“All web hosts are the same–” STOP right there.
If you’ve been told all web hosts are the same, and you’ll get the same options and service regardless if you’re choosing a free or paid hosting service, please, for the love of your business (and our sanity), read on!
The old adage “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” rings true in our minds when we read about free web hosts trying to sell their services to unsuspecting business owners.
Of course, there are some pros when it comes to a free website:
Pros: it’s “free”
1. It’s promoted to you as “free”
Probably the feature that lures you in the most. Who doesn't love free stuff? ‘Free’ doesn't always mean one hundred per cent, totally free, though: see below for the hidden surprises that could cost you in the long run.
Be smart when it comes to ‘free’.
2. It generally provides the basics you’ll need
Home, About Us, Services, and Contact Us pages make up the skeleton of an informative website. By listing your services you’re telling customers what it is you can do for them.
3. Err, there is no number 3
That’s pretty much where the pros end...
Cons: A free website can affect SEO, offers poor support, and looks unprofessional
❌ A free website suffers frequent downtime (which affects SEO)...
This is a common occurrence on free web servers, as the hosts’ main priority is to squeeze as many websites as possible onto the same server. The result of this is more frequent crashes, resulting in undesirable downtime.
If one website crashes, so will all the others on that server. So if your site is down, you’re bringing others down with you. Similarly, if another site crashes, you’re out of here, too.
What a nightmare!
Frequent downtime tells the search engine robots that your website is unreliably hosted and not properly managed. If you can’t access your website, Google can’t either!
Furthermore, if your site is being crawled by the search engines when the server is down, you might end up being penalised: a lack of trust, combined with frequent downtime, could mean your website becomes virtually invisible to the search engines.
Every second your website is down is another second where no one knows that your business exists. How long can your business afford to be offline? A free website can drastically affect SEO.
❌ ...and sssssllllowwwww load times (which, you guessed it, affects SEO)
Site speed is also a determining factor Google (and other search engines) take into account when ranking your site.
Your host lumping a bunch of users onto the same server, combined with limited and flaky bandwidth, creates the inevitable conclusion of slow load times.
Visitors dedicate mere seconds to deciding whether your website is worth exploring or not, so if your pages are taking longer than three seconds to load, you’ll struggle to keep guests sticking around.
❌ There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
Ah, the word free. It’s one of those trigger words we all seem to love. The kind that makes you sit up a little straighter and listen a little more carefully, isn't it?
The downside of free websites is that they’ll reel you in with free, then sting you with high hosting costs later on.
Oftentimes, yes, free website hosting may begin totally free.
But as time goes on, it’s not uncommon for a ‘free’ web host to confront you with a sneaky ultimatum: either start paying our new hosting fees, or risk losing your website (blackmail, anyone?).
Their defence? Hey, we gotta make money somehow too. It’s harsh but true: ‘free’ means there’s almost always a catch.
Moreover, you’d never expect to enter a brick-and-mortar business without investing in a few dollars, right? So what makes your online business any different?
The bottom line is, regardless of whether you’re online of offline, you are a business, and to create a business, you need to invest a little time and money.
❌ You're stuck with little or no customisation
One of the most exciting parts of building a website is working with your web designer to choose a design, images, and colours that represent your brand and products or services. The design is also what creates that WOW factor for visitors and provides a visual insight into you and your business.
This excitement is lost with poor customisation options.
Instead of the freedom and ability to create a website that represents and supports your brand and mission, you’ll be another cookie-cutter website that looks just like the others.
You get what you pay for, though, so I suppose it does make sense that since the hosting is free, you’re offered a very poor variety of features to use.
❌ It could disappear without warning!
Because you don’t own the site - you’re only renting it - it could be removed any day without warning, and you won’t even be owed an excuse.
The free hosting service may go out of business with no notice, so if they’re going down, you’re going down, too! “Free” is not a realistic business model, and it’s not destined to survive long-term. Is this risk worth it?
It’s a slippery slope, and there are no guarantees.
❌ It’s hard to leave them
Like a breakup they don't want to see happen, you’ll find it’s near impossible to transfer your site away from them and to a new host, should you want to (and yes, you will want to) move in the future.
The two options you have are to remain stuck with what you’ve got, with your ‘free’ host, or risk losing your website, and having to start from scratch and do it the right way.
Taking this free website ‘shortcut’ has only slowed you down, and you’re right back where you started! Do it the proper way, from the beginning, through a paid web host.
❌ They’re full of unattractive ads (and look super cheap)
Most free websites will be littered with blatant ads promoting themselves or others.
After all, they’re trying to make money, too!
There’s nothing stopping these ads from being completely irrelevant to your website or brand, which makes your site look tacky and messy.
You won’t be impressing any visitors with those unprofessional-looking ads. In fact, visitors may doubt your credibility and determine your website (and therefore your business) as unreliable and dodgy.
❌ They look overtly unprofessional
Not only do you have paltry customisation, you’ll probably be served an unprofessional domain name, with the web host’s name smuggled in. It’ll look something like yourbusiness.freewebhost.com.au.
Looks pretty amateur, doesn't it? You also wont have personalised emails, like email@example.com. Instead, you’ll probably get stuck with some generic email domain.
Despite the idiom to “never judge a book by its cover”, people are no doubt judging a book (your business) by its cover (your website).
Long URLs are difficult to remember, and all those generic and unnecessary additions to your address and email makes your business look a little bit dodge.
Bottom line is, it’s not a good look: internet-users are a savvy gang, and can identify a free website a mile away!
❌ They offer poor support
Free web hosts do not prioritise support for their customers, so if you're wasting time or don't know what you should do, it’s likely you won’t get the help you’re seeking.
❌ They offer limited space and storage
You’re pretty much stuck with what you’re given upfront, with no room for growth.
This means you can’t add awesome features like a blog or shopping cart as your business flourishes!
A free website cannot sync with your online marketing strategy
The terms ‘free website’ and ‘business’ rarely go hand-in-hand.
Sure, a free website might well be a suitable option if you’re going travelling for a year and want to keep friends and family updated on all your European adventures.
A free website and web host, though, doesn’t give you the opportunity to look at your website as a crucial component of your online marketing strategy.
A website is more than just putting pictures and words into a template; it’s a platform where you want visitors to explore (by visiting multiple pages), learn (by reading a blog post or two) and take action (like fill in a contact form, download an e-book, subscribe to a newsletter, or make an online purchase).
If you’re not thinking about the goal you want your website to play in your overall sales and marketing strategy, you’re potentially missing out on a significant return.
Why choose a professional web designer?
With a custom, professional website, you’re choosing to use your website as part of your online sales strategy, where it will contribute towards your marketing goals; a free websites does the opposite, and you’re forced to settle for a site that contains words and images... and that’s about it.
It’s a small price to pay (truly - it’s affordable) for the peace of mind that you own and can control your site and its content.
Choose a website that does more than just look good. Opt for outstanding design, clear usability, and high-quality support. (View our portfolio here.)
Looking for professional web design that acts as a significant part of your online marketing strategy? Get in touch today!