A reliable web host is a must for all websites and blogs, but it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. I have always been telling people about this: Not all cheap web host sucks! Some budget web hosts are as good as that VPS hosting deal you were looking at. And hey, that “awesome” web business idea you have in mind doesn’t need a dedicated hosting yet. You can host it on a shared hosting first and make the switch after it accumulate enough buzz.
When I first started my venture on the Internet, I stuck in not one, but two, ridiculous hosting deals. I was spending senseless money on a reseller hosting account that I do not need and on a web host that has literally less than 10 features. The first one was Network Eleven (I am not even sure if they are still around or not) – they still owe me about a hundred bucks as they refused to process my cancellations for months; and the second one was Gate.com. Both companies were the classic examples of businesses running on “charge as much as we can; deliver as little as possible” motto.
Those experiences suck, but I only have myself to blame on. That is the price of being naïve.
I do not want it to happen on you. Hence, I wrote this article. This is not about me, it’s about you. I am here to show you the truth, teach you how to be a good cheap-host-hunter, and help you save some money on hosting.
So, ready? Let’s rock and roll.
TL; DR: What’s in this guide
This cheap hosting guide consists of the following subjects –
- Basic understanding on current budget hosting business.
- Cheap hosting services I recommend
- Common problems (and solutions) with cheap web host.
- List of some of the cheapest hosting services in market (below $5/mo, see chart on right).
How Cheap Is Cheap?
First, let’s define the term “cheap”.
In order to fall into the ‘cheap web hosting’ category, how cheap a hosting plan needs to be?
Being in this line for more than a decade, I see hosting prices drop drastically for the past 10 years – first, we called $8.95/mo cheap, then $7.95/mo, $6.95/mo, $4.95/mo, and it goes as low as $1.95/mo in certain occasions these days.
So how cheap is cheap (by today’s standard)?
Quick answer: Below $5/mo, with adequate features.
By adequate features, I mean hosting services that come with features that match current market standard. The standards may change from time to time (for example years ago a $5/mo hosting deal can get you only 6 addon domains, 5GB storage, and 10GB data transfer; now everything goes unlimited).
At this time of writing, a standard cheap hosting deal should at least cover sufficient power to host at least 50 – 100 not-so-active domains with basic web statistics support, email and web mail services, auto script installations, updated PHP and MySQL, basic after-sale technical support, and at least 99.8% server uptime. It would be a plus if the host can provide regular server backup, periodic malware scanning, and additional dedicated IP as well as private SSL certifications; but honestly you really can’t ask for too much with a host cheaper than your coffee.
Affordable Hosting Services We Like
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Common Problems with Cheap Web Hosting Services (and how to deal with it)
I know. Good things often do not come with the word ‘cheap’. Before you draw 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. Are you going to just sit back, rant all day, and do nothing?
No. We are better than that.
Given below are some of the common catch-22 behind the low price tags and my tips on how to counter the problems.
Problem #1: Aggressive Up-selling and Cross-Selling Practice
Many budget hosting companies have aggressive up-selling and cross-selling practices. They make extra money by recommending products, add-on services, and apps such as email spam protections, CMS themes, Top Level Domain registration, CDN services, email management tools, and more. While some of the offerings are straightforward, some services trick their customers to sign up for free trials. Then, when the trial ends, they charge their customers high prices for the services. Their customers end up paying premium prices for services they simply wanted to try and likely don’t even need.
Make a quick check with your host upon signup, make sure that the hosting company did not sign you up on any software or web service trial. Be skeptical with every emails and suggestions you receive from your hosting company. 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 #2: Rushed servers
Sometimes, web hosting is so cheap because the company hosts too many websites on one shared server. That means websites hosted on that server will have limited server resources. This leads to slow load times and frequent down time; which then lead to a poor customer user experience.
No one should host their website on a frequent down hosting. Go search for uptime record and experts’ comment on your short-listed web hosts before you subscribe to a web host. At WHSR, we track dozens of hosting services and post regular updates.
Uptime samples published in WHSR
How do you track website uptime yourself?
What is hosting uptime?
Uptime refers to the amount of time that your website is up and running, available to visitors and potential clients; anything that isn’t uptime is downtime – and to oversimplify it, downtime is bad.
Downtime means that people can’t reach your site which can be frustrating to potential visitors while also costing you traffic and revenue. Additionally, if people aren’t able to reach your site the first time, they may not try again. That said, hosting providers provide minimum uptime guarantees which is a guarantee that they’ll have your site up and running that percent of the total hours in a day. As a general rule, don’t work with providers who give anything less than a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
Free (and paid) tools you can use
There are literally dozens, if not more, of server monitoring tools available online – some are free and some costs upwards of thousands of dollars annually. Some run simple HTTP checks to confirm whether your site is running, while others perform very complex back-end jobs to monitor more than 50 checkpoints simultaneously.
The various tools run every end of the spectrum, which can be a bit overwhelming to shoppers, but also ensures that there is a tool out there to fit your needs and budget. For example, free and easy tools include Uptime Robot, Monitor Us, Pingdom, and WHSR’s Uptime monitor, among others. More powerful (and in most cases, costly) tools include Nagios Uptime, Cacti, and so on.
Problem #3: Host with Bad neighbors
Occasionally, cheap hosts are infiltrated by what are commonly referred to as bad neighbors. These bad neighbors are spammers who eat up the server resources or careless webmasters who get hacked. If you share a server with spammers, there won’t be enough resources left for you. If you share a server with someone who gets a Trojan or computer virus, your site might get infected too.
Back in old days, cheap web hosts are often exploited by spammers and hackers. I believe this does not happen that often these days as hosting companies (budget or premium) normally will have very strict policy against spammers and hackers. If your account was hacked from the inside, request for a relocation and ask the host can shift you to another server block.
Problem #4: Black-Holed IP
Host IP black listed.
It’s recommended to check your web host IP on SpamHaus Block List as soon as you got your account (or better, ask them for a list of IPs to check before signing up).
If unfortunately your server IP is on the list, there are two things you can do: 1. Push the web host to white-list the IP; and 2. request for relocation or a change of IP address.
Problem #5: Poor technical support
Some cheap hosting companies have poor customer support and fail to respond to customer requests timely. The slow response times are not always due to a lack of caring. In many cases, cheap hosts simply don’t have enough technical staff members to attend to customer problems.
Not much we can do to a host with poor after sales support besides leaving them. For newbies, the best thing to do is to avoid hosting companies with bad service. 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.
Problem #6: Hidden cancellation fees
Some cheap hosting companies have suspicious business practices and unclear terms and conditions.
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. The web host may charge for the domain registration (which may goes up to a one-time $25 fee) and SSL certificate fees; but anything more than that is a no-go.
Do not go with those with fishy cancellation policy no matter how cheap they are.
Problem #7: Limited MySQL databases
To save cost on CPU power, some web hosts will limit the usages of MySQL databases. 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 #8: Expensive renewal fees
Cheap hosting companies don’t always stay cheap.
In fact, many lure customers in with cheap prices, and then jack up the renewal fee two or three years later. Unfortunately, this is the industry norm. Many of these companies lose money during the first two or three years they have a customer, so they charge the higher prices later to recoup their losses. A lot of customers don’t realize they are going to pay higher prices and they get sticker shock when they see the auto-charge on their credit card statement.
Renewal price for cheap hosting plans are normally higher than signup price. For example, iPage promotion price is $1.99/mo during signup and when it comes to renewal, it will go up to $6.95/mo (at time of writing). The same policy runs on most budget hosting companies including WebHostingHub, A2 Hosting, GreenGeeks, FatCow, Hostgator, Bluehost, and so on. The ultra-low price tag is how hosting companies lure customers to switch host. 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). And, for budget hosts that provide ‘Anytime Money Back Guarantee’, I would recommend to sign up for a longer subscription period as it allows you to enjoy the low price a little longer (and take back money if you do not like your host any more).
Some budget hosting companies now allow customers to lock in at low renewal price upon signup.
For example, InterServer and HostMetro lock the renewal price as soon as you signup. These hosting companies willl never raise the renewal rate for your web hosting. The price you sign up for is the price you renew your hosting subscription in future. If a HostMetro customer signs up for three years of hosting at $2.45/month, the renewal rate will be $2.45/month three years later. Same goes to InterServer – which allow customers to renew at the signup price. Learn more about renewal price difference in the following table.
Compare: Signup vs Renewal price
Problem #9: Lengthy subscription period for the cheap price tag
Some web hosts will request their customers to subscribe for a very long period in exchange of the low price tags. Some years ago Lunarpages marketed its shared hosting deal as $4.95/mo. But after further investigation, I noticed the $4.95/mo deal is only available for customers who are willing to pay 5 years up front – which is a big rip-off (5 years! Anything can happen online in 5 year time; Lunarpages might just take your money and close shop). Unless you can cancel and ask for a refund any time during the subscription period; else any contract longer than 2-year is a no-go.
(Personally, I renew all my hosting on a year-by-year basis.)
Problem #10: Limited allowable inodes
Although I don’t stress much on inodes these days, but I wouldn’t go with 50,000 inodes per account.
Read TOS (quick tip: go to the host’s TOS page, press Ctrl + F, search for keyword like ‘inodes’ and ‘number of files’) clearly before you sign up. On the other hand, it is your responsibility to limit the number of inodes on your account. Understand that unlimited hosting is not limited – 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.
In a nutshell: Not all cheap web hosts are bad
Not all shared hosting companies are bad. Low cost shared hosting plans are very popular and powerful these days, with more than 90% of individual blogs hosted by shared hosting plans.
And these blogs work just fine.
Truth is: A lot can be done with a cheap shared hosting plan these days.
It does not make your site ‘cooler’ or better simply because you opt for a more expensive hosting solution.
Not to mention there are plenty of things can go wrong too with a dedicated or VPS hosting, too. Some site owners subscribed to VPS or dedicated hosting simply because of their ego – with the kind of mindset where they think they are different and better. But that’s not true. In fact, I know some small business owners who have switched over to dedicated hosting when they didn’t need it, and they have regretted it. They have spent money on unnecessary server resources and expert technical assistance when shared hosting would have been fine.
Until you have built up a huge following, there is need to put that much of time and money into a powerful hosting plan. It’s just a waste of time and money. Instead, put your focus on content and marketing.
Understanding your needs in website hosting
If you are buying something you don’t need, you are wasting money no matter how cheap it is.
And that is why you need to know your hosting needs before you pick up a new web host. Before you leave this page to buy a web host, please think thoroughly about our own needs and answer these questions –
- What kind of website are you building?
- Do you want something common (a WordPress blog, for example)?
- Do you need Windows applications?
- Do you need a special version of software (ie. PHP)?
- Does your website need special software?
- How big (or small) can the web traffic volume go?
- What is your 12 (or 24) months budget for the website?
- How much of this money should go into hosting?
For starters –
- Pick a web host that you can afford for at least 2 years. Your blog may not make any money at all, particularly at first, so you want to be sure you don’t have to shut the blog down because of lack of funds.
- A reliable shared web host should be good enough for now. Just remember to check about space limitations and check uptime.
- Right now you should focus on building useful content and growing your community. You should spend more on marketing and content. Get a good newsletter service and start building your email list, start social media marketing ads, get in touch with local bloggers and hire them to promote your blog, etc.
- Ask questions about customer service and if they will help you understand running a website because you are new to blogging.
For seasoned bloggers and site owners –
- As part of your job now is to make sure your readers can navigate smoothly within your blog. You need a very reliable and fast web host.
- You should track your site uptime and response speed with tools like Pingdom and Uptime Robot.
- Monitor your blog memory usage and know your limit – once your blog hits 80% of the allocated memory (this the usual bottleneck you’ll first bump into with shared hosting), then it’s time to consider upgrading to VPS hosting.
- Also, consider using an SSD hosting for faster site speed.
I hope you find this guide helpful. Cheers!