You’re finally ready to create your website. You’ve figured out that one of the first things you need is web hosting, and you’re researching your options. Most of the recognizable brands in the industry charge a monthly fee. But you’ve also come across a few free web hosting options.
Is there any reason to pay for something you can get for free?
In the case of web hosting, it depends on what your goals and priorities are for your website. But chances are, you’ll want to go with a paid web hosting plan.
7 Disadvantages to Choosing Free Website Hosting
The simple fact of free web hosting is that the companies that offer it have to make money somehow. Not paying money for the service means accepting some kind of trade-off. What you’ll be giving up (or putting up with) in order to get free web hosting varies with different services available, but there are some common issues to look out for.
This is one of the most common trade-offs with free web hosting plans. And it makes sense. Companies have to spend money for the space and technology required to provide hosting. If they’re not getting any of that money back from you directly, they have to make it back somehow. Displaying ads on your website is one of the easiest ways to do that.
And to be clear, these won’t be ads you’ll be making any money from. Any profits from your visitors viewing and clicking on these ads will go to the web hosting provider. If your website starts to get popular enough that those ads are driving real revenue, you won’t get anything for it.
For business websites or people wanting to build a personal brand through their website, ads can also serve as a distraction. They make your website look cluttered and drive attention away from what you have to say on the page and toward the ad image or copy. If you’re trying to build a clear brand, ads muddy your message.
2. Shared Branding
Along with ads, some free web hosting companies will treat your website as a way to promote their brand. That could mean including their logo somewhere on your website. In a lot of cases, it means having their name as part of your URL, looking something like: yourname.theirname.com.
As with ads, this makes it harder to communicate a clear and consistent brand to your visitors. It can be confusing for visitors who might have a harder time remembering your website URL, and makes it harder for them to see your website as having a unique identity.
3. A lack of customer support
As you might expect, if you’re not a paying customer of a web hosting company, if affects the level of support you can expect to receive from their staff. Customer service employees have to be paid. If the company’s not making much money from you, how much time and help does it make sense for them to provide?
While some free web hosting plans say they provide 24/7 customer support, you should be realistic in your expectations of how much help you’ll receive for free.
4. Common outages
One of the most important things a reputable web hosting plan must provide is a solid uptime. If you’re not familiar with the term, that means the amount of time you can count on your website to be up and accessible to visitors.
All web hosting companies will need to do maintenance at some point, and some will have outages based on technical problems. But well respected paid web hosting providers can generally promise a much higher uptime than free plans can. If you’re creating a business website, or hoping to make money from your website with ads or affiliate links, then every minute your website is down can mean money lost. With free web hosting, those minutes can really add up.
5. Limited pages
Some free web hosting plans put a strict limit on the number of webpages you’re able to create under the plan. For those that only need basic websites, a plan that only allows for a few pages— or maybe even just one—may suffice. For most websites though, you’ll need the ability to grow and create as many web pages as your site requires over time.
6. Limited bandwidth
How much bandwidth you have affects how long your site takes to load. And slow loading times have a big influence on how many of your visitors will stick around and how well you’ll rank in the search engines. Bandwidth is especially important on sites that have media elements like audio, video, or animation, which require more bandwidth to load.
Free web hosting often comes with a big limit on the amount of bandwidth available. That means the more pages, elements, and media you add to your website, the more difficult it will be for your visitors to access it quickly and consistently.
7. Paid upgrades required for many features
Many of the companies that offer free website hosting do so as a way to get people to sign on in the hopes that they’ll upgrade to a paid hosting plan once they realize the free hosting doesn’t meet their needs. By limiting the features available in the free plan, they figure you’ll realize over time that actually you need one of the subscription plans instead and choose to stick with the web hosting provider you started with for convenience.
But most website owners will be better off taking the time to find the right provider and plan from the get go, rather than choosing a company today because it’s free, and then settling on a paid plan they offer later that isn’t necessarily the right fit because it’s easier.
6 Clear Benefits of Paid Web Hosting
By accepting a minimal monthly fee as the cost of having a website, you can count on getting a few key benefits:
- Reliability – Web hosting providers that charge a fee can afford to keep their servers in good condition so they work more consistently. With a paid plan from a well respected provider, you can take advantage of better uptime—sometimes up to 99.99%.
- Customer Service – Web hosting companies that charge for their plans can also afford to pay for skilled customer service employees. Many offer 24/7 customer service so you get the help you need at the moment you need it.
- Unique branding – Paid plans generally mean you don’t have to allow the web hosting company to include ads, you get a domain name that’s 100% yours, and you only have your own logo and name included on the site.
- Room to grow – This is one of the big things missing from free web hosting plans. Maybe what they offer works on day one, but if your website gets popular over time, or you decide you want to expand it to include more pages and elements, they’ll inevitably start to fail you. Paid plans allow more bandwidth, more pages, and can handle more traffic. And with most companies, it’s easy to upgrade to a new plan when the time comes.
- Security – Security breaches happen every day. If you want to protect your website from hackers and keep the data your visitors provide safe, one of the first steps is choosing a trustworthy web hosting provider. Free web hosting providers won’t have the same resources to invest in important security features and firewalls, so putting your website in their hands comes at a risk.
- Useful features – Paid web hosting plans include a variety of useful features, such as social media sharing options, SEO features, e-commerce tools, automatic backups, website analytics, and security upgrades.
The old adage that “you get what you pay for” holds weight here. By spending at least a few bucks a month on web hosting, you tap into higher quality services and features.
Is Free Website Hosting a Good Choice for Anyone?
For a few categories of people interested in building websites, everything on that list may sound like a nice-to-have rather than a necessity. If you’re just building a website for fun or to share information with friends and family, and you never intend it to be more than that, there’s a chance that free web hosting will serve you fine.
However, in reality that only describes a small amount of people.
For everyone else—businesses, online stores, bloggers, anyone hoping to make money off their site some day, and people who just want their website to have room to grow—a paid web hosting plan is the better choice.
Paid Web Hosting Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
We have good news though! Just because you’re better off paying something for web hosting, doesn’t mean it has to be a lot. Paid hosting plans start at around $3 a month. If your website will be fairly simple and you just want something that looks good, has basic security, and will work consistently, then an affordable shared hosting plan should do the trick.
HostGator’s affordable plans promise 99.99% uptime, unmetered bandwidth, basic security features, and 24/7 customer support. As one of the most respected companies in the industry, it’s a reliable choice for newbie website owners who need an affordable web hosting provider they know they can count on.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.