Is finding a web host for your new website much harder than you anticipated? How much do you know about website hosts? What do you know about the important features, versus the “nice-to-have” features? In this article, I will share some of my insights about web hosting. Whether you are just starting out with your first website project, or are trying to change hosts or website platforms, this information will prove to be quite valuable.
After all, the goal is for you to be able to confidently make a decision about the most important features for your website, and how to decide between all of the different options.
What is Hosting?
Hosting gives you a place to store your website. In order to better understand the interaction between hosting and a website, I will use an analogy. Imagine you have a car. The car’s purpose is to bring you from point A to point B. However, when you don’t drive, whether you are in A, B, C or D, the car stands still. The car needs a physical place to stand still, it needs a physical place for parking. That required physical place to park the car, is what a host for a website is. The host is where all the files that make up your website are being stored.
Will you need a web host? Well, you will need some kind of hosting environment. For most people public hosting is the way to go, and this is particularly true for website beginners. For those more technically advanced there is always the option to run their own server, and host their website(s) on their own server. However, this is also a more costly matter. I would definitely not recommend it to a business starter.
Features for Choosing a Web Host
How do you find a web host? There are literally thousands of companies out there who offer you a place to store your website. To find a good hosting partner for your website project, you should look for certain features.
- What is their offer in terms of disk space and bandwidth?
Example: 5 GB of storage and 50 GB of bandwidth, or 50 GB of storage and 600 GB of bandwidth.
- How transparent are they in regards to what hardware and technology they use?
- Is the hardware they use the latest technology?
- Do they aim to optimize their customer experience?
I know that this can be a tough question for non-techies to follow-up on. Don’t understand the tech terminology, and don’t know whether a hardware is top-notch? Take a look at whether or not they openly communicate, and what they are using. This in itself, is already an indication. If they have been using old, outdated technology and are open about it, the word would spread like fire in the web community.
Uptime is the amount of time a website is accessible. This is usually measured in percentages, and an uptime guarantee is given in each pricing plan. Don’t trust promises of a 100% uptime! Promising this would mean that a server would never have to be restarted, which implies that there are never any upgrades made, or that the server is never being maintained. Honestly, nobody wants a provider like that! Regular security and maintenance is a must, so don’t fall prey to 100% promises. Look for plans that have a minimum uptime guarantee of 95% or more on their contract.
Renting a web space is done on a monthly or yearly plan, but the price shouldn’t be the deciding factor here.
“Prices do vary, as do services.”
First and foremost, you must be clear about what you want to do with your website. There is a big difference between hosting a simple blog, and creating a membership site with video streaming. When you know what your website is about, it will be easier for you to draw comparisons regarding web host pricing. However, I want to encourage you to check the structure of web host pricing plans. Chances are you will want to upgrade your plan, as your website grows. Make sure they have a reasonable upgrade structure.
Support is an essential factor. Even if you think you may never need it, I recommend that if you have two very similar offers, choose the one with the better support promise! It’s not much fun when you have to wait 36 hours for someone to respond to an urgent matter! Find out whether you can call, email, or communicate through chat support. You should also find out what their response times are.
Here you will need to do some research. To get the real story and not some ungrounded reviews, I suggest you do a Google Blog search, in order to find well-researched articles from bloggers. You can also look them up on social media channels with business-context, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
- What are their customers saying about their availability?
- Are they easy to contact for support?
- How helpful and friendly is their staff?
Some hosting companies also offer a guarantee period. The hosting provider A Small Orange for instance, offers a 90 day trial period in which you can test their service and get a refund if you aren’t happy.
Different Hosting Types
Although there are possibilities for free hosting, I wouldn’t recommend it for a professional setup. Free hosting usually runs off of 3rd party advertisements that you have no control of, and is low in performance.
The most common hosting types applicable are:
This is where multiple accounts share a single web server, each having their own domain name. This means, you are sharing resources with other customers on that server. If another user on your server is overloading, your website can be slow.
VIRTUAL PRIVATE SERVER
Virtual servers are virtual instances on a physical machine. There can be many virtual instances in one physical server that all share the same hardware, but operate independently from one another. A VPS is more customizable than a shared hosting, and it can handle big waves of traffic way better.
If you want a server all to yourself, this is the way to go. They have the best customization and performance features, as well as the highest price.
Most people start out with shared hosting, knowing that they can always upgrade later. Having the comfort of seamlessly upgrading your website’s infrastructure is the meaning behind the term scalability.
Example: The hosting provider A Small Orange has a shared hosting plan structure, where you can start with 500 MB of storage and 5 GB of bandwidth for a very small website to begin with. If you notice you are running out of space, your website can’t handle all the traffic, and you need more bandwidth, you can upgrade to a small plan with 5 GB of storage and 50 GB of bandwidth. There is also a medium and a large plan to choose from.
Choosing a Web Host
As mentioned above, the most important factors for choosing a web host should be its offered features. This gives you an idea of what your website will be about, and the features you will need most.
Let’s say you want to start a simple blog with pictures, nothing too spectacular. As for the storage feature, 5 GB of disk space will be a good place to start with.
However, even if you know what features you need for your new website, how do you pick the one web host that is for you?
I have read a lot of articles where people are recommending an array of different hosts. I believe there are many hosts out there who do a really, really good job, and strive to provide the best service for their customers. If you run your website with WordPress, there are a few hosts out there that offer their hosting packages with full services and technology around the WordPress platform.
I don’t have a recipe or formula for how to find the perfect host, because I think there is no such thing as the perfect host. As with every other business, hosting companies change and evolve in a cyclical movement. Some are getting better, while others are growing and scaling their foundations, which may temporarily affect parts of their business. And this may lead to unhappy customers. Others don’t offer the features a website needs as it’s growing, and leave its owner no choice than changing the hosting company.
If you would like web services explained in more detail, I can highly recommend the Beginner’s Guide to Small Business Web Hosting. This is an excellent resource for everyone who needs unwind the confusion behind hosting and its intricacies. It’s also available for download and further reference.
Changing the Host
Changing your hosting provider is a bit more work, and I recommend you ask someone for help if technology isn’t your thing. Some hosting companies even provide a migration service for your website. This will bring the website from your old host, to theirs. Bluehost has a package to migrate up to 5 websites and 20 email addresses for free. With SiteGround you can have websites under 1 GB migrated for free. Above this size and they will charge by the hour. WPEngine, a host that is dedicated to offering its hosting for WordPress sites, is also offering migration services for free.
If you run a WordPress website you can make use of some great plugins to do most of the work, but you will need to know what you are doing in order to get it right. Be aware that your website will be down for some time. The better you are prepared for the move, the shorter this downtime will be, and the less your business will be affected by it.
If you would like technical support with migrating your website, I am happy to help. You can drop me a line here. I am also offering a consultation service, where I help less tech-inclined entrepreneurs in finding the right tools, and setting up their technical infrastructure in a way that is most beneficial for them.