You know all the reasons you need an author website—to act as your online information source for readers, editors, and agents; to provide a hub for your author platform, etc. But like most folks, you don’t want to spend all of your hard-earned cash building a website. Budget-conscious writers might therefore jump at the chance to use a platform that says you can create a “free” website.
But you know the old adage: There’s no such thing as a free lunch! The experts at Web Design Relief know that many of these supposedly “free” websites actually have hidden costs, limited options, and even unexpected dangers. Here’s what you need to know before you sign up for a “free” website.
10 Things Writers Need To Know About “Free” Author Website Builders
- Free websites usually can’t be customized. As a writer, you have a unique personality and a unique style of writing. So you’ll want to customize your website based on what you write—a picture book author, for example, would certainly have a different author website aesthetic than someone who writes horror novels. Having an author website that reflects you and your writing helps you attract the right audience. Free websites, however, offer only a few basic, cookie-cutter templates that are rarely customizable, or might only offer a few color and template options. And forget having multiple pages—these companies may not even let you choose fonts or color schemes that match your book’s genre!
- Free websites may not let you sell your products. Free website companies don’t always give you options for selling your books and other products (tote bags, bookmarks, etc.). They also may not allow for a contact page—making it difficult for visitors to reach you to set up speaking engagements, book signing events, etc. And many prohibit you from running your own targeted ads.
- A free website might stick you with an unfavorable URL. Picking your author website’s domain name is an important decision, and it should be one you—and only you—are in control of! You’ll want your domain name to be something easy for your readers to remember, one that is all letters if possible. Example: YourNameAuthor.com. But many no-fee websites won’t give you that option, or only let you choose part of your URL, or make it mandatory to include their business name in your domain name.
- Your free website may not function very well. Once you get past the design challenges, you’ll find that many free websites are hosted on unstable servers that are vulnerable to viruses, or servers that are shared by thousands of websites. As a result, your website may load very slowly, or not at all. When your site finally does load, it may be subject to devastating crashes—and many free website hosts don’t create backups of your site—so in one crash you could lose everything.
- Free websites are often riddled with ads. Free websites have to make their money somehow—so if they’re not charging users like you, they often turn to advertisements to turn a profit from their sites. These ads could be placed anywhere on your website, and there could be so many of them that they distract from your content. You also won’t get to choose the ads, so chances are they won’t have anything to do with you or your writing, and may even tout products that don’t align with your values, giving the wrong impression to visitors.
- Free websites often don’t support mobile browsers. These days, your fans are as likely to search for your author website from their phone or tablet as they are from their desktop computer. Smart website design includes optimization for mobile platforms, but free websites rarely offer this option. The result? Your website may not load properly on fans’ mobile devices—or may not load at all. So visitors will bounce off your website and head to someone else’s.
- You may actually end up paying—a lot. If they aren’t loaded with tons of annoying ads, so-called free websites must find other ways to make money. You may notice charges for “annual fees” or “security fees.” Another tactic: Services that are normally included in a professional website design (custom email addresses, hosting images, etc.) may be “extra charges” on a free site. There may also be charges for services you’ve never heard of, like “website transfer” or “FTP access.”
And keep an eye out for the supposedly free website that’s really just a “trial offer”—once the trial expires, you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg to keep your website live.
- Free websites usually don’t offer any help or support. If something goes wrong with your free author website, it’s very unlikely you’ll get any help from the company to fix the issue. Most “no-fee” websites don’t even provide a phone number or general email for questions, let alone offer IT support. And let’s face it: Like most writers, you’re probably considering using a website service because you aren’t a tech expert or IT troubleshooter. So why choose a free website with no support or help desk?
- Free website companies can vanish overnight—along with your website. These companies’ terms-of-use agreements are often ironclad: Infinite protections for them—and none for you or your author website. Not only can most free websites choose to drop your website at any time, the company itself can disappear at any time. Most don’t even have to inform their users before they shut down their servers—you could simply wake up one morning to discover your website is gone, and the company won’t be held accountable.
- A free website may give the wrong impression. A poorly designed, low-quality author website can be just as detrimental as not having one at all. If literary agents or journal editors visiting your author website are bombarded by irrelevant ads or find navigating the site difficult, they may decide to simply bounce off—since it will seem you haven’t truly prioritized your writing career. And with hackers constantly finding new ways to break into less secure websites, your readers who visit may be less willing to trust an off-brand website, making it less likely they’ll sign up for your mailing list or visit your site again.
How To Get The Best Author Website On A Budget
Rather than take your chances with a free website, trust reputable companies like WordPress to create and customize a website on a budget. If you already have an author website and are looking for low-cost ways to keep it useful and current, check out this list.
And if you’d like to put the entire website-building project into the hands of experts who understand the unique needs of writers, the techies at Web Design Relief can create an affordable site for you. Even our most budget-friendly options will still make a big impact on your writing career—check out our Professional Package or our Create-Your-Own Package.
QUESTION: Have you ever used a free website service? Why or why not?