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Free Website Hosting - Is Free Hosting What You Need?

May 5, 2008
In your search for free hosting for your website, you have probably realized already that there are hundreds, possibly thousands of services on offer. They all want your business, they are all free and superficially it seems they all offer much the same thing.

So how do you choose between them? Does it actually matter which free website hosting company you use, since you are not paying for it anyway? Shouldn't you just go with a free service which has thousands of (presumably) happy customers already, like Geocities, Tripod or Fortunecity?

For the answers to these questions, let's think about what you actually want to do. Whether you are creating an ecommerce site and hope to make some money, or just doing a hobby or special interest site, you want people to actually see your pages on the free hosting site.

This means that you want the free host to serve the pages reliably, with minimum downtime. While no host, paid or free, can guarantee that your site will always be up, you want your pages to be available 99% of the time or more. This is the area where the difference between a free host and a commercial host is most apparent. Check the hosting forums before signing up - any excessive downtime will be receiving comments and complaints. Or see if you can find an uptime guarantee.

Assuming you want people to see your pages, you need a reasonable bandwidth allocation. Free hosts usually set a limit for each customer for each month, and this limit can range from 500MB to 2GB or more. If you are planning to serve large image files, audio or video, the lower limits will be too small, so that will affect your choice of free host.

In addition, storage space on free hosts is often ridiculously limited - some are still offering 10MB, which is too low for almost everyone. Such limits are designed to stop users using the free space for image hosting.

Many free website hosting companies don't give you much control of page layouts, because they only allow hosted pages built with their own internal web-based sitebuilders. Unless you have very simple requirements, this type of free hosting is of limited value.

Then there is the advertising which most free hosts will put around, beside, under or over your hosted pages. Nothing suggests 'cheap and unprofessional' about a web site more than excessive advertising unrelated to the content of the page. Most free web hosts can't determine what a hosted page is about, so they slap on general or branding ads for which they are paid per thousand views. If you care about the impression your pages will give to your visitors, try to look at web pages on a particular free host to check if the advertising is acceptable.

You may believe that none of these issues really matter, since you can just take your site away and have it hosted on another free website hosting service if there are any problems. But there are significant drawbacks to this. If you change hosts, you change your URL, and the search engines will need time (usually several months) to find, spider and index your pages, and your traffic is likely to die in the meantime. You'll need to delete the old pages to avoid duplicate content penalties. Users will have bookmarked your pages on the old host, and won't be able to find the new one. And so on.

It is better to select a good free host in the first place, and stay with them. Or even find a cheap paid hosting service - most people can afford $5 a month, which will now get you very good and reliable hosting, with none of the issues and drawbacks covered above.
About the Author
Don Break writes about hosting, and getting the best hosting value possible. See his web hosting information site.
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