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As the saying says: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. We would nonetheless advise you to look further than the word “free” when it comes to web hosting. But why is paid hosting better than free web hosting?
For a young company that needs to be very cautious when it comes to expenses, the temptation is great to choose free web hosting, with the thought “later, when we’re bigger, we’ll see how we take it from there” in the back of your mind. But this is a mistake that could cost you dearly later on. We will give you seven reasons why you should steer clear of free web hosting.
Most free web services promise unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth. But do keep in mind that many candidates are attracted by such a claim and will have to share said bandwidth. What use is unlimited bandwidth if it has to pass a bottleneck? Unlimited disk space is also a relative concept, because it is impossible in practice that every user of the free hosting service has unlimited disk space – the provider would have to set up data centres crammed with servers. There will undoubtedly be small print in the user agreement that defines and limits this “unlimited” aspect.
Moreover, you have to consider that nowadays, most web pages are not static anymore. They are dynamic, which means they retrieve their content from a database and pour it into a layout template. It is therefore no longer disk space itself that matters. Other factors have become crucial, like CPU usage, for instance. How much of the server’s CPU is used to retrieve the web page and shape it? Is this CPU unlimited and do you have a guarantee that a minimum amount of CPU has been reserved for you? Because, in the end, all the other free websites will have to use this same processor. The same goes for RAM usage on the server and the number of database connections that can be established with the server. Surely you do not want your visitor to bump into messages such as “Can't connect to MySQL server...”?
Providers of free web hosting can be divided into two main categories. On the one hand, you have Internet Service Providers like Belgacom and Telenet that, next to an e-mail address, also offer their users free web space, which is included in the price of the Internet subscription. On the other hand, you have worldwide services like Blogger, WordPress.com (not to be confused with the self-hosted WordPress CMS), Live Journal and more. In both cases, you are confronted with a URL for your website that doesn’t really look professional, like e.g. users.xyzprovider.com/~yourusername or wordpress.com/yourusername. In some cases, like with WordPress.com, you can set up a redirect: you can register a domain name and link it to your blog. This is however not possible with any free hosting site. Hosting with your ISP also means that you always lose your web space when you switch ISPs. So, choosing another provider because of a combined offer for TV + Internet + mobile could cost you much more than you would imagine!
Obviously, it is not out of generosity that providers of free web hosting offer web space and facilities – they want to make money. Money that, on the one hand, comes from the upgrade packages they sell, and, on the other hand, from profits made by banners they put on your page – something you probably consented to when you accepted the Terms Of Service, which you most probably hardly read. Not only do those banners look highly unprofessional, but they are often shown in a very pushy way, like in an irritating pop-up window. Moreover, the ads may refer to undesirable content or competing products. With paid hosting, you are free to put ads on your website or not, you have full control over the content and the profit is all yours.
Imagine that you did go for free web hosting and that your company has grown. You want to switch to a professional, paid hosting service. Then, you will probably be confronted with several problems. First of all, there is this question: can you easily export all the content? And even if you can export the content, how about the template on which the website was built? Usually, it belongs to the hosting company and you cannot take it with you. The same goes for the e-commerce platform your free hosting company offers.
And even if you want to stay on your modest web space, you must not forget that nothing is forever – not even free hosting. Numerous free web hosting services disappeared after a while, Geocities being the best known example. Does your free web hosting provider offer you the tools to create a backup for your website, so you are prepared for the worst?
It might seem like a small detail, but with free hosting, you normally don’t have the possibility to personalise pages with error messages. A personalised error page will prevent visitors from getting confused when a 404 error message appears after clicking an old or bad link to your website. With paid hosting, you generally have the option to personalise those pages and even to redirect users to the correct page.
Free web hosting is limited in yet another way: most of the time, you will not be able to run scripts like Perl CGI, PHP, etc. Scripts are crucial, for instance, to keep statistics, allow for forms to be filled out and sent, organise a poll or keep a mailing list. There are external providers of such services, but you’ll have to contend with their ads. If you choose paid hosting, you will have full control over scripts. For that matter, the possibility to set up a database on the server and to run MySQL queries in that database is something that you will find with only very few free hosting companies.
Free web hosting can be fun for someone who creates a web page as a hobby, but if you want to use your website to develop a business, you will expect that the landlord – the hosting company – rents you a store that is indeed accessible. Generally, you don’t get a guarantee for accessibility and uptime with free web hosting. What is more, you are often entirely left to your own devices. There is either no helpdesk at all or support is hardly reachable, let alone that you would be able to address the staff in your own language.
With paid web hosting, you indeed get that support and you often also have a control panel at your disposal where all the settings of your hosting services can be verified down to the last detail and edited if need be.
To put it briefly: your website is too important to entrust it to a free web hosting company. Quality of service also comes with a price, but Combell can offer you this customer-friendly web hosting at an affordable, honest price. Combell has become one of the largest hosting companies in the Benelux and the experience acquired over all these years is your guarantee of customer-oriented service and support. You can choose if you want Linux or Windows hosting and Combell even installs your favourite CMS, like Drupal or WordPress for free. One of the options is to create a database that you can call using MySQL. And the helpdesk is available to assist you 24/7 in case of problems!
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