So you need a website and you’ve purchased your domain but now you have to buy this elusive thing called web hosting. But what is web hosting really? Why do you need it? How do you purchase it and from whom should you buy it? We’re here to give you the scoop and help you make the right decisions early on. We see way too many clients not giving much thought to their hosting needs, which can cause problems, unfortunately sometimes large ones, later on. So don’t make that mistake and educate yourself; understanding what options are out there and which one(s) will best fit your needs allows you to make an informed decision.
So, What Is Web Hosting?
It’s likely you understand what a domain is, or if you don’t, you’ve probably at least seen GoDaddy’s Superbowl commercials, right?
Here’s a quick refresher: domains are your website address, also known as a URL. Our business domain is http://bixamedia.com. If I were to create a personal site, it would probably be on the domain www.laurenpawell.com. Think of your domain as a P.O. Box for your business. You have an address but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a building or even a real location. Along those lines, you could compare web hosting to the commercial space you lease for your business. Essentially, you rent space to create a brick-and-mortar location for your company. However the leaser doesn’t provide furnishing nor have any input in the ongoing details of your business’ products or services. Nor do they own your business, they just provide you a place to operate.
Web hosting is similar. Essentially web hosting is the space you lease from a provider, like GoDaddy, Bluehost or Rackspace, to hold your website files. Your web hosts in no way own your website, but they do provide a place for you to put your site live on the Internet. Your website files are like the furnishings, products and services that make up your business. You create them, you own them and if you move business locations, they come along with you. The same occurs when you move web hosts. Your website files come with you. There is one exception to this: if you are using an instant website service like Squarespace or GoDaddy’s Website Builder, you in fact do not own your website and are leasing everything. We do not recommend this approach in most scenarios, but will say more on the subject later.
12 Considerations When Looking For Web Hosting
Ok, now that you have a basic idea of what web hosting is, it’s essential that you understand not all web hosting is created equal. There are many different variables involved from web host to web host and hosting package to hosting package, just like there are many different spaces to lease for your business. For example, there are buildings that are beautiful on the outside, but in reality, are covering up a ton of construction problems beneath the surface. Or conversely, you might have a building that isn’t the prettiest, but has minimal problems and runs smoothly. Similar issues occur with web hosting packages. What you need to take into consideration when looking for web hosting is largely going to depend on your specific needs. However, here are some the of bases you need to cover:
In the web-hosting world, reliability is also known as uptime. Do your research and find out how reliable your webhost is. No one has 100% uptime, but you want to get as close to it as possible. Remember when your web host goes down, your website goes down too. Don’t destroy your online presence because your website is at the whim of a poor-performing web host.
2. Bandwidth, Disk Space & Scalability
In web hosting vocabulary, web hosting is the amount of data you and your web visitors are permitted to upload and download in a month. Note, downloads does not just mean physical downloads, like an e-book, that your website visitors make from your site. It refers to how much data is required to view your website. So if your website uses 2MB of data and a website visitor looks at every single page on your site, they’ll be “downloading” 2MB of data. Make sure your web host can handle your traffic loads and has upgrade options as your traffic increases. Ask them how they deal with traffic spikes, as you’ll want to make sure that additional usage doesn’t result in a huge charge increase. Likewise, you also need to look into how much data you can store on the site, also known as “disk space” or “storage”. If you plan on having a site that needs to hold a lot of videos and images, for example like an online magazine that is updated daily, you’ll require the appropriate storage capacity. You’ll also want to be able to upgrade as your site grows, without being charged an arm and a leg. Don’t just research what your current storage usage will cost, but what you could be paying in the future if your storage requirements increase by 50%, double or even triple.
You’ll also want to look into the hosting provider’s speed, especially as traffic increases to your site. Slow response time on your site is an SEO killer and will greatly impact your search engine ranking, not to mention have a negative impact on user experience.
While discussing speed, it’s also important to discuss the difference between shared hosting and dedicated hosting. Shared hosting means your site is sharing a server with many other sites and often means a cheaper cost. However, this also means that a problem with one of those sites could be a shared problem for all sites on the server. Paying for a dedicated server (your own private server) is more expensive but you often have a higher quality web server and faster performance. If you have big traffic, then dedicated hosting is a must.
5. Technical Support
In some ways, this is the most important factor to consider. Make sure your webhost has 24/7 support and multiple ways of contacting them: phone, chat, and/or email. Also, check out their average response time. Make sure most issues are resolved within 1 day if not within hours. While it isn’t likely that you’ll need access every day and every night to tech support, that one time you do have an issue, you’ll be glad that you aren’t subject to normal 9-5 hours. Remember, your website is working for you and your business 24 hours a day; your web host should be also. Additionally, find out where your technical support phone team is located. Is this an outsourced team in India or the Philippines? Or are they local to your country? This is not to say that web hosts haven’t successfully outsourced some of their tech support, but sometimes, talking to someone local is a heck of a lot easier and can get the problem solved more quickly. (If you knew how often we talk to support teams and sat in on some of our experiences, you’d understand why I say this. Sometimes you can talk to 3 different tech support specialists from the same company and get 3 different opinions on the solution to your problem. I find this occurs less with local support teams.)
6. Site Backups
While not all web hosts offer backup options, it’s definitely a plus. You should be backing up both your site files and databases. If your webhost doesn’t offer any backup system, you need to install one yourself, no questions asked. Here at Bixa, we like using Vaultpress for WordPress sites. However, your choices are going to vary based on the language and platform your website makes use of.
7. Operating System & Language Support
Do you need a Linux or Microsoft operating system? Make sure you know before purchasing your hosting. This decision is going to be based largely on the web programming language and framework you decide to use. We suggest checking in with your web developer first to make sure you purchase the correct plan. Along the same lines, make sure there’s support for the web programming language you want to use or any language you may need in the future. Don’t lock yourself into a web-hosting provider that does not have any flexibility with regards to the programming languages they support.
8. Database Support
For your basic website this is going to be less of an issue, but if you are building something complex, you’ll need a hosting provider that supports the database that you want to use, whether is be PostsgreSQL, Oracle, SQL Server or something else.
Some hosting providers make it difficult for you to make changes to your site. You’ll want to use a web host that gives you access to the server so you can create new email accounts, access your web files via FTP, and make basic changes to your settings.
10. Email & Mail Forwarding
Custom email accounts that use your domain name should be part of your hosting package. For example, in our case, it’s important that we have emails using our domain, like firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out how many emails are included and what options there are for receiving that email. Are you only able to access through a webmail interface? Or can you integrate with Google Apps or Office 365?
11. Exit Strategy
For whatever reason, sometimes you have to change web hosts. Make sure you know what your exit options are prior to signing up with your web host. There is nothing more annoying that a web host who makes it difficult to move your domain and hosting to another provider.
12. Pricing & Add-Ons
Obviously pricing is an important factor in choosing your web host, however, we personally don’t believe it to be THE most important. Why? Paying a couple extra bucks per month for a better performing host is worth every single penny. And you’ll thank your lucky stars for all the headaches you won’t have to deal with! When your website is an integral part of your livelihood, spending a little more to ensure there is minimal downtime, optimal speed and access to all the features you need, is vital to your online success. Nonetheless, do pay attention to what is included in your monthly web-hosting package and what isn’t included. If you are skimping on price, it’s likely that for every extra feature you want (another email account, a forwarding address, a blog, a store, etc.), you’ll pay an extra fee. With hosting packages like these, you’ll quickly find that the money you thought you saved disappears very quickly.
Where To Purchase Web Hosting
The reality is that web-hosting recommendations are going to vary greatly based on your needs. We have a few suggestions below about who we like to work with and why, but we definitely encourage you to do your homework, make a list of your priorities and choose the hosting provider that best fits your specific requirements. That being said, here are a couple web hosts we recommend:
GoDaddy is a great hosting provider for most standard business websites. Their pricing is fabulous, their customer support is top-notch and their uptime is excellent (99.9%). We recommend them to many of our clients. For example, their Deluxe package, currently on sale for $4.49/month, is suitable for most clients that want a basic website (using WordPress or not), comes with:
- Unlimited storage (make sure to read the fine print here)
- Unlimited bandwith
- Free email addresses
- 24/7 technical support
They also throw in a few bonuses like coupons to Google AdWords, Bing Ad Center and Facebook Ads. In our opinion, for that price, you really cannot get a better hosting option, when launching one website. Plus, GoDaddy has a sleeker backend interface, so is a great option for users are beginners to the web-hosting world and want an easy-to-use Control Panel.
If you are looking to launch multiple basic websites under the same hosting package, then we recommend working with Bluehost. For $4.95 a month (the current special), they offer hosting that allows for unlimited domains, unlimited storage and unlimited email accounts. This means if your business has 3 different websites, they can all be hosted for only $4.95 per month.
Bluehost is on par with GoDaddy for customer support and uptime. Their backend interface is industry standard, which makes it slightly more difficult for beginners to use, but that doesn’t detract from performance. Speed tests results vary, but some say BlueHost is slightly faster than GoDaddy. Bluehost also has some great dedicated hosting packages (when you don’t want to share your server with others). They start at $149.99 per month but do have limitations on storage and bandwidth, so make sure you know what you need prior to purchasing.
Here at Bixa Media, we use Rackspace for our hosting needs. However, by no means does that indicate you should leave this article and purchase hosting from them right this second! Keep in mind that we have some pretty complex hosting requirements as we are building many websites (often quite complex and with special storage, language and scalability requirements) on a monthly basis. Rackspace specializes in cloud hosting and offers a variety of hosting options including dedicated hosting, public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud, giving their customers a ton of flexibility. Most importantly, Rackspace is known for their Fanatical Support, a great customer support service. Nonetheless, these benefits don’t come cheaply, so do your research before choosing Rackspace as your hosting provider. You’ll want to make sure the business being generated from your website outweighs your hosting costs.
Amazon Web Services
If you are building something fairly complex that requires scalability and flexibility at a reasonable cost, we recommend using Amazon Web Services. Amazon has lots of great pricing options like: • When you are stable and can predict traffic estimates with some certainty, you can reserve capacity at a low, one-time, upfront payment. • When you are less clear on your storage and bandwidth needs, you can pay for capacity by the hour with no long-term commitments or upfront payments. You can also increase or decrease your capacity based on demand, only paying for what you need. Some pretty big names trust Amazon Web Services, including the Amazon.com, Pinterest, Netflix and Expedia. If they were able to find the right custom solution with AWS, it’s likely you’ll be able to also. That being said, your average website will not require a hosting service like AWS. If at some point you do require more complex web hosting, we recommend working with a specialist to determine what plan is best for you at Amazon Web Services. All this said, AWS comes at a better cost than Rackspace, but doesn’t have the same quality of support, which is something to keep in mind.
A Quick Note On Website Builders Like Squarespace
While compound services like Squarespace and Weebly allow you to host and build your website within the same package, they aren’t pure web hosts and do require a mention in this article. Why? It’s often not clear when you are purchasing hosting from companies like these, that you are leasing your entire website, including all of your website files, from them. This means that should you ever decide that you need to go a different direction with your website, you lose everything you’ve built; all your files, all your links, everything! Long story short, this wrecks havoc on your online presence. Rankings drop, traffic drops….plus, you have to build a whole new website! Let's face it, no one wants to be in that situation.
We almost NEVER recommend working with a company like Squarespace, GoDaddy Website Builder, Wix or Weebly. If you are looking for a cheap and easy way to get your website up, which we’ll discuss more in detail in a blog post later this month, then we suggest going with WordPress and paying a low, one-time fee for a template. The only time we do recommend working with combination website builder/hosting service is if you are using a hosted shopping cart platform like Shopify or Magento. In this case, you are paying these companies to use their e-commerce framework, which would be incredibly costly to create yourself from scratch, and hosting comes included in that package. So before you jump in and sign up for “web hosting” with one of these companies, make sure you understand what you are getting, and what the consequences are if you ever switch services.
Long story short, to choose the best web host, the reality is you need to (1) educate yourself on your web hosting needs and (2) research the hosting providers that meet those requirements. There is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all or even short-winded answer to the question: “Who is the best web host for me to use?”.
While the web-hosting world may seem complex, it’s important that you be able to talk shop and understand the basics. Any web host advisor is going to give you their opinion, and it’s important to remember this is just an opinion. Opinions can be influenced by many factors that you may or may not be aware of. By knowing what questions to ask, you arm yourself with knowledge to make a more-informed decision. Because at the end of the day, who ultimately pays for the decisions, both good and bad, made for your company? Not your advisor, not your IT specialist, not your web designer, but you. So learn to walk the walk and talk the talk of web hosting in order choose the best provider and package for your website needs.