Starting a business is a huge commitment, and there are an overwhelming number of decisions to make along the way.

In this day and age, a website is simply not optional. If you are truly committed to the success of your business, you need to be online. You need to present your business as a professional operation. Potential clients or customers are becoming more and more cynical. They want to know that you as a business truly exist, and that you’re not a scam. A strong web presence lends credibility to a small business.

When you’re starting a business, money is tight. You may not have the funds to pay for a web developer. You may not have the skill to build a website yourself from scratch, and the appeal of a FREE drag and drop website builder can be too much to resist. The problem with choosing one of the free options, is that they’re never truly free. In order to create a truly professional looking website, you’ll need to upgrade from the free plans, and this often costs more than building a truly high-quality website.

In this article, I’m comparing the most popular “free” website options, and breaking down the costs involved in using the various options for a professional quality website.

The tl;dr version:

If you’re not interested in the nitty gritty details of this website builder comparison, and you just want to see the annual costs for each service, check out this handy-dandy quick-reference guide:

Website Service Annual Cost
Wix* €198.00
Weebly* €276.00
Blogger (In my opinion, not a professional website solution) €20.00
WordPress.com (In my opinion, not a professional website solution) €299.16
Square Space €204.00
Shopify* €348.00
Self hosted site using WordPress.org, Joomla or Drupal €117.40
Managed Hosting using WordPress.org €240.00

My criteria for a professional quality website:

For the sake of consistency, I am describing a professional quality website as having the following:

  • A custom domain. Nothing screams “free website” like a web address the looks like websitename.weebly.com or websitename.blogspot.com.
  • Fully whitelabeled. You want your prospects to have faith in you as a brand. You don’t want their focus split by having your website branded by your “free” host.
  • The ability to host forms. You want to be able to take email enquiries at the click of a button, without driving prospects away from your website.
  • The ability to capture email addresses. Every business should be capturing email addresses of prospective clients. It’s one of the most basic and successful marketing tools at your disposal.
  • Basic eCommerce functionality for both digital and physical products. Whether you are selling products or services, the easier you can make it for someone to pay you / book your services, the better for your business.
  • Allows affiliate links. Diversifying your income streams is an excellent way to future-proof your business, and affiliate links can be an effective, authentic and passive income stream to supplement your main business operations. Some “free” websites do not allow affiliate links, thus restricting this possibility.

Website Builder Comparison – Hosted sites:

Hosted sites are the real estate equivalent to renting a house. When you use one of the following services to build your website, you are “renting” that space. Just like in a rental property, there are rules and restrictions you need to abide by. You may not be able to post certain content, use display advertising, significantly change the look and feel of your site, and you will almost certainly have restricted functionality.

The advantage of using a hosted site, just like renting a home, is that there are fewer maintenance responsibilities. Security, maintenance and updates are all the responsibility of the “landlord”.

Wix*:

Wix is one of two free website builders that market themselves as being perfect for small businesses. You can build your website for free, then once you are finished with it, you can upgrade to a paid plan to give it a more professional look, feel and functionality.

I don’t love Wix. While the design of their available themes has improved recently, I personally find them to be too limiting in the options they make available. Their capacity to be fully SEO optimised is also sub-par, making it difficult to attract organic traffic online.

The cheapest option with Wix, that ticks all the boxes listed above, is the eCommerce option at €16.50 per month. This does not include email capture functionality, so you would need to integrate some basic html code to host a lead capture form using an email service like mailchimp or mailerlite.

Cost over 12 months: €198.00

Weebly*:

Weebly* is the core competitor to Wix, offering much the same functionality

I don’t love Weebly for the same reasons I don’t love Wix.

The cheapest option with Weebly that meets all my criteria for a professional website is the Business option at €23.00 per month.

Cost over 12 months: €276.00

Blogger:

Blogger is Google’s free blogging platform, and it is the only hosted platform on this list that is truly free. It does not, however, meet all the criteria I have outlined for a professional website:

Things you CAN do:

  • Link it to a custom domain (and depending on the country you are in, you may be able to purchase the domain directly from google.)
  • Insert a contact form.
  • Post affiliate links.

Things you CAN NOT do:

  • Natively collect leads. You will need to use some basic HTML code to insert a lead capture form into your blogger site, using a third party email service like mailchimp or mailerlite.
  • Fully whitelabel the site. You will have a “powered by Blogger” link in your website footer.
  • There is NOT eCommerce functionality. You could conceivable “hack” a solution using blog posts and manually adding paypal buttons to each product blog post, however this would be labour intensive, both to set up and to maintain.
  • Worth noting: you can NOT host display advertising (banner ads) that you have sourced for yourself. If you wish to host advertising, you need to display adsense ads (Google’s own advertising network).
  • Worth noting: because it is owned by Google, blogger sites tend to rank well for SEO.

Cost over 12 months: ~€20.00 (the cost of purchasing a domain name)

WordPress.com

There are two versions of WordPress you may encounter in your website-building travels. WordPress.com, which is a hosted service with all the restrictions that tend to come with a hosted service, and WordPress.org, which is a free, open-source CMS that can be a little complicated to setup, but can do virtually anything.

At the moment I’m talking about WordPress.com. You can scroll further down the page to see WordPress.org.

WordPress.com is an open source blogging platform, and it is free to use at a basic level. It does have some restrictions, like virtually all the hosted website options mentioned here, and like Blogger, it does not have eCommerce functionality.

  • You CAN link it to a custom domain, and you receive the domain name for free with their premium plans
  • You CAN fully whitelabel the site.
  • You CAN insert a contact form.
  • You CAN natively collect leads.
  • There is NOT eCommerce functionality. You could conceivable “hack” a solution using blog posts and manually adding paypal buttons to each product blog post, however this would be labour intensive, both to set up and to maintain.
  • You CAN post affiliate links (although there are some restrictions).
  • Worth noting: you can NOT host display advertising (banner ads) that you have sourced for yourself. If you wish to host advertising, you need to display wordads ads (WordPress.com’s own advertising network).

The plan that most closely matches my criteria for a professional website is the business plan, at €24.93 per month.

Cost over 12 months: €299.16

Squarespace:

Squarespace is the newest player in the hosted website builder category, and it gets almost universally positive reviews. It meets all the above criteria on the Business plan or higher. If you’re running an eCommerce website, there are 2 dedicated eCommerce options for a slightly higher monthly fee, without transaction fees.

The monthly fee for a Business plan is €17.00 per month.

Cost over 12 months: €204.00.

Shopify*:

Shopify* is a dedicated eCommerce platform, so the focus of the platform is the webstore functionality. While the website functionality is limited, it does meet all my criteria for a professional website.

The monthly fee for the basic plan is $29.00usd per month.

Cost over 12 months: $348.00.

Website Builder Comparison – Open source CMS/Self hosted sites:

Hosting your website yourself is the website equivalent to owning your own home. You have unrestricted access to your website and you can do virtually anything with your site (although, just like in a renovation, you may need to hire a contractor to help you). Just like owning your own home, there are security and maintenance tasks that are your responsibility.

When you choose a self-hosted site, the site design and functionality are only restricted by your capabilities, or the capabilities of your designer or developer.

There are three main open source CMS’s to choose from, and they are all free. When you choose to use an open source CMS, the costs are somewhat variable, based on:

Cost over 12 months: ~€117.40

WordPress.org:

When people refer to self-hosted websites, more often than not they are referring to sites built using WordPress.org. WordPress.org is the worlds most popular CMS. In fact, 27% of the world’s websites are built using WordPress.

Of the three most popular CMS’s, WordPress is the simplest to use. It requires no knowledge of coding unless you are planning advanced customisations. It’s relatively user-friendly, particularly when you consider how powerful it is. WordPress is a great choice for small businesses and entrepreneurs who want something they can DIY, or hire someone to build affordably, but that will scale with their business, as the business grows.

Because of the huge market share that WordPress holds, it is EXTREMELY well serviced. At the time of writing there are 49,699 plugins available in the WordPress plugin library to extend the core functionality of your WordPress site. WordPress is extremely well documented, both by WordPress.org and by countless third parties. This disadvantage to this abundant information and seemingly never-ending pool of plugins, can be figuring out which information reflects best practice in coding, operations and design, while also being accurate and current.

There are many web-hosts that offer one-click WordPress installation, making it incredibly easy to get a website up and running in just a few short minutes.

Joomla:

Joomla is the second most popular CMS on the market today. There is a steeper learning curve with Joomla than there is with WordPress, and chances are, you will need to know some code to work successfully with it.

Joomla is especially well suited to hosting social networks, so if this is your business model, using a developer to work with Joomla could be a wise choice. If you are looking to build a website for a business or a webstore, you may be better off choosing to go with WordPress.org.

Drupal:

Drupal is a sophisticated, robust and highly performant CMS, but really, it’s far too complicated for the average person. In order to work successfully with Drupal, chances are you will need to hire a PHP developer.

For most businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs, using Drupal is the equivalent of swatting a mosquito with an atom bomb.

Managed Hosting:

Having managed hosting is the website equivalent of owning your own home, but having a groundskeeper, a maintenance team and a security guard on-site. With a managed hosting package, you have the infinite freedom and flexibility that comes with using WordPress.org on a self-hosted site, but you also have an expert team to look after the “techy” stuff, like managing your hosting, running backups, site security and support.

Managed hosting is the ideal option for entrepreneurs and small business owners who want the flexibility of a self-hosted website, but the peace of mind of a hosted website.

One of the services I offer is managed website hosting. By choosing to host your website with me, you get peace of mind. I’ll take care of your site security, your backups, your site updates and anti-spam measures, so you can focus on what really matters: your business!

When you purchase managed hosting with me, you get:

  • 12 months website hosting on a high-quality cloud server with an average of 99.9% uptime.
  • Daily website backups to make sure you’re covered if something breaks your site irreparably.
  • SSL certificate (VITAL for eCommerce websites, and incredibly important for good SEO).
  • Proactive monitoring and protection against site hacking.
  • Powerful anti-spam measures.
  • Stage One SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
  • Up to 5 email accounts for you and your team* (more available on request).
  • WordPress installation.
  • Free hosting support**
  • VIP rates on WordPress support***

When you choose to be billed annually, you save €100,00 on your annual fees. You’ll only pay €200 (excl. VAT) for the whole year! Plus, you’ll get:

  • A complimentary .com or location specific (e.g. .co.uk, .nl, .com.au) domain name****
  • Divi theme installation and license (rrp $89USD)*****

If managed hosting sounds like the right choice for you, please use the form below to contact me.

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*More email addresses available on request.
**If there is an issue that is related to your hosting, we’ll fix it at no charge.
***If there is an issue that’s related to your WordPress website, you will get a 10% discount on my standard support rates. Read more here.
****Pending availability and eligibility.
*****License valid for the duration of your hosting through us. Should you change hosting providers, the license will expire and you will need to purchase your own licence.

This article contains some affiliate links. When you choose to purchase through these links you are helping to support small business, at no extra cost to you.