When setting up a website for the first time, the “free” option can be very tempting. We all want to save some cash, after all. But whatever you do, don’t fall for the snake oil salesman tactics of these free web hosting providers.
They might promise to get your site online without spending a dime. They may even offer you a “free domain”. But these offers are almost never worth the downsides they come with. They’re a terrible idea, and one you’ll only end up regretting.
Sure, not all free hosting providers are as bad as each other. Not all of them will have every one of the problems mentioned below. But they’re almost guaranteed to have at least a few of them.
It’s far wiser to choose an affordable, premium hosting provider (the most popular type being managed, shared hosting) from the outset, to save yourself plenty of headaches (and probably money) in the long run.
1. Nothing Is Really Free
In this world, nothing is truly free. These free web hosting companies, for instance, use a freemium business model. They offer a (very limited) free version of their full hosting services in the hope you’ll upgrade to their premium service in the future. You may only get 50 MB of storage and a tiny amount of bandwidth. No FTP access, and no way to transfer your content to another provider.
The free version is so limited that you’ll soon need to upgrade. To avoid the hassle of trying to move your site and its contents to another provider (which often isn’t even possible unless you upgrade), you’ll probably just cave, and pay for their service, even though it’s more expensive than most other premium options.
2. Your Site Could Disappear at Any Time
If the free hosting provider you choose finds itself in any trouble, they may shut down their services. You’ll likely be warned about this as per their terms and conditions, but that doesn’t mean your site content is safe.
Sometimes, services will just stop new signups, while keeping your site online (for a certain amount of time). But if the company decides to completely fold, and you didn’t transfer your content to another provider in time, you could find all your content deleted for good. These free hosting providers have also been known to remove sites if they break the T&Cs of the service in any way. That’s a big risk.
If you were using their “free domain” when this happens, any backlinks you built to your site become useless. When you re-publish your content on another site, you’ll be back to square one when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).
Start off with a domain name that you own. And with a hosting provider that allows you to easily backup and transfer your site.
3. Want to Sell Your Blog? Tough.
If you read the T&Cs of most free hosting providers, you’ll find out you don’t actually own that website. If you ever want to sell or transfer your site to someone else, you can’t. It’s their property, not yours.
Make sure you read the small print carefully. Some free hosting providers have also been known to retain ownership of your content too. That’s pretty insane, and especially troubling for professional photographers and artists who might upload images of their work.
So always go over the details with a fine-tooth comb.
4. No Server Control
Let’s say you publish a post that starts to become popular on Reddit or StumbleUpon. It’s likely that you’ll quickly exceed the bandwidth limit you get as part of your free hosting. Your site will go down, and you’ll lose tons of readers.
Buy some premium hosting from the get-go. Most people naturally hope their site will become more popular. It just might. Premium hosting doesn’t cost that much. You’ll get a much higher bandwidth limit, and if you manage to exceed that limit, you’ll be able to upgrade for a far more reasonable price.
5. It’ll Look Terrible
There are a number of reasons why websites hosted by free providers usually look terrible.
You’ll only be able to choose between a few basic themes. You might be able to alter the colors, and make some small layout changes, but it’s difficult to polish a turd.
You have to live with forced ads. Many free hosting providers expect to make cash from your site. Again, nothing is free. So expect to see some pretty irrelevant ads (or ads that directly compete with your own site) splashed all over your pages. This isn’t always the case, but it’s very common.
6. You Can’t Improve Your Site
As I said, you’ll barely be able to customize your site. But another issue is the complete lack of plugins and other helpful bits that can help you improve your site in the future.
Forget advanced customization. If you wanted to sell a few things, start a mailing list, etc. you’ll often need to install plugins (especially if you’re using WordPress). Free hosting only offers the very basics, which excludes plugins. If you want to do anything more than these very basics then, you’ll need to upgrade to premium hosting.
7. That Free Domain Might Not Really Be a Domain
Usually, when you sign up for free hosting you’ll be offered a “free domain name”. This will usually look something like
mysite.yourfreesite.com. Hardly professional, right?
Remember, your site address is not your own. What you’re being offered here is a subdomain. To reiterate, you never own this domain name. If their service shuts down, your website and your “free domain name” are likely to go with it.
It is easy and cheap to create a TLD. Buy a top level domain (TLD) that has been approved by IANA (such as .com or .co.uk). There are currently around 1,500 TLDs to choose between.
8. Moving Is a Nightmare
If you ever want to move your site to another hosting provider, prepare for a shed load of hassle if you’re using a free provider.
These providers often make it as complicated as possible for you to migrate away from their services. They do this in the hope that you will be flummoxed by all the problems that come with moving your site, prompting you to just pay an extortionate amount for their paid service, in return for keeping your sanity.
9. Google Won’t Do You Any Favors
Long gone are the times when Google treated “professional” websites as equal to “free” websites (if there ever was such a time). This is because so many of those free sites are of such a low quality, that Google (often) assumes all of them aren’t that great.
The real harm of low search engine rankings. Websites on free web hosts are ripe targets for spammers. You will have to be more vigilant to stave off spammers. You’ll also find it harder to rank your website for certain keywords if you’re using a free provider with your site hosted on one of their subdomains.
10. You Won’t Earn a Dime
If you’re hoping at any point to earn some ad revenue from your site, you’ll be disappointed. Most free hosting providers forbid you from including ads or affiliate links on your site.
Make your site future-proof. If you have even the slightest inkling that you might one day want to make some money from your site then, use a premium provider from day one. This ensures you have full control over your site, your content, and how you choose to monetize that content.
Buy Proper Hosting From the Outset
As you can see, free hosting just sets you up for headache after headache. And I haven’t even mentioned the limited or non-existent analytics, the lack of branded email addresses, complete lack of support, slow speeds, lack of uptime guarantees, and sub-par security.
Hell, just save yourself the hassle, and buy some web hosting from the outset. So in brief here are the critical reasons you should opt for a professional paid host versus a free web hosting company.
- Take full control over your site.
- Plan for better search rankings.
- Get your own real domain name that contributes to your brand.
- Keep the option open to move to new hosting providers.
- Scale your site as it becomes more popular.
To see a list of the web hosting providers we most recommend, check out our best hosting provider list.
Have you ever had problems with free hosting providers? And if you pay for hosting, which provider do you recommend?
Image Credit: Antonio Guillem via Shutterstock.com