How to Choose a Web Hosting Provider
Every website needs a website host. A website host is what gives your website a place to live and makes it accessible to visitors.
There are many different options for website hosting, with a wide variety of price points and functionality. Knowing what you need, what types of website hosting are available, and what to ask a prospective web host will help you find a web hosting provider that is a good fit for your company.
The six main considerations for choosing a website hosting option are speed, security, support, scalability, price, and hosting environment type.
Users expect your website to load within 2 seconds. If it takes longer, they are very likely to leave. Google also uses page speed as a ranking factor, so slow site performance can hurt your search rankings as well as drive customers away. Although website speed is affected by several different factors, having a web hosting provider with a fast server and enough memory and processing power to accommodate lightning fast page speed is crucial for every business.
Keeping your website secure should be of the utmost importance to your web hosting company. Website hosting servers should be equipped with powerful firewalls and should be constantly monitored by the hosting company for unusual activity or unauthorized intrusions. Your web hosting company should also support SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates—an extra layer of security that encrypts the information that travels between your server and the user’s browser. SSL is becoming standard practice for all websites, and is a necessity if you sell products or accept payments on your site.
Does your company have the technological know-how and the internal resources and manpower to manage a website server, or would you rather use a web hosting company that can handle all that for you? If you want your host to provide support, make sure they offer 24/7 monitoring and support and are readily accessible in case of an outage or other problem.
Take a look at your current website traffic and content. Do you expect to need significantly more resources over time as a result of higher visitor traffic or additional content like photo or video galleries? If so, it’s better to find a web hosting provider that can accommodate that expansion rather than one you’ll soon outgrow.
Website hosting can cost as little as a few dollars a month to thousands per month, or it can even be “free.” As with everything, you get what you pay for. “Free” hosting is usually offered in exchange for the hosting company running ads on your site, or as an add-on to a larger service package. A cheap web hosting deal probably means you’ll have limited flexibility and access to resources, which could lead to performance issues. Be sure you know your web hosting requirements so you don’t end up with a “great deal” that doesn’t fit your web hosting needs.
Web Hosting Environment
Shared hosting is typically the least expensive option, though there are significant tradeoffs for the cost savings. With shared hosting, your website is hosted on a server along with other websites. You share the space and the resources with the other websites on the server, so if another website on your server experiences a big surge in visitor traffic, the performance of your site might suffer as a result—pages might be slower to load or the site could become inaccessible entirely, giving potential visitors an error message when they try to access it. In addition, shared hosting can pose security risks.
The next level up in web hosting is virtual private server (VPS) hosting, which is a simulated dedicated server running with other VPS sites on a single server. A VPS site has its own dedicated portion of a server, so the performance of each site is not affected by any traffic changes on the others and there are fewer security risks since each site is blocked off from the others. In addition to more resources, VPS hosting also gives you more control over the hosting environment.
With a dedicated server for website hosting, you have a single server running only your website—all the storage space and power are available for your website alone, and you can control how the server is used. A company with a strong IT staff may choose to have its own dedicated server on-site. In those cases, the company is solely responsible for managing the server, including dealing with problems and outages and installing and maintaining firewalls, updates, and other security.
The other option for dedicated hosting is managed dedicated hosting, where the company that owns the website rents a full dedicated server from a web hosting provider that takes care of all server maintenance and security.
Cloud hosting servers run on a giant public cloud like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure, which combines the computing power of hundreds of physical servers. Because cloud hosting is not limited to a single server, you can scale seamlessly by adding more space without needing to switch hosting providers or reconfiguring, and you only pay for the resources you use. Cloud-based hosting also maximizes your website’s uptime, because you never have to worry about a single sever going down. If one server in the cloud experiences an outage, the others pick up the slack so there is no service interruption.
Regardless of the server type you choose, be sure to ask prospective web hosting providers these 7 questions:
- Will I be locked into a contract? If so, what are the terms? Some website hosting companies are pay-as-you-go, enabling you to leave at any time. Others lock you into a contract at a low initial rate that increases significantly when it’s time to renew your agreement. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
- What type of support do you offer? If you experience a problem with your website, you need to be able to count on immediate assistance at any time of the day or night. Ask prospective web hosting companies if they offer 24/7 support, how you can access it (phone, email, live chat, support ticket), and what is the average response time.
- What type of security is included in the hosting plan? A good web hosting provider will be equipped with a powerful firewall, have the latest versions of antivirus software, and offer constant monitoring, automatic updates and patches, and malware detection and removal.
- How often do you run backups? If you ever lose data on your site, you want a hosting provider that can help you with recovery. Look for a website hosting company that offers daily secure backups and that will help you restore your site from backup files in case website files are corrupted or lost.
- What is your uptime rating? Obviously, you want your website to experience as little downtime as possible. The uptime rating or uptime score of a web hosting provider will tell you how reliable the server is. Look for an uptime rating of at least 99.5%.
- Will I be able to upgrade my hosting plan? Unless you’re sure your website traffic will stay at a consistent level, be sure to check what your options are if you eventually need a more robust web hosting plan.
- What are the hosting restrictions or limitations? Before you commit to a web hosting provider, you need to know what you’ll be able to do and what you won’t. Ask about any limits to the provider’s hosting plan, like number of domains, file transfers, resource usage, etc.