Although most website owners rightly focus most of their efforts on their website design and content, they often rush into choosing a web host without spending a bit of time researching whether it is right for their needs. Given the 100+ web hosts available to choose from it is understandable that the choice can become overwhelming resulting in most people choosing the one with the best marketing or highest rankings in often biased hosting tables. For example, if you are looking for shared hosting you will come across company after company offering unlimited storage, fantastic customer support, amazing speeds, perfect security, and minimal downtime. With all of these so-called ideal options, how is a person ever expected to choose? It is important to remember 2 things:
- There is no ‘perfect host’ for you. There will be a handful of hosts that will be match your needs and give you a great service at a competitive price. You just need to find at least one of these hosts and not spend day after day splitting hairs and choosing between the top 3 you have shortlisted.
- Choosing the cheapest host is often a false economy and will often cost you far more in terms of lost time and money (if you have any commercial element to your website).
Therefore, you should plan to spend a few hours finding one of the handful of companies that will be right for you but not days trying to find an non existent perfect match. You may also find these 2 articles interesting if you are considering changing hosts or choosing your first one:
Depending on your budget, business, and individual needs and preferences, some hosts are not only less than ideal but downright wrong for certain users. The best way to approach the daunting task of choosing the right web host is by going in prepared and attacking it systematically. Here is my 15-point checklist for to help you choose the right web hosting service for you.
- Identify your requirements – As obvious as it sounds, different people have different hosting needs so don’t assume a host recommendation means they will be right for you. If you are running a sole proprietorship or a personal blog, you will probably prefer a shared hosting service or at most a cloud hosting plan rather than a larger, much more expensive dedicated server. Different companies cater to different types of users, so it is not essential that your server have a variety of hosting plan types, unless you plan on expanding and moving from a cheaper shared web hosting service to a larger cloud or dedicated server later on. You also need to identify any extras that are relevant to your website, what types of programming languages are supported.
- Examine the reliability – Ever visited a website that was constantly down or had unreliable performance? There is no excuse for this type of thing, especially when it comes to a professional website. Almost all hosting services boast a 99.9% or better uptime, and some are even much closer to 100%. If you are looking at a hosting service that makes no mention of its uptime/downtime statistics, then this is red flag. You can find independent monitoring sites like Hyperspin and many hosts will publish their uptime records, some in realtime like Site5.com have here.
- Look for stellar customer support – Website building and use can be frustrating at times, so it is essential to find a hosting service at which help is only a quick phone call, E-mail, or chat window away. The best hosting services offer 24/7/365 customer support, and many of these also boast quite openly on their website about response time, being U.S. based, and being able to solve most problems with the first point of contact. Try to find a host with a service plan that matches your preferred communication style and offers easy bump up to the next level in case you are unsatisfied with the first representative you encounter. Check their service level agreement (SLA) to see their timeframe guarantees for responding to you and getting certain issues fixed (i.e. outages).
- Ask about backups and security – Your website host is only as good as its security, so you need to find one that will keep your data secure with nightly backups, additional backups on request, and other security features. Look for those with special encryption for financial data, secure sign-in service, and easy restoration of a crashed website via the control panel. Another key area to consider is where the data storage centers are located and how they are monitored and protected. Those looking at dedicated servers should also investigate how monitoring employees are screened and background checked, particularly if you are planning on dealing with highly sensitive data.
- What about upgrades? – If you feel a shared hosting plan is adequate for you at present but anticipate your site growing it is a good idea to check the upgrade options of the shared host you are planning to sign up with. Check if you can upgrade easily to a better shared hosting package, VPS package or whatever type you are currently using and check the price points carefully. If you expand to the extent that you need to upgrade to cloud, VPS or dedicated options then it is often tempting to seamlessly transition to one of these services within the same company. Whilst this is much less hassle than changing companies I would not rule out migrating to another company as you move hosting types because many companies just specialise in one or two hosting type even though they may offer them all (i.e. shared hosts often don’t offer the best VPS services and vice versa).
- Look for hidden future charges – A lot of hosting services rope you in with a very desirable initial rate, and then businesses are later left with shock when it comes time to renew their services or upgrade to the next level of hosting (this is a lot like what the cell phone companies used to do to existing customers). Some companies are worse about this than others, so make sure to check the TOS link at the bottom of the page so you can see if the future renewal rates are acceptable to you. Another hidden charge that often arises is in the area of “Free extras” on signup (i.e. extra for cPpanel, extra for additional domains etc). If you plan on using these extras for the long term, make sure you know what you will be charged for them after the trial period expires.
- Check they have the Control Panel you want – When you sign into your hosting account, you want the first thing you see to be a user-friendly, intuitive control panel. One of the most popular control planels is cPanel, mostly because it is so easy to use. While you don’t have to find one with cPanel if you don’t want to, you at least need to see and get a feel for the control panel to see if it is right for you. A bad control panel can be a real hindrance to getting things done on your website. Examine the server’s control panel for things like E-mail management, file and page creation and management, and a clear list of domains with management options on hand.
- Examine the number of domains included – Most hosting accounts allow users to create and host a multitude of domains. If you are planning on creating more than one domain, you need to be sure that your hosting service supports this practice. Nine times out of 10, you will be able to create quite a few, but every now and then I run across a hosting plan that is limited to one or two – a huge problem if you had multiple domains in mind. Luckily, most plans list the number of supported domains quite clearly for your consideration before sign up.
- Identify the subscription terms – Like with cell phone companies, sometimes the only way to lock in a great deal is by signing up for a lengthy service term. While two years is not that unreasonable, more than that is a bit of overkill. Personally, I don’t want to find myself paying fees for breaking contracts after two years if I don’t like the service. Even if I do like the hosting company, I want to have the option to modify my terms within a reasonably short period of time, because companies and their needs often change within a year or two. You are better off looking for a plan that averages a low cost, even after the promotional rate ends rather than a promotional rate that keeps you under contract for a super-long period of time.
- What about E-mail? – Again, most hosting services include a certain number of E-mails with their hosting plans, but these can vary immensely, from a limit of a meager 5 or so E-mail addresses to unlimited amounts. I feel that unlimited E-mails are the best way to go, especially if you plan on expanding. You need to know what your E-mail addresses’ extensions will be also. If you find yourself leaning toward a plan that does not include the E-mail services you desire, there are other options out there that can be used fairly cheaply, such as Google E-mail Apps.
- Look at E-commerce features, if you need them – Are you planning on selling services or merchandise from your website? If so, then you need effective, secure E-commerce features to keep your customers’ data secure. Look for shopping carts, SSL certificates, and other extras that will make shopping and handling merchandise simple and secure. Look at E-commerce sites that you find the most user-friendly, and try to find a service that uses some of these same features and tools. Some of the best E-commerce features include one-click add to cart features, secure checkout, and more.
- Ask about necessary basics – When it comes to hosting, you need to look for the basic tools that will make your job easier, including Auto Script installer, .htaccess, FTP access, and SSL. Even if you don’t know what these are or anticipate needing them, they are still good things to look for – as you gain experience, you may miss them in the future. Many web designers that start out with a simple template will find themselves outgrowing the limitations therein rather quickly.
- Check their green credentials – With an increasing focus on the environment and saving the planet, a number of hosting service providers are going green. Measures to do so include using renewable energy sources at data sites, allowing employees to telecommute, and purchasing Renewable Energy Credits. The energy demands of hosting can be quite extensive, but there are many providers out there who are doing their part to be eco-friendly.
- Know the limits on your account – Contrary to what you may see advertising, there is no such thing as unlimited bandwidth, unlimited data storage, or unlimited anything. If you exceed your CPU usage, lots of hosting companies will actually suspend your account, even if this excessive usage was completely unintentional. For the health of your website, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the terms of service and play by the rules. Otherwise, your account may be temporarily or permanently shut down.
- What if I hate my new service? – Even if you have done your research, there is a chance that you may not like your chosen hosting service. In case this happens, I always want to come out ahead – or as ahead as possible – when it comes to a refund. Does the service have a money-back guarantee? Is there a trial period? Some companies are very friendly toward dissatisfied users, offering them an easy out of their contract. Other companies are not so nice, charging large cancellation fees. Stay far, far away from hosts that lock you in and make it hard for you to get out of a contract.
Obviously, there are a lot of things to consider when selecting a web hosting provider. While not all of these factors may apply to you or your business, they are still some great things to think about when making your decision. Remember that what is good for your friend, colleague, or competition may not be the best for your needs. Things like E-commerce may be essential for a retail store but completely unimportant for a blogger. You may think that a lack of eco-friendliness is a complete deal breaker, or you may not care about going green at all. Just as customers come in all shapes and sizes, so do the hosting companies, so find one that fits with your needs and ideals. Remember that any company that is not straightforward about its features, policies, or practices may have something to hide and should be avoided to protect yourself.