Your Website Needs a Home
The basic facts: to have a website, you need a place for that site to live – a server. The server that your site is on is called the “host.”
Choosing a website host can be daunting task if you’re unfamiliar with the process. There are plenty of options, so how do you know which one is right for you?
Many sites are hosted by national companies, like MediaTemple, GoDaddy or Rackspace, to name a few. Alternatively, if you have the expertise, you can opt to host internally at your company.
Hopefully, after reading this post, you’ll be able to navigate choosing a host with a little more understanding of what they offer and what you actually need.
Pro tip: You may want to choose a host that is also a domain name registrar, so you can pay one vendor every year for your domain and host, instead of having to keep up with separate logins and fees.
I’ll start with one of the biggest reasons people end up picking a host: price. Hosting can run anywhere between $250 and $700 per year.
While there are a lot of cheap and easy hosting plans out there, you might want to remember the old adage of “pick any two: fast, cheap, and reliable.” That’s not to say you’ll need to spend a lot for a good host, but you may want to be wary of very low cost hosting packages.
Many of the less expensive hosting packages are shared hosting. Shared hosting puts you on a server with other customers, meaning your resources are shared. This is fine until a site starts to hog resources and slow down your site.
The other, more reliable plan is dedicated hosting. With dedicated hosting, you’re on your own server with your own resources and access to configure a number of settings to best fit your needs.
If you have a small, straight-forward website, starting small with shared hosting may be the solution for you. It allows you to get a site up with minimal cost. And you can always upgrade your plan to dedicated hosting, if it becomes necessary.
There’s also an in-between step called VPS (virtual private server) hosting. It allows for many (but not all) of the same features of dedicated hosting at a lower price point. This is most often what I recommend to clients.
Main takeaway: Shared hosting is okay for small sites. Dedicated for large. VPS for most.
Reliability & Support
Next, let’s talk reliability and support.
Security is a big factor to look at when determining how reliable a web host is. You want to be protected against things like malware. Search the web to make sure there haven’t been any breaches or issues with the hosts you’re looking into.
Next, access the hosts’ uptime. This is how long you should expect your website to be working and available. Look for 99% or more uptime. There should be minimal downtime for updates or technical issues.
A good web host should also be known for good customer support. You should be able to easily get in touch with your host around the clock in a number of different ways. Personally, I’m a fan of live chats because of the speedy response times and ability to send error messages directly to the support agents in real time.
Keep in mind, a small host may not have the staff to be able to respond to your technical support questions very quickly. They may also not have as large of a knowledge base to search through to find the answers to the problems you’re having. This results in an even longer time to resolution.
Main takeaway: An unreliable host with bad support means less people able to access your site and a longer wait to get it fixed.
Before you buy, check what features are available on your server. This can be very important if your web developer has given you a set of requirements your server needs to meet. This will be the case if your site includes a content management system. Trying to navigate some of these features is one instance where having that helpful customer support comes in.
It’s important to check that many of the features you expect are available without extra cost. Automatic backups and security scanning tools should be available out of the box. Many modern hosts offer SSD (Solid State Drives) hosting. This means faster load speed times, but usually lower storage space and higher price. Assess which factors are going to be most important to you.
Depending on the size of your site, it’s also important to check the amount of bandwidth and storage available with each plan. Going over your bandwidth quota could result in a much higher-than-expected monthly bill!
Main takeaway: Make sure you get the features you need without paying more.
When shopping around, make sure you check out the price, reliability, support and features of the various hosting companies. If your website has to have a home, you want it to be nice, right?