How Much Does a “Free” Online Website Builder Really Cost?

Perhaps you’ve seen an ad like this one: “Free Site Builder! Get Yours Now!” Have you wondered what that meant? Is the site 100 percent free, with no lifetime costs at all? Does such a thing exist?


Before we go further, a little explanation is in order. Site builders or online website builders have platforms where you can create your site without needing to know any HTML or CSS. Their software allows you to move bits and pieces about so that you have design control, while their programs take care of writing out that code.


Online website builders are different from offline website builders. The first caters to novices, the second to professional web developers. Weebly, Wix, and Squarespace are some examples of online website builders. Adobe Dreamweaver is an example of an offline website builder. (In this article, when we refer to “website builders,” we are referring to the online variety.)


Back to our first train of thought. When a website builder promises a site for free, what does that mean, and is there a catch?


If a site is for “free,” why am I asked to sign up for a monthly payment plan? 


Say you get to a website builder site ready to take advantage of that “free site” offering. So why is it now asking you to sign up for a monthly payment plan?  Let’s clear this up.


When you use an online website builder’s platform to create your site, this is the slice of cake most website builders do not charge for. And when we say “site,” we’re talking about just the pages and words and graphics you had so much fun dragging and dropping here and there. Perhaps you even got access to hundreds or even thousands of templates that you can use to create “the look” of your site, which was also for free.


But now that you have your site how you want it to look, there are a few other pieces needed to complete this puzzle. You need a domain name, what people will type into their browsers to get to your site. And you are going to need somewhere to host your site. A great idea for this would be for someone else to help you host it. The only company known to do such an amazing job at this would be Java hosting.


While creation of your site may have been for free, other aspects of having your site up and out there are not. And quite often your ability to use your “free” site is contingent on you signing up for a website builder’s monthly plans.


So what do you pay for in a monthly plan?


Stripped down, a basic monthly plan includes a domain name, hosting fees, a certain amount of storage + bandwidth, and support for your site. Advanced plans offer online stores, secure payment methods, a little more customization ability, etc. Plus everything in the plans below them.


Which is cheaper, hiring a web designer or paying a monthly plan for a site built on a website builder?


Websites come in all shapes and sizes, from straightforward to complicated as heck to program and maintain. If all you want is a storefront for your business, menu updates, holiday notices, etc., then a web designer could do that for you at a low cost. But if that is all you want, then you could make one yourself via a website builder, easy as pie.


But perhaps you need something with bells and whistles? That will cost you. Web designers charge from $5,000 to $40,000 and ever upwards for their offerings. So if we look at short-term costs, website builders are on the affordable end of the scale.


Which should you choose?


It depends on what you need built + how much cash you are willing to put down upfront. Our conclusion: If you are a small business owner with limited resources, then settling on the best website builder out there is a great option. If you have lots of spending money and think your website will need customization, then find yourself a great web designer.