Before working in the domain and hosting business, I used to think that free web hosting was a great deal since there is no obligation or cost to me. I set up many different free web hosting sites, but they all had similar problems.
Some had so much advertising all over it that you could not read my actual text. Other sites had minimal advertising, but hardly any functionality like database support or worse, storage space. In one case, if I had more than 100 views a day, my website would show that I was over my limit and needed to upgrade to a payment plan to get rid of the limit.
Unfortunately for me, I have had to learn the hard way some of the tricks that many free web hosting providers do to keep their services free.
Free Web Hosting With Free Domain
It is common for free web hosting providers to offer a "free domain with free web hosting". Most customers think they will get a domain name like "davidhallbusinesswebsitehere.ca", but instead they are given a sub folder or a sub directory of a main domain. For example, www.freewebhostingprovider.ca/CustomerNumber or CustomerNumber.freewebhostingprovider.ca.
The reason why free web hosting providers give a folder or sub domain is because there is a cost to register a new domain name. A domain name registration fee has to be paid to the domain registry (such as Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) that runs the domain registry for .ca domains). This fee allows a customer to have the right to use the domain name for the registration term purchased usually between 1 to 10 years.
The Free Domain Does Not Move With You
As a website master and author of content, it is an extremely time consuming task to raise awareness of your website and generate traffic to your website on a regular basis. So, having a domain name like www.freewebhostingprovider.ca/CustomerNumber when you first start out might be okay for a small hobby site or small business.
However, what happens if you decide to move away from the free web hosting provider because your website has grown in popularity or needs more complex features ?
You end of having to start over since you will have a new website URL like (www.newhostingprovider.ca/customerID) and people will not know your new website. This means all the effort you put into building up the website is lost and you have to start over with a new free web hosting provider.
The Free Domain Is Not Professional
As a consumer, one of the red flags of a fraudulent website is the domain name. Both the www.freehostingprovider.ca/CustomerNumber or CustomerNumber.freehostingprovider.ca domains do not look legitimate or professional, and potential customers will assume your business is a "fly by night" business.
Also, having a very long domain name can be confusing to customers as well as being hard to remember. Therefore, it is always recommended you invest in a domain name initially as your hard work will always stay with you and will reflect positively on you.
Free Domains Do Not Support Internet Advertising Revenue
If you have a popular blog or website and were thinking about using internet advertising to generate additional income, you are not allowed to use a free domain such as www.freewebhostingprovider.ca/CustomerNumber or CustomerNumber.freewebhostingprovider.ca. This is because companies like Google Adsense require you to own your own domain name. Therefore, if you would like to generate revenue on a popular website you create, you need to own the domain itself.
Free Web Hosting Providers Advertise Your Customers or Spam You
Free Web Hosting services have to raise revenue in some manner since they are a business. Here are some of the ways free web hosting providers generate income:
- The most common way that a free web hosting provider generates income is to automatically add Google AdSense to on every website t hey host. The problem is that companies like Google are good at showing ads related to your site. That means if you sell custom soap, the ads displayed will likely be for competitors that sell the same type of soap and possibly for less money. This alone can decimate your business since your website also displays the ads of your competition and will drive away traffic from your site. Most of the free web hosting providers will enable you to remove the advertising from your website, but only if you upgrade to a paid plan.
- Another way companies can use advertising is that they require their users to keep clicking on Google Ads each week to keep their account open, since it is the Google Ads that will keep paying for the hosting service. One company did this to me and it drove me crazy, trying to keep up with the quota for the week. Just like everyone else, I can get busy or take a vacation and then my site is down for not keeping my quota.
- Sometimes the free web hosting provider will constantly hound you to upgrade from the free package to the paid service or show you features you can use, but when you try to use it, inform you that you need to pay for it. This business model assumes that the paid customers will compensate for the free customers. The biggest problem with this is that paid customers usually have to overpay to keep things running.
- Sometimes a web host is just a hobby site for a person and the "hosting" is just on a couple of servers running at someone's home. If you were to setup your website using this platform, you could run into all kinds of problems. Especially since most hobby sites do not have dedicated IP addresses, just the ones allocated by ISPs or cable companies and these change when the servers reboot or ISP decides to change it.
- The worst of the free web hosting platforms is when a new business owner starts it up for free to see what is is like to run a web host without any obligations to the customers. Usually without notice, the business owner will then switch the business over to a paid service, hoping most customers will just stay on and pay as it is too time consuming to move.
Many free web hosting services lose to their business model and shutdown. For example, Yahoo! closed their free web hosting service GeoCities in April 2009. There are no backups of the content. However, with paid web hosting, you can schedule regular backups so you always "own" your own content because you have a local version of it.
Free web hosting providers need to generate revenue to stay in business. So if have to pay for the "free" service through ads or your time, in the end, you are better off to pay a small monthly fee for commercially successful reliable web hosting service like Webnames.ca offers.
Free Web Hosting Are Not The Best Hosting Platforms
Websites require a lot of effort to create and maintain as well as keep the content fresh so people are interested to keep reading what you write. However, a free web hosting platform can not grow with you.
Free Web Hosting Services Are Limited On Purpose
On paid commercial web hosting plans, like the ones provided by Webnames.ca, users are given a lot of freedom with what they can change on the server, except some server resources like CPU and memory, since no one website should cause the rest of the websites to stop responding.
However, in many free web hosting service providers, they do not offer common features like FTP, MySQL databases and PHP programming functions.
Also, if you need to change files around on your website, there is no access to the .htaccess file to redirect the search engines and visitors to your new web page. If you start doing search engine optimization, setting up 301 redirects will be extremely important in order to keep your website working, but allow you to optimize page names. 301 Redirects tells the web browser and search engines that your page still exists, but is now located at a different location (site has permanently moved).
Besides storage and features, bandwidth can also be an issue with free web hosting providers. If you get a spike of a large number of visitors due to a recent promotion or mail out, your site might stop responding all together. Most paid commercial web hosting providers provide ample bandwidth, but free web hosting services might use this as a way to get people to pay more.
Free Web Hosting with Internet Service Provider (ISP)
When I signed up with my local ISP for internet access, it came with a small free web hosting space. Not only was the URL automatically tied to my email address username, but the web hosting I got with my plan was a total 30 Megs only and only supported HTML pages (only in the fine print on the website).
Most commercial web hosting providers offer a minimum of 1 Gig of storage or As Much As You Need storage like Webnames.ca. Similar to the problem of free web hosting providers, if I plan to switch ISPs, my website, as well as my email address, goes down.
Spammers on Free Web Hosting Services can ban your site from Google Search Results
According to the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog from March 6, 2012, "…If a free hosting service begins to show patterns of spam, we make a strong effort to be granular and tackle only spammy pages or sites. However, in some cases, when the spammers have pretty much taken over the free web hosting service or a large fraction of the service, we may be forced to take more decisive steps to protect our users and remove the entire free web hosting service from our search results…."
This is one of the biggest elements out of your control. Hopefully the free web hosting service stays on top of the purchases and usage of the website to keep spammers at bay, but spammers like "free" just as much as well-intentioned people.
Free Web Hosting Performance Issues
Many customers look at the word "free" and forget about all the other really important web hosting factors. There is no point setting up a website with great content, if your readers can't get to your site due to performance limitations.
Performance takes into account a number of different considerations. Here are some of the common performance issues:
- Many free web hosting providers overload the servers on purpose to get the most people on one server.
- Web hosting service providers might limit bandwidth and usage to ensure that no one person uses too many resources. However, the impact is that media or large photos never load correctly.
- Free web hosting providers may locate the servers in third world countries to save on electrical and staffing costs. If 99% of your customers are in Canada, then every page request must be sent to a third world country over slower bandwidth. This page load speed will be horrible for your customers and they will not stay on your site.
No matter what is causing the performance issues, Google uses the site speed in their web search result decisions. According to the Official Google Webmasters Central Blog from April 09, 2010, "... users place a lot of value in speed — that's why we've decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings."
The Webnames.ca's web hosting is located in Canada, which means that for Canadian websites promoting to Canadians, you will get much faster performance than from larger American web hosting providers.
No Obligations and No Support
The biggest problem with free web hosting sites is the fact that web hosting providers do not have any obligations on the quality of service or resolving problems quickly when they occur.
When you pay for a commercial web hosting site, like Webnames.ca web hosting, you can expect a high level of up time. However, with a free web hosting service, you get what you are given since you have not paid for the service. Usually they do best efforts to keep it running most of the time.
The other issue is that free web hosting depends on a business model that has minimal revenue generated, especially if it depends on advertising alone. This means that most free web hosting providers have minimal staff to keep the servers running, usually at the expense of having little to no customer support staff available to help customers with problems.
Free Web Hosting vs. Paid Web Hosting
Given the many number of issues related to free web hosting like the domain name, web hosting platform restrictions, performance issues and lack of obligations to the customers, I can no longer recommend free web hosting to my friends and family. Instead, I always suggest you buy a very reasonable web hosting service from a reputable web hosting firm that has had many years of experience, like Webnames.ca, that way the web hosting company can grow with you as your needs change.