Article by Jerry Low
Geek dad, SEO data junkie, investor, and founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Jerry has been building Internet assets and making money online since 2004. He loves mindless doodling and trying new food.
Intro/background: My experience with cheap web host
I have always wanted to write a practical guide for those who are searching for cheap web hosting. Reason? One, you don’t see many articles (that actually help) on this topic so it makes perfect sense for me to tackle on it; two, it’s simply because I hate seeing uninformed webmasters being overcharged year after year.
I was a real dumb when I first started my Internet business – I stuck in not one, but two, extremely overpriced hosting deals. First it was with Network Eleven, where I kept paying $34.99 monthly for a reseller hosting account that I don’t need – it took me a while to cancel it because they refused to accept my cancellation (can you believe that?); then comes Gate Hosting, where I was charged on a very high price tag for a hosting account that allows me to host just one domain with awfully limited features.
Those experiences suck. And I do not want it to happen on you.
Alright, enough history. This article is not about me, it’s about you. I am here to teach youhow to take advantage of cheap web hosting services and how to get a good web host without breaking your wallet.
How cheap a hosting plan needs to be in order to fall into the ‘cheap web hosting’ category?
Quick answer: Below $5/mo, with adequate features.
By adequate features, I mean web hosting plans that come with hosting features that match current market standard. In brief, these hosting plans should (at least) cover features of hosting unlimited domains, basic web statistics, unlimited email and web mail accounts, auto script installations, updated PHP and MySQL, basic after-sale technical support, 99.5% server uptime and a stable server network.
Here is the list of hosting services I reviewed that cost under $5 per month. Some of them are good, some are bad; and they are all listed here because of the cheap price tag (under $5/mo subscription fees).
|Web Host||Features||Price||WHSR Rating|
Reviews and opinions are all written based on my own experience (yes, I tested most of them by myself) and personal reference. I always try to write from an unbiased angle but it should be clear to you that I receive compensation from most of these hosting companies.
Before you draw your old conclusion that all cheap hosting suck, you need to understand that these hosting companies are in business for money as well. There will be drawbacks and pitfalls when you go cheap – No doubt about it.
But hey, that’s the norm in every industry around the globe! So what do you do then? Sit back, rant all day, and do nothing? No! Our task here is not to complain, but to tackle these unavoidable drawbacks and save some bucks.
Given below are some “standard catch-22” and my solutions.
Problem: Unnecessary software charges
[Solution]: Cheap hosting companies make money by recommending additional add-ons and software to their customers. Some will find these add-ons useful; while some will find them wastes of money. The solution to this is pretty simple: Be sceptical with every emails and suggestions you receive from your hosting companies. Avoid clicking blindly and do your research before signing up for any add-ons in your account. In short, be a smart Internet shopper, problem fixed. ;)
Problem: Rushed Servers, Overselling
[Solution]: Check server uptime and read meaningful hosting reviews before signing up a cheap web host. If a hosting company keep receiving complains on server outage and slow network speeds, chances are the web host has some rushed server blocks and it’s best to avoid them.
*A little extra on server uptime: No one wants to host their website with a faulty web host. Go search for uptime record and experts’ comment on the shortlisted web hosts. There are various free services available online for this purpose and BestHostRating.com for example, runs a huge database of web host uptime record (see examples below). Personally, I also use Pingdom and Uptime Robot for uptime tracking – these tools are easy to use and completely free.
Problem: Bad neighbourhood in the shared server
[Solution]: These days hosting companies have quite strict policy against spammers and hackers; thus I don’t worry too much about bad neighbourhood. The only way to deal with a bad neighbour is to request your host to suspend his/her account.
Problem: Black-Holed IP
[Solution]: Cheap web hosts are often exploited by spammers to send out junk mails. It’s recommended to check your web host IP on SpamHaus Block List as soon as you got your account. If unfortunately your server IP is on the list, request a relocation. If your web host refuse to do so, the only other solution is to switch host.
Problem: Poor technical support
[Solution]: Not much we can do to a host with poor support. For newbies, the best thing to do is to avoid those with bad after-sales support. Talk with the support department before you place your order, ask related technical questions (such as inodes limits, CPU cycles, Ruby on Rails, etc) and judge their quality based on the responses. For the experienced one, well, you can always make use of WebmasterWorld.com and WebHostingTalk.com for technical issues – Why bother too much, right?
Problem: Hidden cancellation fees
[Solution]: Avoid, I repeat, avoid any cheap web host that charges unreasonable cancellation fees. Read TOS (quick tip: go to the host’s TOS page, press Ctrl + F, search for keyword like ‘cancellation’ and ‘refund’) clearly and make sure how cancellation is done. Do not go with those with fishy cancellation policy no matter how cheap they are.
Problem: Limited MySQL databases
[Solution]: Some web hosts will limit the usage of MySQL databases to cut cost on CPU power. Before you order, make sure that the web hosts support sufficient number of databases. Skip those with too little (100 is the minimum acceptable number) as there are plenty of cheap hosts come with unlimited MySQL.
Problem: Expensive renewal fees
[Solution]: Renewal price for cheap hosting plans are normally higher than signup price (for example, iPage promotion price is $2.95/mo during signup; and for renewal, it’s $6.95/mo) – that’s how hosting companies lure customers to switch host. In case the web host (that you wish to go with) support ‘Anytime Money Back Guarantee’, it’s better to sign up for a longer subscription period to enjoy the low price. For renewals, the only way to keep prices low is to do ‘web host hoping’ (meaning, keep switching host every time when the contract expires).
Problem: Lengthy subscription period for the cheap price tag
[Solution]: Some web hosts will request their customers to subscribe for a very lengthy period in exchange of the low price tags. Lunarpages $4.95/mo hosting deal, for example, is only available for customers who are willing to pay 5 years up front. Unless you are allowed to cancel and ask for a refund anytime during the subscription period; else such deal is a big no-go.
Problem: Limited allowable inodes
[Solution]: Your site shouldn’t be running on too many inodes in the first place. Understand that unlimited hosting is not limited. To solve this issue, try not to keep any duplicated files in your account, delete unnecessary files, delete emails regularly (empty inbox and download emails to your local PC instead), and optimize your databases.
People always have the idea of cheap web host is only for crap websites. But fact is, a lot can be done with a cheap, shared hosting plans. Question is are you brave enough to take up the challenge to pick the right apple and also, be smart enough to fully utilize the resources from a cheap web host.
It does not makes your site ‘cooler’ or better simply because you opt for a more expensive hosting service. Some webmasters and bloggers subscribed to VPS or dedicated hosting simply because of their ego (with the kind of mindset where they think they are different and better).
Never register your domain name with your web host, even though it’s free.
Remember my rule #1 in How Not To Get Screwed By Your Web Host? Just because your web host offer a free domain doesn’t mean that you should let the hosting company controls your domain registration. Personally, I prefer keeping my domain names with a large registrar (in my case, GoDaddy) and separate them from the web host. By doing so, I can change my domain DNS anytime I want and avoid myself from being locked with a particular web host.
Many webmasters misunderstood that cheap hosting services are generally bad because: 1. Negative reviews are easier to be accepted and passed along in forums; 2. Webmasters made unrealistic expectation (believe it or not, I received complaints on Hostgator because the user wants real-time web analytics data!); 3. Like it or not, there are more haters than you think in this world and haters gonna hate (seriously!).
Fact is, you are always recommended to start small with an affordable (cheap) shared hosting plan. :)