Web-Savvy People Know That Nothing is Free



Q. A designer friend wants to do a site for me free, to practice web design. Since we are both on AOL, he checked into it and says I get 2 mgs free. It seems like a good deal, since I was not thinking of putting one up and didn't want the extra cost at this point. I do not see any down side to this. Since my clients are local and not nationwide, I feel that few people will wander across my site and hire me. If someone calls looking for my book, it is easier to refer them to my site, but is it worth the cost?

A. First, let's make a distinction between free web design and free hosting at AOL. The free web design may be a good deal, though you want to spend some time with the designer outlining your hopes and wishes for the eventual site. AOL does include 2 MB of webspace per screen name and you can have up to five screen names per account (total of 10MB) in their basic service agreement. So yes there is "no-additional -cost" for this space. The Zillionbucks basic service provides 20mb, incidentally.

You will discover the real cost only after a year or so of promoting your AOL site - after your site has been cataloged by numerous search engines. Customers need to be able to discover your products and services before they will send money in your direction. If you achieve decent rankings in the search engines, you will find the move to another domain rather vexing. Why? Because you will have to start your promotion efforts all over, as all your prospective clients that have bookmarked your AOL web site will find it is no longer there. Instead, they will get the dreaded 404 Error code ("file not found"). You'll need to start all over with efforts to be "found" by the search engines. With some search engines this process can take several months, and with some even longer.

My own first site, was on CompuServe because it was "free" with my account. This was at a point where dedicated web hosts were a rare thing. All was well and good - until I decided to get my own domain http://www.riecks.com and then moved my Web presence to this new domain. Of course, my new site wasn't showing up in many of the major search engines and I was afraid that potential clients would not be able to find me, or worse, even think I had gone out of business. The sad, short story is that in order to remain visible I still had to pay that monthly CompuServe fee for another eight or nine months - after I began paying for my own domain! The same will apply to you, using AOL "hosting."

If I had started with my own domain, I could have avoided this duplication of effort and cost from the beginning. Owning your own domain name and site, you will establish your e-mail identity at your domain (rather than your local ISP dial-up account). Then it will be possible to move your site to a new domain host without any disruption due to change of URL or e-mail address.

Is it worth it? Domain hosting can cost as little as $15.00 a month for reliable, quality hosting and with your own domain name, you will be firmly in charge of your own Internet destiny. I know I've gotten a number of jobs in the past year that I can directly attribute to clients finding my site using the search engines. (I know this because I make it a point of asking how they found me, when they contact me via e-mail or by phone.)

Here's to you—and your first Zillionbucks website!

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