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Free or Paid: Which Web Hosting to Select?

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Free or Paid: Which Web Hosting to Select?

It's the conundrum that has been around since web hosting first became something that anyone could do; should I go with free web hosting or paid? Quite frankly, the answer to that question is another question: what do you plan to use your web site for?

Free hosting is readily available, and most hosts provide a WYSIWYG (pronounced whizzy-wig; What You See Is What You Get) editor, so that people with no HTML or CSS experience can create web pages. But free web hosting has several downsides. First of all, it is ad-supported. This isn't a big deal if you plan to use it for showing off your vacation pictures from last summer or posting essays about your Aunt Susan's hygiene habits. But it becomes problematic if you're trying to make a professional looking web site, even a professional personal website. You rarely get a say in where the ads are placed or how large they are when working with free hosting, and the result is often anything but professional.

Free hosting is also rarely a valid option if you plan to join an affiliate program--such as, say, Google AdSense--and make money from advertisements on your website. Most free hosting forbids the practice of marketing affiliate offers on the site...and if you do find the rare site that allows it, and the rare affiliate network that allows you to place ads on free sites, you still have the issue of competing ads; will the host's ads drawn customers, or will yours? If nothing else, it makes for a web site that's cluttered with advertisements.

But if you're not going for a professional look, and you're not planning on getting an AdSense account, then paid web hosting might be overkill. When you factor in the cost of the domain name--something that rarely comes up with free web hosting, especially with sites such as Yahoo!'s GeoCities, which assigns you a domain based on your username--paid web hosting can get expensive.

Paid web hosting can also be more difficult; you're responsible for figuring out how to upload pages and design a website yourself, unless you want to pay someone else to do it, which is just one more expense. Free web hosting generally offers step-by-step instructions for complete beginners--which brings us to our next point.

What is your level of skill in creating and uploading a website? If you have very little experience, even if you're trying to design a professional, ad-free website, it might be a good idea to start with a free website and practice building, designing, and laying it out, before 'experimenting' with a paid site. This gives you valuable website experience without the expense of a website. But a word of caution; if you want to work your way up to a professional ecommerce web site for your company, don't make an experimental free site about your company. Start with something mundane, such as your Aunt Susan's hygiene habits. Don't bring in your company's name until you're comfortable with your level of expertise. The web community has a short attention span, but it has a long memory.

What are you trying to do with your web site? How important is it that it be ad-free, or at least that you being able to control the ads? That's the real key to knowing when you should go with paid web hosting, and when you should go with free web hosting.

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