Choosing a web hosting company is almost like choosing a spouse because you rarely switch after you spent a lot of time and energy getting your website up and running.
Even if your website traffic grows, a business will likely just upgrade to the next level of hosting with the same provider.
And yet most people don’t take the time to understand the factors that can affect not only their choice of a web host provider but the things that could negatively affect their website and user experience because of the host they chose.
But really the problem is this…those that do try to find quality information about choosing a web host often run into a lot of websites that simply give “Top 10” lists of providers.
And these lists all have affiliate links to the providers and are generally ordered from the highest commission payout to the lowest. So no matter which host you choose the website will make some sort of commission.
Some will even have “ratings” which are not likely made up, or they had their friends and family leave a bunch of reviews. These websites are of little value and some of them don’t even use the web hosting they “recommend.”
What’s even shadier is that there are hosting companies that own websites that “compare” their hosting to their competition. And surprise surprise, their hosting is always better.
It’s time to stop falling for all that mumbo jumbo.
When you finish reading this article, you’ll be armed with the information you need to make an informed decision about the hosting company you choose to go with.
This is the same criteria I used in making my choice and actually helped me make the decision to switch my hosting provider.
I will share with you the provider I’m using for my websites but that comes after I walk you through the criteria because it’s more important to me that you can use this information to come to your own conclusion.
So let’s get started…
If you’re reading this, you’re likely a beginner to this whole web hosting and online business industry and therefore don’t know a lot of the lingo or technical terms associated with having a website.
This is why customer support is so important. Something is bound to go wrong at one time or another.
You might install a plugin that breaks your website, you might try to do something that logically would work in your mind but it causes you to bring your website down.
Now, I’m a pretty technical person and I know enough to be dangerous. And that dangerous part has gotten me to where I did something to break my site (a couple of times).
So, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a hosting company with excellent support.
Since you are using your website for your business, it’s likely you’ll be making sales, collecting leads, or doing other things that eventually lead to generating revenue.
There’s nothing worse than having your website go down and then waiting for hours before getting a response from a support person to deal with your issue.
In this case, time literally is money. So make sure you choose a company that has great customer support.
Stay away from EIG-owned hosting companies
You can take a look at this Wikipedia page which shows a list of all the different companies they own…it’s shocking.
Endurance International Group (EIG) has a horrible reputation for their support and service.
You can even do a Google search and find horror stories about dealing with the companies they own.
It’s just best to stay away from them.
A great way to get a feel for a hosting company’s tech support is to check social media platforms like Facebook & Twitter.
You know that real people will be posting their experiences with the support staff and services.
If you find a lot of positive posts and feedback, you know it’s a good company. People are more likely to post when things go wrong compared to taking the time to provide positive feedback when everything is working.
You could also test out their support by sending a couple of questions about their service and/or setup process just to see how long it takes them to respond and the thoroughness of their answer.
If what you experience as a potential customer isn’t all that great, then it won’t be any better if you become their customer.
Types of Hosting
If you are just starting out with your business or if you don’t have a lot of traffic already going to your website, then you want to stick with shared hosting for now unless there are technical reasons for you to use another type of hosting.
Shared hosting basically allows the hosting provider to put hundreds of websites onto one server where they all share the server’s resources.
Running and maintaining a server is expensive and by having a bunch of websites on one server the hosting provider is able to divide that cost among all the accounts. And they can limit the available resources for each account to prevent one account from hogging them all.
Shared hosting usually comes in tiers where the cheapest (starter) tier gives you the least amount of features and performance, but it’s cheap for those that don’t have much of a budget to start out.
As you move up to higher tiers, the price increases but more server resources are given to your account. You will see greatly increased speed & performance because you are sharing the server’s resources with fewer websites.
After the shared hosting tiers, you move into the VPS (virtual private servers), semi-dedicated servers and cloud hosting.
There are differences between these, but you really wouldn’t need to worry about this level unless you are doing A LOT of resource-intensive things on your website or get hundreds of thousands of visitors per month.
Then after that tier is the dedicated server, where your account is the only one on the server and all its resources are yours. But again most business, especially if you’re just starting out, only need the shared hosting.
I’ll go over what to look for later so you can get the best value for your money, but first…
Decide the Main Purpose of Your Website
If you want to have an e-commerce store, then you would need to decide if you want to go the hosted or self-hosted route.
Hosted is where the hosting and your store is all in a packaged solution; you simply pay a monthly fee to a company like Shopify or BigCommerce.
It’s basically an all-in-one package. They handle all the technical stuff, security, and software updates.
If that’s what you want, then there’s no need for you to read this article to get your own hosting. Those companies own and maintain the servers your store will be running on.
Or you can go the self-hosted route with using software solutions like WooCommerce, osCommerce, Magento, and others.
You will need your own hosting for this because the software will be installed on your account, and you will need to handle all the software updates and security measures. But it’s cheaper.
The pros, cons, and differences between these are beyond the scope of this article but if you want an e-commerce store, one of these two routes is where you should start.
You’ll need to think about what tools will you need.
If you have a web developer building your website using ASP.net and Microsoft SQL database, then you need to make sure you purchase hosting that uses Windows servers and not Linux.
A simple chat with your developer will get you going in the right direction. And he might actually have some web hosting recommendations for you, but beware as they could also be affiliates and receive a commission.
There’s nothing wrong with receiving a commission, but if it’s keeping them from offering you the best options for your business that’s unethical.
Lastly, you need to decide the website building platform you are going to use if a web developer is not doing a custom solution for you.
Like the e-commerce paths mentioned above, there are hosted and self-hosted solutions for website building.
Hosted solutions are Wix, SquareSpace, and other website building companies like them. The hosting and software are all packaged together for a monthly fee, but some offer either a free trial or a free plan that gives you limited features.
Again, hosted solution providers own all their servers for hosting and handle all the software updates, it’s included in the monthly fee, so you don’t need to purchase your own and you use their proprietary software to build your website.
What I recommend to do is go the self-hosted route and use WordPress.
WordPress is used by more than 25% of the websites on the internet (that’s a HUGE number), it’s free, open source, and has a lot of support. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon…I can’t really say that about the other solutions.
Since WordPress is self-hosted, you will need to purchase your own hosting and when it’s installed you are responsible for updating the software and plugins (which is literally a click of a button).
If you’re interested in seeing the process of installing a WordPress website on a brand new hosting account, watch this video:
So now let’s talk about the most important metric when choosing a hosting provider.
A study by Akamai shows that you could lose 40% of your visitors if your website doesn’t load in under 3 seconds.
People don’t like to wait.
And because of this, Google likes to have fast loading websites on their search results page because it enhances user experience.
Now, whether or not having a slow loading website will negatively affect your website’s rankings is up for debate, but I don’t doubt that it’s one of the 200 factors Google uses when determining rankings.
Either way, it’s safe to say that whatever produces a better user experience is what Google wants and your hosting provider plays a big part in determining how long a person has to wait for your website to load.
If you’re building a race car, you want to make sure you start by using a lightweight frame. Otherwise, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage because you have unnecessary weight from the outset. It doesn’t matter how light the other components of the car are.
So think of the race car frame like your hosting provider. Pick one that provides you with fast features and all the other optimizations you do afterward will benefit.
Here are some things you want to look for with shared hosting plans to make sure you can deliver your web page as fast a possible.
You want to look for plans that have servers that use SSD (solid state drive) storage.
These hard drives are able to access information multiple times faster than normal storage drives for faster performance and are more reliable.
This is the latest and greatest protocol, you can think of it like HTTP 2.0.
It’s the future of web browsing and allows websites to be loaded much faster for people that are using HTTP/2 supported web browsers.
I won’t get into the technical aspects of how this happens, but there are three things that need to be in place for your website visitor to experience a benefit:
- Your web hosting provider needs to have this feature on their servers. This is a feature they should have listed.
- The website visitor needs to have an HTTP/2 enabled web browser. But as long as people keep their browsers updated almost everyone that visits your website will have this feature enabled.
- SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate is a requirement for HTTP/2. I talk about these later on
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Another thing you should look for is to see if they offer some type of free or discounted CDN service.
What this service does is keep your website content on machines located all over the world, this is called caching.
So when someone visits your website that is located far away from your hosting data center, your cached page can be delivered to them faster from a closer machine in the network rather than from the main data center.
Even though we’re talking about data going over electric wires, distance still plays a factor. Closer is better…and faster.
If you know what platform you are going to use, then you want to choose a provider that has servers optimized specifically for that platform.
For example, I recommend the WordPress platform, so you would want to choose a provider that has servers optimized for WordPress.
An increase in speed was one of the things I noticed immediately when I switched from my old hosting provider.
They had servers configured for general shared web hosting whereas the provider I’m with now that has their servers optimized specifically for WordPress.
Some hosting companies will have “WordPress Hosting” plans but I find that it’s better to just go with a hosting company that completely specializes in WordPress hosting.
This way you know all of their servers are optimized for WordPress and they’re not just slapping “WordPress Hosting” onto their general hosting servers to gain more customers.
Not many people will tell you to look for this, but you should.
This is open-source software for servers that helps speed up the loading of static content on websites.
It does other technical things on the server as well to help optimize its speed performance, but we won’t get into that.
This is something that should also be listed as a feature the hosting company uses on all the servers (not just those servers used for pricier, higher tier plans like cloud hosting or dedicated hosting).
This is the latest update in the PHP programming code and offers great speed benefits.
As mentioned above, if you are using WordPress for your website, it is built using PHP code, so everything will run much faster and smoother if the hosting provider has this version of PHP running on their servers.
Data Center Location
While a CDN will help with delivering content faster to people who are far from your web host’s data center, it can only deliver static content that doesn’t change from person to person. All other content will need to come from your host’s data center.
Some hosting providers have a handful of data centers around the world and allow you to choose which one you want your website hosted.
For instance, even though I’m in the USA, if I have a website that caters to people in Japan or China, then it would be better for me to have my website hosted in a data center in Asia rather than the USA.
So you’ll want to choose a web host that has a data center close to where most of your visitors are located.
Don’t fall for those hosting companies that say they have 100% uptime.
There’s no way they can guarantee that NOTHING will ever bring their servers down. And they usually have something in their terms of service saying that 100% doesn’t include downtime for server maintenance, etc.
The standard is 99% uptime, so don’t use anyone that has a number less than this.
Preferably, you should look for a web host that has 99.99% uptime, it’s a more honest number.
This means that their servers rarely go down and that they have systems in place (backups, etc.) to handle server issues so you don’t lose website connection for very long.
This area is where people get taken advantage of the most because they don’t know the technical jargon and have no idea what they are actually purchasing.
I’m going to try and simplify this and tell you about some things to watch out for and the double meanings some hosting companies use to confuse you.
Unlimited is limited
Beware of plans that say they give you “unlimited” features such as storage and bandwidth.
There is no possible way a server with hundreds (even thousands!) of accounts on it can support each of them having unlimited resources.
What these companies are doing is overselling. They know that the average website is not going to use that much space and bandwidth. And for those that do, they’ll usually have something hidden in their terms of service to suspend or limit your hosting account for “abuse” if you go over a certain percentage of available resources.
These providers tend to cram a bunch of accounts on one server causing slow performance and frequent downtime.
Plus, these types of plans tend to attract the wrong type of clientèle, such as those that want to do malicious things that can get the entire server (and all the accounts on them) blacklisted.
A lot of the well known, brand name, hosting providers offer unlimited plans, so let this be a huge red flag for you to stay away from them.
If you can’t get hard numbers to the available resources from a hosting provider, then you’ll be in for an unpleasant surprise later.
If you only have one website, 10-20GB of space should be plenty. Your actual website files won’t take up a lot of space, it’s generally the multimedia files that are extremely large.
If this is the case, such as, you have large images, high definition videos, or large audio files, space could be an issue, but you can utilize other websites to store these large files so they won’t take up your server’s storage space.
Sites like YouTube and SoundCloud are basically multimedia storage websites and you can embed their player into your website.
This way if your website gets a lot of traffic, your server’s performance won’t suffer because these files will be pulled from the other websites and using their resources, not yours.
Another technical thing to look for is to see if you can have more than one website on your account.
A lot of the starter hosting tiers only allow for one website, meaning you can only have one top-level domain name (like example.com).
So if you want to have a business website and a personal blog, or another business website, then you need to make sure you purchase a hosting plan that allows for multiple websites.
You should also be able to find a plan that offers free SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt.
This easily saves you at least $30/year because you won’t have to buy that separately.
Google made a push back in 2017 to encourage websites to be more secure by having their Chrome browser display warnings on sites that were not displayed securely.
You can find arguments as to whether or not this will affect your website’s ranking but if having an unsecured website connection is a bad user experience, then I recommend you get it secured.
The secured certificate from Let’s Encrypt is basic but it’s enough for the majority of websites out there that are simply collecting email addresses or have login pages for member areas.
If you want to run an e-commerce store, then you should invest in a higher level SSL certificate that offers insurance protection. You can get these from your hosting provider and you’ll also want to make sure your hosting plan has PCI compliant servers which offer protection for customers entering credit card information.
Software Installation & Transfers
In wrapping up the technical criteria, having 1-click installs of popular software platforms like WordPress and free website transfers are a plus.
As I said before, WordPress is the most popular website platform, so if you are not a technical person, being able to fill in some basic information and clicking the mouse once to install your website is pretty important.
And if you currently have a website with another hosting company, a free website transfer will keep you from having to deal with all the technical hassles of moving your website from one host to another.
Before I get into this, I want to explain something…
While the cost of hosting does play a factor, it’s probably the least important thing to consider, which is why I’m covering it last.
All the criteria outlined above are things that can have a major impact on the amount of revenue your online business will generate.
And if you are building a real business, hosting costs will only be a small fraction of your overall revenue.
For example, let’s say your website gets 10,000 visits a month and only 2% of them convert and become customers.
And let’s say you only make $10 profit for each customer.
That’s 10,000 visits at 2% conversion which gives you 200 customers, and $10 profit per customer gives your business $2,000 profit per month.
You can get really good shared hosting that can handle 10,000 visits per month for less than $10/month. So in this case, your hosting would only be half of 1 percent (0.05%) of your total profit!!
Going for the lowest cost hosting provider means that you will sacrifice something. It could be server speed, support, or something else where they are cutting corners in order to give you a lower price.
Whatever it is, it will ALWAYS cost you more in lost revenue compared to the price difference in better hosting.
OK, I’m coming down off my soapbox now 🙂
Avoid New Companies
You should avoid new hosting companies and only consider those that have been around for awhile with a long track record of service.
Just about anyone can put up a web hosting site, but they won’t have the support staff to handle server issues when they arise. And as I mentioned earlier, good support is a critical thing to have.
Know The Actual Cost
Many providers will have introductory pricing for new accounts where you pay the advertised price for your initial purchase only. These prices could be anywhere from 50-75% off their regular price.
Make sure to look at how much the regular (renewal) price is and decide if you are comfortable with paying that price.
Also, some providers will have term pricing. An example of this is when you see prices that say “starting at…” or “as low as…”
This means that if you want to get their “as low as” price, then you’ll probably have to pay for 3 years of hosting up front. Then after that, it increases to the regular (renewal) price.
Cancellations & Refunds
Lastly, before signing up for any hosting, make sure you read over their cancellation and refund policy. You may change your mind or circumstances may arise where you need to cancel the service.
If you read their policy, you will know if you can get a full refund, partial refund, or no refund at all after a certain time period has passed.
So we’ve gone through the criteria I use to choose a hosting provider but if you’re still not sure which one to go with, then here’s my recommendation…
I use SiteGround.
Their customer support is outstanding and as you can see they respond to their support tickets in about 10 minutes, which is the fastest in the industry.
If you need help sooner than that, you can chat live or give them a call for an instant response.
And when you take a look at their blog, you’ll see that they actually highlight customer service reps showing that they really put a high value on service.
You can do a search on social media and see the things people are saying about them but they did a survey of their customers and found that they have a 97% satisfaction rate, which is up from 96% the year before.
Nobody’s perfect 🙂
But they are also recommended by WordPress, Joomla & Drupal, which are the top three content management platforms.
When it comes to speed, as I mentioned before, I noticed an improvement when I switched from my previous hosting provider.
And this is because SiteGround’s servers are optimized for WordPress, and use things like SSD storage drives, HTTP/2 enabled servers, and also give you a free Cloudflare CDN account.
So from my research of the different hosting companies, I found SiteGround to give the most value for my money, which is why I switched to them.
So now you should be armed with all the information you need to choose a hosting company wisely which will have the features you need for the website you want to have.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or if something wasn’t clear. I’d love to help you.