Dec 162008
 

We all love free.

No costs out of pocket and we get what we want. It’s a beautiful thing. Why pay for it if you can get everything that you want, free?

Web hosting, for example. Web Hosting is just the service that lets you put your stuff online. You get the most flexibility as you go up in price, but there are some very nice free solutions that are available, especially if you’re just getting started or want a secondary site for whatever reason.

As far as your site goes, do you just want to write an article or two? Have a long, continuous conversation with your fans? Put up an e-commerce store or just an online brochure? Just slap something up to provide links back to your main site?

One thing to keep in mind: Web hosting is very expensive for the hosting provider. They cannot afford to buy all those computers, all the software, the internet connections, hire all those people, and maintain them while providing 100% free services.

So they have to get their money somehow, even though you might pay nothing at all. How is this possible? Upsells, emails, and ads, basically.

The Free Hosting:

Tripod.com is a 100% free hosting service. You can sign up and be putting up a site within an hour. As you go through the signup process they will encourage you to sign up for their paid hosting service, buy a domain name, and sign up for various offers. None of which you have to do. They provide lots of templates to pick from and their website builder isn’t at all hard to use.

Once your site is up you’ll notice Tripod ads all over your site. For example, this Warcraft Rogue tips site I threw together. The two ad blocks at the top and the bottom of the page are Tripod’s. Since Tripod has been around for a long time with the same model I have to assume that their model works.

It’s not a bad way to get started, really. Most free hosts are similar. When the time comes for you to get more serious with your site you’ll want to move up to a paid solution. The most obvious issue, to me, is that if you’re trying to make a site with a professional look, well, you won’t get it from Tripod’s free service.

DotEasy.com also offers free hosting but you’ll make a payment for a domain name or to transfer a domain name to their service. The upside is that you don’t get any of their ads on your site. This works out to about $3 a month which is about as cheap as hosting gets.

Better Free Stuff

Blogs. One of the killer things about blogging services is that you get a consistent look to your site that’s clean and pretty clear. Once youi get it set up all you have to do is post your stuff. You don’t have to worry about HTML, CSS, or any of the coding stuff.

The best way to go, by far, if you really want to be free is something like WordPress.com or Blogger.com. Blogger is owned by the mighty Google, which means a few things: 1) You’re not limited in how much stuff you add to your site and 2) it’s going to be around for awhile.

The only thing that Blogger adds to your site is a bar at the top of the page giving access to other blogger blogs. Here’s an example of one of their blogs. Yet another warcraft tips blog. The only thing that Blogger adds is the bar at the top. Everything else is yours. WordPress.com puts a link on the bottom of your site and, if you’re logged in, there will be a bar at the top which is similar to Blogger’s.

So how does Blogger pay the bills? Google has the adsense program which allows you to put their adds on your site and you split the revenue.

You’ll never be able to run a high traffic site on the free hosts such as Tripod. Once you exceed a certain amount of traffic they’ll turn off your site until the bandwidth meter resets, next month.

The exception? You can have a high traffic site with blogger or WordPress. Some pretty popular blogs are on both systems, ranging from little Warcraft sites to very popular political sites and a vast assortment of other topics.  If you can send insane amounts of traffic to a typical free host, well, it won’t work. Neither Blogger or WordPress cares how much traffic you send. If you’re interested in getting started with wordpress.com, check out: How to Build Your WordPress.com Site

Other Possibilities

Squidoo – Squidoo.com isn’t really a hosting service, but it’s a pretty nifty system. Absolutely 100% free and they do a revenue sharing system with the ads placed on your site. More about Squidoo.com.

Hubpages – Very similar to squidoo, 100% free, but a little stricter in what they allow. More on HubPages.

Weebly and WetPaint.com are two more free hosts that pretty much let you do your own thing with some pretty decent site builders, provide options for grabbing your own domain name, and so on.

If you just want to write articles, either because you don’t really want a site or you want to build some name recognition and send some traffic to your site, then look at article sites, such as: EzineArticles.com and StreetArticles.com

Summing up… With Free you get…

  • At least some ads or links back to the service provider.
  • No costs, at all, leave your credit card(s) in your wallet. Upsells to sites that are ad-free, have their own domains, and so on are generally available, but they aren’t required.
  • You get to get your feet wet in the online world and can practice ideas, your writing, and so on. Upgrade later if you need to.

The Paid Hosting

The big advantage of paid hosting is that you have complete control over your site. No ads that aren’t yours, no bars at the top or bottom of your site, no hoops to jumps through in order to present your stuff.

Subject to the limitations of your host’s terms and conditions you have no limits to what you put on your site. Go crazy with the design, size, and content. You’ll also generally get a lot more in the way of features with paid hosting than with free hosting.

Design – you have a lot more flexibility with design, too. If you install WordPress on your site you will have access to far more in the way of templates, addons (plugins,) and other tweaks than you will with the free WordPress.

I gave up on regular free hosting a long time ago, with the exception of that Tripod site, but that’s just  there as a demo anyway. I do use Squidoo and HubPages a lot, though, as well as Blogger and WordPress.

Getting a lot of traffic? Free hosts, as I mentioned above, will shut you down fast. Paid hosts will too, but you will be getting a lot more traffic than the freebies will put up with. The big sites pay a little, or a lot more, and can handle vast amounts of traffic. Also, if you’re gettin so much traffic that it’s an issue with your host they should have an upgrade path available.

If you plan on building a somewhat professional site that gets a nice level of traffic and will maybe make you a few bucks then you want to go with the paid hosting. I’m using StormOnDemand (a LiquidWeb company,) after firing my last few hosts, but there are a lot of hosting services out there and some may suit you better. Storm’s a cloud server and they have killer service.

So why else to use paid hosting instead of Blogger, Squidoo, Hubpages, etc.? You’re less at the mercy of the system. For example: Google has been known to kill certain Blogger blogs. Usually these were junk or spam blogs, with garbage content, but some good blogs have been accidentally (?) hit.

You are more free to do your own thing, limited only by your skill at building a site.

Also, sites like Squidoo and Hubpages occasionally change how their systems work. If you like the changes, great, if you don’t, well, you can always go elsewhere. With your own host you’re the one who’s always in charge.

Take a close look at what you want to do and choose accordingly. Some people stay entirely with Squidoo, others use several systems.

If you want to set up an online store, with your own merchant account, sales system, etc., then there is no free solution that will cover you. You’ll need to get a paid system and you’ll need some extras, such as secure transaction capability, a heavy duty database setup, backups, and so on.

If you’re in a business that has massive seasonal spikes, such as Halloween Costumes, you might want to look into a cloud server system. You can adjust the capacity of that system in minutes. Anticipating a major traffic spike that will only last a week? Get a basic system, ramp it up for that week, then scale it back down when the traffic dies back.

Summing up the paid hosting:

  • Flexibility to do your own thing, primarily. There are a ton of 3rd party things (free and paid) that you can plug into these sites, giving you more fexibility than with any free system.
  • If you want to move your site from Host A to Host B it can be as easy as packing up your site and uploading it to the new host.
  • If you have an online store (for example, selling your line of 500 fly rods and reels) you’ll have to go with the paid solution.
  • If you want to be the next Amazon.com, well… :)

Now, About Getting That Site Built…

One of the things that throws people, regardless of whether they go free or paid is actually getting the site put together. One option is the system that BlogSuccess has put together. You buy the domain name, fill in a couple of blanks, and they will set up your entire WordPress blog on their system and even make all the right settings to give you the best start. Pretty much all you will have to do is to start writing, and they teach you how to do that, as well. Definitely worth a look.