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Web Hosting – Why Pay?

Michael McCarthy

If you’re in the process of finding an appropriate host for your site, you’ll probably ask yourself “Why should I pay for hosting when I can get it for free?” The answer depends on the nature of your site. A paid hosting plan is essential for some sites, while for others a free host might offer all the facilities you need. But which should you choose?

Free Hosting Pitfalls

If you’ve been developing Web pages for over a year, then chances are that you’re considering the move to paid hosting, if you’re not already on a paid plan. As an experienced coder and designer, you’re probably familiar with the frustrations involved with hosting your site on a free server…

1. Advertising Overload
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of free hosting is the proliferation of unwanted ads on all your pages. Unfortunately, many free hosts rely solely on these ads to earn money, so very few offer services that are free of forced advertising. The end result? Visitors to your site see a 468×60 pixel banner ad on the top of each of your pages. Or maybe they’re hit with a pop-up banner after each click-through. Whatever the case, these ads can severely reduce the professionalism of well-designed pages.

2. More Downtime
Downtime plagues many free web hosts. The fact that their subscribers don’t pay for services means that many free hosts feel less than obligated when it comes to dependability. Free hosts are rarely bothered if some of users are dissatisfied with the service – this small minority are of little or no real benefit to the host anyway.

3. Poor Customer Support
The majority of free hosts don’t have the funds to hire customer support teams. If you experience problems, you can find yourself relying heavily on the host’s Frequently Asked Questions page – after all, the chances of receiving any live or email support can be almost non-existent.

4. Limited Space
If your site is large, then you might find free web hosts quite limiting. Most free hosts only provide customers with 5 to 10 MB of space, so you’ll never be able to expand your site beyond your allotted disk space without moving to a paid host.

5. Restricted Ad Revenues
Many free hosts don’t allow you to sell advertising space on your site. This might be fine if you’re simply maintaining a personal homepage, but can severely impact on revenues for business Websites. For these sites, a paid service may be the only viable hosting option.

6. No Secure Server Access
If you plan on building an online store, you’ll need a secure server to enable secure online credit card processing. Most free hosts don’t support secure web servers, and, given customer fears about fraud, privacy and security, the lack of secure serving can make it virtually impossible for an online store to survive on a free service.

7. File Type Restrictions
Many free web hosts don’t support file extensions other than .html, which can be really limiting. For example, if you build a large web site with the same navigation on each page, you might use SSI, which gives you the ability to alter the navigation style on one page, and have that same alteration automatically carried across all pages. SSI can save you a great deal of time and frustration, but is produces files that end in .shtml. To cater for these files, you’ll need an SSI-enabled server, which can be almost impossible to find through a free host.

8. Long Domain Names
Paid hosts allow their customers to use their own domain names, while most free services require you to take a subdomain off the host’s name. In the case of Geocities, a typical URL could resemble "http://www.geocities.com/Area51/ Shadowlands/ 2719/ Food/ pizza.htm." Domains like this almost entirely prevent users from visiting your site from memory – they’ll need to bookmark your site, or be able to find it easily through a search engine or other linked sites. Obviously, this can seriously affect the traffic your site receives.

Free or Paid? It’s up to you.

As you can see, in most cases, a paid web host provides a significantly better service than do free hosts. Free Web hosting might be ideal for personal homepages and sites that don’t rely on online advertising or sales revenues. But for those in business, whether they’re selling online, or simply wish to present a professional Web presence, paid hosting is typically the only option worth considering. Maybe the old saying’s true: You do get what you pay for.