Technically, HTML and CSS are free, you only need a text editor to create a webpage, but that only works if you know some HTML and you still need to pay for hosting. Having a website is no longer a nice extra, it is a necessity.
The downside of free websites are the limitations. Most platforms assume as I did that you are novice level if you are even bothering to read this. You are only going to have access to things that are “safe” for you to change. Like the color, font, adding images, but you may or may not be able to add scripts or other custom code. If you want to track visitors or verify with external services it may not be possible without a paid plan.
Tracking visitors and having secure forms are not optional if you are hoping to generate leads from your website. Forms need to be secure and you need Analytics to see what parts of your inbound marketing strategy are working and which ones need improvement.
These are some pretty good options if you are too cheap to pay for a real website. None of them are ideal solutions but they will all “work” as websites. Some of these are little more than online business cards, but for some businesses that is all you need.
Certainly one of the most popular services out there for websites, especially when you count all the self-hosted installs, and for good reason. WordPress is probably one of the easiest platforms to get started with. The free version is limited to the free themes, but there should be one that you find acceptable. Themes are customizable in the typical ways: color, font, widgets, etc. Premium themes are an additional cost and so is running a custom domain.
Tumblr is a platform you should sign up for whether it is your main website or another channel for publishing content. Multiple themes are available both on Tumblr and on Envato and are fully code customizable. No premium charge for running on your own domain and no limits on the amount of content. Tumblr also integrates with other social media like Twitter and Facebook and has it’s own audience with tools for people to discover, like, and share your content. Tumblr also has some fantastic SEO benefits thanks in part to the Tumblr platform itself.
Has every feature you could want in a free website builder, unlimited content publishing, custom domain, drag and drop editing. Unfortunately the free version also brands your website “prominently.” In fact you need to step up past the $20/month that includes “Subtle Populr branding” as well as Google Analytics integration and Secure Private Pages, to the $50/month plan. Looks good, but $50/month doesn’t seem like a good value for something that you could have for free.
Custom themes and templates are available on the free plan, that includes Weebly branding, but no custom domain name until $8/month plan. No SSL until you reach $50/month, which again seems a bit high for something so basic as adding a SSL Certificate. Several companies offer SSL for free now so that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Remember Geocities? And modem handshakes? I just found this too recently and it’s too nostalgic to not share. You get setup on a subdomain of neocities.com, custom domain with a premium plan. Full HTML editing capabilities and scripting. Probably the only real “website builder” of the bunch which is really saying something.
Google admitted that Wix sites were not getting indexed properly, the official word was that Google was working on it. Don’t know whatever happened with that. Not exactly a comforting thought that you might not show up when someone Google’s your name, but it’s just another downside of free websites.
Our final recommendation is Tumblr, although Neocities looks great and every bit as functional, Tumblr is winning on familiarity and their built-in audience and sharing.
In closing, nothing is really free, you need to invest time into these unknown programs and see how things turn out before you will know if you made the best choice. Know that someday you will probably outgrow your free website and you won’t have to feel bad about all the money you spent or time that you wasted.
UPDATE: You can get a free website with Google My Business, custom domains are premium service.