The cost of free website builders

With the daily rise of online services that promise to create and host a website for free.

Is it good news for everyone, or a case of too good to be true?

The birth of free
From its inception people have constantly looked for cheaper and cheaper ways to access the internet and get the benefits of the digital life.

From the start Companies like AOL offered discount packages for the masses to get online cheaply. Often the discounts came at a price like poor connection speeds and service but in an age where the internet was new and shiny, many people were happy to put up with most things just to get online.

Businesses were quick to realise the power the internet and what it had to offer, but for many the perceived costs were just too much.

It was not long before certain companies started to appear on the net, these not only would offer you discounted or free access to the web, but bundled free web space at the same time.

For the first time websites started to appear in volume.

The good, the bad and the ugly
Free web space is one thing, but what to fill it with and how?

For those not paying for web space, the idea that they should not pay for the tools to create a website also were important, and it was not long before a host of free tools were available.

The issue with HTML code (the engine that drives websites), was many fold but could be summarised with two very simple ideas. 1) Not all web browsers show HTML code in the same way and 2) not all web site creation tools create HTML code in the same way.

In addition the idea that just because you can write HTML means you can create a website, just added to the litany of bad websites that litter the internet even today.

Good Web Design
As the internet became a standard in a lot of people’s lives, businesses realised that it was no longer viable to ‘just have a website’, but they needed something that would connect to potential customers and generate enquiries.

In the same way as traditional marketing had done with media adverts and direct marketing, the same approach was needed online.

Suddenly every company wanted a website that would make that vital first impression.

Flash in the pan
With the invention of the Facebook generation, it was not long before free web design tools evolved in to the next generation. is just one of these services, but most work in the same fashion. Without having to have any software installed, you can create for free your website. They promise to remove the issues with how the site will view on the computer by cleaver use of Flash.

The issue does not come down to the service, but to those who look to use the service in the first place. Many still have the idea that they can publish anything they want and it will drive business.

Most forget the most important part of web design, the design element. It is accepted that it’s all good to drive traffic to a website, but without a well designed site with marketing in mind, that it is a wasted effort.

I do believe it’s possible to get a professional result from using services like these but only if you are a competent designer in the first place.

The final solution
The next time you are considering using a free web builder service think of the following things before you go ahead:-

What is my website for?

What’s my message for my target audience?

Does the first impression need to count?

How much will it cost me if I do not get professional help, in lost enquiries and sales?

Spending £300 on a professional website can return hundreds of thousands of pounds in new business revenue.

Do you still want to take the chance on a DIY free service?

Are social networks really social?

With websites like Facebook and Twitter constantly attracting new users on a day by day basis, there is no doubt how popular the social networks are.

But in a world of increase reports of medical conditions like depression, do social networks indicate underlying issues with the world today?

BC – before computers.
There is little argument that computers have transformed most people’s daily lives. If you do not use a computer yourself, your life is certainly affected by them, either through technologies like mobile phones, or even the switch to digital TV and radio.

But there are other factors at play, of which computers usually get the label. Up until recent history the world was a very big place, in fact a person’s world would represent a small part of the world as a whole.

Go back one hundred years and people did not really travel, they worked within walking distance and most day to day purchases would have been bought and manufactured locally. In fact without the invention of mass transit or haulage, our world today would be a much different place. You only have to visit some areas of the world today to see how quickly life gets primitive.

In times gone by, there was a sense of community, not because life was better, but purely down to necessity. If you needed some sugar, you had to go out, walk to you local shop and buy some. By default you had to interact with real people during the process.

It’s cheaper at Amazon
By 2000, much of what people needed for their day to day lives could be bought online. The benefits of online were simple, get what you want and cheaper. Of course having to wait for shopping to arrive at your door was a pain, but with many goods being substantially cheaper, most people who start to buy online continue to do so.

When you don’t have to leave you house to get the goods and services you need, many people choose this route and the upshot of being less social becomes apparent very quickly.

With the invention of cyber sex, virtual dating and social networks, many people choose not to interact and potentially get hurt in the real world.

If it’s online it’s not cheating
Computers are great at dealing with standardised data, and for most people’s experience with online life, it’s no different. Go on to Facebook and you can pick and choose exactly what experience you want.

Don’t like someone, you can drop them from your friends list in an instant. By not having to be social in these settings, means we are more unlikely to be so.

With a virtual world, if we do not like what being said, we just hit the off switch….

It is not surprising that in modern times we have see a raise in internet related sexual crime and mental disorder. Of course we should never say ‘kill the evil internet’, but for many we should not only talk about a work life balance, but also an internet life balance.

Rather than acting out social fantasies, physically connect with people in the real world.

Quite often people mistake social networks as a place to be social, but quite often using a social network is a solitary experience interacting with other solitary users. At the end of the day although social networks are useful in today’s age for connecting to people and having fun, unless you contact with those people outside of the social networks in the real world, how is it different to talking to a computer generated avatar inside a computer game?

Choose the real world, choose life…..

MasterCard’s master plan to take over the world

In recent years supermarkets like Tesco’s have been offering more than just food. They now offer everything from electrical, personal finance and even in one case the ability to buy your next home.

With MasterCard’s recent decision to enter the arena of online retailer, is this a good thing for consumer or in a tricky credit market, is it a way for companies like MasterCard to reduce risk and make bumper profits?

The vanishing high street
1995 saw the online birth of Seattle Company Amazon, initially set up as a ‘one stop bookshop’ where any book currently published could be bought.

Within a short period of time Amazon started expanding it range of merchandise it sold, becoming the world’s largest online retailer.

The benefits Amazon had for the consumer, choice and value. If the item was available, Amazon would have it and cheaper than anyone else.

It wasn’t long before other retailers saw the huge benefits to the Amazon model and this introduced the consumer to the ‘virtual mall’, always on, always cheap, and always delivered a few days later.

Many experts at the time were split how much impact this would have on shopping habits, but in the 15 years since few could ignore the incredible revenue online retailing creates

The EBay effect
Around the same time as Amazon was finding its feet another internet giant was created. EBay gave the promise of the ultimate Auction site, giving many people the first chance to really sell online. For many years people became almost addicted to the idea that they could turn attic junk to cash in an easy, pain free way.

Apart from offering people the chance to auction items, it allowed people to set fixed sale prices and set up their own ‘virtual shop’.

By setting up PayPal, EBay also found a way to make money from every EBay transaction.

With every good idea, it is long often until someone offers a similar product and the same was true with Amazon Market Place. The idea was very simple, Amazon would offer, for a fee the chance to sell on Amazon.

Fees were higher than EBay’s, but Amazons reputation on quality and value proved an irresistible combination for many.

One in seven
Where Amazon and EBay settled it was not long before the like of Tesco’s would come in and offer their ‘value’ based service. Unlike EBay and Amazon, Tesco would not go down the market place route, but instead took a different stance on the same idea.

For many years Tesco had expanded in the Food retailing sector, and the only cap on profit came for the available of space to build new stores. With a bulging wallet, the online move was inevitable, but this push and success into online, not only increased profits, but showed the idea of a wide portfolio of services like never before.

Not content will selling online, Tesco’s went into communications, personal finance, insurance and even recently buying and selling of homes. Where there was money to be made Tesco wanted a piece of the money pie.

The end of the world.
In 2007 the world started its road into recession and for the first time many companies who relied on credit, not only for cash flow, but as a sale generator, felt the full effect of an ‘non credit’ world.

Rather than getting out a flexible plastic friend to pay the bill, we actually started using real money for the transaction.

Retailers like Tesco’s survived the recession in a strong position due to being a value retailer, and that people still needed to eat. There was an addition effect where people became more value conscious and companies like Tesco were able to take advantage and actually increase profits.

Some may say that there is some justice that the credit card companies and banks who suffered, as they were the ones responsible for the unsustainable credit in the first place.

Phoenix rising
Like any company hit by the recession Master Card always look for ways to secure their future and increase profits. Looking at the models by Amazon and Tesco’s, it’s only natural that MasterCard has setup its own shopping portal.

For MasterCard this gives a great way to shift more credit in an improving climate but make more money from the sale of the goods it will now sell. By taking the affiliate route, it also has zero risk.

But with all winners there are losers, and a future of no local traders is becoming a real possibility. Due to global shopping channels that can’t be beaten on price, it is often tempting to buy everything on line.

But online shopping is not always the best option.

If your food shopping turns with apples missing it’s not the end of the world. If you’re online purchased PC goes wrong, do you really want to have to ship it half way across the world to get it fixed?

Un Social Network

In a world where every company and famous name is using social media to increase brand awareness, with the recent BA and Nestle on-line faux pas hitting the headlines, is it a case that social media is a two way street too far?

When I was a lad.

For years companies have used traditional media to manage it appearance to its customers. And by using traditional broadcast and media techniques, ad agencies have been very successful in offering real values to their clients.

Both TV and magazine advertising has always been expert in presenting a ‘snapshot’ of the lifestyle a product offers and with only their voice to be heard for the 30 seconds between programmes. Companies have always loved the idea of a warm captive audience receptive to the advertising massage being broadcast.

With the advent of the internet and the popularity of certain websites it was not long before advertisers saw the benefit of having an on-line budget.

First wave
Even with the promise of broadband for everyone, banner advertising is very popular. With the promise of audience engaging Flash applications, up until recently on-line advertising followed the traditional advertising broadcast route. Companies still controlled the message, audiences were still captured, everyone was happy.

With the introduction of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, for the first time, it was users generating the content, users creating the bias, and in a few cases, non professionals having high and powerful media empires.

This did not go un-noticed for long, and websites like Facebook were quick to promote the idea that companies could harness the power of their network for a price. But allowing advertising it help supported the cost of running Facebook, started the trend to push Social networks in the different direction where advertisers finally were able to leverage the entire social network.

Why pay for free
The smart brands did not only pay for ad space, but created applications and pages where ‘fan’ of the product could come together and be part of the family.

Companies loved the idea of fan, the ultimate social viral marketers. After all if the fans liked the product then they would spread the word, and for free.

Companies now spend thousands employing professionals for this very job. For many companies, this connection to its users is very important, not only because of the cost, but feedback from users makes for a better product, and a better product makes for better profits.

Buying into a brand
With users actively contributing to the social network of a brand, there has been an unexpected and unwelcome twist. People are actually speaking their mind….

Nestle chocolate has always been popular with consumers and it has only been recently that how the chocolate has been made has come up scrutiny. Like many confectionery companies Nestle use Palm Oil in the product, and groups like Greenpeace have started targeting companies like Nestle due to how their Palm Oil is collected.

It was not long before Nestle was to come into conflict with green activists, and this was the case on Facebook where one of its ‘fans’ changed the wording on a KitKat bar to read ‘Killer’.

Nestles response was to protect its band by removing the offending post.

Mob Rule
Many would have seen Nestles action as reasonable, but for the Social Network crowd this is seen as an affront to Freedom of speech, and it was not long before not only did it get out of hand, but Nestle had to apologise for protecting itself.

Social Networks like Facebook offer freedom of speech and the ability to speak to millions of like minded people, but if you are responsible for actively promoting a company do you really want freedom of Speech?

Speed of change especially in technology is constantly increasing but its worth remembering, quite often things may seem to change but quite often they actually stay the same.

In even two years time, social network will have seemed to change beyond belief, but companies will still use conventional advertising and product placement to get their message across because in advertising there isn’t and there will never be democracy.

If you have the money, you have the power.