When it comes to picking a web hosting service for your new website, you may find yourself more baffled than ever with endless choices of free and paid hosting providers. This is especially true if you are new in the webmaster world and have never managed your own website before.
In fact, finding a new web host is a mind-boggling process even for an experienced webmaster who has done it many times before, such as myself. And because the hosting service you decide to go with can have a crucial effect on your website’s performance, and thus success, it is worthwhile to take some extra time weighing your options.
This post is going to compare some of the most important features, advantages and disadvantages of free versus paid web hosting services.
1. Your Own Domain vs. Their Subdomain
Most free hosting providers will offer you a subdomain (e.g. “mywebsite.host.com”) and will not allow you to use your own domain name (e.g. “mywebsite.com”).
That may not be a big deal for a personal blog or a small informational website, but it does matter if it is a serious website. Here are a couple of reasons why using your own domain name, which comes with paid hosting, is better than using a free subdomain:
- You will have full and exclusive ownership of the domain name.
- In case you change the host in the future, you can continue to use the same domain.
- You can have your custom email address (e.g. email@example.com).
- It looks more credible and professional than a subdomain.
- It ranks better in search engines.
2. Storage and Bandwidth
Free hosting services usually offer very limited storage and bandwidth (amount of monthly traffic/visitors). It may be okay for a small, text-based website, but if the website gets many (thousands) of monthly visitors and/or it contains large media files (images, videos, etc.), then you can quickly consume your allocated storage and bandwidth.
When the limits are reached your website will become unavailable to visitors, in which case most hosts will offer you a paid upgrade plan with higher limits on storage and bandwidth.
Knowing the current and potential requirements of your website can save you a lot of hassle down the road. If you expect your website to become fairly large and active it is better to start off with a paid hosting service as it will come with plenty of storage space, bandwidth and other resources.
3. Site Performance and Loading Speed
Again, free web hosting comes with very limited server resources (RAM, CPU, concurrent connections, etc.) and the servers are more crowded than with paid hosting.
That leads to free-hosted websites having more downtime, frequent errors and slower loading. Ultimately, it leads to poor user experience.
4. Control Over Site Files and Content
Free hosts usually do not give you full access to the server, but rather only allow you to access your content and files through their own platform.
You can expect limitations on the types of files you can upload to your website, and you probably won’t be allowed to upload server-side scripts, like PHP or ASP.NET. You will also mostly not be able to directly access the database where your website’s content is stored.
With paid hosting you will have full FTP access and can upload and download almost any file type your website will need. You will have full access and control of your databases, emails, and other content you upload to your server.
5. Customization and Growth
Free hosting services often come with pre-made templates that you can choose from. You will have limited ability and options to customize the way your website looks and functions.
But with paid web hosting you will have the freedom of installing whatever content management system, themes, plugins, or any custom scripts your website requires. This offers you more options and functionality as your website grows, which is especially important for e-commerce websites.
6. Search Engine Rankings and SEO
Most websites depend on search engines as their primary source of traffic (visitors). There are many factors that determine how websites are ranked in search engines, and your web hosting service can also affect your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
Generally speaking, free-hosted websites usually rank lower in search engines for a couple of reasons:
Most free hosts are swarming with low-quality and spam sites, and such “bad neighborhood” may have a negative SEO effect on other sites hosted there.
Subdomains tend to rank poorer than private (your own) domain names.
Free-hosted sites are more likely to experience downtime and slow page loading, which can negatively affect user experience and thus search rankings.
7. Changing Hosts
Transferring your website from one paid host to another can be fairly simple and straightforward as you have full access to your files, databases, etc. And many web hosts will offer you help when moving your website from another company.
On the other hand, transferring a website from or to a free host may be a little bumpy, if at all possible. Since free hosting normally comes with limited server access, you may not be able to download or upload a full copy of your files, databases, etc. You will probably have to manually transfer your files and pages to the new host, which can be very time-consuming and troublesome.
Another thing you have to consider is that if you are using a free subdomain you won’t be able to use it with another host. And if you move your site to another subdomain or its own domain you will have to change all the links within your website to the new domain/subdomain.
More bad news: all backlinks and search engine rankings associated with your old subdomain will be lost, and you will have to start building your search engine presence from scratch again. This wouldn’t be an issue with paid hosting where you can keep using your own domain name regardless of where the website is hosted.
Free web hosting may not cost you money, but it may cost you something that many people value more than money: privacy.
You see, servers are costly and companies that provide free hosting have to make money somehow. So some companies may sell your personal information and contact details to advertisers, or they may collect and sell data about your website visitors, or they may display ads on your website, or use other techniques to monetize the “free” service.
Free hosting does not come with the same level of security features and measures as you would get with a paid plan. In fact, free hosts are a common target of hackers and malware.
10. Technical Support
Don’t expect any free host to provide reliable technical support, if any at all! Most free services come with very basic and limited support.
Remember: free hosting companies don’t really owe you anything, so don’t be surprised if your website goes down for days or even weeks with no word from the company — I have experienced that before! Even worse, they may pull the plug on the whole service at any time. Actually, I have seen many free hosts come and go over the years, and some services that once hosted many thousands of websites are now history!
I am not saying that paid hosting comes with perfect support either, but at least paid providers have a bigger motive to keep their paying customers happy.
Bottom Line: Free vs. Paid Hosts, Which to Choose?
Free web hosting is a suitable option for complete beginners who would like to familiarize themselves with the process of creating and maintaining a website. This can be a good starting point for those who do not wish to spend money on something they have never tried before.
If you are an amateur learner, then you have nothing to lose if you go with a free web host. Personally, I’d only use free hosts for testing, examples, temporary sites, et cetera, but nothing substantial.
However, if you are thinking about launching a website that you plan to commit to and maintain for years to come then you should find a dependable web hosting service and use your own domain name for the project, and that’s something you’ll have to pay for!
Best Free Web Hosting Services
Here are some of the best free hosts where you can easily and instantly start a new blog or website without requiring any payment information. Some of these providers also offer paid plans as an optional upgrade.
- WordPress (blogging)
- Blogger (blogging)
- Weebly (generic)
- Wix (generic)
- uCoz (generic)
- OverBlog (blogging – french/english)
Best Paid/Premium Web Hosting Services
And the following are some of the best paid hosting services that provide a reliable service for an affordable price. I have personally used some of these hosts for different websites of mine and would highly recommend them.
Note: The prices shown below are for the basic/entry-level plan, which would be more suitable for a brand new or low-traffic website. You can find more advanced plans on each provider’s website.
- StableHost (starting from $53.40/year)
- FastComet (starting from $59.40/year — use coupon welikeyoutoo to get 5% off)
- 247-HOST (starting from $59.88/year — use coupon WHT50 for 50% discount)
- NameHero (starting from $89.88/year — use coupon 5JW0EJ5VCG to get 50% off)
- InMotion Hosting (starting from $89.52/year — special discounts on this page)