If you want a conventional website, you’ll need space on a web-server somewhere to run it. That usually costs money. The more space, better bandwidth, better facilities you want, the more it’s likely to cost you. But the Internet is also inundated with offers of free web hosting. And like ‘free lunches’, there are many definitions of ‘free hosting’. Someone has to pay for it in some way.
The obvious one is on-site advertising. Even the best free hosting services reserve the right to lob some ads onto your pages, even the discreet and hopefully tasteful kind such as you find on WordPress.com. So the key question is how much of a free lunch is free hosting and will it give you the kind of web presence you want?
First decision: do you want a free blog-type site and don’t care about the web site address? If so, WordPress.com or Google’s Blogger may be all you need under a free plan. If it’s just a profile page, something like About.me and One-pager.
If not, we’re looking at a conventional hosted site that you either build yourself from scratch or using the hosting provider’s site builder software. Site builders can be a variable bunch, from tightly locked and restricted page templates in ugly Fischer-Price designs, up to elegant and highly customisable template sites with lots of page styles and extra features for feedback forms, comment and discussion boards, subscriber bulletins and the like.
Some site builders work in traditional content management systems, where your site is managed in a massive shared database and asset bank (albeit invisible to you); others use horrendous Flash-based site builders where everything is drag-and-drop within a Flash interface and therefore page set-up, styling and content types are restricted that supported by the Flash controls in the site builder. Moonfruit is in this category, as is Weebly, and might suit someone without any technical knowledge.
The features on offer differ from one free host to another; some providers offer a minimum of hosting features to set up a limited number of pages – perhaps only one – per site. Others offer more advanced features to build complex sites, but very few give you the kind of freedom and control to custom-build advanced sites with shopping carts and database. Why would they?
You can see many of these hosting providers maintain a free offer because 1) their business model allows them to subsidise a small number of free customers from their fee-paying base and 2) they have a stack of extra hosting capacity available to free customers and 3) they’re hoping you’ll upgrade to a fee paying account at some stage, or at least recommend them to colleagues, friends and family.
So are you happy using an ad-supported service? The delivery of advertising is key; some of the providers are happy only to advertise themselves; the more aggressive ones may resort to banners, and popup ads – a big no-no at the best of times, you certainly don’t want banners and pop-ups beyond your control annoying visitors. That’s before you get to certain questionable content in terms of ethics and taste, which is the risk with some out-sourced ad networks inserting random content.
Ideally we are looking for free website hosts that do not put any forced ads on hosted sites, a good place to start is the listing of free hosting with no ads at prchecker.info. This list is divided into sections according to available features and advertising model. Last updated in Oct. 2015, we’ve been keeping an eye on the listing the last couple of years and it is reliably updated with good information.
The next question is what kind of hosting package do you need? Do you have a web domain name of your own, or do you just need a space to point visitors at regardless of the actual web address? There are web hosting services that provide a free domain name included with their free web hosting plan, but you are likely to be restricted to whatever cheap and less-than-trendy domains they can register at little or no cost.
By no means ignore your income needs – do you need to raise revenue from your site yourself, through the use of ads such as Google Ad Sense, or take payment through the use of PayPal or other payment processing services? Will a free hosting package support these? Is it secure enough to provide the peace of mind you want? And if you want to make serious regular money, are you being a cheapskate by going for a free web-space, which is liable to have little or no technical support?
For the technically adept and independent-minded, there are a few free hosting services that offer PHP scripting and MySQL database support, without any forced advertising. You can have a choice of content management systems such as your own instance of WordPress or Joomla. Do you need complex web-forms, plugins, photo galleries and video players? Will you have enough storage space to hold all your assets? High quality photos and video chew up a lot of server space.
And as far as security goes, can you back-up and restore your content easily if the provider has a technical failure – or of they liquidate their free offer entirely?
As a starting list of free hosts, then, the providers below are established and have a good track record. Now you know what to look for, you can also seek out a much longer list, not forgetting local Internet Service Providers who will often have similar or better offers. AJS
- Biz.nf (PHP, MySQL, WordPress, Joomla, Free .co.nf domain, No ads)
- Free Hosting EU (Blog / Site builder, No ads, Free .eu.pn domain)
- AwardSpace.net (PHP, MySQL, Email Sending, No Ads, Free subdomain)
- Biz.ly (Website & Blog builder, Photo album, Free .biz.ly domain)
- FreeHostia.com (PHP, MySQL, 1-click Scripts, No Ads, Free subdomain)
- Wix.com (Easy Flash website builder + mobile sites, blogs, etc.)
- ByetHost.com (PHP, MySQL, PHPbb, SMF, Wiki, Free subdomain)
- x10Hosting.com (Support cPanel, PHP, FTP, No ads, Free subdomain)
- Yola.com (Visual website builder, add videos, photos, shopping cart)
- Webs.com (Easy site builder, blog, forms, polls, Free subdomain)
Allan J. Smithie
Allan J. Smithie is a journalist and commentator based in Dubai.