There is no rocket science in finding a hosting service that matches your needs. In this article, I will guide you along the way with a complete walkthrough to ensure all you know exactly how to choose the right web hosting.
What Does Your Website Need?
To choose a web host suitable for your website, you need to first understand what do you actually need.
So before you go any further – put everything aside and think about the following questions:
- What kind of website are you building?
- Do you want something common (a WordPress blog, perhaps)?
- Do you need Windows applications?
- Do you need support for a specific script (e.g. PHP)?
- Does your website need special software?
- How big (or small) can your web traffic volume go?
Picture in your mind what you want your website to be now, then build on that idea until you're roughly 12 months ahead of that. Don't just consider what you want to offer, but also what may want or need.
This ultimately boils down to one very simple fact: How much server resources will your website need?
If you are running a personal blog or small to medium website, it is unlikely that you will require the extra capabilities of a VPS host. If you are running a large business server or carrying out a lot of eCommerce activities, then a VPS or dedicated server may be needed to manage a larger volume of traffic as well as for the extra reliability.
At the end of the day, each choice has its own cost level and features, even among the two categories of web hosting I've described here. Attention needs to be paid to detail and matched with the requirements of your website.
What Makes A Good Web Host?
Once you are ready, it's time to look into some essential features in a great web hosting provider.
- Server with Strong Uptime Record
- Fast-Loading Web Host
- Complete with Essential Hosting Features
- Wide Range of Server Upgrading Options
- Reasonable Renewal Price
- User Friendly Hosting Control Panel
- Reasonable Account Limitation
- Environmental Friendly
- Reasonable Subscription Period
Tips: For newbies, the simple rule is start small with an affordable shared hosting account. A shared hosting account is cheap, easy to maintain, and sufficient for most new sites. It also lets you focus on building your site without having to worry about other server-side tasks such as database maintenance and server security.
1. Reliable Server with Strong Uptime Record
Nothing is more important than having a 24 x 7 operating web host, after all, your visitors may come to your site from time zones all over the world. You need a web host which is stable, both in terms of their servers as well as network connections. 99.95% is considered a norm these days, even for shared hosting accounts; anything below 99% is unacceptable. Premium accounts often boast of 99.99% or better uptimes.
There are a number of different ways to obtain web host uptime information. The simplest way to do so is by reading our hosting reviews – where we publish uptime records from time to time.
Alternatively, you can simply track your web host with server monitoring tools – many of these tools are available either for free, or at the very least offer a trial period. They are efficient and very easy to use.
2. Fast-Loading Web Host
Server Speed or Server Responsiveness is a measure of the time it takes from when someone hits enter on your domain name until the server acknowledges that request.
Often known as Time To First Byte (TTFB), your server response speed is more than for self-gratification at having the fastest loading website. It's been documented that the longer a user waits for a website to load, the more likely they will leave the site before it even finishes loading.
Your website speed also affects how Google and other search engines rank you in search results.
This is seldom something that a web hosting company will tell you. One common guideline is often price. Top-of-the-line equipment and infrastructure does not come cheap. If your host can afford to charge you $1.50 per month for hosting, things are getting a little fishy.
3. Essential Hosting Features
Although no two websites are alike and they all have different needs; there are a number of essential must-have features in a great web hosting offer. Comparing the specifications of these features can help you narrow your options and find a suitable web host.
If you wish to host email accounts together with your website, then you should look at the email features before signup. Most hosting companies will come with the ability to host your own email (something like [email protected]) but hey, it's always better to check and be sure of it, yeah?
Free Site Migration Support
For existing website owners, you may want to consider a web host that offers free site migration. This service allows you to transfer your website to the new host for free.
Multiple Addon Domains
Domain names are cheap and most people tend to have more than one domain in their account. To accommodate these extra domains, we need extra hosting space. This is why it is important to have a web hosting account that allows adding multiple domains. Generally speaking, most mid-priced shared hosting plans allow at least 100 addon domains in one account nowadays but you can never be sure. Some years ago I was careless and signed up on a web host that allows only one domain. Unfortunately, I was holding more than 10 parked domains at that time. Do not repeat my mistake, check the domain capacity before you make a purchase.
Built-in One-click Installer
Whether you are totally new or experienced, a built-in One-click Installer like Softalucous makes your life a heck of a lot easier. Such installation wizard helps you install things like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or a host of other web applications. All you'll need to do is fill in some names and perhaps specify a directory or so along the way.
FTP / sFTP Access
FTP / SFTP access is invaluable for moving large amounts of files safely. Some hosts try to get away with just the basic File Manager, but that is usually quite limited.
.htaccess File Access
The .htaccess file is also extremely powerful and can help you make site-wide administrative changes. It controls almost everything from redirects up to password authentication and management, and will be vital at some point in your future endeavors.
Unless you are signing up on a specialty web host like WP Engine and Pressidium (these focus on WordPress hosting mainly), these basic features are a must-have. You should not settle with hosting providers that do not supply them.
A good hosting company often comes with basic security measures to keep your website data secure. Providers that use malware and hack protection can offer more reliable security than those that do not implement these safety measures.
If you want visitors to feel confident that your website is safe to enter, you need to have an SSL certificate. We recommend looking for a web host that offers free SSL certificates, such as DreamHost or SiteGround.
Computers crash, equipment fails, these are the facts of life even as death and taxes are. Your site will also be vulnerable to these factors, or perhaps a hacker got into your WordPress blog and replaced your index.php file. Maybe your entire database got nuked.
If your web host does site backups regularly then there is nothing to worry about when these incidents happen. Your hosting provider should be able to restore your full site in no time at all (or at least, a big chunk of it).
On backups, here are a few key questions to ask your web host:
- Does your web host provide full backups regularly?
- Can site backup be done manually via the control panel?
- Can you create auto backups of your site easily via cron jobs or other programs?
- Can you restore your backup files by yourself easily so you don't have to wait for support staff to do it for you during a period of disaster recovery?
30 Days or More Risk-Free Trial
- Should you choose to cancel your hosting plan within the trial period, does the company provide a full money-back guarantee?
- What is the hosting company's refund policy after the trial period has ended?
- Are there any cancellation charges or extra fees?
These are some basic questions you should get the answers to before signing up.
I's important to know how your hosting provider handles customer refunds so that you don't lose too much money if things go wrong.
There are some hosting companies that charge absurdly high cancellation fees when users cancel their accounts during trial periods. Our advice? Avoid these hosting providers at all cost! On the other hand, some hosting companies provide Anytime Money-back Guarantees where you can ask for a pro-rated refund after your trial period is over (good eh?).
Tip: All features mentioned above are usually included in a good mid-ranged shared hosting plan, for example A2 Hosting (Drive Plan – $5.99/mo), Hostinger (Business Shared Hosting Plan – $4.99/mo), InMotion Hosting (Launch Plan – $4.99/mo). For those who are opting for the cheapest basic plan (which sometimes charge extra for some of these features) – do consider this and re-check on your actual monthly hosting cost.
4. Server Upgrading Options
There are different types of hosting servers available in market: Shared, VPS, dedicated, and cloud hosting.
Shared hosting is often the best choice for beginners, bloggers, and personal website owners since it's the cheapest form of web hosting, costing around $5 – $15 per month.
With shared hosting plans, you'll be sharing your server resources with other users, which means you pay less for the hosting since the cost of it is shared among other users.
A Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting is similar to shared hosting in that it shares one physical server. The difference is that you have your own server resources that's separate from other users.
A good VPS Hosting is basically a step up from shared hosting in terms of power and speed but is still cheaper than getting your own dedicated server. Depending on the CPU and memory (RAM) that you get, VPS hosting can cost anywhere between $30 to $200 per month.
Cloud Hosting combines hundreds of individual servers together to function as one giant server. The idea with cloud-based web hosting is that you can easily scale up and upgrade your server needs when necessary.
For example, if you're suddenly faced with an unusually large amount of web traffic, you don't have to worry about being shut down since the hosting company can easily accommodate the surge of traffic by adding more server resources.
The pricing for Cloud Hosting Services tend to vary as they normally use a form of a pay-for-what-you-use pricing structure.
Dedicated server hosting is when you have an entire physical server that's dedicated to your website. Not only do you have full control of your server resources, but you also don't have to worry about other websites taking up your resources and slowing your website down.
For websites that are larger and have a bigger presence, a dedicated server is generally recommended in order to handle the high amount of traffic. The cost of a dedicated server is significantly higher than shared hosting and you can expect to pay from $100 and above per month.
Tip: If you are new, just go with an affordable Shared Server Hosting.
5. Reasonable Renewal Price
Web hosting plans are usually cheapest during signup. Be aware though that these often come with a much higher renewal price, so be careful before clicking ‘buy' on that plan that is offering you a sign up price at 80% discount!
This is an industry norm.
Unless you are willing to hop between two or three web hosts every two years, there is no way to avoid pricey renewal costs.
In our host reviews , we deduct point for hosts that jack up their price more than 50% on renewal. But generally I am okay with companies that renew at below 150% price jump – meaning, if you signup a host at $5 per month, the renewal fees shouldn't go beyond $125.50 per month.
For your reference, here's the pricing for some popular shared hosting plans.
|Web Host||Cheapest Plan||Renewal Price||Free Domain?||Free Site Migration?||Site Hosted||Money Back Trial||Learn More||Order Now|
|Hostinger||$1.99/mo||$3.99/mo||No||Yes||1||30 Days||Hostinger Review||Get Hostinger|
|InterServer||$2.50/mo||$7.00/mo||No||Yes||Unlimited||30 Days||Interserver Review||Get InterServer|
|A2 Hosting||$2.99/mo||$10.99/mo||No||Yes||1||Anytime||A2Hosting Review||Get A2 Hosting|
|GreenGeeks||$2.95/mo||$10.95/mo||Yes||Yes||1||30 Days||GreenGeeks Review||Get GreenGeeks|
|TMD Hosting||$2.95/mo||$4.95/mo||Yes||Yes||1||60 Days||TMD Hosting Review||Get TMD Hosting|
|InMotion Hosting||$2.29/mo||$8.99/mo||Yes||Yes||2||90 Days||InMotion Hosting Review||Get InMotion Hosting|
|ScalaHosting||$3.95/mo||$6.95/mo||Yes||Yes||1||30 Days||ScalaHosting Review||Get ScalaHosting|
|BlueHost||$2.95/mo||$9.99/mo||Yes||Yes||1||30 Days||BlueHost Review||Get BlueHost|
|HostPapa||$2.95/mo||$9.99/mo||Yes||Yes||1||30 Days||HostPapa Review||Get HostPapa|
To avoid any unpleasant surprises, check the ToS and make sure you are okay with the renewal rates before signup.
Tip: One quick way to do this is to click on the hosting company's ToS link (usually at the bottom of homepage), press Ctrl + F, and search for keyword “renewal”.
6. User Friendly Hosting Control Panel
A user-friendly control panel with extensive functionality is very important, since it's the brain of your hosting account.
It doesn't matter if it's cPanel or Plesk or even a third-party control panel (like what Hostinger or ScalaHosting offers), as long as it is user-friendly and comes with all the necessary functions. Without an adequate control panel, you will be left at the mercy of the hosting tech support staff – even if all you need is some basic service.
I once had an account with IX Web Hosting, and although it's not a bad host â€“ multiple dedicated IPs at a very reasonable price, plus great tech support – I had to cancel my account because its custom control panel was very user-unfriendly.
7. Account Limitation
Here's a money tip that most hosting review sites will not tell you: Web Hosting Companies will pull the plug and suspend your account if you are using too much CPU power or violating the rules.
Unlimited Hosting is Limited
You might have come across the term â€œUnlimited Hostingâ€ on some of the popular web hosting providers. Unlimited hosting is a buzzword that's been used on many shared hosting providers to describe their ability to deliver unlimited storage and bandwidth.
Unfortunately, most unlimited hosting solutions are much more limited than you think.
Here's the thing, an “Unlimited Hosting” plan is only unlimited when you're using less than the server resources available to you.
Contrary to popular belief, bandwidth and storage space are not the ones that tend to be limited by companies. Instead, it's the CPU and memory that are imposed with limits.
For example, a website with 10,000 visitors per day might not be able to handle the traffic if there's a limit to the memory and CPU power, despite having enough server bandwidth.
It's not uncommon for companies to include limitations on concurrent database connection or the number of CPU cycles that an account can use, on their ToS.
It's basically similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet, in that, the hosting provider does give you access to â€œunlimitedâ€ resources but you're only going to use a reasonable amount.
The devil is in the details
While there are limits to “unlimited” plans, it is still quite high. Reading the fine print on a company's Terms of Service (ToS) will give you a clearer definition of the limits they impose for unlimited hosting services. You will be told somewhere in the terms and conditions that your account may be suspended or terminated for over-utilization of resources – they just usually won't tell you how much.
It's also fairly certain that almost ALL web hosts will not tolerate the hosting of any illegal files and/or services. So if you intend to run a website allowing people to download pirated files, you're probably out of luck for the most part.
Knowing your account limits help you understand two things:
- How generous (or stingy) your shortlisted web hosts are â€“ Should you go with this one, or another host with looser restrictions?
- How transparent your hosting company is â€“ Can you trust the words coming out from your hosting company? Honest hosting companies normally have very clear guidelines on account limitations and their terms of service.
Example: iPage TOS
For examples, here's what written in iPag's TOS – note the underlined sentences.
iPage expressly reserves the right to review every user account for excessive usage of CPU, bandwidth, disk space and other resources that may be a result of your violation of this Agreement or the Acceptable Use Policy. iPage may, in its sole discretion, terminate access to the Services, apply additional fees, or remove/delete User Content for those User accounts that are found to be in violation of iPage policies. You hereby agree that iPage shall have no liability due to any action that iPage may take, including without limitation suspension or termination of Services in connection with your violation of this section– iPage Users Agreement
8. Environmental Friendly
Having an eco-friendly website host a the primary concern for some webmasters.
According to science studies, a web server on average produces more than 630 kg of CO2 (which is a lot!) and consumes 1,000 KWh of energy annually. A green web host on the other hand, theoretically produces zero CO2. There is indeed a huge difference between a green web host and a non-eco-friendly web host.
If you care about the environment and wish to reduce the carbon footprint attributed to your company or yourself, pick a web host that runs on renewable energy (or at least, a web host that offsets its energy consumption via green certificates).
Tip: Many hosting companies employ the “green marketing strategy” a few years before but that seems to fade off nowadays. Based on my observation, Greengeeks is one of the few that's actively going green (check GreenGeeks' EPA Green Power Partner list here).
9. Subscription Period
Do not be surprised if you discover some web hosts force their customers to take up unreasonably long contracts. Lunarpages, for example, changed their pricing structure in June 2009 and lured customers to take up a 5-year hosting contract in order to enjoy the $4.95/mo deal. Lunarpages no longer offers such a deal now the case can still serve as an example.
Should you commit to long term hosting contracts? Our answer is no – Never signup with a web host for any period of more than two years running, unless they offer clear anytime money back guarantees.
Tip: Hosting companies usually give better offers when users go for longer subscription periods. The discounts are great; but I strongly recommend users not to prepay for more than 2 years. Technology develops rapidly and you might find your needs vastly different in a short space of time.
Wrapping Up: Every Website Has a Different Needs
The thing is – “Best” is always a relative term. There is never a fixed solution to one's web hosting needs.
I wouldn't recommend a free web host if you are starting out a huge e-commerce website. I definitely wouldn't recommend expensive Managed WordPress Hosting if you are running a small hobby blog.
Different websites have different needs. All you need is the right service provider to host your website.
It's not about finding the best web host in the world; rather, it's about finding the RIGHT web host for YOU.
And there, you have it – my web host shopping guide. I hope it eases your host-choosing process a little. Once you got your hosting ready, it's time to create and put your website online!