Today, there are more choices than ever if you are looking for free hosting services. In fact, there are new companies popping up all the time offering some type of “free” hosting plans. Unfortunately, there are just as many companies going out of business and leaving their customers in a sort of hosting purgatory, unable to deliver the “free hosting for life” they had promised them and too often causing even more serious headaches.

With so many user complaints and horror stories surrounding free hosting, we decided to take a closer look and offer some insight for those considering it. So here’s the usual deal. To get “free” hosting, you must first pay a one-time setup fee that ranges from $35 to over $100 to transfer your domain. If you don’t already have a domain, you may also end up paying a premium of $35 or more for a new domain. You probably will also have to agree to become part of a forced advertising database, and receive daily email marketing, that your free host is selling to whomever they want. In return, you are promised “free hosting for life” that is restricted by how much disk space and monthly bandwidth you get. Your free host is hoping that you will exceed your allotted amount so they can upsell you to a paid hosting plan later.

Besides the fact that it’s not “free”, there are some other problems with this business model. To start with, your free host only gets paid by its customers one time – when they sign up – but they have to provide on-going service to them indefinitely. If for any reason new sales are down, there can be a big problem quick. Credit card fraud is also a costly problem for free hosting companies – it’s a favorite way for thieves to quickly check if a stolen card still works. To be profitable, a free host is dependent on a constant flow of enough setup fees from new customers. Which means they must keep operating costs low and advertising spending high. It’s important to understand how keeping their overhead as low as possible can directly affect the level of service that free hosts can provide their customers in the areas of uptime, security, data backup, customer service and tech support.

When it comes to uptime reliability, you want to be sure your free host owns their own servers. If your free host is actually reselling hosting on a third party’s servers and there is a problem, they may not be able to control when and how it gets fixed. Or worse, if there’s a dispute between your free host and the third party hosting company, your Web site may be left in limbo until it gets straightened out, which sometimes is never. Even if your free host owns their own servers, there can still be a big reliability problem if they haven’t devoted enough resources to maintenance and Internet security. Most free hosts are not going to pay for the expense of heavy duty, state-of-the-art firewall protection. You must be prepared for the possibility that you are vulnerable to hacker attacks that could easily bring down all of the sites they are hosting. And don’t rely on your free host to backup your site – make sure you have regular backups of everything you don’t want to lose.

When there is a problem, be prepared to be very patient for a response. Most free hosts only offer customer service and tech support via email. Keeping overhead low often means understaffing in these areas. Even if you have a serious problem such as your site being down for days or weeks, it’s highly unlikely that you would ever be able to speak to someone about it. If you want fast and efficient support, you’re much better off with a paid hosting provider. For this reason, only someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about the Web should consider free hosting since they are likely to need much less support. We don’t recommend free hosting for anyone who is new to the workings of the Internet.

When you take a closer look, the free hosting business is a gamble, whether you are the provider or the customers. In any industry there are honest business people and not so honest ones and it’s the same with free hosting. Unfortunately, even the honest ones can’t guarantee they’ll be able to live up to the promise of “free hosting for life” in a business so full of potential problems.