Choosing the right web host can be tough. Trust me, I know. My job for six years was to make sure that you chose the company I worked for as your web host. Not every host is right for every situation so I’m going to take a look at some of the key subjects you should consider at when choosing your next web host.
Probably the most important subject to consider is cost. In the web hosting world you can see costs for a basic shared hosting plan start at as low as $1.95 per month and anywhere as high as $30 per month. The hardest part is figuring out why prices are set as they are and if you’re getting that value out of the service.
Think about it this way, to host one server a company may spend $3,000 for hardware, operating costs of the server itself (power, bandwidth, and space) at around $50 to $75 per month plus the costs of employees, software, and other third party expenses. How many accounts do you think they’re going to need to put on that single server just to cover their costs when they’re charging $1.95 per month for one account?
What’s wrong with being on a server with thousands of other websites? Every new website added to a server is another chance that one of them could abuse the resources on that server and cause the whole server to go down, your website included. If you were a spammer who just needed a quick account and didn’t care if it was suspended, would you take the time to buy a $30 per month plan? No, you’d get every $1.95 per month throw away account you could find and abuse it until you lose it.
That doesn’t mean that the $30 per month plan is any better but hopefully by the time you’re finished reading this post you will be able to make a more informed decision next time you’re shopping for a new host.
Pro Tip: Always look for a coupon before purchasing, most of them offer them. A simple google search of “[company name] coupons” should get you want you need. If you can’t find any hop on a live chat and ask, it can’t hurt!
I’ve heard this story way too often in the past so I made sure that this was second on the list. Yes, you may just be creating a personal blog with no intentions of ever trying to push large amounts of traffic right now, but who knows what’s going to happen a year or two down the line. Make sure that you look for a web host that you can be with long term and no matter what kind of growth your website receives over time.
There are many hosts out there that only offer basic shared web hosting and if you out grow that environment you have to shop for a new host and there’s nothing fun about that if your website is down because you’re getting too much traffic. Make sure you find a web host that will be able to upgrade your account to an environment that can handle higher amounts of traffic such as a Dedicated Server. Most of them will migrate your account for free and with zero downtime if you ask. Plan ahead!
This doesn’t just mean that your website never goes down, while that’s also important, but also look at the overall stability of the company. How many employees do they have? Are they hired directly by the company or outsourced? How long have they been in business? Do they own their own facility and all the hardware in it? There’s nothing fun about signing up for with a web host only to find out months later that they’ve gone out of business and you’re out any money you spent and any data you had with them.
You can find out any of this information just by asking! If they have a phone number, call them up and talk to them and ask all your questions. If any part of the call seems off or like you’re having a conversation with a robotic person on the other end, make note of that.
When checking into the actual stability of the host I would recommend checking their support forums for any recent network outages and searching the Network Outages section of Web Hosting Talk Forums. Also check their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Please keep in mind that most companies will have hundreds or thousands of servers in their facilities so you may see a lot of posts on social media regarding a website or server being down. This is completely normal, look for more global issues where all or a very large percentage of servers were offline. Also see how well they are responding to these reports.
Most web hosts will put on display every single feature that comes with a package, of which 90% of it means nothing to you. Your first decision should be whether or not you need a control panel to manage your websites. If you’re comfortable enough installing and managing all the services required to get your website online such as apache, ftp, dns, mail, etc. then you can skip this. But if you’re like me and would like a front end dashboard to make operating one or multiple websites simple I would make sure that a control panel such as InterWorx, cPanel, or DirectAdmin is included with your hosting package. Most web hosts will include this for free on basic hosting packages like shared, reseller, and even VPS.
Other things to look out for even though usually the answer is “unlimited” these days, how much disk space and bandwidth does the plan come with? How many domains can you host with the package? How many databases can you create? Does it include a one-click script installer for things like WordPress or Magento?
The most important thing to remember is that if you don’t see a feature listed, don’t assume they don’t offer it. Take a moment to hop on a live chat or call their phone number to find out after you’ve made a list of features you can’t find and need.
The amount of support you require depends on your knowledge level but no matter the level it’s important to make sure that there is someone available 24/7 to help you when you need it. Most companies offer either Managed or Unmanaged hosting. Which features come with them can vary greatly, so make sure you check on that beforehand.
If you’re going to manage the server yourself it still helps to know there is someone capable on-site if you can no longer reach your server. It may cost a little more but I generally recommend companies that offer support in house as you can attain more accountability if you’re not receiving the support you’re expecting.
I’ll just say this now, don’t trust the rankings on “Top Web Hosts” sites. The majority of them let hosting companies pay to be in a top position or the owner of the top hosts site is more motivated by making a commission on an affiliate sale rather then ranking companies by actual user ratings.
Instead I would do a search for any web hosting company you’re interested in on the most popular hosting related forum Web Hosting Talk. You don’t even need an account, just search for “[company name] review” at the top and you should find plenty of reviews from actual customers. If you don’t see any then I would mark that down as a consideration to think about.
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a web host but I hope that this helps you get started.
Are there any tips or factors that are on the top of your list when choosing a new web host? Share them below!