You’re ready to build your first website. You’ve figured out what platform you’re going with — or if you’re coding from scratch — and now you need to find somewhere to host your masterpiece. Which brings you to a not unimportant point: what should you look for in a web hosting company?
Hosting is like a road and your website is a building. Your building exists and has value, but a road is needed so people can access it: you need to get your website on a server before people can get to it.
Thing is, there are literally thousands of web-hosting platforms and that’s just those in the middle of the bell curve. Depending on your needs, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the options out there. Here at Cloudwards.net we’ve decided to make the search a little simpler for you and give you some of the criteria you should be on the lookout for.
Websites need a lot more than just hosting and companies have pushed toward offering more features to add on top of their core service. A lot of them are becoming like a one-stop shop for building a website.
Before your website can be hosted, you need to register your domain. As you can read in our GoDaddy review, that service was one of the first to package domain registration and web hosting. Following suit, a lot of other hosting companies will give you a domain for free for the first year, as well.
Speaking of domains, one of the best parts about running a website is having email addresses at that domain name. Not all hosting companies provide email, and finding another company to host email is not only annoying, but expensive.
DreamHost is a good example of a hosting platform that provides unlimited email addresses at your domain (check out our DreamHost review to learn more). All of it comes at no extra charge, with no setup needed from you.
If you’re running an ecommerce platform, features like SSL secure servers are essential. GreenGeeks is a company that offers SSL certification, as well as integration with Agora, OScommerce and Zencart shopping carts to help with checkout; to see everything GreenGeeks offers, check out our GreenGeeks review.
Outside of that, features get a bit spread out. Companies will offer different incentives to try and earn your business. What pulls you in is dependant on your needs. However, it’s good to look for things like online accounting tools and G Suite integration to allow you to stay on top of your site.
Servers and Speeds
The most important part of any web hosting company are the servers. There’s a variety of different servers that companies set up, but one demand should be paramount: they all need to be fast.
At the lower end, your site will typically be hosted on a shared server. This is an all-encompassing server that hosts a variety of different sites. The downside is that they aren’t tailored to your site’s platform or needs.
Most companies offer WordPress servers — which makes sense considering 19 percent of all websites are built on that platform. A2 has some of the fastest WordPress servers out there, boasting 300 percent faster speeds than any leading competitor (to learn more, check out our A2 review).
It’s worth the extra cost to upgrade to WordPress-dedicated servers. Google takes into account pagespeed when determining a site’s rank in search results. You want to make sure your site loads quickly and dedicated WordPress hosting helps with that.
While much less common, some companies offer virtual private servers. VPSes are virtual machines that allow customers superuser access to the OS. They’re easier to configure and often cost less than dedicated servers. The only downside is that they share the physical hardware of other servers, so performance is not as good.
Of course, the actual specs of the servers matter. I won’t get into it here, but if you’re familiar with computers, you should know what to look for. As a rule of thumb, more is better. It’s not always true, but more cores and more RAM generally equals better server performance.
Servers with better specs will impose bandwidth limitations. If your site is meant to be mass consumed, make sure you have enough bandwidth to handle the workload. Lower tier hosting plans will advertise unlimited bandwidth, but it’s a null point considering the server hardware isn’t as good.
Ease of Use
Web hosting can be confusing to the novice, especially will all of the extra features on offer. A hosting company is just the road for your site, and everything else is extra. Ease of use is important in setup and in maintenance of your site, so all the options don’t turn into one great soup.
For WordPress sites, one-click install is essential. Companies like BlueHost (BlueHost review) allow you to install WordPress with a single click. After that, you can edit your site directly from the WordPress admin panel.
This is useful for those who don’t know much about coding. Building a WordPress site and then uploading it to an FTP server isn’t the first option for non-techies. Save yourself the headache and go with one-click WordPress install if that’s your platform of choice.
Email is another area where things can get confusing quickly. Companies that offer email will have a dedicated portal to login and see your emails. However, there’s no mobile support and having four tabs open for different email accounts is annoying.
Look for companies that integrate their email into other platforms. That will allow you to not only use familiar services like Outlook and Gmail, but also allow mobile notifications. If you’re like me and rarely check your email over the weekend, having a mobile push can be helpful for finally receiving that response you’ve been waiting on.
General ease of use is something you won’t really know until you sign up. However, if the hosting company’s site is a nightmare to navigate, the usability of the platform probably will be too. Same goes on the other end of the spectrum.
It should go without mentioning that pricing is important. However, web hosting companies are pretty crafty in how they advertise prices (they’re about as clear as mud). Likely, you’ve seen plans for only a few dollars a month. That’s not entirely false, but is generally tied to a multi-year commitment, all paid up front.
In fact, most plans are paid up front. A few companies offer a month-to-month payment plan for a few extra dollars per month, but that’s a rarity.
However, up front commitments aren’t the only issues with pricing. Multiple tiers can be confusing to newcomers, especially if they don’t know much about servers. Look for a month-to-month plan and buy in at one of the lower tiers. After that, what your site needs will become more obvious and you can upgrade your plan as you need more.
The important thing to be wary of with web hosting is how prices stack up. The actual hosting may only be a few dollars per month, but often things like SSL certificates, domains and extra security features are added on top of that.
Your website is prime real estate for attackers on the internet. Hosting companies deal with countless attacks on sites large and small.
The worst offense in the world of hosting would be a DDoS attack. Basically, this attack over saturates the bandwidth of a server, causing it to shut down (if you’d like more details on this type of attack, read out article on a disreputable VPN provider named Hola).
To avoid that, companies like HostGator integrate with Cloudflare. Cloudflare provides protection against DDoS attacks, and is free to users of HostGator (to learn more, check out our HostGator review). DDoS attacks aren’t your only concern, though. A strong firewall, consistent security updates and malware checks are important things to look for.
Arvixe is a good example of web hosting with extra security measures. They have anti-DDS tools, nightly security updates, firewalls, brute force detection, two-factor authentication system and free SSL certificates (check out our Arvixe review to learn more).
However, all of these security measures won’t protect against everything. Look for hosting that provides backups in case something goes wrong. It will almost always come at a premium, but it’s worth the cost.
Speaking of which, things will go wrong. Unfortunately, in the world of web hosting, this is not a rarity, but a certainty. Support is paramount because, for many sites, a few minutes of downtime is far too much.
Essentially, you’re putting the fate of your site in the hands of someone else. If their servers are down, your site is down. If their email servers fail, I’m sure you can guess what happens to your email.
It’s not the end of the world and it will happen. The important thing is that hosting companies are there to put your worries at rest when it does.
Email support and ticketing is necessarily. However, companies like InMotion provide live chat support for all users. This is usually hidden behind a paywall, but is free with InMotion (to learn more, check out our InMotion review).
Another thing to look for is a strong community. Hosting requires a lot of moving parts and relying on the company to solve your problems isn’t the best option. Look for support forums, YouTube channels and FAQs so you can solve your problem faster.
Unfortunately, like most things, the hosting platform you should go with is largely dependant on your needs. Because of that, we could never answer the inevitable question of which one is best for you. Across all platforms, look for proper security measures and a strong support community. These two aspects are essential no matter what your site requires.
Outside of that, look around the Internet a bit and see which providers have good reputations, which includes every single provider we’ve mentioned so far. Don’t go for a sketchy platform because it’s a few dollars less per month. Consider your needs and your budget, and the web hosting platform you need will show itself.
We hope you found this guide helpful and would like to herar your thoughts regarding choosing a web hosting provider in the comments below. Thank you for reading.