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While setting up your website, be it for a personal portfolio or another small business, you’re going to have to make a decision on hosting bandwidth. Put simply, hosting bandwidth is the capacity to handle traffic to your site. The more capacity your site has, the more visitors it can handle — but the more that you’ll have to pay.

Here, we’ll answer the following questions to help you determine how much bandwidth your business website needs:

What Is Website Bandwidth?

Website bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transferred between your site, its visitors, and the servers that host your content. This is typically measured in megabytes per second (MB/s) or gigabytes per second (GB/s) depending on a site’s capacity. This is how much data that your website can send at once, which is important if you are receiving lots of traffic all at the same time. Each time a person visits your site, it has to transmit to them the data needed to view the content on the page they are trying to view. You’ve likely seen a site crash because its bandwidth capacity wasn’t able to handle all of the traffic.

Think of bandwidth as a roadway that leads to your website and think of the phones and computers of users trying to connect with your site as cars. If you only have two lanes available and lots of cars trying to get to the same place, you’re going to end up with a traffic jam. That would slow down the speed that information travels, potentially bringing things to a complete stop if you max out your bandwidth and your website becomes inaccessible.

Having more bandwidth is like adding lanes to the road to support more visitors, allowing more people to visit without disrupting the flow of traffic. However, having a 10-lane highway running through a city that is new and not often visited yet is wasteful and expensive. This is why it’s important to honestly assess your bandwidth needs to best support your site and your budget.

Why Does Bandwidth Matter?

Bandwidth matters because it will dictate the user experience on your site and determine just how many people can access your content.

Bandwidth is typically capped each month. Each new visitor uses some of that available capacity when they visit your site. The higher the capacity, the more that you can support over the course of the month. Too little capacity and your site can become overrun if it happens to get lots of traffic, leading you to need to up your capacity. You’ll likely have to pay a premium to do this, especially if you’re doing it in the middle of the month rather than changing your monthly plan.

Think of this like a data cap on your mobile phone’s cellular data plan: you can go over, but you’ll pay more than usual for the additional data.

What Affects Bandwidth?

There are a couple of things that affect bandwidth. The number and frequency of visitors who are coming to your site is an important factor. If your site becomes popular or goes viral for some reason, you could have a huge influx of traffic that will eat up your bandwidth, for example.

However, another important factor is the kind of content that is being hosted on your site. If your site is largely made up of text and some images, maybe some small scripts that run in the background, you won’t be transferring tons of data to a visitor’s device when they visit. This means you can support more visitors as each visit has a much smaller demand from your available bandwidth. If your site is heavy on media, high-resolution images, and videos, then you might need more bandwidth to support visitors.

How To Calculate Your Website Bandwidth Needs

Now that you understand what website bandwidth is and what affects it, you can more accurately pick a plan that will serve your website and your needs. Doing this will require a little bit of napkin math to figure out where your site’s needs are currently — although you’ll also want to keep in mind growth patterns and expectations for the future.

First, if you have already set up your website, figure out how many monthly visitors you currently have. This information is usually readily available within your host’s dashboard. If you have set up Google Analytics or other website analytics tools, you can find this information there as well.

Once you have your monthly visitors figure, check to see how many pageviews the average visit is getting. If the average visitor is clicking through to three separate pages that means they are using more bandwidth than someone who lands on your homepage and then leaves immediately. It’s good news if you’re getting pageviews, but you’ll need the bandwidth to support it.

Now that you know how many visitors you get and how many pages they are visiting, it’s time to figure out just how much data transfer that requires. You’ll need to figure out the average size of a webpage on your site. There are several tools you can use to do this. GTmetrix or Pingdom are two popular options for determining the size of a webpage. Try to check as many pages as possible to get a useful average figure — though you can play it safe and use your largest webpage in terms of data transfer as your baseline.

With all this information in hand, you can calculate your bandwidth needs with a simple formula:

(Monthly visitors * average pageviews) * average webpage size

Here’s a quick example: Let’s say your site is currently getting 1,000 visitors each month, and those visitors are opening three pages per visit. Each page is about 5 MB in size. Here’s what your equation should look like with these figures:

(1,000 * 3) * 5 = 15,000

That figure is how many megabytes each month you transfer. 15,000 MB converts to 15 GB, which is how much bandwidth you need each month to support your current number of visitors.

That said, you don’t want your bandwidth to only support your current needs. You are going to want room for growth. Set your bandwidth ceiling at a level that is reasonable — at least twice what your current usage is. This gives your room both for more visitors to come to your site in the future and for you to ramp up the content on your web pages if needed. You want to be able to handle any spikes in traffic and interest, should your site start to take off.

How To Determine Which Host Is Best for Bandwidth

With the knowledge of how much bandwidth you require, you can now select a host that can meet your needs. There are a couple of things that you’ll want to keep in mind when picking a web host based on bandwidth capacity.

First, consider the type of bandwidth plan. Do you want metered or unmetered bandwidth? Here’s a quick breakdown of these types of data plans:

  • Metered bandwidth has a strict cap. That means if you purchase a 50 GB monthly plan, you cannot exceed that amount. You are capped once you exceed that monthly amount of data transfer.
  • Unmetered bandwidth is more flexible, allowing you to exceed your transfer limit. However, if you exceed your plan by a lot, your host may slow bandwidth speeds or place a hard cap on data transfers. You may also have to pay for exceeding the soft cap, depending on your host provider.

Most hosting providers today offer unmetered bandwidth by default because most people simply will not receive the traffic required to exceed the cap. Most sites are not highly viewed or heavy on data that needs to be transferred, so it is unlikely that the average site will be a bandwidth burden.

When picking your host, you’ll also have to decide between shared hosting and a virtual private server (VPS). Here’s the difference between these choices:

  • Shared hosting means your site will be sharing servers with other sites. This spreads out the cost of bandwidth, disk space, processing power, and other needs to keep your site online. If your site is new or not receiving lots of visitors yet, this choice will save on costs as you grow.
  • A VPS provides dedicated resources for your site and your site alone. It is more expensive, but it guarantees that your site will have the bandwidth and disk space needed to handle increased traffic. VPS services often offer much higher bandwidth caps, making it a better option once your site is established and getting consistent interest from visitors.

This may feel like a lot to consider, but the fact is that you shouldn’t worry yourself too much about it. Start with a realistic bandwidth plan but know that it is easy to upgrade or downgrade as needed. Remember, if you need to pay for more bandwidth, it’s likely a good thing. That means your site and business are getting more interest.

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