It amazes me how many people try to build serious websites with free web host providers. Granted, we all love things in life that are marked "free", but it doesn't always make sense to go that route if it will cost you more in the long run.
And I'm not just talking in monetary terms. Costs can also come in forms of time and energy. I don't know about you, but I don't like wasting those two things either.
Now, don't get me wrong. There are occasions where free websites make sense. Let's say you just want to practice your HTML skills and don't plan to show your website to anyone. Or perhaps you are a minor and cannot register a domain name yet. Your only option is to choose a free host. Those are two occasions where building a free website definitely makes sense, and of course there are a handful of other scenarios.
What I don't understand is when people tell me they want to start a business website, but they want to build their site for free. Wait a sec....starting a business with no start-up costs? Do you know of any successful businesses offline that got started for free? Do you think the founding fathers of Burger King and McDonalds went looking for free space to setup their stores?
Of course they didn't because they wanted people to take them and their business seriously. Even if they had found a free place to setup shop, it would have been evident it was free and they would have paid for it in the long run. That payment probably would have come in the form of lack of sales and eventually a shutdown.
Online business is no different than offline in that respect. Sure there are some cost-saving benefits to starting a business online versus offline, but to begin by taking shortcuts will only prove disaster in the end. A website is the foundation of your business, and if your foundation is shaky it will make it very hard for you to prosper.
Disadvantages of Free Websites
- Limited web page space
- Search engines often ignore them
- No interactive features (chat rooms, message boards, games, online ordering etc.)
- Banners and/or pop ads on your homepage and/or all of your pages
- Long website address (instead of yourdomain.com)
- May not be free forever
- No guarantees of site availability and longevity
- No branded emails addresses (email@example.com)
- Poor support options (if any)
Free Hosts Lack Stability
One of the main problems I have with free web hosts is stability. Often times they grow too big too fast. Even though they aren't charging you anything for your site, they still have to pay their own monthly web hosting fees.
Most hosts have a bandwidth (traffic) limit and if you exceed it, they charge you more. This in turn causes their web hosting costs to increase and if they can't afford it, they are forced to either shut down or begin charging you a fee.
So you either lose your site or end up paying for it anyway.
And if you are forced to pay for your site, you must pay whatever they decide to charge. Even if it's outrageous, many people end up paying just to keep from losing their site.
Now you might say there's always the option of finding another host, but that's not usually very convenient. Think about it. If you switch to another host, not only do you have to transfer all your files, but your website address will change since you don't own the domain. So all the people that bookmarked your site will now see a "Page Not Found" error when they try to visit your homepage.
Pop Ups and Banner Ads
There is nothing that screams "amateur website" more than flashing banners and annoying pop up windows. Granted, many users now own some kind of ad blocking software that will prevent some of the pop ups from showing, but you better believe a large portion of your audience is still seeing them. Also, blocking software doesn't always filter out everything.
What's even worse about the banner ads is you have no control over the frequency, placement or content. Here you are trying to be as professional as possible and an ad for Viagra flies across the screen, screaming at your visitors to "BUY ME NOW!" Real professional isn't it? ;)
Search Engines Are Tougher On You
As time goes on, it's getting harder and harder to achieve a good search engine ranking. Even if you buy your own domain it takes some work to even get listed...much less ranked well. So having a free website makes it that much harder.
The free hosts have been given a bad name, primarily because customers often abandon their sites or use spamming tactics in attempt to boost their ranking. Free websites also tend to be smaller and lack quality content so they end up getting ignored by search engine spiders anyway.
Not getting listed in any of the major engines would be extremely disappointing if you planned on getting most of your traffic from places like Yahoo, MSN, Google etc. Many successful businesses rely on this free traffic.
Limited Space and Functionality
Want to build an online store? Sorry, you can't do that on a free site. Want to build a chat room or message forum? Sorry, you can do that on a free site either.
Are you seeing a trend yet? Yup...free sites generally have very limited functionality so they're really best suited for personal websites that only contain text and pictures.
For security reasons they don't usually provide you with the platform that you would need to build additional functionality.
Those are just a fraction of the issues you have to deal with should you decide to start your business with a free web host.
I could go on and on but hopefully you can see it's really worth investing the small amount every month to get your business off on the right foot. The average web host cost less than $15 per month and many are under $10.
Remember, "free" almost always comes with a price. It may not be monetary, but it could come in other forms that ultimately ruin your chances for success.
Lisa Irby is the author of 2 Create a Web Site -- a site that encourages you to educate yourself before diving into the web site creation process. http://www.2CreateAWebSite.com