Why Pay For Web Hosting?
Updated - 10/28/2002
A common thought that occurs when choosing a web hosting provider is, "Why pay for it when I can get it for free?". Controlling website expenses is certainly an important consideration for most site owners, but web hosting is one area where cutting costs too deeply can really hurt.
When deciding between free or paid hosting, the main factors to be aware of are:
- Data Transfer Limits - This presents a major difference between free and paid hosts. While low cost hosts provide around 20 to 100 GB of monthly transfer, free hosts will be very restrictive on bandwidth. Also, they will put extra restrictions on certain types of files, such as movie files and audio mpegs.
- Disk Space Allocation - Free hosts will provide around 10 to 50 MB of space. While this is more than adequate for most sites, it is not a good choice for fairly large websites or ones that use a lot of graphics. Many low cost web hosts provide between 100 to 500 MB of space.
- Domain Names - Most free hosting companies do not give you the ability to have an actual domain name. Most only give you a subdomain under their primary domain, such as youraccount.tripod.com or geocities.com/youraccount/.
- Custom CGI Scripts - Some free providers allow you to run your own CGI scripts while others only allow the use of their own pre-installed scripts or no CGI scripts at all. There are also strict limitations with regards to running and installing your own customized CGI scripts.
- Help / Support - This is another severe difference between the two. Free hosts are limited to web page FAQs and very slow email replies. With a paid host, you get guaranteed 24 hour email support and many will also offer toll-free phone support during business hours.
- Banner Ads - And finally, the #1 downside to free hosting - banners and pop-ups. Almost all of them require that you include banners or advertisements on their websites, sometimes on every page. With a paid host, you never have to worry about such requirements.
Obviously, free hosts have many disadvantages over paid hosts, as you would expect from something that you paid nothing for. However, beyond these basic differences between free and paid hosts, a website owner should base the decision primarily on the purpose of his or her website . . .
When Free Hosting Is Actually A Good Choice:
For many types of websites, using a free host is often the best option. If the site is non-commercial, temporary in nature, or just covering some personal interest, then why pay for it? Some examples include:
- Simple informative websites or personal bios
- A family photo album or vacation photo gallery
- Websites about your favorite hobby
- Practice websites for learning HTML skills
- Homework assignments or school projects
The truth is, you probably already have free hosting space with your ISP, and that free space will have no required advertising. Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will give you around 5 MB or so of disk space for personal use.
Otherwise, we suggest using only the most credible and supportive free web hosts, such as Tripod (offered by Lycos) or Geocities (owned by Yahoo!).
When Paid Hosting Is An Absolute Must:
If you are operating a long-term website with a large amount of traffic or any form of commercial website, then NEVER use free hosting. Any site that is serious about serving a large audience or making money on the Internet simply cannot afford to risk using a free web host. The main reasons for this are:
- Reliability - For a commercial site, you'll want a host with a 99% guaranteed uptime or higher, and you just can't get that from free hosting services.
- Professionalism - Having a banner or a required pop-up ad on every page of your site certainly doesn't project a very professional appearance.
- Functionality - Operating advanced sites often requires SSI, databases, shared SSL server access, and other advanced features that free hosts don't provide.
- Support - Although free hosts usually provide online help pages and sometimes a support email address, they certainly can't match the speed or availability of a professional hosting support staff.
The good news is, going from free to paid hosting is not that painful of a leap anymore. Advances in server technologies and open source software have really brought hosting prices down to an affordable level. You can compare some of these low cost hosting accounts for under $7.95/mo at our Comparison Chart.
If you'd like to read some more helpful articles on choosing a low cost hosting provider, then please return to our Hosting Guides section.