So you’ve decided to create a website. Congratulations! Before you can begin to develop and publish, though, you have to decide what kind of web hosting you want to use.
A lot of hosting services use technical terminology that seems to go over the head of those not immersed in technology.
So, to make things a little easier for you, here’s an explanation of what web hosting is, the different hosting services available, and what’s important when investigating hosting companies.
Types of Web Hosting Services
To start, it’s important to know the hosting options available to you. Between shared hosting, virtual personal server (VPS), and dedicated hosting, there’s a lot to sort through.
Shared hosting is the cheapest but most limited option, allowing you to “rent” a specific amount of space on a server that other people also use. This is a fantastic option for those websites that are just getting off the ground and don’t expect a great deal of traffic.
Shared hosting also means you have “neighbors” using the same server’s RAM and functionality, which poses slight risk of security breaches. You have customizable features available to you, but not unlimited possibilities. Regardless, you can certainly get a website up and running in a matter of minutes and with just a few dollars a month.
Shared hosting is the most popular choice for small businesses starting out.
A virtual personal server, or a VPS, allows you the security and freedom of a dedicated server, but without the price tag.
VPS platforms still operate as a shared hosting service, but your website/account has more protection, more options, and more storage capacity than standard shared hosting plans.
Finally, a dedicated server is just that: a single server dedicated solely to your website. You have unique access to the RAM, functionality, and customization for your website.
This of course, comes with a significant price tag averaging $125/month, and therefore isn’t the best option for those sites just starting.
Dedicated hosting means you also have 24/7 customer support (generally), little to no downtime, and oftentimes in-person server security.
Once you decide which type of hosting suits your needs best, you must choose which of the many hosting companies you want to give your business to.
While there are no shortage of options, there are some things to consider when choosing a hosting service provider.
Lets look at some of the most important web hosting features.
1. Disk Space
First off, want to be sure to determine how much storage your website is going to need. As previously mentioned, the amount of allocated disk space varies by hosting type (shared, VPS, dedicated) as well as by plan. For most people, a few gigabytes of storage is plenty. However for high traffic sites you’ll certainly need more.
Be wary of hosting services promising unlimited storage, as every server, even a dedicated one has its limits. Servers are a physical piece of equipment, after all. There is no truly unlimited plan.
Cost- This is an obvious one, but one worth mentioning. While you are likely to see sites in the same range, the price jump from a shared server to a VPS and dedicated one is steep. Look at what the hosting platform is offering you for your membership and take it in stock with what you actually need and will use. You can always upgrade later, a good rule of thumb.
Knowing the capacity of your server and hosting platform is vital. Bandwidth impacts how well your site can handle influx of traffic, since bandwidth is (simply) how much data your website can use each month. Low bandwidth, low traffic support; high bandwidth, high traffic capabilities.
3. Tech Support
Even if you are a veteran website developer, this is one of the most important web hosting features. Your site may crash, the server may malfunction, or something just isn’t working quite right.
The best and most effective way to rectify these issues is to contact someone who works with the hosting company directly. It is important that your hosting support comes with access to troubleshoot and talk you through any issues.
This is especially important to consider when you are just starting your website as you are likely new to web hosting in general. A good tech support team with your membership will be an invaluable asset to keeping your site running smoothly and functioning as intended.
Common customer support channels to look for in a web host include:
- Live chat
- Phone support
- Ticketing systems
- Email support
4. Email Accounts and Features
Having email services allow you to create custom email addresses with your domain. Instead of using a standard ISP domain (like Google or Yahoo), you can have an email address branded with your website domain.
Questions to ask: Does the hosting provider include email with each hosting plan? If so, what is disk space allocation for email? How many email accounts can be created? Are accounts offered in IMAP or only POP?
5. Number of Domains (Sub and Parked included)
You will want to make sure you know how many domains your host will allow with your plan. If you see success with your first site, it is likely you will want to launch another. Rather than paying for a separate hosting plan, you can launch multiple sites under one.
Sub domains are part of a primary domain. For example, a sub domain for hostingaffinity.com could look like example.hostingaffinity.com. A sub domain appears as a completely different website and can be built as such.
Parked domains allow you to keep your purchased domain names on the same hosting plan as your live sites. If you think of a unique name for your next site, you can purchase that domain and “park” it until you are ready for development.
6. Control Panel
The most commonly used back end website access is cPanel. In the cPanel interface you are able to manage the technical aspects of your website. Here you can manage DNS, databases, setup email accounts, ftp accounts, and more.
Often times managed WordPress hosting services have a custom control panel. With managed hosting, many of the features offered in cPanel become irrelevant. Managed hosting is a good fit for those who prefer to focus less on the technical aspect of a website, and more on design and development.
7. Backup Services
Site backup is arguably one of the most important services a hosting provider can offer. If anything were to happen to your site, you want to ensure you have a recently backed up version to restore.
Check to see if your hosting plan offers free site backup. How many copies of your site will they retain? How long will each backup be retained for?
8. Backup Restore
Equally as important as the website backup itself is the restoration. Make sure that you understand what it will take for the hosting provider to restore a backed up version of your site. Oftentimes website backup restore services are free. Make sure you know your hosting companies’ policy so you don’t end up getting charged without knowing if something were to happen.
9. CMS Support and Easy Install
Understanding which CMS (content management systems) your web host supports is vital. More than 30% of all websites are now built on WordPress. Due to ease of use and requirement of little to no coding knowledge, WordPress has quickly become the go-to CMS.
Because its popularity, many hosting companies offer one-click WordPress installation. One example, Bluehost is one of the few officially recognized hosting providers by WordPress.org. 1-click WordPress install is now becoming a standard offering. Make sure to check your hosting plan before purchasing.
It is important to investigate how reliable a web hosting provider is before committing to a plan. Although this may seem like a no-brainer, the uptime of a website is one of the most important features a hosting company can offer. Be careful, oftentimes hosting providers claim to have “100% uptime!”, which may not actually be the case. Do some investigation, read some reviews and find out the experiences other users have had in regards to website uptime.
11. Free SSL
A SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate has become standard for all websites. SSL certificates allow your users to safely visit your website by encrypting data transfer between browser and host. Google has now made website security a ranking factor. This means that websites without SSL certificates are ranked lower in the search results than those with. If you don’t have a secure website, your SEO could be negatively impacted.
Luckily, many hosts are now offering a free SSL certificate with their hosting plans. Check to see if this important feature is included in the hosting package you are looking at.
12. Free CDN
A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, helps speed up your website by storing a version of it on the CDN providers servers in physical locations around the world. When someone visits your site and you are using a CDN, your site will be served to that user from the closest physical location possible.
Similar to the Free SSL certificates hosting providers are offering, a free CDN is becoming a popular add on as well. While not as important as other features, a free CDN is a nice offering that helps significantly speed up your site.
13. Website Migration
For those of you who already have an existing website, website migration may become an important feature to look out for. Many hosting companies now offer free website migration as a perk when first signing up for a hosting plan. Make sure to keep this in mind when researching a new web hosting company and plan.
14. Free Domain
Many shared web hosting plans now come with a free domain. Typically this will be the registration fee for the first year ($10-15 value). When it comes down to it, this may not be the ultimate deciding factor but it is still good to know if you can get a free domain with your new hosting plan.
Whether you are just researching a hosting provider for your first time for hundredth time, we hope you’ve found this article useful. Let us know what you think in the comments or on social media! We’d love to hear what hosting features you think are the most important when choosing a web hosting provider.