We are all looking for the best deals online, especially if we are starting a new company or a new website. I am a serial entrepreneur, and it is tempting to go for free or cheap hosting companies.

When you search for cheap or free hosting, you will find many companies providing those services, but you have to remember that they would have to make their money somewhere. That is just the way a business works. To say that you provide a free service is a way to acquire customers and already announces deception right away. When you are bootstrapping a company on a limited budget, it is easy to fall for this kind of marketing messages. I know because when I first started with my business, I did the same.

The reality is that you will always get burned and you would have to eventually move your hosting to a reputable hosting company after a lot of complaints, downtime and extreme frustration. To eventually move your website, hosting and emails is a frustrating process and can result in downtime, emails being off for a couple of days and that means that you will have frustrated clients and disappointed visitors to your website. Downtime and hosting migrations means that your business will be official “closed” for a minimum of 24 hours and can result in missed opportunities. There is no way around it.

So how does cheap or free hosting works?

If you sign up with cheap or free hosting you will most likely pay R0 – R60 and I can tell you unless you just want to host an email on these packages om this age and time, you will be due to an upgrade very very soon to an expensive package. If you already signed up for the cheap hosting, it is either a pain to transfer your account to a different host or, you signed yourself into a 12month contract.

For many cheap hosting packages, you have to sign up for 24/36 months and pay that amount in advance for 2years to qualify for the deal.

Buzz words to look out for:

1 Unlimited traffic

Let me tell you; unlimited traffic means nothing unless you have a considerable amount of disk space. On a free or cheap hosting package I very much doubt you will run out of disc space before you can use any valuable amount of traffic. Mind you, if you are not actively marketing your website online, you will never need that much traffic.

The second issue about unlimited traffic for cheap hosting is the fine print. “Unlimited traffic is subject to reasonable and responsible usage, as determined at …’s discretion.” I copied that fine print off of one of the leading cheap hosts in South Africa. Here are another few, “* Acceptable Usage Policy and Terms Of Service apply. Price Includes VAT”, “*Unlimited Bandwidth: Host… reserves the right to reduce the bandwidth in cases of extensive use. Contact us if you have a question.” You get the just of it.

2 Disc space & many email accounts

What most people do not realise, is that when a package mentions disc space, it is the space for your website and email accounts combined. For example, you might have a small website, but you grow out of your allocated disk space very quickly because you have either large or several email account with attachments, using up your disk space. So, then you need to upgrade your account. So don’t be fooled by a hosting package that gives you a lot of emails.

3 SSL Certificates and secure websites

The second thing that free or cheap hosting lack is SSL Certificates. If you look at any website link in your browser, you will either see a green padlock followed by https:// or a “!” sign, a http:// link with the notification that your website is not secure.

If a hosting package does not include an SSL Certificate it would have to be purchased separately and also would have to be renewed every year. If you want a secure and reputable website, you have to have an SSL Certificate. Without it, Google will even penalise your website in the search engine rankings, and these days, most website visitors are suspicious of unsecured websites. Some hosts do include SSL Certificates in their packages, but only for large packages. For example, if you want a website with an SSL at Godaddy.com, you already have to sign up for their Ultimate hosting package. At Smartweb, you would have to sign up for a business package. See? You eventually have to pay more than you bargained.

4 FTP Accounts

Enable to upload files to your hosting account; you need FTP (file transfer protocol) access. While all hosting accounts, whether they are free or not, includes at least x1 FTP account. If you only have one account, your hosting company is most likely going to send you that account information using email, and you’d better save that information because if you don’t, you are going to have to contact them again to get.

As a web developer, I can’t begin to explain the pain of working with one FTP account. If you have more than one account, your developer would be able to manage it and update keywords if necessary, should there be a problem with connecting without bothering you. Side note, even if your developer phone/email/contact your hosting company, they won’t be able to change or request anything since three parties can’t access any of your info.

5 Databases (MySQL)

If you are developing a website any date after 2009, you are probably going to use a type of content manager (like WordPress for example), and therefore going to need a database. Cheap hosting packages do not include databases.

6 Website speed

One of Google’s more recent ranking factors it website speed. Cheap hosting means slow servers. Google wants websites to load fast. Also, remember that many images on your site means longer loading time and will affect your rankings. So keep those image galleries small and listen to your developer regarding too many photos.

7 PHP versions

Make sure that the hosting account you sign up for support the latest php versions. Thus, at least version 7 or higher. It is genuinely shocking to see that users can still sign up for version 5.6. For me, as a WordPress developer, I can’t do anything with a 5.6. It is no longer supported, and most plugins will require a v7 or higher.

8 Support [Most important!]

My first consideration for any hosting company is the level of service and support. If you call that support number, how long does it take to get an answer? Do you first have to go through a couple of menu’s before you get to a consultant? Can you get to a consultant? Go to their website, is there a contact number listed or do you have to go to this “search for your problem” support page? Let me tell you; you will never find your question’s answer on that support page. If the company has one of those chat services, is it online? Do you get one of those, we are currently busy, but please give us your email address, and we will email you later. Don’t test the sales’ chat service; they will always be online.

For a website or website that needs to rank in Google, you can’t possibly sign up for cheap hosting. You won’t get far.

Other notes about WordPress website hosting

WordPress and Linux hosting is the same thing. WordPress has certain requirements. See here https://wordpress.org/about/requirements/

As long as the hosting account you sign up meet these minimal requirements, you are good to go. Don’t fall for WordPress hosting packages if they are more expensive than regular Linux hosting.

Using a hosting account manager versus managing your hosting account on your own.

In my experience, dealing with hosting is a big pain point for most clients. The technical lingo, diagnostics, the back an forth between you and the developer regarding hosting can be extremely frustrating. If you are not up for it, get someone to manage your account for you. They talk to the hosting company for you. We only provide hosting packages to our clients, because it saves both us and our client’s time and agony when developing websites. When website clients don’t host with us, we prefer they hosting with https://xneelo.co.za/. They used to be called Hetzner, but they rebranded in July 2019. I’m not too fond of the new name by the way.

[add brackets] why is this important? so what?

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