“You get what you pay for” definitely applies to website hosting. The question you need to be asking when choosing a web host is “What is it that I need to get?” If you just need a basic set of services, then one of the cheaper providers may cover your needs just fine.
Let’s break down what website hosting is and then we’ll cover some of the other services that are often also provided by a web host.
What is Website Hosting?
A website hosting service provides a powerful computer called a “web server” that stores websites and makes them accessible to users on the Internet. Every website needs some sort of host. Working backwards, when a site visitor enters your domain name into a browser (www.yoursite.com), the domain is then translated into your server IP address, and then the server sends that user your site files.
When you use a service like Weebly, the hosting is provided for you. When you set up a website using WordPress (with files downloaded from wordpress.org), you need to find your own hosting service.
Types of Website Hosting
There are 4 basic kinds of website hosting:
With shared hosting, the website sits on the same physical server as other websites and shares the same server software as these websites. This is more cost-efficient (think about having a roommate), but it may result in slower load times (you don’t know how many visitors your roommate is getting), and it introduces some security risks (you don’t know who those visitors are and if your roommate remembered to lock the door).
Price: Roughly $2 / month to $15 / month, depending on how long you sign up for and what other services are included.
With dedicated hosting, the website has its own physical server, meaning it’s free to be configured as needed with it’s own custom software too, and since it doesn’t share resources with any other websites, it loads faster. You can also add on as many security features as you’d like. The downside is that a dedicated server costs a lot more than the other options, and the owner is responsible for configuring and maintaining the server, making it a resource that only larger businesses are going to be able to afford.
Price: Roughly $100 – $300 / month.
Virtual Private Server (VPS):
A virtual private server can provide each user to customize their hosting environment as needed, while sharing the same physical resources as other users. Often this means that users can pay for extra resources like CPU as needed, when they have more traffic.
Price: Roughly $15 – $50 / month, depending on the amount of disk space needed.
Managed WordPress Hosting:
As the popularity of WordPress has grown, a new niche of website hosts targeting the needs specifically of WordPress users has emerged. It sounds like a gimmick, but there are a few benefits to working with a WordPress-specific hosting provider, chiefly among them that the servers are configured specifically to run these types of sites. The downside is that it comes at a premium price. Any managed WordPress hosting provider costs way more than any shared hosting package.
Price: Roughly $10 / month and up, depending on the amount of resources needed.
Once you have chosen the type of hosting that you need, the second most important factor is customer service. When your website isn’t working properly (and you’ve diagnosed that it’s a server issue), you do not want to be twiddling your thumbs waiting around for customer support. In order to check the speed and quality of customer support before opening account with various providers, I tried a few times to launch the Live Chat feature and to ask some general questions. I was testing the speed in which I could get a human on the line and their willingness to help me to try solve my problem. I usually asked something like an explanation of the difference between two of their packages or how I could use a particular service.
In our experience, this has been our customer service experience with web hosts so far:
Great: WP Engine (Managed WordPress hosting), SiteGround (Shared Hosting)
Satisfactory: BlueHost (Shared Hosting), Go Daddy (Shared Hosting), Dream Host (Shared Hosting), Also Networks (Shared Hosting, VPS)
Poor: 1 and 1, Host Gator, iPage
Bells and Whistles
Once you have established that the hosting providers you are considering have reliable uptime and great customer service when something does go wrong, there are other things to look out for:
- A user-friendly control panel. cPanel is the most popular provider of this dashboard of services, such as webmail setup, access to phpMyAdmin for database management, and more. It will probably be difficult for a novice website manager to assess this.
- phpMyAdmin: One way or another you need to easily access your database. Some website hosts don’t provide this.
- Email Management: You want to be able to set up email @your domain