Free Website Hosts and Website Builders vs Self-hosted CMS Website

(Reading time: 7 - 13 minutes)

Free-for-all Hosting Platforms vs Paid Dedicated Self-Hosting

Today I will tell you how migrating your site or blog from a free platform like Wordpress.com or Blogger to Wordpress.org, Joomla or any similar flexible CMS will benefit not just your overall experience, and your visitor's, but important things like SEO, SERP optimization, affiliate marketing, etc.

If you’re trying to figure out the true reasons why you have more chances of succeeding if you run your website on a professional CMS as opposed to a free-for-all platform like Wordpress.com, Tumblr, or Blogger, please read on. 

I had a content website that used to provide links to affiliate merchants.

For about four months  I used a TLD domain instead of the free platform’s subdomain. The TLD, that I bought like after one year blogging, did help the website’s SEO rankings but nothing to write home about.

Still, after almost two years, it became unmanageable at the editor level, and I’m not even counting the technical issues. At the content level, it got impossible to manage.

The point in the case, I learned it first-hand, and I would love helping you not go by the same deception I went through. So, should one move a site or blog that’s hosted on a free service, to a real CMS? Ab-so-lu-tely! And here is why.

Because…

  • Free platforms don’t have easy nor free flexibility to customize the site
  • Can’t experiment with foolproof plugin solutions on a free platform
  • A real CMS is better to improve the site for SEO both at the technical and content levels
  • A site on a professional-grade CMS like WordPress or Joomla is much easier to track and audit and has a whole battery of things that you can’t do with a free solution or can do but in an incomplete or crippled manner
  • The providers of the free platform own your content as long as it sits there, and they can cancel the account anytime, even if they grant you rights to the content you publish on their platforms
  • Search engines don’t like free platform websites and they will index only a negligible fraction of your pages
  • Beware of Both Free Platforms and Free Hosting Services

Before starting, we should make a difference between free platforms, that give you a subdomain name, a hosting space to build your site, and a toy-grade CMS to manage the site, and free hosting, that gives you the webspace and a subdomain, but not a CMS.

Free Platform Examples Free Hosting Services Examples
Blogger000Webhost
Wordpress.comViewen
TumblrSimilar scams to the two above



Stories you tell Yoursel for not Evolving your Website

I will first explore the kind of thought processes that go into not wanting to evolve from a free platform, and then I will review free hosting services briefly.

Your Customizations Story

“I don't want, and I think I don't need more customization than what I already have.”

The truth

Really? Are you that careless for your users that you are okay with giving something that’s not 100% unique. 

Arguments against this truth

I can always customize a theme to make it original. I can buy a custom-made skin from a developer.

Counter-arguments

You might customize the theme of your free blog all that you want, and even purchase a custom-made one to make sure that it looks original. Still, underlying the original skin, there’s the functionality and recognizable quirks of the free platform, and those things are much more difficult to hide or improve.

Your Features Story

“I don't care for any plugin or extension right now because I don't need them. Even when I decide to implement things like an autoresponder, that can be laid on top of a free site without much hassle.”

The truth

You may not need plugins or extensions. If you are like me, someone who works on websites constantly, trying to always fix everything and improve anything that can be improved, something will happen.

It will come a moment when you can’t improve your website further because there’s no way to do it with the resources you have available and the feature set the free site provides.

Arguments against this truth

I can roll-out features embedding javascript, ajax, CGI, and similar band-aid solutions on the website and I don’t need to go through the process of installing stuff on a real CMS.

Counter-arguments

I would never do a thing like that because it’s a catch-22. Once you find out that you can give a site built on a free platform different functionalities utilizing embedding scripts, you might go overboard and create a patch up work that is a hassle to maintain and manage.

It’s also not convincing from the security point of view. Most important of all, you have to have the luck of wanting to do this on a free service that allows the addition of such things.

Your Functionalities and Backup Story

“I have all the basic functionality I need, I can eve make backups, crawling and scrapping the site on a weekly or fortnightly basis to always keep a backup of the content as it was on the site.”

The truth

You can keep copies of your content doing this, but only of your content. When you scrape a site with a web crawler, you are downloading only the content, not the functionality. Which means, your “backup” can’t bring your site back up as it was, because that’s not possible. At least, not without violating the rights of the free platform that gave you the service and creating a mess of a broken website.

Arguments against this truth

“I don’t care, as long as I have a security copy of the content, if I, for any reason, lose my website hosted on a free service, I can launch a similar site with all that content in another free platform”

Counter-arguments

That could be done, but what about the epic loss of time that doing a crazy, ill-prepared thing like that could mean?

The wise thing to do, to back up a site on a free service, instead of scraping with a web crawler I think would be to use some of the utilities that export websites from free platforms in a format that can be imported to a CMS like Drupal, WordPress or Joomla,

Doing this, you’re forced to move to a professional CMS in case things go downhill. This is a good thing, even if painful and world-rocking, but the downtime would be much less than having to reimport the content to another platform manually.

Your Tests and Experiments Story

“Testing is unimportant too. I'm tracking my free-service-based website and I’m tracking it with two solutions, one is G Analytics, and it's as trackable as a CMS-based website. I can monitor all the metrics I need. I haven't hit a wall in the tracking department yet. As for auditing the site for SEO, that statement is 100% false, all audit web apps work great.”

The truth

Testing and experimenting are of utmost importance. When your website is based on a free service, you can lie to yourself telling you that because Google Analytics and other statistics services (like for instance, StatCounter) work, that everything is okay.

That may work for a while, but as I said at the beginning of this article, it comes a moment when, based on the improvements that site audit services give, you can’t improve them anymore because of the limited scope for customization free services have.

This fact is hard to see with general website audit tools, but these integrated tests, that gauge a lot of stuff aren’t the ones webmasters should resort to, not in the first instance.

Before using any of the general tests, websites should be tested with speed tests. If you thought that integrated tests show a lot of stuff that you can’t fix because the sites are based on a free service, then wait until you see how poorly they do in the speed-only tests.

Arguments against this truth

Furthermore, you can lie to yourself even more. You may think that as long as you use general website audit tools only, and based on the reports that tell you about what you can fix, you can think that you can continue doing this indefinitely until you improved every one of the shortcomings and your sites is near damn well perfect.

Counter-arguments

That’s missing the point. You haven’t gone through the primordial tweaking suggested by the basic speed and page loading tests. If you never did anything to improve your site and resort to the speed test before going to the integrated ones, then you may get a very demoralizing image of your website that you don’t even have the guts to run the detailed ones.

Don’t do that, actually do the speed tests and then give your website a pass with the granular ones, and you’ll see how easy is to miss the point if you do the detailed ones and not the speed ones.

Your SEO Story

“I can publish a content that is so much stellar, that I don’t need SEO.”

The truth

Yeah, right. Good luck with that. You can be a light of content writing, but that is only 50% of the whole picture.

To write humane, organic content that is stellar for humans is good, but if you neglect the bots that will analyze your website and content then you failed at creating a website that will benefit others.

How can a website benefit others if search engines don’t index it and those that need the information can’t find it? It can’t, so improving the SEO technology of your site is a must.

Arguments against this truth

On-page SEO is not that important, I can work on the off-page SEO. I will compensate for the lack of on-page SEO with the off-page work, and that’s a level field for everyone, those that have a website with good SEO and those who don’t.

Counter-arguments

Off-page SEO may be a level field for everyone, but working on it and not on the on-page optimization, you’re at a great disadvantage against your competitors that optimize and improve the site’s SEO at both levels.

Your Webmaster Skills Story

“I’m not a webmaster and I can’t migrate my site to, or start a new one in, a professional CMS. Even if I wanted to do it, I would mess everything up and end losing everything.”

The truth

If you don’t have any webmaster skills, then hire someone who can do the grunt work for you. If you don’t have the economic resources to pay for web development work, then learn it.

I can assure you that it’s not difficult, and if you could administer a website on a free platform, you’ll see that’s not that much different.

There’s a learning curve and, unless you take courses or flash read books on the subject, to become acquainted with how everything works done the right way takes time.

Arguments against this truth

This is box-pushing work, and I can't and won't lower myself to doing it. I'm a publisher and not a webmaster. Developing a website, even if it's easy and there's no software developing involved on my end, it's not what I do and I won't do it.

Counter-arguments

That's it, if you think like this, and on top of that you aren't willing to pay for someone else to do it for you that is it. Your site is never going to become popular. Owning a website is not a set-and-forget, or autopilot solution. It's evolve, grow and improve, or die.

It took me a lot of time to become 100% fearless when developing websites, and I always was very careful to the point of not improving for fear of breaking a website up, but those kinds of obstacles must be sorted out.

Why You Shouldn’t use Free Hosting or Domain Services

Free website hosting services, as I see it, have only one purpose. To help you experiment when you’re new to developing websites. Using one of these services, you can learn difficult things that you should know before setting out to create a real website.

Free hosting services are useful to learn

  • How to configure a DNS + dedicated TLD + hosting account
  • How a CMS works, and to have a feel of how would be to use them
  • How to create backups both with the hosting account and with the CMS
  • How to use a CDN, like for instance Cloudflare

The only practical application I see for these services is using the hosting space as a development kitchen sink. I mean, building a website on a free platform and then migrating it to a paid hosting account once it’s finished.

The free hosting services don’t give full functionality, even if you install a CMS and it works. Sooner or later you’ll start to find that, unreasonably, features of the plugins or add-ons you implement don’t work, or don’t work as expected.

That’s because free hosting services generally have restrictions at the webserver level that you will never encounter with a paid account.

The resources free hosting servers allocate to free accounts are a joke, and some essential server-level functionalities aren’t even enabled or enabled in a restrictive way that makes them useless.

Besides, it’s a liability to trust free services. They make you accept terms of service that are biased towards the provider, not the user. They make sure they can shut you down anytime, and that you can’t do or say anything about it. And they actually do it without much consideration, so be warned.

The same goes for those that, allegedly, give you a free domain name. Not only free domain names are a joke, and easy to spot, the same warnings I gave for free hosting space apply.

In my personal experience, the free domain service providers are even more unethical than those that give free hosting. You might create an excellent SEO name for a website, register it with a free domain service and then see it stolen by the company, telling you that you violated the terms of services.

Outro — Resources

Website Speed Tests

Website General Tests

Website Feature-Specific Tests

  • Google Search Console
  • Pentest-Tools.com
  • Snyk
  • Ga Checker
  • Open Graph Check
 
Sourced Media Credits

Harsh Agrawal
Jan Prokes

 

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