*Update May 15, 2012: This post was first published in 2009 but recently verified to ensure that all info are up to date and practical.
Web host shopping can be a tedious job especially if you are doing it for the first time and don’t know what to look for.
To help you get started, here are ten things to look into when you are considering a web host.
1. Knowing your hosting needs
You can never get the right web host without knowing what you need.
What kind of website are you building? Do you need Windows application? Do you need an older (or newer) PHP version? Is RubyOnRails a must for your web apps? Do you need multiple databases for your website? Do you need cart software for your website? Are you planning to start a WordPress blog with your web host? How big (or small) can the web traffic volume go?
These are some of the basic questions to be answered. Have a plan with your website and try figure out what will happens next for the next 12 months.
Do yourself a favour – forget about top 10 hosting list and all the best web hosting awards in this early stage. You need a web hosting that’s best for you;. What’s right for others might not be the best for you. Trust me; you don’t want to go with the best Linux hosting in the world when all you need is a Windows hosting that support ASP application.
The list of your hosting needs is your ultimate guide to your web host shopping (so make one now if you don’t have any).
2. User reviews
You should have a shortlist of reputable web host when you get step 1 done. Now it’s time to crunch in some user reviews. Go search for trustworthy reviews by real hosting users and read them as much as you can.
User review is important as it tells you the real picture behind the web host. There’s no need to freak out for one or two negative comments; but if you are seeing three full pages of Google results condemning a web host, then you know something is just not right.
3. Web server reliability
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.
4. Future growth potential with the web host
I knew it’s hard to estimate but if you are planning big for your website, you better look for a web host that allow you to grow. By saying the word growth, I meant upgrading your web host – from shared hosting to VPS to dedicated server – more processing power, memory capacity, disk storage, and better security features.
For example, FatCow and iPage are two of my top rated hosting services; but I wouldn’t recommend them to you if you are planning to launch a gigantic e-commerce website. This is because although these web hosts are great, they only provide shared hosting and you’ll need to switch host (which will cause quite some hassles, especially if you are running a huge database with heavy web traffics!) if you wish to upgrade to dedicated server in the future.
5. Technical support
I do think that the importance of the technical support department is often over-valued (as I don’t contact them that much personally). However to be safe, it’s always recommended to stick with web host providers that provide excellent technical support.
One good way to test the support is by asking technical; (but not presale) questions. Ask about inodes usage, SSH access, server technical specifications – just to test if the support staff is knowledgeable.
Price is always an issue. Some want it cheap, some want it reasonable, and some don’t mind paying extra. The best thing to do is always go with a web host that is suitable for you and in the same time, affordable. Don’t go with cheap hosting just because it’s cheap. Sometimes cheap just isn’t the best (and good things don’t come cheap that often).
Web host charging more than others are sometimes doing it for a good reason – maybe it’s about their no-overselling policy, or higher server specs, or better customer services. Take InMotion Hosting for example, the hosting provider looks relative expensive when compare to other hosting services but they are offering premium class hosting with loads of advance features that you can’t get else where.
Anyway in case you are looking for the cheapest hosting, read this summary about cheap unlimited hosting services.
7. Commitment period
Do not be surprise to discover some web hosts force their customers to take up long period of commitment contract. Lunarpages, for example, changed their pricing structure recently and customers can only enjoy the low rates hosting by taking up a 5-year hosting plan.
So here’s another money issue besides pricing: Can you afford to pay long term hosting fees in advance? Would you be comfortable commit to a web host for long term? My suggestion to you is never signup web host with more than 2 years upfront unless they provide clear pro-rated refund policy after the trial period.
8. E-mail features
Most (but not all) web hosts support POP3 e-mail features along with auto responder, mail forwarding, and webmail access.
If any one of these features is important to your daily website operations, be very sure that your shortlisted hosting service has them.
9. Capacity for addon domain
Are you planning to host multiple domain names on a same hosting account? The smart way to host multiple websites is go with web host that allows unlimited addon domain – save you both money and time.
10. Backup policy
Last but not least, check with the web host’s backup policy before purchase. Not all web hosts provide daily backup services and even if they do, they might not keep the backup data for a long period. This is the time to test the technical support – ask about their backup policy (questions like how often they do backup, do they stop backup after your account goes more than certain inodes usage, what backupmethod they are using… etc).
My Personal Web Hosting Recommendation
After years of testing and writing hosting reviews, I have a few ‘standard names’ to mention whenever I’m asked for suggestion. Different website owners will have different hosting needs, but in general:
- For newbies and budget finder, I recommend iPage and WebHostingHub.
- For those who want traditional web host with extra-reliable server and great room to expand, my #1 suggestion will be Hostgator (my Hostgator review here, visit online: http://www.hostgator.com).
- And for tree-huggers, it has to be GreenGeeks – 300% eco friendly (my GreenGeeks review here, and to visit: http://www.greengeeks.com).
- Last but not least, people always ask which hosting I am using for WHSR, well the answer is WP Engine – expensive but extremely fast and reliable (my WP Engine review here, visit online: http://www.wpengine.com).
Well just in case you wish to read more similar guide like this, here are a few pointers: 20 questions to ask before you signup on a web host, 17 Tips To Be A Smarter Web Hosting Shoppers, What to Look for in a Good Web Host, as well as Checklist to Go Through Before Getting A Web Host.