Microsoft is officially getting into the website-building biz. On Wednesday, the company’s digital marketing wing rolled out a shiny new suite of tools which promise to give businesses a quick and easy way to set up their own landing pages. And unlike some of the other site builders on the market—like, say, Squarespace or Wix—Microsoft’s new platform is entirely free.
Setting up one of these sites is a pretty straightforward process. After signing up for an account on Microsoft’s marketing platform, all you need to do is pick a custom URL and start plugging in some of the basic details of your business. Microsoft takes care of all the formatting, which means that on one hand, you don’t need to know a lick of code to get your site up and out the door fast. On the other hand, this means Microsoft’s sites lack a lot of the customization options you’d see with some of the paid-for products on the market.
That’s not to say these sites look bad by any means—at least according to the screenshots Microsoft shared on its blog, they’re totally polished and presentable, albeit a bit generic.
Microsoft’s foray into the site-building space comes just about a month after Wordpress—better known for providing the CMS backbone to countless sites across the web—did the same. The Built By Wordpress platform that was rolled out back in January was pitched as a way to help small businesses set up online stores, professional landing pages, or “educational websites” with the help of Wordpress’s own in-house team. Costs for setting up one of these custom sites start at just under $5,000 dollars.
That’s a pretty steep price to pay for the businesses that are still hurting as they begin emerging from months of nationwide lockdowns. A totally free, bare bones website might be appealing for people that either can’t afford to pay a few grand out of pocket for a shiny new Wordpress site, or are tired of forking over their hard-earned cash for a monthly Wix or Squarespace subscription.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t offering this service out of the goodness of its heart. What’s being promoted here isn’t only a suite for building free sites, but an ad platform that business owners can use for promoting that site. Naturally, spending money on that ad platform means spending money on Microsoft ads. If a small business owner wants to advertise their new site across search, Microsoft gives them the option to do so, but only if they advertise across Google, Yahoo and Bing together. If that business owner wants to advertise across social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the only way Microsoft allows them to do so is by spending some of their dollars on Microsoft’s ad network too. In other words, the price for promoting these sites might mean inadvertently running ads across Linkedin, even if that’s the last platform they want to touch.
When it comes to ad dollars, Microsoft’s always tailed pretty far behind the so-called duopoly of Facebook and Google that collectively gobble over half of every ad dollar spent online. To give a bit of perspective, Microsoft reported earning about $7.7 billion dollars last year off of advertising on Bing, while Google reported earning $31.9 billion dollars—primarily off of search—over the course of... a quarter.
Over the past few years we’ve seen Microsoft try to claw back some of that ad spend in all sorts of ways, from acquiring ecommerce smaller platforms to entirely overhauling Bing’s interface. Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported that Microsoft even floated the idea of acquiring Pinterest for about $51 billion dollars—a move that some have pointed out would be a boon for Microsoft’s ad business.