Free Web Hosting Considerations

Free Web Hosting Cartoon

Who isn’t enticed by the flashy banners and scrolling links advertising “FREE WEB HOSTING!” anywhere and everywhere on the web? With everyone and their brother now owning a blog or website, these free services are just as popular today as when they first hit the market around 1995. Any webmaster worth his salt remembers the days of Geocites and Angelfire and the frustrations that ensued. And as we’ve all learned by now, anything that’s “free” is bound to have a caveat…so what’s the deal with free web hosting? It seems like such a great proposition on the surface: you give me a place to park my web page and I’ll let you post a few ads on said page. Simple!

Not so fast. As it turns out, with free web hosting (and nearly everything else on the web), you get what you pay for.

The Longevity Issue: Have you noticed that you don’t really hear about Lunarpages or Tripod sites anymore? That’s because like most free hosting services, these giants of industry eventually went paid. One of the biggest pitfalls of free web hosting is that your site is often about as stable as a house of cards: if your free host decides to go the way of paid or (que horror!) shuts down altogether, your site and the countless hours spent on it could be down the drain. Hosting is an undeniably important element of your site, much like the foundation of a house. In real life, would you build your house on top of a fault line? Probably not.

The Question of Ownership: So, who owns your website, exactly? If you’re online with a free web host you’re likely using some sort of subdomain (freehosting.clickfire.com) or folder on the host’s site (www.clickfire.com/freehosting). This technically means you don’t actually “own” your URL or even the content on your site, if your host wants to play dirty. So what happens if you want to switch hosts? You risk losing your URL altogether which can cause a butterfly effect across all your other marketing efforts, just like changing the name of your business would in the real world. Some free hosts allow you to buy a premium, traditional domain name, but once you’re buying, you’re no longer talking about free web hosting…

The Bait and Switch: So you’ve found a great free hosting service and so far, everything’s working out exactly as planned. Then one day when you’re checking your email, between the eBay notifications and endless suggestions from Netflix, you find this (taken from an actual email received 1 year after signing up for a “free web hosting” service):

Dear Customer,

Your hosting account ‘xxxxx’ has expired on May 10, 2011. Currently, your website and e-mail addresses are not operational. To avoid further downtime, please renew the account.

To renew your account please follow these steps:

1. Login to your hosting Control Panel here:
RipYouOffFreeHosting.com/login.html

2. Click on the ‘Renew Plan’ link located in the upper left corner of the Control Panel (under Upgrades).

3. If you have added any additional service upgrades to your account, you can select which you’d like to renew as well.
After you complete these steps all you have to do is to proceed to the secured payment page. We accept multi-currency payments via two methods – credit/debit cards and PayPal.

If you have any questions regarding our service or if you need someone to help you with renewing your account or domain name, feel free to contact us by opening a new ticket inside the Control Panel (click Open New Ticket in the Help Center section).

Thank you for using our services!

Best Regards,
RipYouOffFreeHosting.com Team

It’s only then you remember that you didn’t actually read all the fine print and, wait, was there any fine print? Either way, your free web hosting service now has you in a stranglehold, pay up or get out. Since most people aren’t overly excited to give back the domain they’ve been working on for months or even years, hosting companies like this usually get what they want: money. And since you’re between a rock and a hard place, hosts know they can charge you a premium to keep your site running. Ever join one of those companies that offered “12 CDs for only one penny!” only to have a collection agency call when you didn’t buy 24 more at retail price? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re choosing a hosting company for your website, particularly if you’re planning on running a business off the site. Though paid hosting can feel like a wasted expense, try to think of it in more tangible terms: do most retailers choose to rent out commercial space for a fee or do they simply set up shop at the nearest abandoned building? It’s important to remember that with paid hosting services, you’re getting more bang for your buck – the peach of mind knowing you actually own your site, additional bandwidth, site space and editing tools and most importantly, reliable customer service.

If you’re considering going the way of free web hosting, remember to vet your choice thoroughly. The longer a hosting service has been around, the better, but make sure you ask yourself: how is my free host making money? Odds are, you won’t be able to ride for free forever, so consider at what point you’re going to get dinged for some element of the service and decide if it’s worth the additional risk. Most site owners eventually determine that paying for web hosting is a necessary evil, much like Twitter and, you know, health insurance. The more you shell out for a competent web host now, the less you’re likely to have to pony up later.

6/19/11 – Heather Jean also contributed to this post.

Douglas Hanna

Douglas Hanna is a former writer for Clickfire and other publications who went on to become CEO of a major web hosting company.

12 comments

  1. Emory Rowland

    Everyone, please post your favorite free web hosting service provider so we’ll have some good options to choose from!

  2. Lunarpages ALL THE WAY!
    :D

  3. rmg12

    Kixxr is the best. Loads of space and no ads and it is free. I think that its gone offline which is weird as my site hosted by them is still up hmm.

  4. dantata

    Another company that offers both free and paid hosting is awardspace.com

    You might want to give it a try.

  5. Emory Rowland

    I’m testing another one now that looks pretty good so far: freezoka.com.

    Update. Nope, they stuck a text link ad in the footer.

  6. Jonathan | HostPaid

    Free Web Hosting as a business model is sustainable, given, the company backing the project is sustainable.

    We offer 100% Ad-Free, Free Web Hosting as a service and also provide support directly to each and everyone of our members. Albeit, we are a new provider (having launched December of 2007), we’re still able to fully provide exactly what we advertise.

    Each hosting account is offered the exact same features that many paid hosting providers offer (i.e. CPanel, Fantastico, RVSkin, etc) and members are able to use either a free sub-domain or host their own domain. It’s their choice.

    We’ve also maintained a 99.99% uptime across our network and our servers, however, we also optimize our servers for MySQL, PHP and Apache usage.

    There is a huge difference between a fly-by-night free hosting provider and a company that actually provides it as a true service and backs each and every guarantee.

    Jonathan T. – HostPaid Owner

  7. Greg

    This article really didnt contribute anything new or interesting to my thoughts. it was long boring and had no real message except for the obvious one of:

    paying for webhosting is better than not.

  8. Emory Rowland

    What about the cartoon, Greg? :)

    I’m finding that with a lot of these, free hosts = free for the first year host. I’m trying Free Hostia now. Let’s see if their plan remains free beyond a year.

  9. Emory Rowland

    Just saw this on LifeHacker.com, a personal web host that is not quite from but very low cost, as low as .25: http://www.nearlyfreespeech.net

  10. Emory Rowland

    Update on Free Hostia. Yep, it was free for the first year. I just got notice that my site was being taken offline unless I renew. So kind of them to list the renewal steps right there in the email making it so easy for me. Thanks guys :)

    Please post any free hosts that you have tried and know to be reputable.

  11. rasmythe

    100% Free forever no ads hosting. You have complete control over your databases and file directions. Just as functional as paid hosting. PHP, MySql, Cron jobs, DNS Zone editor etc..
    awesumhost.com

  12. Admin

    Try fluxhosted.com.
    free and low cost hosting plans.

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