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If you run a business that is predominantly offline, and you have a website simply to test an additional channel, you may be tempted to take the less risky route of using a free web hosting service provider. This way, you are not losing money and can also validate the efficiency of your online channel. But over the years, free web hosting providers have come under the scanner for being unreliable. For one, customer service is more or less absent with these providers. Also, the way these businesses recover the money invested in providing your website a free hosting space is by plastering your website with third party ads that they make money from.
Unsustainability of ad-supported hosting
This model is unsustainable. Over the past few years, the number of websites monetizing via ads has risen exponentially. This has brought about a drastic increase in the supply side of the online advertising ecosystem. What this has meant is that publishers are making less and less with an increase in the number of ad-based websites. Free web hosting providers that have based their business off ads are making less today compared to what they did a few years back. This has made the ad-driven business model unviable. If you are a business who have their website hosted with of these providers, you may be risking an unreliable service.
Alternatives to the ad-supported hosting model
The fall of the ad-driven model has however had a silver lining. There are a bunch of new free hosting providers that have cropped up that have based themselves on more reliable business models. Companies like Hostt offer a freemium service where customers are provided free, unlimited hosting space and those who want more from their provider may purchase add-on packs. This is a successful business model that has been replicated across industries right from mobile games, social networks to SaaS tools.
As anybody in the web administration industry will tell you, commodities like hosting space and bandwidth are cheap when purchased in high volume. The web hosting industry works at wafer-thin margins. Consequently, the actual profit that businesses could make in this industry are from selling premium add-ons like SSL certification, private registration, payment gateway integration, etc. By making the hosting space available for free, the new crop of hosting providers have ensured that they offer hosting space for free while ensuring profitability and consequently, business viability.
What should you choose?
So is it really a good idea to go with a free hosting provider? The answer is – 'it depends'. If you are a serious business with real customers, it makes sense to avoid those free hosting providers that plaster your website with advertisements. It needs to be remembered that every click on an ad on your page is a potential customer moving away from your website elsewhere and is thus lost. But it makes absolute sense to go with one of the freemium hosting provider. Weebly, for instance, is one example where the site building tools are provided along with hosting space for free users. However, these users might need to upgrade to a 'Pro' account to leverage features like unique domain names, Adsense monetization, etc. This way, the users and the hosting provider scale their hosting requirements as the business grows. This is hence an attractive model for bootstrapped startup businesses to choose. What are your thoughts?
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