free-logos-onlineThe internet is littered with websites promising free logos. Are they actually free? Or do they come with a hidden price?

Having a logo designed can be costly, mostly because creating a visual representation of your company isn’t a simple task that takes a few minutes. The endeavor usually begs for R & D time and a lot of effort from talented, trained and presumably experienced artists and designers. So let’s ask ourselves a fairly straightforward question: is anyone going to pour their heart, soul and required time into the creation of your company brand logo, give you the end product, and all reproduction rights to said product for free? Pair that with the technical know-how to create the correct logo files & formats that you’ll use in a wide variety of applications. Let’s not forget the design software that costs (legal versions anyway) a pretty penny in subscription fees or outright purchase. So how can websites advertise what they refer to as ‘free logos’ at all? It certainly doesn’t make much sense until we understand what’s going on under the hood, where we’ll see, those ‘free logos’ and the Google come-hither is, to be charitable, a misnomer. They ain’t free at all but often just a search engine technique to lure people into clicking on a website link.

The rationale behind ‘free logo’ link bait.

In many (most?) instances, the promised ‘free logos’ phrasing is known in Internet lingo as ‘click bait’ – used to describe a web page that’s optimized to be found through popular keyword searches on Google, Yahoo or Bing even if the link doesn’t exactly deliver what’s promised. The keywords free + logos are a decent combo – it’s often the phrase people first use when they decide to search for a logo. After all, who doesn’t want something for free, and no harm in looking. “Free Logos” also tends to be served up by most search engines as a ‘related search’ (the automatic keywords that are generated at the bottom of each search) on anything related to logo design, so having a page that ranks well for ‘free logos’ on the first few pages almost guarantees a wellspring of traffic. If you can’t get to the top of the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) for “free logo design” or some such, there’s always PPC (Pay Per Click) adds that can get you there (at a sometimes not insignificant cost.) There’s a lot of those too. You should ask yourself this though –  if a site advertising “free logos” is paying a couple of bucks for every click to get people to their site, including you, why wouldn’t they try to to sell you stuff once you got there?

Free logos are usually all about the ads.

Once you click on a “free logos” link in your fave search engine, invariably you’ll be taken to web pages loaded with Google Ad Words and other pay-per-click ads – click on any of these and the host website gets a few bucks thrown their way. There’s nothing wrong with this practice per se, but for you – a business owner looking for a new logo – it’s not particularly helpful towards that goal. So what about the free logos you were promised? You’ll invariably find some form of automated logo generator into which you can type your business name, pick one of a few awful fonts, gussy it up with a few special effect and visual gimmicks before downloading a low-resolution bitmap of this so-called ‘logo.’ Alas, this isn’t much of a logo to begin with (you could probably create something very similar using your own office software) and if we can ignore the visual issues, any application is pretty well limited to your website.

Free logos bait & switch.

Last time I performed a search on Google for ‘free logos’, one of the top ranked pages screams out this promise in bold blue letters –

FREE Logo Maker – FREE Logo Creator – FREE Online Logo Design

That’s some pretty intense keyword stuffing but one supposes a site screaming promises of free stuff might certainly offer you the ability to develop a logo without actually charging you to do so. Not really though. This come-hither is a favored technique of the “Do-It-Yourself” Flash and HTML5 Logo Generators that have popped up all over the Internet in recent years and I’d argue a pretty disingenuous way of convincing you to select their website over the other search results presented above and below you click on the link you’ll find that there’s really nothing free at all. Here’s how it works – you can take a look at the site’s library of rudimentary clip art logos (which they claim they aren’t,) enter your business name into a slick flash-driven interface. The server based application will combine it with an icon or artwork that you have selected and voila. One free logo. Trouble is, and while you can “ooh” and “aah” over how your new ‘logo’ looks without paying a dime, if you want to download usable files you’ll need, that’ll cost you $39, $49 or $99 bucks depending on file support. Last time I checked, if something has a price tag of any amount, it ain’t free because free literally means it doesn’t have one. I might to be tempted to argue that these clip art icons aren’t even worth the $49 either, but that’s another argument best left for another day.

Logos that are actually free?

That’s not to say you can’t find some sites that are giving away actual logos for free. You can – I managed to find a few this morning – but these are worthy of closer inspection too. Most are ad driven (see above) and offer up downloadable bitmap .pngs and .jpgs which truth to tell, aren’t really logos at all but digital scribbles. Some may have some ownership issues – one site had at least 4 registered trademarks on the first page – and using the designs featured will probably run you into some serious legal issues. A site where the sole purpose is to get visitors to click on PPC ad links is not terribly serious about designing logos in the first place, and those thousands of free images had to come from somewhere. It would cost a lot more to create a library of exclusive and original stock icons than one could hope to earn via Google ‘click-through’ ad revenue. There’s also a few people who seem to be offering free logos as a way of getting inbound links to their blogs and websites – not a bad idea really – though the designs previewed aren’t the best and replete with technical issues. If you’re set on getting a free logo, these sites are the only real scenario that seems to be without any copyright and/or trademark problems.

You get what you pay for.

I recently read the blog of a high profile business site that had published a how-to post advising readers on getting the most out of free logos offered on various sites. If you wanted to use a free logo service, the article suggested, you first need to perform some due diligence including interrogating the hapless designer about their resume, level of experience, work in their portfolio, customer service, technical support, etc. Fine and dandy I suppose, but it ignores a basic principle that should be understood by anyone who does anything for a living – if you’re not paying for a logo, you can’t really expect technical support, hand holding through implementation or other types of customer support that design firms offer to entice you into paying for their services. I could only imagine the response people might get once they began hassling the poor inexperienced designer who thought that offering up a few downloadable icons was a cool way to convince people to visit his/her blog. “Get bent” comes to mind. This is something we understand ourselves at The Logo Factory – from time-to-time we offer free stuff of our own – we call them Morgue Files – and site visitors are welcome to use these free bits and pieces to their heart’s content. Some of this art is great, some of it so-so, but all of it is offered up strictly “as is.” You’re completely on your own when it comes to using it – nothing personal, just the realities of day-to-day business. And here’s the thing – I’d still not recommend anyone use one of our Morgue Files for their corporate identity as it’s just not a very good idea in the long haul.

Customize our clip art logos. For free!

A couple of design contest platforms are now selling what they refer to as “ready-made” logos (while another quit recently because of the sheer headaches involved.) What these logos are is rejected submissions from logo design contests, re-bundled as stock logos that, for a premium, can be purchased exclusively and outright (if you get to it first) or for less, by a lot of business people (if the first buyer neglects to buy it exclusively.) Anyhoo, here’s what you’re promised there:
Free Logos BannerDespite the word “free” being crowbarred into two consecutive sentences, let’s translate what’s actually being promised: “Buy one of our rejected contest entries and we’ll slap your company name into the spot that now says “company name.” Again, nothing terribly wrong with the concept, but not entirely accurate in the marketing as these free logos aren’t free. You pay for them. You just don’t pay extra to have them customized for your company.

You managed to find free stuff. Now what?

Let’s say, against all odds, you managed to find an honest-to-goodness logo that strikes your fancy. Should you use it as your cornerstone to your brand? Probably not. Here’s the why – you managed to find a source of free designs through searching on Google, Yahoo or Bing. So will a lot of people who’ll also be using the art for their logo. Not good. Worse, some of these folks may include your clients or customers. As the logo will probably still be featured on the web site as an example (we shouldn’t really expect anyone to remove a design if we’re not shelling out) your client (or potential client) will see you think so little of your company identity that you grabbed a free logo off the internet and slapped it on your website, business card or letterhead. That’s not exactly the most professional image to project.

Even if the logo was free.