Everybody likes a bargain and that’s one reason free web hosting attracts business owners who want to stretch their resources. But is it really a bargain? There’s a lot about free web hosting you should know before jumping on the bandwagon.
How Does Free Web Hosting Work?
All forms of web hosting operate by offering disk space (for storage) and bandwidth (so users can see them) for website files. With a free option, you are allotted a certain amount of shared resources. The important word to keep in mind is “shared.” That means you and a few hundred (or thousand) other website owners will be in competition for the same resources.
Sometimes that works out okay. Sometimes it doesn’t. You may find free hosting includes enough bandwidth for your needs, at least in the beginning. The price certainly is right and you can leave any time you like. Even so, there are some challenges that are likely to reflect badly on you and your business if you go with this solution.
How Long Will Your Host Be Around?
Paid hosting providers tend to stick around longer. Even though the names may change competitors purchasing one another, but your pages continue to load and you still enjoy all the perks that you paid for in the past.
By contrast, a free hosting partner could be here today and gone tomorrow with nary a trace of its former existence. And with the demise of the host, your data will be gone too.
Consider the case of GeoCities. In early 2009, Yahoo announced no new registrations would be accepted but sites already active on the platform would remain up and running. Months later, clients were informed the sites would be deleted by a certain date. Yahoo has been closing down sections of the service over the years. The last free part, GeoCities Japan, will go away in 2019.
Guess what? The bare-bones free service has four paid hosting services for company. What does that tell you? Do you want to be in a position of needing to scramble to salvage your site and find another host with very little warning? Paid hosting traditionally offers a more stable environment.
Speed and Your Free Hosting
With free hosting, you get what you pay for in every sense. That includes how quickly your pages load.
Paid hosting services have different packages that ensure you have enough bandwidth and your pages don’t take forever to load. Free hosting basically gives you one option and that’s it.
Think of what that means to your business. People get tired of waiting for pages to load and leave. Chances are they won’t be back. Viewed from this perspective, free hosting actually reduces your chances of building a stronger clientele.
Ads You Don’t Control
You may design the pages, but did you know your host can change them? Specifically, expect to see banner and other types of ads on any or all of your pages. That’s how they make money to offer free hosting.
Why is that a problem? You don’t control the nature of those ads. They could be ads for products you find personally objectionable. They could even be for a competitor.
If true control of your pages is important, including whether or not to display ads — which has a lot do do with your perceived professionalism — consider a paid host.
The Web Address People See When They Reach Your Site
Free hosting comes with a free web address. It usually looks something like “www.widgets.sillyfreeloader.com” or a similar setup. You are often urged to purchase a unique URL and direct it to the web address supplied by your host.
That’s fine, but once that redirect occurs, readers who glance at the top of the page will see the address provided by the host, not your branded URL. Some won’t care. Others will wonder why you can’t afford proper hosting
It’s your reputation. You can look as professional as possible, or you can hope nobody notices the apparent redirect. Even if they don’t understand exactly what happened behind the scenes, they’ll feel like something fishy is going on.
Free Hosting and the Matter of Privacy and Data Theft
This one is a biggie. Paid hosts offer privacy tools designed to keep your data and pages secure. A free host offers bare-bones web hosting that doesn’t include much in the way of protection. That leaves you at a greater risk of being hacked or having data stolen.
It’s surprising how many people are as yet unaware the extent to which organized online surveillance exists. In the face of such attacks, the meager (non-existent) resources a free web host devotes to protecting your privacy stands no chance.
Simply put, there’s less of a risk of your pages being infected with spyware or viruses if you go with a paid host because their business survival depends on performance rather than shoveling ads onto your website.
Trouble When You Want to Move to a Different Host
What happens when you need more bandwidth? The free host can’t provide it, so you decide to move to another host. That’s not as simple as you may think.
Did you know that a free host can lock down your data? They’re making money off the ads displayed on your pages. Of course, they don’t want you to leave.
The best case scenario is you end up paying someone to manually move the content instead of being able to use host-provided tools. A manual move creates so much expense and hassle that you’ll probably kick yourself and wonder why you ever went with free hosting in the first place?
Does It Matter That I Run a Local Rather than an International Business?
It doesn’t matter if you are setting up a site for your local candy store or a corporation with locations in 50 countries. You need a host that provides enough space, proper data protection, and tools that keep you firmly in control of your content.
Your website is your ambassador on the internet. If it’s slow to load or obscured by all sorts of questionable ads, it doesn’t reflect on the host. All it does is damage the reputation of your business.
Even if money is tight, there are plenty of affordable paid hosting services that will help you create the right type of impression. You owe it to yourself to check out what those hosts offer in the way of support and tools.
If you’re in the market for a solid, professional, proven paid web host, here are three that we’ve personally vetted.
WP ENGINE: Back in 2009, the WP Mayor website was growing in popularity and page load speed had begun to suffer on the shared account it was on. After long days of mind-numbing research, we decided to go with WP Engine and have never looked back. This WordPress (obviously) specialty host comes with backups included, a staging area for experimenting with site changes before going live, and even includes a CDN service as part of the package?!
That kind of blew our minds.
WP Engine is far from free but very reasonably-priced for the features you get. Read our in-depth review of making the move. There’s a good chance you’ll find promotional pricing in place also.
KINSTA: After all the raving we just did about WP Engine, why would you want to go with any other host? Good question. For one thing, if it’s ALL about price for you, then Kinsta is just as solid of a choice for your WordPress hosting when it comes to the things that matter like global content delivery, responsive customer support, and airtight security for your files — for about five bucks less per month.
One area where Kinsta excelled over WP Engine was with sheer page load speed. Our tests revealed that Kinsta was the clear winner in this category, routinely coming in below Google’s two second benchmark. To be fair, WP Engine was no slouch either. Check out our head-to-head comparison between these two web host standouts.
SITEGROUND: We used to think of Siteground as an up-and-comer but it seems that this little hosting company that started in a college dorm room back in 2004 has arrived in the Big Time. We could dazzle you with stats and lists of features, which we do in this review, but the one thing that really matters is that customer satisfaction for this service is off the charts. Well, not exactly OFF the charts, but you get the idea. The bottom line is people like it.
Do You Really Need the Headaches of Dealing with a Free Web Host?
While free sounds great, is it worth the hassle in the long run? Too many business owners have found out the hard way that what seems free on the front end doesn’t work in the long run. You’ll end up paying for workarounds and find yourself bombarded with upsells for features that paid hosts offer as part of the package.
Save yourself time, trouble, and ultimately money by finding a reliable paid host. The setup will be just as easy, you have more security, and the overall expense will likely be significantly less than you imagined.