Choosing a web hosting provider can feel like a daunting task at times since thousands of hosts claim to provide the best service. Despite these claims, there are several criteria you can use to accurately evaluate your options. To start with, look for the main factors of speed, support, cost, security, and scalability. The order of the importance of these factors will vary from person to person.
- Our top choices for web hosting companies
- The functions of a web hosting provider
- How to choose a web hosting provider and the right type of hosting for you
What Does a Web Hosting Provider Do for You?
A web hosting provider gives you access to advanced web servers that store and run your website’s files. The company will also provide a fast and reliable internet connection to your website so people worldwide can easily access it. Hosting providers do various things for their customers. In this section, we’ll go over the basic services a web host provides.
Gives you a domain
Your domain name is who you are on the internet. While it’s technically possible to host a website without a domain name and only an IP address, nobody would be able to find you, much less remember the name of your site.
Most web hosting companies help you register and maintain the name for your website. If they use the popular site management platform called cPanel, you can easily manage yours through your domain tools. Regardless of whether your web host provider uses this platform, you can still manage your domain with little to no intervention from technical support.
Provides your server
Even more important than your domain is the server or computer that “serves” your site to the public. Your site must have server software installed and have a strong, high-bandwidth connection to the internet.
You could technically set something similar up at your home or office, but doing so would take considerable effort and expense. A web hosting company takes care of the hard work and ensures your site is accessible to the public.
Offers storage space
However, if you are hosting multimedia content (images to audio or video) you will require a considerable amount of storage space. All these files will be stored on the server you have access to through your web hosting provider, which will then serve this information to the public.
Also, reputable hosting providers offer backup services, which will take a copy of the files from your website and store them separately so they can be restored should anything unexpected happen.
How To Choose a Web Hosting Plan That’s Perfect for Your Website
Many factors go into selecting a web host. The aspects most important to you will vary. Below are some variables to consider before choosing a web hosting provider.
Estimate the amount of traffic you expect
The amount of traffic your site gets will significantly impact what type of hosting you need. For example, shared hosting is the best option if you run a small site with little traffic. A virtual private server (VPS) is often the way to go if your site gets significantly more traffic.
Some sites will receive a large amount of traffic. This is the goal of most companies, particularly those selling products on an e-commerce site. You might have a much smaller, dedicated audience that might not require large amounts of bandwidth. The amount of traffic you receive will impact your bottom line.
Determine what kind of hosting you need
The amount you pay for hosting largely depends on the type of hosting you purchase. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
With shared hosting, multiple sites use the same IP address and reside on the same server. This is the most economical form of web hosting, as the hosting company splits the cost of a physical server among multiple sites.
The main advantage of shared hosting is its price, yet you are also at the mercy of the bandwidth other sites on the same server use. If a large amount of traffic is going to another site on the same server, it slows your site down considerably.
Also, if another site on the same server engages in nefarious behavior and has its IP blocked by spam filters, your site may also be affected. Reliable hosting providers prevent this, but consider this possibility.
Virtual Private Server Hosting
VPS hosting is the next step up in web hosting technology. While you still share the same physical server with other sites, you are set up with a unique virtual server and IP address. This unique IP address keeps your site separate from others on the server.
If you choose VPS hosting, you can manage more features on your server and eliminate blacklisting risks like those with shared hosting. There are some limitations on how much traffic a VPS can handle, but most sites for individuals or small businesses will never come close to exceeding these limitations.
With dedicated hosting, your physical server or servers are for your website only. This is a more expensive type of hosting, but it is also the most reliable.
Large companies require the use of dedicated hosting services to guarantee uptime and to secure their site. This option is best for efficiency, but again, it is far more expensive. Some options help deflect the cost. For example, you can pay as you go through Amazon Web Services (AWS) to maintain better control over the costs.
Cloud hosting services take the dedicated approach one step further and spread your site across multiple servers. This can help deal with sudden traffic spikes and help leverage the power of the cloud to ensure your site stays up.
Hosting services such as AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, and others will charge you based on the resources you use, so it can be inexpensive to start, however, if your site starts to grow in popularity, expect the expense to increase with it.
Even many smaller web hosting companies offer great cloud hosting packages to their customers. Some charge a flat monthly fee as well, which makes your costs very predictable.
Professional web hosting companies provide WordPress hosting services, which means you can manage your site fully using the popular WordPress CMS.
You can log in to the site much like you would on your local machine and manage everything through What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors. WordPress is extremely popular and powers a significant portion of the internet. Web hosting providers offering WordPress hosting make managing and maintaining these sites easy.
Get SSL security
The method by which site users verify its authenticity — known as SSL security— is essential on the internet. SSL (and its successor, Transport Layer Security or TLS) ensure sensitive data remains safe when transferred between two systems.
Even if you aren’t intending on transferring sensitive data, SSL (which enables your site to be improved from HTTP access to HTTPS access) can be viewed in most modern browsers. Many will block sites that are not secure, and Google will rank unsecured sites lower in its results, making it harder for visitors to find your site. Most web hosting companies provide this service for free.
Determine the resources you need
There are several other features beyond speed and security to consider before choosing a web hosting provider.
How many professional emails will you need?
Several web hosting providers offer personalized emails @ (at) your domain name. Yet, if your company has several employees, it is helpful to provide professional email accounts to each, as well as a few generic email addresses (e.g., [email protected]).
Most providers offer a few accounts as part of their package. If you need more than a handful of emails, though, you’ll want to look for a provider that offers unlimited email accounts.
How much disk space do you need?
Storage is something you also need to consider. Most websites do not take a lot of space (a typical web page is just an elaborate text file), however, if you plan on storing multimedia or image files, you will need more storage space.
You can use the files on your hard drive to gauge the space you need. If you have a full site built on your local machine, you can sum up the number of resources used in the folders set up for your site to see how much space you may require.
Yet if you plan to allow user-submitted content (such as on a social media site), you will need considerable storage space. It’s wise to consider a host that will allow you to scale up as the need arises.
How much bandwidth do you need?
Consider bandwidth when picking a web hosting plan, especially if you regularly receive hundreds of thousands of visitors. But if you expect only a few thousand visitors per month, you can get by on cheaper hosting plans.
You can calculate your bandwidth needs by adding up the size of all the media served by your site and then multiplying it by the number of users. For example, if you have a 500MB site (most sites are not this large) and get 20,000 visits, the result will be 10,000GB of bandwidth used. This would be the upper maximum you would need since most visitors will not browse to every page on your site, and would therefore use a lot less bandwidth.
What To Look for in a Professional Website Hosting Provider
There are a few other key guidelines to consider when deciding about a web host.
A word about unlimited offers
Sometimes, hosts will boast an “unlimited” amount of bandwidth. This often comes with a caveat; with some of the less expensive plans, web hosts may throttle the speed of your site, resulting in a poor experience for your site visitors.
Price of signup and renewal
It’s important to be aware that several hosts offer an extremely attractive introductory offer (often less than $5 a month). While this may look like a good deal, you must pay attention to their long-term prices.
After your initial sign-up period, you may discover the rates have risen. While you can always switch your web host, this comes with considerable work. For this reason, read the small print, be aware of your costs in a year or two, and make sure you can pay those costs in your budget.
The complexity of your site will determine what web hosting features you need. You may be running a site using a specialized programming language, and not all hosts can meet these needs equally.
Almost all hosts will support PHP and WordPress. If you need your site to run Joomla, Drupal, or other open-source software (OSS), though, you’ll need to ensure the host can provide this service.
Also, be aware of the number of databases you’ll need and whether you can get by with one or two. Your needs may vary between hosting providers based on the complexity of your site.
Management setting and ease of use
It is important to evaluate whether the web host provider’s host management features are easy to use. Many providers use cPanel or something similar; this should be sufficient, but you need to gauge your own expertise beforehand.
You may need technical support. But be aware of the level of support your host provides. Most will provide basic account support, though it might be difficult if you want someone to help code your site, for instance (most will not offer this).
Also, you may want to pay attention to the methods used. Does the company provide chat support or only email? Is there a phone number you can call?
Several web hosting providers offer website-building tools, but you may find it difficult to modify these to your needs.
Consider that WordPress may work fine out of the box, but there’s more you can do if you work with a developer. It’s important to find out whether the web hosting provider allows you to customize your site. Customizing means not just modifying the content to your preferences but also the structure of the site.
Ease of setup
If you are not an expert web host service user, you might prefer to have a drag-and-drop functionality to make setting up your site easier. For instance, if you are running a WordPress-based site, ensure your web host offers tools that allow “help wizards” to manage your site.
It’s wise to carefully read the terms of your web hosting service, as with any service in life. If you skip reading the fine print, you could find yourself locked into a multi-year contract with no refund after cancellation.
Several providers offer less expensive rates if you pay upfront. If you do this, you are committing to paying for a certain time, even if you choose to leave and go to a new provider. Consider a provider with a liberal cancellation policy if this makes you nervous.