I have determined that there are two types of people in this world: the people who care about how much things cost and the people who claim they don’t. Whether we like it or not, price is a factor in how useful a hosting provider is going to be to you and your website. It doesn’t matter if your hosting provider offers every bell and whistle under the sun if your business can’t afford to pay for it. On the other hand, just because a hosting provider is free doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice.
Many people are inclined to go immediately for the free and low-cost web hosting providers simply because they are just that—free. But there are drawbacks to free and low cost hosting providers that might not be apparent immediately.
Who Controls the Ads, You or Your Hosting Provider?
Most free web hosting providers put ads on your website that you don’t control. Not only will you not earn money from those ads, those ads might not fit the tone or goals of your site.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what ads I want to host, where to put them, and if I should keep them. Some of my sites deliberately have no advertising at all (or very very little). But if I’m on a free hosting service they might decide to fill up my screen with pop-ups and interstitials and those really annoying double-underlined text ads, and there is nothing I could do about it. In fact, one of the reasons I’m glad I’ve left About.com is because their advertising policy has gotten insane. It’s nearly impossible to find content on their site anymore because there are so many ads.
Free Web Hosting Might Cost You Money
Many free web hosting providers do not allow you to place your own ads on your site. They are typically concerned that your advertisements will compete with their ads, and they want that revenue, since you aren’t paying them.
But if you can’t put ads on your site, then you won’t be getting any money from those ads. This is what my MBA teachers would call “opportunity costs.” I have the opportunity to make some money from my website, but since I’m using a hosting company that disallows ads, that money is lost.
Hosting Providers Can Cap Usage
Most free and cheap web hosting providers have usage caps. They limit the space you have available to your site, the bandwidth that you can use to deliver the site, sometimes even the number of files you can post on your site. The really unscrupulous providers will add on extremely high fees that come into play when your site goes over a cap. You won’t get a warning, just a bill for the services. This can cost you in the opportunity to provide more content to your customers, but also in the very real money that you have to pay the hosting provider when they charge you for going over your cap.
The Price of Web Hosting Isn’t Always What It Seems
Many inexpensive web hosting providers will heavily advertise a price that seems really good, but has onerous requirements. For example, you might get a $2 a month price if you sign up for five years of hosting (so you have to pay $120 up front). Then if you cancel before the term is up, some hosting providers simply keep the money while others block website transfers. One web hosting company charged a very low monthly fee, but the fine print on the contract allowed them to set up a recurring charge of much more than that after the first three months. I heard one claim that the only way to cancel was to cancel the credit card.
Paying a small fee might sound like a good idea when you’re first starting out, but if you are forced to stay there, you might end up paying more money just to get out.
Once you have signed up for cheap web hosting, some providers will then hold your website hostage. One well-known web hosting provider makes it very difficult to move a site away from them once you’re there. They lock your domain name for six months of the year and has even been reported to have removed access to the website files if they think you might be considering leaving. Most people don’t realize this can happen because the hostage situation only becomes apparent when you try to leave. It’s like “Hotel California” web hosting style–You can check out, but you can never leave.
Always Read the Contract
Be sure to do your homework and find a hosting provider that really does provide what they say. Look for loopholes in the contract–are you stuck for 90 days or can you cancel immediately? Do you have to buy something else (like a domain name or web design services) to get the great price? Also remember that web hosting is often something that other service providers will try to tack on as an “extra” service. Some web design firms will redesign your website and move it to their hosting service. This can leave you with a monthly bill on two web hosting providers even though you only need one.