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Who Wants A Free Website? The Scam Going Round Facebook

Today, I’m going to be talking about one of the horrific scams that do the rounds on social media in my industry regarding web design.

Now, if you’ve ever used a local Facebook group – here in Ellesmere Port, we’ve got one called Pride in the Port, for example – you’ll see people go in and talk about their business and what’s going on in the neighbourhood, such as seeing a dodgy character lurking around.

In these groups, you’ll get people wanting to break into web design. They’ll submit posts like “would anybody like a free website, I’m looking to get my portfolio started. All you have to do is pay for the domain name and the hosting, the website is free!”

This sounds like a great offer, and if you’re brand new in business and you’re just getting started for the first time, you may think “what have I got to lose?” The worst-case scenario, it’s the first website the person building it has ever made and it won’t be very good – but hey, it’s free! You may even get someone designing it who’s really creative and does a fantastic job, so who’s the winner there? You, obviously!

Except actually, no, you’re not. In a lot of cases, and I’ve seen this myself recently, it could be a really rotten scam. There’s a company I won’t name for legal reasons, but it’s based in the UK and employs commission-based agents around the UK to go into Facebook groups to post pretty much that exact same message.

These agents get loads of responses from people saying “oh me, I’d like to know more about this” and “oh that sound great”, tagging their friends in it too. These posts get loads of people interested, only it’s not a free website.

You see, this company isn’t some young girl or young lad who’s just getting into web design for the first time and wants to build up their portfolio – they have tens of thousands of clients throughout the UK, and they’ve all been hooked in using this same process.

The websites these people get – firstly, they register the domain name for you, so whether you can get that domain name back afterwards is debatable. They host the website for you at a cost of £150 a year. Now, that’s not expensive, that’s very reasonable actually, but you’re getting a free website.

The website you’re getting is free, and itself is a copy and paste job from every other website they’ve done. All they do is swap the logo, the photos and the text – that’s it!

If you see one website from this company, you’ve seen them all. If you want anything additional on that website that isn’t included in that free template – say, for example, you want a contact form, a security certificate (the little SSL padlock in the address bar), additional pages, some animation or some video, or perhaps you even want to be able to update the website yourself via a content management system – it’s all additional obviously, because for £150 pounds for the hosting, how can a professional company that employs multiple people operate on that?

You can’t have somebody sat there designing and building a website, doing it over a period of a few weeks, when you’re paying £150, and that’s just for the hosting. If it was one person getting started for the first time in their bedroom who just wants to build up their portfolio, then yes, that works, but when it’s a national company doing it, it doesn’t work.

So, why are they doing it? Why are they are hooking people in on the promise of a free website that isn’t free and gets them absolutely nothing because it’s identical to every other single website they’ve ever done? I’d estimate it takes them five to seven minutes to build each one, as it’s just copy the folder, paste the text, swap the logo and you’re done, that’s it.

What you expect to get from a professional company for £150? Nothing, and that’s what you do get, nothing.

Now, I did a talk about this at a BNI meeting recently, and the owner of the venue was looking up at me smiling, pointing and nodding as I spoke. After the meeting finished, he walked over to me and said that what I had described is exactly what had happened to them. He showed me the website on his phone, and I saw the design and knew it was the same company.

I could identify who built it just by looking at the header of the website, because they are all exactly the same. He said that website hasn’t gone live because he is embarrassed, and additionallym he paid more than £150 – I think he told me £500. So that free website he was offered actually cost him £500, and it hasn’t even gone live – it’s awful and embarrassing.

I did the talk again the following day at another BNI meeting, and somebody else came up to me after – a printer – and she said what I’d described in my 60 seconds had happened to them, and their website still hadn’t gone live and wasn’t what they wanted.

It’s frightening, because when I tell this story, so many people listen to it and go “oh yeah, that happened to me” and say how much they’ve spent on it, all because they wanted an email address or a contact form and it cost more. Once you’re in, you don’t want to lose the money you’ve already paid by just walking away from it, so you put more money in and more money in.

Heaven help anybody that says “I want this website to be found in Google” and “I want to be ranking for this”, as then you’re in a world of pain. That’s going to cost you a heck of a lot more as it’s not going to work, and even if you did get found in Google, anybody that lands on that website is not going to enquire with you because it’s rubbish.

All of this comes from a Facebook group with somebody saying “who’d like a free website, all you’ve got to do is pay for the domain name and hosting and I’ll do the rest just to build up my portfolio.” S

It sounds like a really good offer, it sounds almost too good to be true – and that’s because it is.

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