An article by Lorna Timbah | 07 January 2007 | http://webgrrrl.net | Republishing of this article on other web site is permitted, as long as this reference to this web site remains intact.
Having a web site is no longer an option for your company — it is a necessity. A web site enables your business to reach more customers at anytime and anywhere. With more than one billion people worldwide going online, your business will be missing out on a large portion of the market without a web presence.
In order to establish a web presence, one of the issues you will need to look into is getting a web hosting service for your web site. With technological progress and market competition, web hosting services are becoming more affordable, and better yet, many providers are now offering web hosting service for free. Yes, that means you don’t have to spend even half a cent to get your business online.
Apart from the obvious fact that it’s free, here are a few reasons why you should consider using free web hosting for your business:
- Test ground for your budding web skills
If you are thinking of becoming your own webmaster and want to get your feet wet in web building, you probably won’t be ready to invest much on web hosting yet. Free web hosting services will give you the freedom to test out your skills, to see what does or does not work in your site, and can better visualize the cost and effort needed in creating and maintaining your company web site. Free web hosting also allows you to try the hosting provider’s service for an initial period; once you’re confident that the service provider is reliable enough for you, you can upgrade your company web site to the service provider’s paid package that is better and with more frills.
- Convenience of built-in features
Most free web hosting companies, such as Bravenet, Yahoo!Geocities and Tripod, provide easy-to-use web page builder, as well as tools such as guestbook, hit counter, email forms, and others that can enhance your web site. You will be able to build your company web site in just a few simple steps, while providing you with a more than decent web site in just minutes. The extra features frees you from having to hire programmers just so that you can have online applications to capture visitor feedback, setting up of polls and survey, as well as building up your subscribers for your online newsletter.
- Positive return on investment
You get free web hosting, you design your own web site, and you have fancy tools added into your site to give it extra functionality, all without having to spend a single cent. Add these up, compare with the potential new customers that you will be getting, and you find that your ROI for establishing a web presence for your company would obviously be satisfactory. You can now reach out to your online market and hopefully your online strategy can effectively increase your revenue.
On the other hand, the downside to using free web hosting is also numerous and comes in the form of hidden costs to your business:
- Lack of flexibility and control
Be sure to read the web hosting provider’s Terms of Service before registering for your free web hosting account. Some free web hosting providers restrict the use of certain file types, content, or even languages. In addition, they can also overload your web site with unneeded and irrelevant advertisements in order to support their services. When bombarded with such annoyance, visitors to your site are going to take the effort not to visit your web site ever again. You will also find that some advanced tools needed to operate a fully functional e-commerce presence are not possible with the use of free web hosting, such as shopping carts, secure ordering system and online payment gateways. You may have to upgrade or switch to a paid hosting service provider if you decide to use them, which will require not just the extra effort but also the extra cash.
- High risk of downtime and no guaranteed support
To be honest, there is no such thing as a zero downtime, whether it be for free or paid web hosting. Downtime refers to the period of time or a percentage of a time span that a machine or system is offline or not functioning, making your web site inaccessible (source: Wikipedia). Nevertheless, the risk of free web hosting having frequent downtime is more than likely to happen than with paid hosting. Free web hosting providers more often than not won’t provide any guarantee to their services due to the cost of maintaining them. Other than the risk of downtime, free web hosting accounts are mostly subjected to low priority bandwidth, thus affecting access to your site by making your web site load slowly. Responses to support requests can be slow or next to nothing, and you are solely responsible for backing up your own web site files. These problems cause visitors looking for information on your company feeling frustrated. Ultimately, this can jeopardize your reputation, and your current and potential clients would view your company as an unreliable provider.
- Loss of credibility
Internet marketing strategists place unprecedented importance on the use of domain names for your business. A domain name (or web site address) is one of tools used to establish your company’s online branding and image. Most free web hosting providers offer subdomains as addresses for your web site. A subdomain is a web site address whereby your business name is appended onto the free host’s domain name, such as http://yourbusiness.freehost.com/ or http://www.freehost.com/yourbusiness. Seldom do you see free hosting providers that support actual domain hosting (such as http://www.yourbusiness.com), or at least not without a catch. A subdomain name as your business web address is harder for your clients to remember than a domain name. Furthermore, one serious drawback to not having your own domain name is the fact that subdomains sounds less professional. Without one, your business may be regarded as disreputable or even illegitimate, and tend to be avoided by web-savvy customers.
In the end, it’s your choice. While some sacrifices needed to be done when using free web hosting, try to look at your need for web hosting service just as you would your budding business. Start small, dream big. Weight the pros and cons of free web hosting versus paid web hosting. If you have to, begin with using a free web hosting provider. Once your needs and resources grow, you can then upgrade to a more advanced web hosting service which you can afford to pay.
So don’t worry for now, especially if you are a small business or are just starting one. No one will shoot you in the head for using free web hosting — at least I won’t.
Lorna, a business graduate from the University of Alabama, is highly passionate in IT and the Internet, and her passion was what helped her land her first job as a Webmaster (and later as a Web Unit Manager), with the role to manage websites for a state-wide network known as Sabah.Net. She now blogs and makes money online. Lorna is also a part-time tutor with Open University Malaysia, teaching IT and e-commerce subjects to diploma- and degree-level students.