Web hosting is an important piece of your website stack, but remains an opportunity for many website owners.
Good web hosting is well supported, secure, helps your website perform better and load faster. Poor web hosting lacks tech support, is slow and sluggish, and can even negatively affect your search rankings.
Choosing the right hosting package for your particular website can be a little confusing. This guide will help you make informed decisions about who you should buy hosting from and what type of hosting package fits your needs.
Types Of Hosting
When we talk about hosting, it means the server where your website lives. When someone types in a web address, the host server for that site gives the visiting browser the files that make up the web page. The faster the host server is, the quicker the website appears in your browser.
There are three basic types of web hosting: shared hosting, virtual private servers (or VPS), and dedicated servers. The price, performance, and bandwidth goes up with each type of package. Shared hosting is usually $10 a month or less; VPS can be $25 to $100; Dedicated servers start at $100 or so and go up from there.
Shared hosting is usually adequate for sites with low traffic, provided the hosting company is not overselling room on the server.
While the price is very low for this type of hosting, you are sharing space on a single server with hundreds or thousands of sites. Some companies cram as many sites as possible into each server, resulting in slow response times. While these packages are often billed as having “Unlimited” resources, these are shared resources, which can cause bottlenecks as the server attempts to fill thousands of incoming requests at once.
Shared hosting can result in negative SEO, as web page speed is now a factor in search engine ranking. Shared hosting is also more vulnerable to security issues, as issues on a few sites can affect all the other sites on a server. Shared hosting is an adequate place to start, but not a place to stay forever.
Virtual private servers are large sections of a server partitioned off with dedicated storage and bandwidth. While there can be several VPS sections on a server, the performance is a huge step up from shared hosting. This is a good choice for many businesses. The cost is more than shared hosting, but the speed is well worth the extra cost.
Most websites will not need dedicated servers, but if a site is especially popular and is growing quickly, dedicated hosting may be the answer. As the name implies, dedicated hosting means that a website takes up an entire server, or more than one.
Price vs. Value
Unlimited does not mean the same thing on shared hosting as it does on VPS or dedicated servers. Don’t pay too little or too much for hosting, but try to find a good level for your needs. In most cases, you get what you pay for with web hosting. There are also many individual factors to consider when choosing a hosting company.
What will happen if your site has sudden traffic spikes? Will your server glitch, or will your hosting company have bandwidth ready to make sure your site doesn’t go down.
If you exceed your bandwidth limit, will you get hit with overage charges? What will your hosting packages look like as your website grows? It is good to look to the future and see if your hosting company has hosting plans that can let you grow comfortably.
Disk Space and Bandwidth
Bandwidth simply means how much data can flow through the server and how fast. The larger the bandwidth, the more requests the server can handle at once. Before selecting a plan, make sure the bandwidth is in line with what other plans offer.
Disk space is how much room your website and files are allowed to take up on the server. Sites that use many high-resolution images or other files will need more disk space than normal. Look to future and your publishing schedule to determine if a hosting plan will fit your needs.
Some sites require certain technologies to run smoothly. WordPress sites should run on servers that have the latest version of PHP and cURL. SharePoint sites require a Windows server, and many native apps require Ruby on Rails. Most hosting companies offer a robust selection of hosting solutions, but your web developer can advise you if your site requires anything out of the ordinary.
There are now hosting companies that optimize their server stack for WordPress, and offer premium managed hosting. Hosts like WP Engine and Flywheel cater specifically to WordPress sites and offer features like malware removal and regular backups.
Features and Add-Ons
Most hosting companies offer other services such as email, domain names, or analytics. Your hosting company may also offer one-click installs of popular software packages like WordPress, Drupal, ZenCart, or Magneto for a nominal monthly fee. This can be useful for saving time and hassle.
I prefer to keep my hosting and email together, and my domain name management separate. If you are switching hosts, be sure to let your web developer know if you have email accounts connected to your current hosting, or if it is through a third-party such as GoDaddy.
E-commerce sites or sites that process credit card information will likely need a SSL certificate. You can usually buy these through your hosting company or a third-party. These ensure that sensitive information is encrypted. At the very least, your host should be able to help you set up a SSL certificate and HTTPS on your site if you need it.
Does your host backup your site, in case something goes horribly wrong? I get peace of mind from knowing that my hosting company has a complete backup of my site(s), and can restore them if things go unexpectedly awry.
Most web hosts will have either CPanel or Plesk as control centers for your website. VPS hosting with CPanel may also have WHM as a top-level interface. Both CPanel and Plesk let you control things like email accounts, databases, domain name server zones, and subdomains. They are arranged a little differently, but have the same basic functions.
A good hosting company will have an extensive Knowledge Base, instructions, and tutorials on how to perform various tasks. If there are customer forums, that is also a great sign. Great documentation has helped me figure out server tasks on multiple occasions. But sometimes you need to have tech support for specific situations.
One of the biggest factors in choosing a host is do they offer 24 hour support? Can I get a hold of someone on the weekend? Is the support outsourced? Do they offer live chat or email support after hours and on the weekend?
If a hosting company does not offer 24 hour support, I would advise you to walk in the other direction. It’s not worth saving a few dollars.
Hardware and Company History
Is the host you’re looking at a well established company or is it simply one or two people with some servers? When things go sideways, it is worth it to have a team of server experts in your corner. Sure, you can save a few bucks by going with a smaller company, but if something happens to your website on a Saturday and no one responds until Monday, it can be stressful.
All servers need occasional updating and maintenance. Well organized hosts will plan for these, and have redundancy servers. Over 99% uptime is a must. Many hosts will claim “seven nines” or 99.99999% uptime — but if your host claims 99.97%, that rings true. If the hosting company doesn’t have their uptime stats somewhere, be wary.
Reputation / Customer Satisfaction
Nothing convinces people to try one host over another as much as reputation and customer reviews. If you are considering a host, find as many reviews of them as possible and read them all. Get an accurate view of what people have experienced with them before deciding. Be aware that some lower priced shared hosts have paid reviews out there on the web as well.
What hosting companies have you had a good or bad experience with? I’d like to hear some of your thoughts.