Free SSL Hosting – A Lowdown on Everything You Need to Know.

With free SSL hosting available today, there is no excuse for not adding the ‘S’ to your HTTP.

SSL certificates have come a long way since their introduction back in 1996.

At the time, they were still used to introduce an element of security between a website’s connection and its end user. Improvements would later be made in 1999, following which the name changed to TLS (Transfer Layer Security).

The latter is the type still in use today, but the SSL name has stuck and is more popular.

What is SSL anyway?

SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is the cryptographic system that allows us to browse webpages safely and securely without the danger of someone intercepting the communication as it makes its way through the Internet.

That’s the textbook version of it.

The travel path we are referring to here is the connection between your computer and the remote server which stores your webpage so that others cannot read it easily.

To the layman, SSL is that security provision website owners install on their website that changes the website URL from “http” to “https”, with a green padlock symbol displaying just on the left of the web address bar.

The lack of this symbol basically means the page you are on is not secure to enter sensitive information such as your credit card details and email password.

To get SSL on your website, you need to purchase an SSL certificate from a Certificate Authority (CA).

The cost will often depend on whom you are purchasing it from, as well as a host of other factors that include the following:

  • The type of certificate you want – there are basically three assurance levels for certificates: Extended Validation (EV), Organization Validation (OV) and Domain Validation (DV)
  • Security and phishing checks
  • Compliance with industry auditing criteria
  • Infrastructure
  • Warranty
  • Level of support etc.

Purchasing a certificate from a commercial CA will set you back quite a substantial sum, especially considering this is a fee you will be parting with each year.

The caveat here is that web hosts usually resell SSL and you stand to get a bigger discount purchasing from them as opposed to buying directly from commercial certificate authorities such as RapidSSL, Symantec (formerly VeriSign), GlobalSign, GeoTrust or any of those other entities.

Generally speaking, not many people are willing to incur the extra cost of SSL certificates, least of all when a website is not bringing in any revenue, whether that is through direct sales or indirect avenues such as advertising.

Enter free SSL hosting.

Understanding Free SSL Hosting

Free SSL hosting is basically a hosting solution that offers free SSL certificates, however redundant that statement may come off.

It is becoming increasingly common for online stores to install SSL certificates. Without them, there is a big chance many customers will terminate their order since the security of their private details is not guaranteed in the absence of this certificate.

SSL certificates usually secure the following:

  • Data transfers
  • Logins
  • Credit card transactions
  • Social media website browsing

All certificates, premium or free, safeguard your site visitors’ data by encrypting it as it travels between their computer and the web server. Some certificates, mostly premium ones, go an extra step to authenticate the website owner by verifying that he or she is who they say they are.

This is something most free SSL certificates cannot do. The only validation they provide is ownership of a domain. They serve the purpose of protecting privacy, but they do not say anything regarding the owner of the domain.

This be okay for informational websites, but not so eCommerce stores.

Why use Free SSL Hosting?

The obvious benefit that comes with free SSL hosting is that, first and foremost, they are – yup! – free. More than that, though, here are some other benefits you stand to reap from using a free SSL certificate on your site.

  • Security

While it may not provide the high-level security synonymous with paid certificates, free SSL certificates still provide a decent amount of online security. After all, they still employ the same encryption standards and protocols as their paid cousins.

Depending on the website you own, this level of protection may (or may not) be sufficient. As long as you are running a website that is not collecting users’ private information, a free SSL certificate will just do.

  • The SEO Factor

In late 2014, Google announced that its ranking algorithms would take website security into account, and websites that had SSL would be ranked higher compared to those that did not.

What this means is that setting up a free SSL certificate on your website will give your SERPs ranking a boost. Although it might not be a significant boost, we would all agree that any boost in search engine rankings is better than no boost at all.

Additionally, as from 2017, Google embarked on a campaign to label websites without HTTPS as untrusted sites by sticking a ‘Not secure’ warning on their Chrome browser.

That is something you do not want your website visitors seeing in their URL bar!

  • Experience

For those who are new to the website world, free SSL hosting provides a chance to gain valuable insights into the hosting and encryption industry without paying anything.

When the time comes that you decide to move to a premium hosting service, you will be well aware of what you need to look for before choosing a hosting solution.

Sometimes you find that the information you intend to protect does not justify the cost of the “lock”. In such cases, you are better off hunting for bargain deals, and free SSL hosting is one of them.

  • Validity

You can look at the validity of a free certificate as both an advantage and disadvantage, but since we are talking benefits, we’ll argue this in the positive.

The one part you got to love about free SSL hosting is that it does not tie you down to a lengthy contract. This is because the validity of free SSL certificates is usually short term in nature (in the range of 30-90 days).

This means a free certificate won’t take long before expiring. And even if it did, free SSL hosting gives you the wiggle room to change providers without the risk of losing money if you feel the current host is providing substandard services or misusing you.

Sure, you will come across some hosting providers offering lifetime free SSL hosting and certificate. However, this arrangement sticks for as long as you are using their hosting service.

The Drawbacks of using Free SSL Hosting

Free SSL hosting is not without its limitations and risks. These include:

  • Domain Validation only

As free certificates come for free and are usually issued within a short time, they are limited in that they only allow for one validation option: domain validation.

This is fine with a small blog or website, but it may not be the most ideal option for larger websites which collect their users’ personal data.

  • Not Suited for eCommerce

We alluded to this point earlier by mentioning that free certificates are not a good option where eCommerce websites are involved since these websites involve collecting and storing credit card information and other customer details.

If you are an online business, what you need is a certification of your authenticity in order for customers to trust your business.

This is only possible through paid certificates such as the Extended Validation SSL Certificate or Business Validation Certificate.

  • Trust Issues

Due to the aforementioned issues, your customers will be hard pressed to trust you for the simple reason that you seem reluctant to sign up with a reputable certificate authority.

It raises an eyebrow amongst your customers, or prospects rather. This mistrust causes your reputation to take a hit, especially when your CA of choice remains questionable.

  • Limited Lifetime

As mentioned earlier, free SSL certificates have limited validity which typically doesn’t exceed 90 days.

While this is advantageous on its own, it also means you have to keep getting reissued with the free certificate and installing the same regularly.

Some would argue that free SSL certificates are easier to install compared to their premium counterparts, and they may have a point.

However, some business owners would rather get this task over and done with so they can focus on other aspects of business without having to worry about certificate expiration and renewal every few months.

  • Customer Support

It is true that free SSL hosting also comes with customer support.

The thing is, though, you get what you pay for when it comes to most things in life, and free SSL certificates are not exempt from that party rule.

Issues may not always be resolved in a timely fashion as you would ideally like, and given you are not paying for this service, you have little recourse.

Last Word

As far as the question of whether or not to use free SSL hosting, the long and short of it comes down to the type of website you are running.

If you are an online retailer who collects customer details and payments online, a free SSL certificate might not be the thing for you. But if you own a website that is purely for information purposes with no personal information being collected, you should be fine with the free option.

There are many providers out there offering free SSL hosting. Do your homework and hone in on one or two that fit your requirements before signing up for the service. The registration itself shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

Good luck!