Choosing a web hosting provider can feel like a daunting task at times. There are thousands upon thousands of hosts, all claiming to provide the best service. There are, however, a number of criteria you can use to evaluate your options. The main factors you will want to look for include speed, support, cost, security, and scalability. The order of the importance of these factors will vary from person to person.
Traits of a Good Web Hosting Provider
What Does a Web Hosting Provider Do for You?
A web hosting provider gives you access to advanced webservers that will store and run your website’s files. They will also provide a fast and reliable internet connection to your website so people from around the world can easily access it. There are, of course, a variety of other things that hosting providers do for their customers. In this section, we’ll go over the basic services a web host provides.
It Provides Your Domain
Your domain name is who you are on the internet. While it’s technically possible to host a website without a domain name and only an IP address, nobody would be able to find you, much less remember the name of your site.
Luckily, most web hosting companies provide the service of helping you register and maintain the name for your website. If they use the popular site management platform called cPanel, you can easily manage yours through your domain tools.
Regardless of whether your web host provider uses this platform or not, you will still be able to manage your domain with little to no intervention from technical support.
It Provides Your Server
Even more important than your domain is the server, or computer that “serves” your site to the public. Your site must have server software installed and have a strong, high-bandwidth connection to the internet.
You could technically set something similar up yourself, but doing so would take a considerable amount of effort and expense. A web hosting company takes care of the hard work and makes sure your site is accessible to the public.
Provides Storage Space
However, if you are hosting multimedia content (images to audio or video) you will find that you require a considerable amount of storage space. All of these files will be stored on the server you have access to through your web hosting provider which will then serve this information to the public. In addition, reputable hosting providers also offer backup services, which will take a copy of the files from your website and store them separately so that they can be restored should anything unexpected happen.
How To Choose a Web Hosting Plan That’s Perfect For Your Website
As we mentioned earlier, there are many factors that go into selecting a web host. The aspects most important to you will vary. Below are some of the variables to consider before choosing a web hosting provider.
Estimate the Amount of Traffic You Expect
The amount of traffic your site gets is going to have a major impact on what type of hosting you need. If you are running a small site with little traffic, for example, shared hosting is the best option. For sites that get significantly more traffic, a virtual private server (VPS) is often the way to go.
Some sites will receive a large amount of traffic. In fact, this is the goal of most companies, particularly those selling products on an ecommerce site. You might have a much smaller, dedicated audience that might not require large amounts of bandwidth. The amount of traffic you receive will have an impact on your bottom line.
Determine What Kind of Hosting You Need
The amount you pay for hosting is largely dependent on the type of hosting you purchase. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
With shared hosting, multiple sites use the same IP address and reside on the same server. This is the most economical form of web hosting, as the hosting company splits the cost of a physical server among multiple different sites.
The main advantage of shared hosting is its price. However, you are also at the mercy of the bandwidth other sites on the same server use. If a large amount of traffic is going to another site on the same server, it slows your site down considerably.
Also, if another site on the same server is engaging in nefarious behavior and has its IP blocked by spam filters, your site may be affected as well. Reliable hosting providers prevent this but you should take this possibility into account.
Virtual Private Server Hosting
Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is the next step up in web hosting technology. While you still share the same physical server with other sites, you are set up with a unique virtual server and a unique IP address. This unique IP address keeps your site separate from other sites on the server.
If you choose VPS hosting you have the advantage of being able to manage more features on your server yourself and eliminate blacklisting risks like those with shared hosting. There are some limitations on how much traffic a VPS can handle, but most sites for individuals or small businesses will never come close to exceeding these limitations.
With dedicated hosting, your physical server or servers are for your website only. This is a more expensive type of hosting, but it is also the most reliable.
Large companies require the use of dedicated hosting services to guarantee uptime and to secure their site. This option is best for efficiency; but, again, it is far more expensive. There are options that help deflect the cost. Through Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, where you can pay as you go to maintain better control over the costs.
Cloud hosting services take the dedicated approach one step further and spread your site across multiple servers. This can help deal with sudden traffic spikes and help leverage the power of the cloud to make sure your site stays up. Hosting services such as AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, and others will charge you based on the resources you use, so it can be inexpensive to start, however, if your site starts to grow in popularity, expect the expense to increase with it.
Even many smaller web hosting companies today are offering great cloud hosting packages to their customers. Some of them charge a flat monthly fee as well, which makes your costs very predictable.
Professional web hosting companies will provide WordPress hosting services, which means you can manage your site fully using the popular WordPress CMS.
You can log in to the site much like you would on your local machine, and manage everything through WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors. WordPress is extremely popular and powers a significant portion of the internet.
Web hosting providers that offer WordPress hosting make it easy to manage and maintain these sites.
Get SSL Security
SSL security for your site is absolutely essential on today’s internet. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layering and is the method by which users of a site verify its authenticity.
SSL (and its successor, TLS) ensure that sensitive data remains safe when transferred between two systems. Even if you aren’t intending on transferring sensitive data, SSL (which enables your site to be improved from HTTP access to HTTPS access) can be viewed in most modern browsers. Many will block sites that are not secure, and Google will rank unsecured sites lower in their results, making it harder for visitors to find your site.
Most web hosting companies will provide this service for free.
Determine the Resources You Need
There are a number of other features beyond speed and security that you will want to take into account before choosing a web hosting provider.
How Many Professional Emails Will You Need?
Several web hosting providers offer personalized emails @ (at) your domain name. However, if your company has several employees, you will want to provide professional email accounts to each, as well as a few generic email addresses (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
Most providers will offer a few accounts as part of their package. But if you need more than a handful of emails, you’ll want to look for a provider that offers unlimited email accounts.
How Much Disk Space Do You Need?
Storage is something you will also need to consider. Most websites do not take a lot of space (a typical web page is just an elaborate text file), however, if you plan on storing multimedia or image files, you will need more storage space.
You can use the files on your hard drive to gauge the amount of space you’ll need. If you have a full site built on your local machine, you can sum up the amount of resources used in the folders you have set up for your site to see the amount of space you may require. However, if you plan on allowing user-submitted content (such as on a social media site) you will need a considerable amount of storage space.
It’s wise to consider a host that will allow you to scale up as the need arises.
How Much Bandwidth Do You Need?
Take bandwidth into account when picking a web hosting plan, especially if you plan on regularly receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors. However, if you expect only a few thousand visitors per month, you can get by on cheaper hosting plans.
You can calculate your bandwidth needs by adding up the size of all of the media served by your site and then multiplying it by the number of users.
For example, if you have a 500MB site (most sites are not this large), and you get 20,000 visits, the result will be 10,000GB of bandwidth used.
What You Should Look For in a Professional Website Hosting Provider
There are a few other key guidelines you should consider when making your decision about a web host.
A Word About Unlimited Offers
Sometimes hosts will boast an “unlimited” amount of bandwidth. This often comes with a caveat; you may find that, with some of the less expensive plans, web hosts may throttle the speed of your site, resulting in a poor experience for your site visitors.
Price of Signup and Renewal
It’s important to be aware that several hosts offer an extremely attractive introductory offer (often less than $5 a month). While this may look like a good deal, you really need to pay attention to what their long-term prices will be.
After your initial sign-up period, you may discover the rates have risen. While you can always switch your web host, switching comes with a considerable amount of work. For this reason, read the small print, be aware of what your costs will be in a year or two, and make sure you have the ability to pay those costs in your budget.
The complexity of your site will determine what web hosting features you need. You may be running a site using a specialized programming language, and not all hosts can meet these needs equally.
Almost all hosts will support PHP and WordPress. However, if you have a need for your site to run Joomla, Drupal, or other open-source software (OSS), you’ll need to ensure the host can provide this service.
Also, Be aware of the number of databases you’ll need and whether you can get by with one or two. In other words, your needs may vary between hosting providers based on the complexity of your site.
Management Setting and Ease Of Use
You’ll want to evaluate whether the web host provider’s host management features are easy to use. Many providers use cPanel or something similar; this should be sufficient, but you need to gauge your own expertise beforehand.
You may find yourself needing technical support. However, you should be aware of the level of support that your host provides. Most will provide basic account support, but it might be difficult if you want someone to help code your site, for instance (most will not offer this).
Also, you may want to pay attention to the methods they use. Do they provide chat support or only email? Is there a phone number you can call?
Several web hosting providers offer website-building tools, but you may find it difficult to modify these to your needs.
Consider that WordPress may work fine out of the box, but there’s more you can do with it if you work with a developer. It’s important to find out whether the web hosting provider allows you to customize your site. Customizing means, not just modifying the content to your preferences, but also the structure of the site.
Ease of Setup
If you are not an expert web host service user, you might prefer to have a drag and drop functionality to make setting up your site easier. For instance, if you are running a WordPress-based site, you’ll want to ensure your web host offers tools that allow “help wizards” to manage your site.
It’s wise to carefully read the terms of your web hosting service, as with any service in life. If you skip reading the fine print, you could find yourself locked into a multi-year contract with no refund after cancellation.
Several providers offer less expensive rates if you pay upfront. If you do this, you should know that you are committing to paying for a certain time, even if you choose to leave and go to a new provider. If you are nervous, you might want to consider a provider with a liberal cancellation policy.