Free Logos are seldom free

Free Logos

Are they actually free? Or do they come with a price?

Getting a logo developed can be expensive. Tying a visual trademark to your company name isn’t easy either. It requires a lot of time and effort from well-trained, talented and presumably experienced experts. So ask yourself this pretty straightforward question: who’s going to pour their heart and soul into the development of your company brand, then turn this creation (and all reproduction rights to it) over to you? For free? It will require a potentially exhaustive process, hours and hours of development time to even hope of of getting it right. Market research. Technical prowess that involves access to design software that costs (legal versions) a bucket load of dough. And then, shell out big bucks for pay-per-click advertising on Google so that you’ll click on their link when you search for “free logos”? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Until that is, we understand what’s really going on, and as we’ll see, the ‘free logos’ come-hither is a bit of a misnomer. It’s sage advice that in life (and this case, business) nothing’s really free and when it comes to logos and what-not, this rule of thumb holds up pretty well. I’d also argue that the idea of ‘free logos’ is a love child of the Internet itself – a search engine technique that only exists to get people to click on this or that website link.

Free logos link bait.

In many (most?) instances, the promised ‘free logos’ are known in Internet parlance as ‘link bait’ – a term used to describe a website page that’s set up to be found under popular keyword searches on Google, Yahoo, Bing (or whatever the new Microsoft search engine is called.) The phrase ‘free logos’ is a good one – it’s often the keyword phrase that people first use when they first decide to search for online logo design services. It’s also served up by most of the search engines as a ‘related search’ (the auto-acked keywords that show up at the bottom of search results,) so having a website ranking high for ‘free logos’ on the first few pages of a search engine pretty well guarantees a wellspring of traffic. It’s just part of the ongoing search engine battle to get people to visit a website.

It’s all about the ads.

Invariably the pages you’ll find are full of Google Ad Words and other pay-per-click advertising. Not that there’s anything wrong with this practice, but for you the client, it’s just not a particularly effective way to develop your corporate identity, at least one with any level of credibility, or as a method of finding a suitable design firm. When you arrive on the page you’ll invariably find some form of automated logo generator into which you can input your company name, add a few gimmicky special effects, and then download a low-resolution bitmap of this so-called ‘logo’ to use to your hearts content. Trouble is, it’s not much of a logo (you could probably create something similar in your own office software) and any application – visual issues notwithstanding – is pretty well limited to your website.

Free logos bait & switch.

If you perform a search on Google for ‘free logos’, one of the top ranked pages has this title –

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

Here’s another:

Get a Free logo design using our quick and easy logo maker tool. Its FREE to use. Only Pay if you like it.

Pretty intense keyword stuffing, and one supposes a site screaming these promises would certainly offer you the ability to develop a logo without actually charging you for it. Not really. This is a favored technique of the “Do-It-Yourself” Flash Logo Generators that are popping up all over the Internet and I’d argue a pretty disingenuous way of getting you to select their URL over the other search results presented. If you click on the link (the reason behind the upper caps ‘free’ one supposes) you’ll find that there’s really nothing free at all. Basically, you can take a look at the web sites battery of clip art logos (which they claim they aren’t) and enter your company name into a slick flash-driven interface. It combines your name with one of their clip art icons, which is nice and all. As for the “free” but, you can “ooh” and “aah” over how your new ‘logo’ looks without paying a dime, true, though if you want to download the logo, it’s gonna set you back $39, $49 or $99 bucks. Last time I checked, is something has a price tag of any amount, it ain’t really free. I’d also argue that these clip art icons aren’t even worth the $49, but that’s another argument entirely. The guys that promise free logos (only pay if you like it)? No comment needed really.

Are Free Logos Really Free?

Logos that are actually free?

You may actually manage to find sites that on the surface ARE giving away free icons – I managed to find a few this morning – but even these are worthy of closer inspection. Most are full of pay-per-click ads (the real reason for the site in the first place) and offer up downloadable bitmap .pngs and .jpgs which truth to tell, aren’t really logos at all. The images that can be described as logos 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 at some point. A site that’s 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 images had to come from somewhere. Where they came from is the million dollar question – it would certainly cost a lot more to create a library of icons than one could hope to earn through a few Google ‘click-throughs.’ If you drill down a little further in the search results, you will find a few people who seem to be offering free logos as a way of getting inbound links to their blogs, and websites – not a terribly bad idea really – though the designs previewed aren’t the best in the world and most are replete with technical issues. However, if you’re set on getting a free logo, these sites represent about the only real freebie scenario that seems to be without any copyright and/or trademark problems. If you manage to find a site offering logos under these parameters, I’d say go for it.

You get what you pay for. Or don’t pay for.

I recently read the blog of another well-travelled business website in which they had a rather somber post that advised its readers how to get the most out of free logos (though the article was more linkbait than a helpful treatise.) If business owners wanted to use a free logo service, the article suggested, they they first needed to perform a few steps which included interrogating the hapless designer on his or her resume, experience level, portfolio, customer service, technical support, etc. It pretty well ignored something that I thought would be understood – if you’re not paying for a logo, you can’t really expect technical support, hand holding through the implementation or other types of services that design firms offer up in order to entice you to pay for their services. I also had a fun time imagining the response people would get once they started 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” would have been my response I think. See, from time-to-time we offer free logo stuff of our own – they’re called Morgue Files – for visitors to download and use to their heart’s content. Some of this art is great, some of it so-so, and is offered up as is. You’re on your own when it comes to using it – nothing personal, just the realities of business. And even though it’s available on our site, 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.

Customize our clip art logos. For free!

Several design contest platforms are now selling what they refer to as “ready-made” logos. What they actually are is rejected submissions from logo design contests that are re-bundled as stock logos that can be bought exclusively (if you get to it first) or by a whole bunch of people (if the first buyer neglects to buy it outright.) Anyhoo, here’s what you’re promised there:

Free Logos Banner

Despite the word “free” being crowbarred into two consecutive sentences, here’s what it actually says: “Buy one of our rejected contest entries and we’ll slap your company name into the spot that now says Company Name.” Not exactly free, but whatever.

You managed to find free stuff. Now what?

So you managed (against the odds) to find a gratis logo. Should you use it as your company identity? Probably not. Simple reasoning really. You managed to find a source of no-pay designs through Google, Yahoo or Bing. And so might your clients or customers. And as the design will probably still be featured on the web site (can’t really expect anyone to remove a design if you’re not paying for it) your client (or potential client) will be able to see that you think so little of your company identity that you simply grabbed a free logo off some website and slapped it on your business card and letterhead.

Not exactly the most professional image in the world. Even though it was free.

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