Updated: November 21, 2019
“You get what you pay for” definitely applies to website hosting. The factors you most need to define when deciding how to choose a hosting company are number of users per month, the size of the website, and if the website is collecting sensitive information such as credit card processing.
Let’s break down what website hosting is and then we’ll cover some of the other services that are often also provided by a web host.
What is Website Hosting?
A website hosting service provides a powerful computer called a “web server” that stores websites and makes them accessible to users on the Internet. Every website needs some sort of host. Working backwards, when a site visitor enters your domain name into a browser (www.yoursite.com), the domain is then translated into your server IP address, and then the server sends that user your site files.
When you use a service like Weebly, the hosting is provided for you. When you set up a website using WordPress (with files downloaded from wordpress.org), you need to find your own hosting service.
Types of Website Hosting
There are 4 basic kinds of website hosting:
With shared hosting, the website sits on the same physical server as other websites and shares the same server software as these websites. This is more cost-efficient (think about having a roommate), but it may result in slower load times (you don’t know how many visitors your roommate is getting), and it introduces some security risks (you don’t know who those visitors are and if your roommate remembered to lock the door).
You want to avoid shared hosting if your website collects sensitive information or has a lot of large files, because of security concerns and download speeds, respectively. Keep in mind that website speed is a factor in search engine result rankings as well as the overall user experience. If your website takes too long to load, users will get frustrated and look elsewhere, and so will the search bots!
Price: Roughly $2 / month to $15 / month, depending on how long you sign up for and what other services are included.
With dedicated hosting, the website has its own physical server, meaning it’s free to be configured as needed with it’s own custom software too, and since it doesn’t share resources with any other websites, it loads faster. You can also add on as many security features as you’d like. The downside is that a dedicated server costs a lot more than the other options, and the owner is responsible for configuring and maintaining the server, making it a resource that only larger businesses are going to be able to afford.
If you are an e-commerce site, you should consider dedicated hosting.
Price: Roughly $100 – $300 / month.
Virtual Private Server (VPS):
A virtual private server can provide each user to customize their hosting environment as needed, while sharing the same physical resources as other users. Often this means that users can pay for extra resources like CPU as needed, when they have more traffic. This is a good option for blogs with a lot of visitors (roughly > 25,000 per month), especially if they may be more seasonal.
Price: Roughly $15 – $50 / month, depending on the amount of disk space needed.
Managed WordPress Hosting:
As the popularity of WordPress has grown, a new niche of website hosts targeting the needs specifically of WordPress users has emerged. It sounds like a gimmick, but there are a few benefits to working with a WordPress-specific hosting provider, chiefly among them that the servers are configured specifically to run these types of sites. The downside is that it comes at a premium price. Any managed WordPress hosting provider costs way more than any shared hosting package.
Price: Roughly $10 / month and up, depending on the amount of resources needed.
Once you have chosen the type of hosting that you need, the second most important factor is customer service. When your website isn’t working properly (and you’ve diagnosed that it’s a server issue), you do not want to be twiddling your thumbs waiting around for customer support. In order to check the speed and quality of customer support before opening account with various providers, I tried a few times to launch the Live Chat feature and to ask some general questions. I was testing the speed in which I could get a human on the line and their willingness to help me to try solve my problem. I usually asked something like an explanation of the difference between two of their packages or how I could use a particular service.
In our experience, this has been our customer service experience with web hosts so far:
Great: WP Engine (Managed WordPress hosting), SiteGround (Various), Kinsta (Various)
Satisfactory: BlueHost (Shared Hosting), Go Daddy (Shared and Managed WordPress Hosting), Dream Host (Shared Hosting), Also Networks (Shared Hosting, VPS)
Poor: 1 and 1, Host Gator, iPage, ErezNet (Israel)
Even if you aren’t collecting sensitive data on your website, it needs to have a SSL certificate. Most of the better hosting companies offer free basic SSL certificates and also offer stronger, more secure versions for an additional price.
A staging environment will allow you to work on a copy of your website when you’re making software updates or content changes. Playing around on your live website is risky, because your work in progress is happening live, so real users will see it. Plus, if anything breaks, your site can go down. Some hosts provide the ability to copy your website to a staging area, play around there, and then push the changes live.
Other Bells and Whistles
Once you have established that the hosting providers you are considering have reliable uptime and great customer service when something does go wrong, there are a few other things to look out for:
- A user-friendly control panel. cPanel is the most popular provider of this dashboard of services, such as webmail setup, access to phpMyAdmin for database management, and more. It will probably be difficult for a novice website manager to assess this.
- phpMyAdmin: One way or another you need to easily access your database. Some website hosts don’t provide this.
- Email Management: You want to be able to set up email @your domain
In summary, how to choose a hosting company is determined by what services you need. First you need to assess the site of your website and the type of hosting that you need. Once you have that defined, you can narrow down the providers that offer that level of service and decide whether or not to spend a little more for some extras. In our experience, by paying just a little bit more, you can get significantly better quality.