Before you can choose the best web hosting services, you first need to know what you actually need from a good web host.
In this article, I’m going to help you get a handle on all the things you have to understand in order to make an informed choice.
First things first, you need to know how much web hosting you need for your website(s) to function well.
The last thing you want is to have inadequate hosting or to end up paying for things you don’t need. So first you have to match the specs.
If you already know your website’s stats, or if you have a prediction of what those stats will be before you begin comparing options, this will help you to prevent falling prey to all the upselling that happens at the register.
Here are some of the basic stats you need to know:
Number of Websites:
How many domains do you want to host?
How many gigs of space will your website need?
What’s the average number of visitors you get per month?
And do you plan on getting traffic surges, such as from a big PR push, Black Friday sale, or viral blog post?
What apps, programs, or features does your website use?
For example, do you use a shopping cart, Joomla, Perl, etc? Which operating system is your site compatible with?
Take the time to match your needs to the different offerings from each host. Don’t get distracted by all the things the host offers that sound awesome, but you know deep down you’re never going to use them.
If you’re not too sure about all the different types of web hosting available to you, here is a short breakdown of each:
This is the most common type of hosting offered by web hosts. Most new websites start out at the shared hosting level.
Providers offer two or three different plan tiers with all sorts of perks, functionality, and various resources which increase with each tier.
Shared hosting can be compared to an apartment complex. The big building is the server which holds a lot of residents, the (websites) all of whom share the resources within the building (bandwidth, storage, IP address, etc.)
If you have a small to mid-size website, this can be a great solution.
The one downside is that if someone on that server uses too much of the server’s resources, it can impact everyone negatively.
Think of it as sharing the basement laundry in your apartment complex with another resident who insists on washing all their towels, sheets, clothes, blankets, and curtains every day.
When thinking about the different shared hosting plans, it’s important to note that the higher the tier in the hosting plan range, the ‘nicer’ the apartment complex, the fewer the residents within the building, and the more washing machines there will be – all of which makes it less likely that what anyone else is doing will greatly impact you.
VPS (Virtual Private Server)
A VPS can be likened to a townhouse where you’re still sharing the building with others, but it’s a lot fewer people than you’d find in shared hosting (the apartment complex).
Also, you get a lot more control and flexibility as to what you do with your space.
This is because a virtual private server makes copies of itself, with each resident (website) getting their own copy. This means you have your own private access, IP address, your own washing machine…
This is like having your own house where you are the only resident. On a dedicated server, your website will be the only one and this means that the server can accommodate massive amounts of traffic.
In essence, you can do as much laundry as you want without affecting (or being affected) by anyone else. This type of hosting requires a lot of upkeep that either you or your webmaster has to do.
Someone’s got to mow the lawn, right?
Some of the best dedicated-hosting plans are ones where the hosting provider takes care of almost all the legwork so you can relax and focus on other aspects of your business.
This obviously comes with a heftier price tag, but if you’re not interested in any of the back-end admin or if you just don’t have the time or resources for it, this could be the best option for your needs.
The newest form of web hosting services is cloud hosting.
Using our analogy, you can think of this as owning many different residences. If you experience a plumbing problem in one house, you simply go and stay at any one of the others.
This means (in theory, at least) that your website will never actually go offline no matter what technical problems it experiences.
Being the most common content management system (CMS) available on the planet right now, WordPress has a lot of hosting plans that are designed by web host providers with it as the primary consideration.
Such plans have WordPress pre-installed and they also apply automatic WordPress updates. In addition to that, some plans have server security that is specifically tailored to WordPress preferences.
That is not to say that other hosting plans are not good for WordPress users, it just means that if you get a managed WordPress hosting, it’s like having a lawn maintenance service where your lawn and hedges will be automatically trimmed and watered without you having to think about it.
What about Free Hosting?
At this point, a lot of you may be wondering why not use free hosting? The simple answer to that is it’s just not worth it.
There are many places where you can try to save money when starting an online business, but hosting should not be one of them.
Instead of worrying about the price of your web hosting, you need to worry more about things like lead generation and traffic acquisition. Cutting down on web hosting costs will likely cut down your revenue in the future.
The good news is that you don’t need to pay through your nose for hosting either. There are sites like SiteGround that offer high-quality hosting at very affordable prices.
I did a review on SiteGround some time back, and even today it’s still my number one recommendation because of its unique features and stellar customer service.
If you want to know more about SiteGround, read my review. I go into a lot of detail there.
Test their Customer Service
After you’ve determined exactly what your website needs and you’ve made your choice, it’s time to put their service to the test.
Customer service is among the most important things that a web hosting provider can offer.
It’s similar to your health insurance. Even if your policy is robust, if the claims process proves to be a nightmare, then you’ll probably want to switch providers.
You can break customer support down into two categories: the Live Support which includes phone calls, live chat, help desk emails, and so on, and the Knowledge Center which includes help articles, how-to videos, community forums, and blogs.
Both of these types of support are vital when you’re experiencing issues in performance or during set-up.
You want to choose a web host provider that has live support which is fast and offered by people who actually know what they’re talking about.
Although this is a bit tricky to evaluate if you’re not yet a longterm customer, you can read reviews online that can give you an idea about how the company performs in that regard.
The knowledge center needs to have a catalog of information that is very well-organized and easy to navigate and search. You want a huge library filled with ultra-specific content which answers questions clearly and fully.
The company gets bonus points if it has active moderators answering questions.
Read User Reviews Online
This is a great way of getting a sense of the reputation a web host has – especially over the past couple of years. When going through user reviews, you will notice just how many of them focus on customer support.
Keep in mind that ratings don’t always match up with a company’s reputation.
For instance, you may find that the products from companies like HostGator, BlueHost, and GoDaddy rank very high in CNET, PCMag, and other similar industry publications, but when you take a look at the reviews from real customers, the vast majority are extremely unhappy with the support they received.
One of the best ways to experience the quality of support for yourself is to make use of free trials.
Almost every web host offers some kind of money-back guarantee on all shared hosting plans, which means that you can sign up, set up your site, and see what you think of their service before deciding to commit for the long term.
Use your trial to GO TO TOWN with their customer support!
Open tickets, get on the phone, hop on their live chat, and email them as much as possible so you can see whether you like what they are serving up.
Don’t Worry Too Much about Uptime
One of the most common complaints that you will read from the different customer reviews online (beyond customer service) has to do with uptime – or the lack thereof.
Uptime is essential to any online business. Almost all web hosts strive to have a server uptime of one hundred percent.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really an industry standard that evaluates their performance in this regard. A lot of web hosting review websites do their own tests in an effort to gauge server performance.
However, since the tests look at only one website at a time, and since they do so for relatively short periods of time, these can only be used as indications and not as gospel.
In an effort to inspire confidence in their near-perfect uptime, the majority of hosts offer a guarantee that your site will experience at least 99.9% uptime. In case it doesn’t, or if you experience any unplanned downtime, your bill will be discounted significantly.
Find Room for Long-term Growth
A typical plan for upgrading a new website starts with shared hosting, and once you’ve maxed that out, you then jump to a virtual private server, cloud hosting, or dedicated hosting.
If you have a WordPress website, you might try managed WordPress hosting depending on your needs.
This could be offered on a VPS server as BlueHost does, or it could be on a cloud server, such as is offered by HostGator and DreamHost.
You’ll be able to tell when it’s time for an upgrade when your website’s traffic and size overburden the current hosting plan you have. Typically, the web host lets you know when it’s time to upgrade.
This usually happens if you are overwhelming the server and slowing down everyone else’s websites on that server.
Yet another reason for you to upgrade your site hosting is if you need increased functionality, more customizability, and autonomy.
When you upgrade, you get access to a toolkit that is a lot more robust so you can cater to the needs of your growing online business.
The Final Word
There are, of course, a lot of other web hosting specs that you need to look out for, such as:
- SSD storage
- SSL certificates
- SSH access
- Email hosting
- And so on…
Most of the reliable, trusted web hosts available today offer all these features and more as part of their packages.
In addition to SiteGround, there are other web hosts that are offering impressive packages and services to customers all over the world.
If you don’t have web hosting already, or if you’re thinking of moving to a different host, you now have all the information you need to make the best choice for your hosting requirements.
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Updated: Originally published May 27th 2019