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Cheap (and Free) Web Hosts – What you Need to Know

Web hosting is something that all website owners need unless they happen to have the resources to run their own web servers in-house.

In common with most digital agencies, Vu Online provide high quality hosting billed on an ongoing basis. Although our hosting rates are good value, they are not the cheapest you can get and we do sometime get business owners asking if they should host their website elsewhere (often because they have seen an ad offering hosting for £1.99 a month or even for free).

There is nothing stopping them from doing so but they need to go in with their eyes wide open. A reliable, fast-loading and secure website is something that can easily be taken for granted.


But Isn’t Hosting Just Storing Files on a big Computer?

Hosting a website is a more dynamic process than simple storage. The computers used are dedicated to that one task and are termed ‘servers’ because they actively serve webpages to visitors in response to requests.

Unless your website is hosted on a dedicated server – a luxury few can afford – you will also be sharing resources with many other businesses and individuals. Herein lies the root cause of many of the problems experienced by website owners on free or cheap hosting plans: poor traffic management.


Feeling the Squeeze

While many shared hosting plans provide a fantastic service, this is because they have invested in the necessary infrastructure and traffic management technology to cope with distributing their service among a large number of users.

Web hosts without this set-up may be able to offer dirt cheap or even free hosting but they may have poor uptime (the percentage of time when a website is online), slow load speed or both.

With customers liable to click away if they don’t see a webpage within a few seconds of clicking a link, low cost web hosts could  be costing their business customers a lot of money in lost sales. In addition, page load time is a ranking factor in itself, creating a vicious circle of plummeting search engine placings and dissatisfied visitors.


What are you not Getting?

Even if a low cost web host can provide evidence of high uptime and page load speeds, the savvy business owner needs to ask the question: what am I not getting?

One area where cheap web hosts often cut costs is with customer support. This may be outsourced to the lowest bidder leading to long delays and frustrations when problems occur.

Business owners who need to access their server to add services or make changes are also likely to be disappointed. Whereas a good quality web host will provide a user-friendly interface such as cPanel, a cheaper host may use a correspondingly lower value alternative. You may even have to go through the web host themselves to make any changes at all (for an extra charge, of course).

Another big issue is security. On a shared hosting plan, there is a higher risk of data being compromised so it is important that enterprise-grade security software is in place. A cheap or free web host is more likely to cut corners on this.


Underhand Tactics

Finally, there are those web hosts who use misleading marketing to suggest that their hosting costs less than it actually does.

Common ploys include:

  • Long-term lock ins. The cheap rate may only apply if you agree to a three-year or longer deal. You may even be asked to pay for any freebies you received if you pull out early.
  • Compulsory add-ons. You may have to buy a domain name, security software, SSL certificate or something else from the host. This will often cost more than average.
  • Automatic roll-over. Once the low price deal has finished, you could be bumped up to the standard price without warning (the new rate could be higher than average).
  • Adware. Free web hosts in particular will compel you to carry their partners’ ads on your website. Not only does this look unprofessional, it can be dangerous if the ads contain viruses or spyware.

Of course, there may be some perfectly legitimate and high performing web hosts out there who do offer cheap hosting worth investigating further. However, there are also plenty of sharks out there to be aware of.

Don’t take our word for it. For some real social proof about the risks that low-cost hosting can expose your business too, just check out the comments on this review site.

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