So, you are creating your first website, or perhaps you have a website and need to transition to a new hosting service. Either way, let’s break down what you need to consider when choosing your hosting provider, and the different options you can choose from.

What is Web Hosting?

First, a quick review. Your website consists of a collection of files, documents, images, videos, etc. Whenever someone visits your website the visitor’s browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.) reads and displays the website files. But, these website files need to be stored somewhere. The files are kept on servers, powerful computers designed for this purpose. 

You pay a monthly fee to a hosting company to keep and protect your website files on a server, and ensure the files are available when needed. Servers are stored within data centers which are large, climate-controlled buildings with redundant or backup power, communication connections, and environmental controls. 

Now that you have a basic understanding of what web hosting is, here are some of the most important factors to consider when selecting a hosting company.

What to Consider When Choosing your Hosting Service

Cost

What is your budget for web hosting? This will most likely determine what options you can choose from. Reasonable, basic shared hosting prices for an average website can be found for around $10 a month. If you need better hosting performance, storage, etc. you can instead opt for virtual private server hosting, dedicated hosting, or cloud hosting. Make sure to read the fine print though. Most hosting companies offer a discounted rate for just the first year. The rate after the promotional period will be substantially higher. Check siteground alternative.

Features (cPanel, One-click installations, Security, Email…)
Fairly standard features may also be missing from the cheapest, bare-bones hosting packages, which can make managing your hosting difficult. A few features you will want included are cPanel, one-click software installations (especially for your CMS of choice), and email hosting (email@yourdomain.com). 

You will also want to check if an SSL certificate is included or not. If not included then you can buy an SSL certificate from the cheapest SSL certificate provider.

Additional helpful, though not necessary features include additional site security, more frequent backups, and a dedicated account representative. If you don’t like to use open-source software, check if your hosting company offers an integrated, user-friendly content management system. Make sure you only pay for what you need to avoid bloated fees.

Your Traffic Needs

Hosting providers charge customers based on storage and bandwidth needs. Bandwidth measures how many bytes you serve over a given period. The number of site visitors you have will determine your bandwidth needs.

Most site owners overestimate their bandwidth needs and end up overpaying for hosting. It may be better to start with an inexpensive package, and then, if you find that site visitors are overwhelming your website, upgrade your hosting package. 

Be wary of ‘unlimited’ packages. Often your website will instead receive normal performance up to a certain bandwidth and then site performance will plunge.

Performance, Uptime & Scalability

Site Performance
Website visitors increasingly have a low tolerance for slow loading websites. While higher-priced packages will help provide faster website load speed, not all hosting services are equal. Some services will be slower or faster at equally priced packages. Look through customer reviews of hosting providers and technical hosting comparisons to choose the right provider.

Uptime
Uptime refers to the availability of your website. No hosting service is perfect, and at times your website may be unavailable (downtime). Most hosting services commit to above 99.9% uptime, but if you are willing to spend a little more, you can find hosting companies that offer additional uptime guarantees.

Scalability
Scalability is especially important for websites that have large fluctuations in website traffic, like seasonal businesses. Some hosting services will allow you to upgrade your package and downgrade it at certain parts of the year to match your website demand. 

Customer Support

The better the hosting company the fewer the issues you will have with your website. But, eventually, you will need to interact with your hosting. How is customer support? Can you access them through phone and email? Is it immediate access or do you have to wait for an hour, 24 hours to receive a response?

Depending on the hosting package you have selected, the hosting support may only help you with a limited number of issues. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is covered by support when you sign up for a hosting package. 

Data Center Location

If you collect personal data on your website or if you are in a heavily regulated industry with compliance standards, you may need to be careful about your data center’s location. Different hosting services have their data centers in different countries, and some hosting services allow you to choose your data center location. 

CMS Portability & Domain Ownership

Even if you find a good hosting company the quality of service may fluctuate over time if the company changes leadership or technology. Make sure your content management system and website files can easily be ported to another hosting service if necessary. If you use an open-source content management system like WordPress you can port to pretty much any hosting company. Keep regular backups of your website so if you ever do need to port to another host you have the most updated version of your website already saved.

Some hosting providers use proprietary content management systems (Wix, Squarespace, Weebly). If you build a website on these platforms, you will likely be unable to port your website to another host without extreme difficulty. 

Similarly, make sure you own your domain. Building up the brand recognition and authority of your domain name is an investment. If you need to switch to another host you need to be able to bring your domain with you.

 The 4 Types of Hosting Services 

Now that you know what to look for when choosing a hosting company, let’s discuss the four types of hosting servers you can choose from: Shared, Virtual Private Servers (VPS), Dedicated, and Cloud Hosting. These different servers vary in the amount of storage capacity, server speed, reliability, control, and technical knowledge required.

Shared Hosting

With shared hosting your website is placed on a server with sometimes hundreds or even thousands of other websites. All these websites share the same pool of server processing and memory.

Shared hosting is the lowest cost option and requires minimum technical knowledge. It is the recommended option for small to moderately sized websites.

Shared hosting does have drawbacks. You will likely only be able to upload files to the server via FTP or SFTP. Shell access is prevented and the programs you can run on the database are limited. The performance of your website is affected by other sites on the shared server making it difficult for the server to handle traffic spikes. A2 Hosting, Hostgator, and iPage are common hosting providers for shared hosting services, with monthly costs around $10-$12.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

Virtual Private servers divide a single physical server into separate virtual servers. Each separate virtual server hosts only one website. With this setup, you have root access to your own virtual space and secured hosting environment. You get more control at the server level without the higher costs of a dedicated server, though you need to be familiar with basic server maintenance and management.

Unfortunately, your site will still be affected by other websites on the server which affects your ability to handle traffic spikes. Typical costs for virtual private server hosting range from $20 – $50. Inmotion Hosting and SiteGround may be good VPS hosting options.

Dedicated Server Hosting

Dedicated Server Hosting is the next step up. You rent an entire server, which is used exclusively for your website. You also gain maximum control over the website server. Again you will need a technical understanding of server management. The only real downside here is cost. Dedicated servers are expensive, and you will likely be spending over $85 a month. AltusHost and TMD Hosting are options you can consider for dedicated server hosting.

Cloud Hosting

With cloud hosting, rather than a single individual server, a team of servers (a cloud) work together to host a group of websites. The cloud can easily handle high traffic or spikes in traffic across the website, making scaling pretty seamless. 

Unfortunately, cloud hosting does not offer root access, which is required to change server settings and install specific software. The price of cloud hosting is around $30. Cloud hosting services include Hostgator, Cloudways, and Digital Ocean.

Your Next Step

At this point, you have a decent understanding of the different types of web hosting server options and how to choose the right hosting company. Your next step is to start scouting for web hosting companies that meet your needs and then comparing each of the companies using the points in this article.

Still, choosing a web hosting company is likely a long-term decision that will affect your website potentially for years. If you would like a professional opinion on what web hosting option best fits your needs, give Mack Media a call. One of our website specialists will answer any questions you have and, if you would like, provide website design and development services estimates.