Why You Should Never Build Your Site on a Free Subdomain

As I mentioned in finding the money to get started with affiliate marketing, I’ve been asking my readers and subscribers for feedback on what they find to be obstacles to finding success with affiliate marketing. As a result, I’ve been learning a bit about what I “take for granted” as far as SEO knowledge goes.

best value, next exitAt the top of the list? That you should never blog on a free subdomain (i.e. yourblog.wordpress.com).

Believe it or not, the most common “defense” I hear from folks when I tell them this is that Seth Godin does it.

So, let me head that off at the pass and say that if you are an award winning author and world renowned marketer revered by an entire industry? Then you can get away with it. That said, even Seth Godin still shouldn’t be doing it.

Why?

Because if you ever make (or are forced to make) a change, you’ll lose all (or most of) the work you’ve done – at least in regards to ranking in the search engines.

The danger free subdomains pose to your search engine rankings

Search engine algorithms are built largely around inbound links and what those links tell the various search engines Bing and Google about your site. The links to your site from other sites on the web tell the engines what your site is about, what words it should rank for and how important other sites on the web consider you. The more important those links infer that you are, the better you rank for the words they imply that you’re about – and the more search engine traffic you get. And while times are changing and links are no longer the *only* factor, they are still an insanely large one.

So what does this have to do with blogging on a free subdomain? After all, people can link to yourblog.wordpress.com just as easily as they can to yourblog.com right? And the engines will still rank the site accordingly, right? And you have none of the hosting or domain registration fees!

And that’s correct. But it’s also dangerous. Why? Because you can’t move your site and KEEP all those links (and your resulting search engine rankings) while doing so.

Whenever you move a site (or page) from one address to another, you need to tell the search engines that you’ve done so in order to keep the credit from all your links pointing to the old address. And you do that with a 301 redirect.

Think of a 301 redirect as a change of address card. A 301 redirect tells the engines that your site (or page) has moved, but that it should transfer all of the “link credit” pointing to the old address to the new one. So when the search engine finds the 301 redirect on the old address, it knows to give the new address the same link credit (and hopefully rankings) that it gave the old one.

Free subdomains usually don’t allow you to have access to .htaccess files – which is where you need to place the 301 redirect command for the search engines.

Essentially, you’re stuck from a search engine perspective. You can put up a message for your human visitors, but the search engines won’t know to credit your new site with all the link building and promotional work you’ve put into your old one. As far as the search engines are concerned, it’s a completely new website because you can’t notify them via the .htaccess that it’s actually a change of address.

This means you’re putting a LOT of trust into forever being happy with your subdomain provider.

They could shut down

Does anyone remember when Netscape hosted websites for free? They were definitely a trusted provider in the days of yore. And then they shut down – and so did all the sites.netscape.net free subdomain sites they hosted. While they gave you ample warning, you were only able to move your site – not the credit aimed at your sites.netscape.com/yoursite address. Bottom line is that what is a trusted and popular subdomain provider today could be tomorrow’s Geocities (also a free website provider of yore.)

They could start charging fees

Back in the day, Homestead offered a WYSIWYG site builder and free hosting. But they eventually went the fully paid route. So if you wanted to keep your site.homestead.com website going – you needed to pay the monthly fee. While you were free to move your site if you didn’t want to become a paying customer, you couldn’t institute a 301 redirect to let the search engines know, leaving you with the choice to pay or start over from a search engine ranking perspective.

They can take over your subdomain

Not every subdomain provider is reputable. “Your” website address actually belongs to them. If they want to delete your website and put something else (that *they* profit off of) in it’s place, they (usually) ensure they have every right to do so.

They could get banned

If a sub domain provider becomes a mecca for online web spam, the root domain as a whole could end up being removed from the Google index, taking your subdomain (and all the hard work you’ve done promoting it) with it.

“We absolutely do try to be granular, but I wanted to mention that if we see a very large fraction of sites on a specific freehost be spammy or low-quality, we do reserve the right to take action on the freehost as a whole.” – Matt Cutts, Principal Engineer at Google

You may simply decide you want your own domain name

So maybe you know you definitely want to eventually host your site on your own domain name but are using free subdomain hosting for the time being to save costs. The problem is that the five dollars per month you save now by not using a real host will end up costing you a lot more later when you have to either stay with the subdomain provider or face losing months or years worth of link building efforts if you decide to move.

While Seth Godin may be able to survive all of the above without worrying about (or suffering from) the loss of almost 2 million links he’s built for his blog from a search engine perspective, the average person (me included) will not.

So why take the chance?

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

Comments

  1. Absolutely baffles me that people don’t spend the $60 per year to be master of their domain. I talk to so many friends and family members who insist they can’t afford it and/or can’t find the time. Ridiculous and disappointing.

  2. Rae,

    You have 2 typos in your article. I think you meant to reference yoursite.wordpress.com not yoursite.wordpress.org. Just wanted to clarify so your readers aren’t confused since .com is the hosted websites and .org is the project site for self hosted installs.

  3. Fixed Ryan – thanks :)

  4. There’s a parallel in digital marketing/social media – SMBs deciding to make their entire web presence their Facebook Page. All it takes is a few anecdotes of wild success (NY restaurant Tweets it’s open during megastorm and is swamped), plus the “free” use of the platform. Of course it’s only free if you don’t value your time or personal privacy …

  5. @Jon DiPietro, it can be done on even less than $60 a year. A domain name can be registered for $10 per year and a small shared hosting package can be had for as low as $25 per year. Total investment of $35 per year, or 10 cents per day!

  6. Losing websites to never-never-land that were hosting on Geocities, Tripod, etc. was what ultimately led me to buying my own domain name back in 2000! I’ve never looked back. Excellent article Rae.

  7. @Tom – I’ve seen lots of people doing that and talked many a client off that ledge. It’s so wrong and so dangerous for so many reasons. Makes me sad really cause they genuinely believe they’re doing “social” right that way…

  8. True Story: Local country (EU now) ISP runs free hosting with subdomains service for more than 10 years … This year when ISP was bought from a big wireless company their management decide to cut costs by banning the international traffic and thats include googlebot…

  9. I’m not gonna lie, I did rock a blogspot.com address for awhile….when I was first getting started. But I quickly learned the benefits of owning your own domain and would NEVER go back. Running your site from a free domain to me is kinda like advertising for someone else first…instead of yourself. No thanks!

  10. Rae:

    I’ve got both free and hosted domains right now. For me, the reason the free services are so attractive is the ease of use of the dashboard interfaces. I mean I’m fine with the WordPress self-hosted dashboard, but anytime I have to use the cpanel interface? I feel like I’m diving into a black hole. If hosting companies could come up with a ‘cpanel lite’ that doesn’t have all the Ruby/Python whatever stuff, I’d go paid all the way. I hate to think of novice small businesses having to figure out how to point their new paid address at the right DNS’s and install WordPress using Softalicious. If there’s a way to avoid the Cpanel, please let me know.

  11. Excellent post Rae. As someone that specializes in link acquisition, I couldn’t have put it better myself. I can’t stand it when sites waste link value on free hosting, canonical errors, and external blog hosting.

  12. Or, like Tumblr, they could inexplicably go down for several days, taking your entire online presence with it.

  13. Wow. Thank you for opening my eyes to what could be (and has been – Tumblr in the comments)! Yikes! ….That said, would you consider a follow up blog guiding us through what to do instead?
    Thanks again!

  14. I do not have a sub-domain, but, registered my domain through my hosting service- could you elaborate on the perils of registering a domain through a web-hosting company and what are the alternatives? Thank you.

  15. Rae, Great post. An example for “They could get banned” is co.cc – while it isn’t free AFAIK, Google deleted the entire domain and subdomains from its index.

  16. I have 7 blogs on blogger and they are mature…In June of 2011 I had some problems with my title not matching my URL on my one blog. To keep the present URL that was ranked very well I would need to change the title. I kept the title and changed the URL….I lost my ranking on Google, I lost all of my backlinks…it was a nightmare…I removed all of the backlinks and my blog was like it was brand new, no ranking on google and no traffic coming from anywhere…the turn around time was just under 60 days and now my blog is back and ranked very well. I publish a post and it is ranked immediately…I suppose there is good and bad to blogging on free sites..but for me the positives out way the negatives. It is really doubtful that blogger will shut down….you could get banned, but again that is doubtful especially if your blog is detailed, informative and not created around spam. A word to the wise is to have a back up of all of your content on your blog.

  17. I’m in the process of moving a massive blog for a client from wordpress.com to a standalone domain. It’s possible and quite easy, everyone should do it if they have one there. WordPress also has a “redirect service” where you pay $12 and they’ll redirect your old blog to the new domain.
    I’ll never know why people waste time buildling up fully fledged sites on free domains either.. just makes life all the more harder when the inevitable happens and you want to move it.

  18. Although it’s always nice to have free hosting services for experimenting and learning how to run a blog, serious bloggers will want a professional hosting service with their own domain to make any sort of an impact. If you’re planning to do this blogging/affiliate-marketing thing for real, you’re going to have to shell out for hosting and a domain name. There’s no getting around it.

  19. When I decided to enter the blogosphere sometime last year I debated going with either blogger or wordpress.com and then decided heavily against it due in large part to exactly some of the points you made here. I caution friends and family against doing this all the time. In essence you do not have 100% control over your content and being the selfish person I am in regards to my writing I would lose my mind if I had to adhere to the stipulations placed on me by one of the hosted blog services. Thanks for the insight and for reiterating once again what every serious blogger should already know. ::smiles::

  20. Great article. One question I have though is regarding free subdomains with links to our main site (www.mydomain.com) …

    Are inbound links TO http://www.mydomain.com from free subdomains as valuable as links from regular domains? For example..

    From:
    you.weebly.com
    you.tripod.co.uk

    OR

    http://www.you.com

    TO: http://www.mydomain.com?

    Thanks!

    • George – that subdomain, in today’s day and age, needs to build up it’s own authority to be able to PASS any to the root, outside domain it’s linking to. In a word – can you use free subdomains to pass any links of actual, defensible value to your core website without promoting the hell out of said subdomain and getting it links of value as well? No.

  21. Really a must read. I remember having a blog back in 2005 hosted on a subdomain, something that was pretty popular when Blogs were growing fast everywhere. I was making 10 USD a day through adsense and suddenly they shut down all the service for free blogs… the virtually disappeared… I learnt the lesson and bought my own domains… thanks to that I have been able to gravitate between 4 and 6 pagerank since then…

    People probably happen to feel scared from being committed to pay every year for domain name renewals and hosting fees… understandable but really sad.

    Antonio

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