you keep the "Created Using Weebly" link on your site, and you're not going to be able to complain about this, because you got a website for free.
Blogster: This is a free platform that I hear is mostly used by older people who want to start blogs. Interesting!
To pile on more confusing explanations, you actually CAN buy your own domain and use these “free services” as the host, though this is also something I don’t want you to do, because if you’re already paying for the domain, why would you want Wordpress.com/ Blogger/ Tumblr telling you what you can/ cannot build? That seems crazy to me.
OK, now that I’ve told you how to make a free website, I will tell you why I think this is a terrible, horrible idea and why I think you should just bite the bullet, get a domain and some hosting, and set up a website that you have control over, rather than putting time and energy into a free website that could go away at any time.
Here are the reasons to NEVER EVER EVER build a website (your intellectual property) on someone else’s free platform.
- When you build a website on someone else’s free platform, you are putting them in control of your business. This is probably the most important and best reason I can give for not doing this. Last year, I met a writer who had been blogging for SEVEN YEARS on a Blogger blog. She didn’t have any of her writing backed up or saved in another location, which essentially meant she was trusting Google with seven years’ worth of work. One day, she posted a photo that Google didn’t like, so they DELETED HER ENTIRE BLOG without warning her. Deleted. Gone. If you’ve ever tried to argue with Google, you’ll know how far she got doing that. In a complete separate (but equally disturbing) example, an author built her entire blog/ writing career on a Blogger blog, then someone got mad at her and reported her blog to Google for objectionable content. Because she was on the free Blogger platform, Google put this warning screen up:
Again, she did nothing wrong, but her traffic went down by 75%. Since she doesn’t pay for the service, she has no recourse.
2. “Free” means free to you. That company is still making money. If you intend to monetize your website in any way (like with Adsense or affiliate offers), you should know that the company where you got your website is going to have a say in this decision. Run an ad they don’t like, they can shut you down. Also, if you do figure out how to run ads on the site, that free platform is going to take part of the profit, so that’s awesome.
3. “Free” means you can’t do everything you want to do. This is especially true in the “Wordpress.com vs. Wordpress.org” argument. With Wordpress.com, you simply do not have access to all of the cool plugins and developments that come from the Wordpress.org environment, so you are limited to whatever the .com guys want to give you. This means that eventually you are going to outgrow your site, and then you’re going to have to start over with your own domain/ hosting.
4. “Free” means that company could go away at any time, taking your website with it. If you’re about to say “Google will never get rid of Blogger!” think again. Google will do whatever makes them money, whenever they want to do it.
5. "Free" means good luck with your tech support. Oh, did your website crash? Well, you got it for free, so no one is going to rush to help you.
Right about now you’re all: “Repeat yourself much, Culwell?” I know! But, you’d be surprised how many times per week I have this argument, especially with authors. Here is the bottom line on this (for me, at least): if you are putting something out in the world, it at least deserves the courtesy of a paid domain and some hosting. Is your idea not worth $100/ year? WHY DO YOU THINK THAT? The only possible use I can think of for a truly free website is something temporary, like directions to your family reunion.
Tomorrow, I will tell you the steps to setting up your website so that you own it. I will try to make it as close to “free” as possible.