Let me get address my obvious bias right away. Yes, Psyphire is a business that offers premium high-performance web hosting services and we survive based on maintaining and growing a healthy stable of loyal customers. But having been in this business for twenty years, I have seen enough to know one thing for certain and it’s worth sharing this with you now to spare you both the time and money that you will waste discovering this on your own. When it comes to web hosting for free: you get what you pay for.
I’ll briefly summarize the variety of ways a customer’s money is put to work when paying for web hosting and how bad free web hosting providers are simply not interested in excelling in these areas.
The Business Model of Free
Clearly a free website hosting service is not interested in keeping you as a long-term web hosting customer. It makes no difference to them if you maintain a web site for one month or 10 years. The amount of money they make from you for that service is exactly the same: nothing. Therefore, they have no incentive to excel in the areas that will drive customer loyalty so far as their free web hosting service is concerned. In order for them to stay in business, they are making money in some other way, whether it be through advertisement banners, consulting services, software applications, or what have you. Their focus will be directed at those functions with free web hosting being a mechanism for on-boarding you into their marketing system so that they may pummel you over the head with their latest offer.
So why is it worth yanking out the credit card for a small payment toward web hosting rather than going the free route? And let’s be honest, we’re not talking about a hip replacement. For the cost of one latte per month from your favorite coffee joint, you’re adding a tremendous amount of value that might not be readily apparent. So, let’s count the ways, shall we?
First, there are added service costs that are sometimes absorbed by paid web hosting companies when a new customer commits to a plan of longer duration (say, annual renewal). For example, a web host may decide to provide free domain name registration, updated cPanel control panel integrations, or SSL certificates for secure communications with your visitors as part of signing up for a new hosting package. In other cases, a web host may go through the heavy-lifting of migrating your web site from the older hosting provider to their own. Often these initiatives are meant to reduce the friction and expense required to get a website going. Free web hosting sites typically are not compelled to eat the cost to provide unique domain names, instead opting for a subdomain on their own domain.
Despite what some may think, moving all those little 0’s and 1’s through fiber optic cables is not free. Nor is quality consistent from one network to another. And with the considerable operational overhead of building, upgrading, and maintaining the infrastructure required for executing what amounts to – oh, I don’t know, the INTERNET – quality web hosts are interested in running their clients along a virtual highway without a single pothole. That’s more expensive.
Site Loading Speed
With significant experience in the world of SEO (search engine optimization), I can tell you now that this feature is severely underrated by folks who feel the fatal draw to free web hosting plans like mosquitoes eye the ominous blue light. There are several ways a slow loading site can negatively impact you whether you’re publishing a personal site or hosting your income-earning e-commerce business. First, when you go to your buddy’s site and it’s either caked in advertisements (some free hosts make their money this way), or the site is slower than a sloth who hasn’t yet reached his morning coffee, what is the first thought that crosses your mind? Man, Freddy must be broke!
Now, if you’re hosting a business online and your site is slow to load, you’re leaving money on the table. Nearly half of all visitors expect a web site to load in two seconds or less. 40% of visitors abandon a web site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. 80% of visitors dissatisfied with website performance are less likely to use your site again. A one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversion rate. That equates to millions of dollars in lost revenue on an annual basis for some businesses. You get the picture and it’s messy like a Jackson Pollock. These numbers demonstrate that in the very least, a slow loading site is not good for your reputation, and is at most, an otherwise poor business decision.
Finally, all things being equal, a faster loading site will rank better in Google than a slow one. It makes no sense to handicap your online initiative in an effort to save a few bucks every month. And what about the ever increasing number of zombies ambling around town with their phones pressed to their noses, who yet somehow manage to narrowly miss telephone poles and each other? They’d be the first to tell you they don’t have the time to wait for your slow site to load. Given the growth of the zombie horde, Google is on the verge of transitioning to a mobile-first index for both desktop and mobile users.
Factors like site loading and responsive design will be more important than ever. If your site suffers in either or both of these areas, expect to take a hit in your ranking once Google makes the change. Rest assured, hosts who take site speed seriously (like we do!) will go the extra effort to engineer a multi-tiered site delivery solution with the goal to load your site before your visitors hit the ‘go’ button. Well. Maybe not that fast.
“Mom, Freddy’s site isn’t loading again.” “Freddy’s site never loads, honey. Freddy is cheap!” Imagine now that poor Freddy is sitting on the couch when his family disses his decision to go with the local free service provider when all they really want is access to his lemon meringue recipe for Thanksgiving? Call me skeptical, but I’d throw up a server monitoring tool to test a free web host’s reliability before I trust any claim of 99.9% uptime. Oh, and if you’re spending any money on advertising, you had better make sure your site is online all the time, otherwise you’re willingly tossing cash into a bottomless money pit that you’re making every effort to fill up.
I have spent dozens of hours peering through access logs in granular detail. I understand the actions they imply. Once a server is connected to the Internet, it comes under attack almost immediately. By that I mean that there are tens of thousands of nasty bots that roam the interwebs looking for vulnerabilities in server infrastructure and software applications that aren’t kept up to date. If one manages to guess the password to your email account, expect that tens of thousands of spam emails will funnel through your account originating from your email address. You don’t need me to tell you how uncool that is. A quality web host will ensure you’re setting strong passwords while simultaneously monitoring network activity to detect and shut down suspicious activity before it can upload its handy work.
Building a web site takes a tremendous amount of money and/or sweat equity. If it’s a business from which you and your employees rely on the revenue it generates, keeping it online is a fundamental necessity. So, not to fearmonger, but I’ll fearmonger: what if you woke up one morning and it was hacked, corrupted, or gone? Sadly, it happens … and even more often at free web page hosting providers. After all, backing up your website can take up to twice as much space from their limited resources. A lot of paid web hosting providers won’t even offer to backup your website and suggest that this is the responsibility of the webmaster. But quality web hosters will offer automated weekly or even daily backups so that you may rest easy on that expensive pillow.
An oldie, but a goodie. If a free hosting provider offers telephone support, let alone any support at all apart from a snarky suggestion to ask Google, rest assured the support technician on the other end is probably an expensive airline ticket away from dropping by for lunch. Quality hosting providers understand that the happiness of their customers is most important when things aren’t necessarily going well. A witty knowledgebase and live chat are old standbys, but thanks to loyal customers who opt to pay a little rather than save a lot, expert U.S.-based customer support can be a reality. And, hey. You might even get me on the other end. If you couldn’t tell, I sort of like this stuff.
Some companies offering free web hosting include 000webhost, geocities, x10hosting, my3GB, 1freehosting, zymic, heroku, 1 Apps, ripway, and hostinger. So where else can you find and get free web hosting? Was your experience positive or negative? And why?