You own a business and want to start a website. But you are on a shoestring budget or you want to test some variables before making a decision.
So what do you do?
You Google “free website” (which by the way, delivered over 1,770,000,000 results at the time of writing).
And then you think, “that should be enough for my business”.
So you start investing time and money (well not money, but time is money in most businesses) to put together a quick site and thinking that it will do the job for your business.
My advice: I wouldn’t do that.
Using free websites and free hosting may sound appealing, but there are hidden dangers that lie behind them.
1. You don’t own the content
Using free hosting is like renting a house instead of buying but without paying rent.
You can add as much content as you like and make it look beautiful, but at the end of the day, you don’t own it.
Which means the host provider will own your content and they can do almost anything they want with it.
Like not making sure that your site stays up.
2. Free sites rarely look beautiful
I may have mentioned “look beautiful” above, but that rarely happens.
Your design option and the ability to customise tend to be very limited.
You might be able to do little things like changing colours and fonts or uploading a new image.
But don’t expect too much after that.
And who knows, it might even make the site below beautiful.
3. Limited ability to do any SEO
Since you won’t have full access to “your” site, you won’t even get the chance to optimise your site and get found on Google.
You may or may not have access to the title tag and meta description, two features which millions of people see on Google search result page.
Unlike self-hosted WordPress site, where you will have full access and control plus the ability to carry out basic SEO with various plugins.
I personally use the popular Yoast SEO plugin.
4. No daily automatic backups
Good luck getting free daily backups with your site.
Many affordable shared hosting providers (where you share server space with other sites) like Tsohost offers daily backups.
You never know when you might need it.
5. You have no control over your site.
And this means that your host can pull the plug at any time they want out of the blue and your site is suddenly down.
This is especially annoying if you have put a lot of effort into building your free website.
6. Reputable brands do not guarantee anything
Using reputable hosts will not necessarily make your experience any better.
In the past, Google has been criticised for taking down well-known and respected blogs in the past.
And that’s Google too. So imagine what would happen for the lesser-known brands out there.
Plus when you see adverts like the one below on websites for one cent, you should really ask what’s the catch.
7. Lack of Support
You are likely to receive very limited support (if any at all) with these services.
My personal favourite is when the free hosting provider offers to “solve” your problem by upgrading you to a paid service.
But then you could have just paid for one in the first place and avoid all the hassle.
8. Unprofessional Appearance and Branding
Have you ever seen sites which share a domain with another brand?
They tend to be free, which might sound appealing, but do you expect customers to buy from free websites?
Put it this way; would you prefer to hire dog groomer with an address like A1DogGroomer.com or with A1DogGroomer.freewebsite.com?
Would you prefer to buy organic food from A1OrganicFood.com or from A1OrganicFood.freewebsite.com?
It’s a no-brainer; you want your brand stand out.
9. No branded email address too
Since you don’t own your own domain, you can’t really expect to have branded email address.
I guess you’ll just have to use your personal email address then.
I’m sure hotstuff15619(at)gmail.com will be fine for your site.
10. Your site might get covered with adverts
There is no way a company out there will give you free hosting just out of the goodness of their heart. They will want something out of it.
And one of the easiest ways for them to do that is to plaster horrible adverts on your site.
Who knows, you might even be promoting a competitor without knowing it.
And even if you do know it, there’s nothing you can do about it as it’s not in your control.
11. Caps on bandwidth
If your site takes off and you start getting tons of traffic, your site could go down because of your lack of space in the server to handle.
And you could lose your customers before they even get the chance to see your site.
Talk about bad first impressions.
12. Limited Features Available
You can only customise your site so much with free hosting.
What if your developer wants to edit specific files in the server?
What if you want to grow your business and add e-commerce element?
What if you want some basic analytical tools?
What if you need technical help and a developer asks to access your control panel?
13. Constraint on your freedom
Following up from above, because there are limited features, you are not able to fully express yourself on your own site (I use the word “own” loosely there).
And good luck trying to transfer it to a new host.
14. Unlikely to be responsive design
More and more people are using their mobile to access websites. And even Google admitted that mobile search has exceeded desktop search back in 2015.
So of course, you’d want a responsive site; a site that adapts to mobile devices.
It’s not easy to find one on a free website.
And if you do, what’s the catch?
Who knows, maybe it doesn’t work for all devices or it could be very poorly built design.
15. Can be difficult to transfer elsewhere
If you are the lucky few where you managed to get a lot out of your web hosting, business is booming and you want to upgrade elsewhere, transferring your hosting can be a huge headache.
Many web hosting providers offer a simple solution to transfer to or from other web hosting providers.
WP Engine enables a smooth automated migration with the help of a plugin which they have created for this process.
16. More chances of losing your site
With limited security, no daily backups and poor customer support, you could run the risk of losing your site if something goes wrong.
I’m not saying that it’s your fault. Your host could “accidentally” delete your site because of a mistake from their end.
If that happens, how will they be able to bring it back up without the correct infrastructure?
Sure you can pay to get it back. But it won’t be cheap.
17. No WordPress installation
Most, if not all, free services will not allow you to install WordPress.
What’s the point of that then?!
Even if they do allow WordPress installation, there is a good chance that their server is not built to be able to handle WordPress and your experience will not be a smooth ride.
You will run into problems with WordPress plugins or possibly unable to login to the admin.
Again, what’s the point of that?!
18. Part of a bad neighbourhood
When you pay for shared hosting, you share the space with other websites. In some occasions, that works fine within most reputable host providers and if you don’t run a serious business.
But with free services, you run the risk of sharing the server with a host of unethical and spammy sites.
You could be labelled in the same bracket as these sites, which could ultimately affect your reputation in Google’s eyes.
Do you really want that?
19. Lack of security
*Sigh* Where do I start with this one?
Your site will be more vulnerable to attacks.
Your contact details might be sold to marketing companies.
Your personal details are also at risk to hackers (and that has happened many times before).
Your content can be stolen as you don’t own it.
Your risk losing the site and never able to get it back.
That should scare anyone enough.
The only exception of having a free site/web hosting is if you want to run a site for fun or as an experiment.
Free web hosting has its (limited) place for some people, but I can’t see why you would want to go for it if you are serious about your business or about your online presence.
In the long run, it will save you money when you think about what you get out of paid hosting.
Using a self-hosted WordPress platform will give you total on how you want your website to look, you own your content and you decide its course.
That’s why I use WP Engine, one of the best and most reputable WordPress managed hosting around.
I recently had an issue with my site which was too technical for me to handle.
Together with the help of a developer friend and WP Engine email support and live chat, I managed to get it sorted.
IgniteRock would have suffered if I went for the cheap option of going for a free site.
Don’t put yourself under that pressure. It’s not worth it.
But if you disagree with me, let me know.