If you have never set up a website, you probably have plenty of questions about how to do it. One question you might ask yourself is, “Why should I pay for web hosting when there are plenty of sites offering free web hosting?” It’s a perfectly valid question, especially if you don’t have a nice big pot of venture capital to spend.
Once you have a written business plan, it’s time to do some research on which hosting firm is most suitable for your website. You will need to know, obviously, if you plan to sell products from your site, or if it will be strictly promotional. Do you plan to have video? Elaborate graphics? Or just text? Will your chosen host provider help you set up your web site? How many email accounts will you need?
There are a number of things you need to know about the hosting companies you choose among. Perhaps the main thing is how reliable their service is. If you have a business website, you can’t afford for it to have downtime. After all, it’s always normal business hours somewhere. Closely tied to the need for reliability is the need for technical support. Many hosting services say that they have so-called 24/7/365 tech support, but their definition of what that comprises may be different from yours. You don’t want to find out the hard way that calling tech support late at night or on a holiday only gets you to an answering machine and that you’ll have to wait for regular business to resume before getting any actual help.
Of course you should ask your candidate hosting companies directly about these things, but you should do something else too. There are forums all over the Internet where people will meet online to talk about such issues. Read these discussion threads. Ask questions. You should be able to get a more objective assessment of an Internet hosting provider than you would from the company itself.
There are, however, two things you should be aware of. The first thing is that every web hosting company that’s been around for any length of time will have some negative feedback. One or two rants about a certain hosting company shouldn’t put you off. It is possible that the user was the one with the problem, and it is also possible that the company has fixed the problem.
The other thing you should know when reading forums is that sometimes hosting companies plant people on them to say good things about them. The rule of thumb should be: discount the overly positive posts on a company, and discount the overly negative, too. Any post filled with capital letters and exclamation marks is suspect. Take your information from the saner posts you come across, and if you’re allowed to join a forum, don’t hesitate to ask questions, particularly about free web hosting companies.
The reason these companies are able to offer free hosting is that they will run ads on your site. These might be unobtrusive ad links, or they may be pop-ups, or they may be the really annoying ads that follow the reader as he or she scrolls down the page. You have to decide if you can live with the annoyance, and if you think your customers will stick around long enough to buy something.
The obvious advantage of free web hosting services is price. You won’t have to register a domain name or pay for hosting. A free web page can serve as a training site for you as you learn how you want your site to look, or test out new promotions. There are free services like sitemeter.com that will gather basic statistics on your site that can give you valuable information on your visitors. You can find out where most of your visitors come from, what time of day they visit, and how many page views they amass.
You could, if you had the time and motivation, use multiple free hosting providers to set up your site, and then monitor all of them to see if one outperforms the rest. You will likely see differences in the different hosts, and quickly learn which ones are the easiest to work with. You may find that one hosting company gets your site indexed by search engines sooner, and therefore drives more traffic to your site.
Or you may decide that free web hosting just isn’t going to be good enough. All you will have lost is time.
The biggest disadvantage to free web hosting is the ads cluttering up the site. Many visitors are turned off by pop-ups that suddenly materialize as they try to enter or leave your site. And a few will click on those ads and leave your site without looking at anything at all.
Even if you eventually choose paid web hosting for the control it gives you over your site, the free websites you set up may still work to your advantage. You never know where your web traffic will come from. Some of it might come through an old free site you set up when you were just starting out. So, while free website hosting may serve you well as you learn how to be a webmaster, if you have any kind of e-commerce function, you’ll almost certainly want to switch to paid hosting at some point.
But if you’re broke and just starting out, or just learning the basics of having your own web site, then free hosting providers may be exactly the right thing for you.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.