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How to Choose a Web Hosting Provider

It doesn’t matter what type of website you are building or what type of business you are running, finding the right host is like finding the most perfect human being on the planet named Earth. There is no single host that is perfect. There cannot be one. This is the reason why; you need to find a web hosting provider who is close to being perfect for your needs.

If you do proper research, you will end up finding a web hosting company that will stand by you during your blues and blacks and happily answer your burning late-night queries either through phone, chat, or email.

If you engage with a web hosting provider that’s lousy for the type of website or business you are running, you are going to end up in a mess – a cesspool of problems that will only increase your troubles with every passing moment, until you eventually decide it is time for an expensive divorce. You will lose money and you have to find some other host that will give you the promised land.

So, how to choose a web hosting provider? Here is a simple step-by-step guide (a 5-step guide) that will assist you. At the end of the guide, I will provide a set of questions and answers that you should learn carefully.

Let’s begin…

1. What Type of Hosting Do You Need? 

The first step to choosing a perfect web hosting provider is to figuring out what type of web hosting you will need for the website you have. This is the most basic question that people often fail to answer properly.

To find the answer, you need to know the different type of hosting solutions that you will get in the market today. Let’s find out the choices you have:

Shared Hosting

Shared Hosting

This is the most basic form of web hosting solution that you will find. In this format, thousands of websites will share a single server and its resources. Shared hosting often the first choice for anyone who is starting a website for a first time.

It is the least complicated of all options that you will get, and you will literally have zero control over the server. You will have to work with whatever configuration the web hosting provider is offering.

The problem with shared hosting is that when your website grows, shared hosting cannot handle the increased traffic. You have to switch to a more powerful hosting. In reality, most of the shared hosting providers will often cheat you and thousands of other customers at the same time. They will charge you way more for meager resources and under-powered servers.

There are a very few shared hosting providers who actually offer state-of-the-art hardware that can cope with moderate traffic. Still, no matter how powerful a server is, a shared hosting server will always have very limited resources to offer. If one website on that server suddenly consumes more resources, other websites will suffer.

Similarly, shared hosting is not an ideal option if you are looking for great security options. If one website on a shared server is compromised (hacked or injected with malware), it is possible that the other websites on the server will be affected very quickly. Shared hosts do not offer any technology to create a completely isolated environment for each website. Because the environment is shared everyone faces the same risk.

Finally, shared hosting providers will usually not have small-term plans. Almost always, you have to commit for a long term (minimum 12 months). This long-term commitment itself is not an ideal thing, because if your website grows rapidly, you have to choose a different host or upgrade the plan with the existing host.

Shared hosting providers usually woo customers with lots of freebies like a free website builder, a free domain with long-term plans, free advertising credits, etc.

After extensively reviewing several shared hosting companies on parameters like features offered, pricing, customer care service, etc., here are my top picks, if you really want to settle for a shared hosting provider:

Do keep in mind that Shared hosting is perfectly suitable for static website or starter blogs or websites that are not supposed to have huge traffic (such as portfolio sites).

VPS Hosting

VPS Hosting

VPS hosting will offer you more flexibility and power compared to what shared hosting will offer. A VPS or Virtual Private Server is a middle ground between a shared hosting and a dedicated hosting. To be honest, a VPS hosting is also a type of shared hosting, but the key difference is that a VPS hosting will have fewer websites hosted on a single server.

Another key difference is that in a VPS hosting, the hosting provider will use virtualization technology to create separate environments for each account holder. Each separate virtual environment will behave as a dedicated server with dedicated resources.

You will be free to use all the resources allocated to your VPS, but that isn’t going to impact the performance of other websites. VPS hosting will give you the ability to increase the server resources quickly whenever you need. However, the increase in resources will attract more cost.

A VPS hosting can be managed or unmanaged. In the case of managed VPS, you don’t have to take care of software updates and security patches. In case of unmanaged VPS, the technical drama is your burned. You have to deal with everything or hire someone to get those things done. Of course, managed VPS is more expensive than unmanaged VPS.

There shouldn’t be an iota of doubt that VPS hosting is way more powerful than shared hosting, and it is a perfect solution for those who have a growing website.

Though I have not thoroughly reviewed any VPS hosting so far, my experience with a handful of them over my years of blogging experience states that you can trust the following:

  • Liquid Web (they offer various hosting solutions including VPS).
  • InterServer
  • HostWinds

Though Liquid Web is the costliest of all, I will still recommend it over other options, because it is one of the finest options out there.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated Hosting

This is a type of hosting where you will get an entire metal server at your disposal. All resources of the server will be at your disposal and waiting to tackle large traffics whenever needed. Of course, when you are taking an entire server, you have to pay more.

You can get dedicated hosting in both managed and unmanaged variants. Of course, managed only means that the hosting provider will offer software upgrades, security patches, etc. They will not perform application installation or development for you. That you have to take care of.

Dedicated hosting comes with top-notch hardware, dedicated IP address, round-the-clock support and much more. This makes dedicated hosting a preferred destination for people or organization with resources and websites with huge traffic (several million visitors a month).

Of course, as I said, this type of hosting doesn’t come cheap. You may have to shell out a couple of hundred dollars each month to get all the luxuries and benefits that come with dedicated hosting.

Again, I have never reviewed any dedicated hosting here, but here are my preferred choices:

  • Liquid Web
  • InterServer
  • A2 Hosting

Managed WordPress Hosting

Managed WordPress Hosting

This form of hosting is on the rise as more and more managed WordPress hosting providers keep entering the arena. This form of hosting is designed to run one and only one CMS – WordPress. The servers are fine-tuned for ensuring that WordPress runs flawlessly and the resulting website is fast.

This form of hosting is actually akin to VPS hosting and comes with latest hardware and some fancy features (yet effective features) like staging site, site cloning, and more. The managed part will only ensure that the servers are safe from the security standpoint, and all server software are up-to-date.

You will usually enjoy things like free and integrated CDN, server-side caching, free SSL certificate, free human-intervened migrations, etc. Of course, you will rarely find a managed WordPress hosting provider offering a free domain.

The best part of this form of hosting is that you can scale up and down on server resources whenever needed without the need for upgrading your account. The scaling comes with extra price, but that’s much better in the sense that you don’t have to consistently pay for high-end plans. You pay extra only when there is extra traffic on your site.

Most of the managed WordPress hosting providers offer cloud-based solutions that allow for easy scaling of server resources whenever needed. It is needless to say that this form of hosting is expensive compared to shared hosting.

Some of my favorite managed WordPress hosting providers are:

As always, I prefer Liquid Web over any other provider because of their stunning support and a rare-to-find 100% uptime SLA.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is my personal favorite. It is nothing more than VPS hosting, but it is cloud-based. This allows for massive scaling of resources. Unlike VPS where most of the providers will offer you both managed and unmanaged hosting solution, cloud hosting mostly comes in unmanaged variant.

It is a DIY solution where you need to have some technical inclination. No, the technical aspects are not so dreadful that you cannot learn the basics. You can always handle cloud hosting with all the online support articles and forums you get.

It is fun to learn new things! Cloud hosting is often avoided by people thinking that they have to do everything including installing and configuring web servers. That’s no longer the case. Most cloud providers now offer one-click installation that will allow installing your favorite web application or your preferred operating system without worrying anything about configuration.

The one-click installation scripts will install and configure everything for you. Further optimization and customization are something that you need to take care of.

The best part is that you can get cloud hosting for as little as $5 a month. I use cloud hosting for all my websites powered by WordPress. I love the control I get using cloud hosting! The ability to scale up as required is something I really love.

Of course, you can get managed cloud hosting too (check Cloudways), but I will not usually recommend that.

Here are some of my favorite cloud hosting providers:

There are other hosting types available. However, they are extremely specialized. You can come across stuff like Magento hosting, Minecraft hosting, and more. If you need them, you can look up some reputed providers with ease.

2. What Type of Website Are You Building?

The next big question while selecting or choosing a web hosting provider is to understand the type of website you are planning to build. This will define the type of hosting you will need. You will also need to focus on a few more things. One of the most important things is your mental readiness to take the burden of creating the layout and the design.

If you can figure out those things, finding a web hosting provider becomes relatively easy. So, what are you building?

A Personal Blog or a Simple Business Page

If you are building a personal blog or if you are thinking of building a business page just for your online presence, you don’t need a beefed-up server. In all likelihood, your website or blog isn’t going to get huge traffic for a very long time. In fact, for your business page, you are mostly-likely not even interested in getting huge traffic.

Similarly, if you are building your portfolio site or a personal site that you want to use as your CV, you will not be expecting humongous traffic to your site. In situations like these, a simple shared hosting is enough.

Information Blog or Wiki or Something to Attract Traffic

If you are building a website that is an information blog or a wiki, or anything that will be attracting traffic over the long run, or has the potential of going viral or insanely popular, you need to think of the problems that you might face over the long run if you are going for a shared hosting.

Shared hosting providers will usually have limitation on bandwidth. Most managed WordPress hosting will also have bandwidth limitation, but they will at least allow you to scale the resources to absorb sudden spikes in traffic.

Of course, starting with a pricing VPS or dedicated hosting is never a good idea. So, you can always start with a shared hosting and later migrate to a more powerful VPS or managed WordPress hosting solution.

Generally, people start with shared hosting and later move on! I, for example, started with BigRock shared hosting some 8 years ago and later moved to VPS and then to cloud hosting.

The only thing that you need to think here is the ability to migrate easily from one form of hosting to another. For instance, if you are initially starting with Windows hosting and you later want to migrate to Linux hosting, things can become complicated.

Also, if you started with WordPress and later want to move to Joomla when your website traffic grows, you cannot do that!

In all likelihood, you are going to use WordPress for creating your website, because it powers about 38% of websites globally. Every type of hosting supports WordPress and MySQL database. So, switching hosts will not be a problem.

If your budget permits, I will suggest you should go for managed WordPress hosting or a managed VPS hosting from the beginning. If that’s not a possibility, you can always go for cloud hosting provided you don’t mind the technical side of dealing with a cloud hosting server.

e-Commerce Website

If you are building an e-commerce website, it is very natural to assume that you will opt for WordPress and WooCommerce. You may also go for OpenCart, Magento, etc. Unfortunately, these are technical things and you have to spend a lot of time creating your online store.

If you are not shy of dealing with the technical side, I will suggest you go for a managed or unmanaged e-commerce hosting platform. Such platforms are optimized for running different CMSes like Magento, OpenCart, WordPress & WooCommerce, and more.

You can easily find dedicated WooCommerce hosting and dedicated Magento hosting platforms. Of course, most of them are managed and quite expensive, but if you don’t mind spending money for building your online store, you can get platforms that are fine-tuned for your purpose.

Website Builders

People like me who love DIY stuff usually don’t bother about website builders. But don’t be fooled. These are insanely popular among those who just hate taking care of the technical aspects of website and server.

Website builders will allow you to create websites in minutes using their intuitive drag-and-drop interface and their pre-made templates. Website builders like Wix, Shopify, Squarespace, Weebly, etc. are very popular and they host millions of websites across the world.

These services offer a more integrated approach where the company provides hosting, website builder, logo maker, marketing tools, and more, depending on the plan you purchase. These are all closed-ended hosting solutions, which means that you can only use what they provide. You won’t have a choice.

However, these website builders are often quite versatile and allow creating various types of websites like blogs, online stores, photography sites, travel sites, etc.

The builders are quite powerful and allows creating mobile-friendly sites. They also offer a wide-range of pre-designed templates to work with. You can change colors, select from pre-defined layouts and play around with fonts or typography.

Most of the website builders also throw in a drag-and-drop logo maker that you can use for creating a logo for free, while maintaining the same design tone throughout.

No matter how interesting this may sound, website builders are not as powerful as professional CMSes like WordPress. They also lack the flexibility that you get with WordPress.

It is needless to say that the marketing solutions offered by website builders are limited and so are the overall features of the website builders. For instance, many of them lack robust SEO features while several others will lack things like advanced marketing tools, menu or navigation depth, ability to create unlimited pages or posts, and more.

Website builders are perfect if you are looking for creating simple website likes portfolio sites or an online resume site. Also, if you are thinking of making a basic online store, these website builders can perform well.

3. Features and Resources – Things You Need to Understand

It is not unnatural to see people opting for web hosting companies that will offer loads of features for the lowest price. That’s never the right approach. The right approach should be to look for a web hosting provider who offers the right set of tools and features that your website needs.

For example, your business may depend heavily on collecting emails. So, tons of storage might not be a great thing for you. Similarly, if you are planning of creating multiple websites, you may want a lot of bandwidth to cover all your sites. Again, if you are working on something that will work with sensitive customer day, you may want to look at the security features that the web hosting company is offering.

So, at the end of the day, a long list of features laid down using complicated lingo is not what you should be running for. You should instead look for a web hosting company that will address your particular needs.

For instance, three out of four of my sites do not rely on email marketing. They rely on content and images. So, they need a hosting solution where there is enough storage. You need to figure out what you need.

You will come across web hosts that offer near mythical plans with everything unlimited and many things free. For instance, there will be web hosting companies that will offer unlimited bandwidth, unlimited storage, unlimited email accounts, unlimited FTP account, unlimited website hosting, unlimited subdomain, and so on! They will also advertise things like free domain, free SSL, free CDN, free marketing tools, etc. This is specifically true for shared hosting!

They sound nearly mythical. Trust me, for shared hosting, nothing can be unlimited. In fact, nothing can be unlimited for any form of hosting. That unlimited clause comes with severe limitations (all written in fine prints and hidden deep in their terms and service page or somewhere on the hosting company’s website).

So, what are the things you should be looking for? Here is a quick list:

Domain Name

Domain Name

Domain name and website hosting are two completely different things. If I were to compare this setup with your home, then domain name is the address of your home while hosting is the physical home.

In website and hosting world, you can buy the domain name from one provider and keep your website files with a different provider. All it takes is pointing your domain to the right nameservers.

Many people prefer to register the domain name through the same company from whom they purchase the hosting package. This allows for easy management and quick integration of the domain name and the hosting server.

Personally, I don’t prefer doing that. Keeping the domain names and the hosting accounts separate allows me to quickly point my domains to any hosting server with relative ease. There are people who prefer to get both from the same company. That’s your personal choice.

Storage, RAM, CPU Cores

Storage, RAM, CPU Cores

Unless your website hosts a lot of high-resolution images or videos, or unless your website has something that requires terabytes of data, a simple 10 to 20 GB of storage is often more than enough.

The core website files are very small in size and they usually do not take more than a GB or two of storage space. So, you should not fall for unlimited storage thing. It is useless.

Of course, the amount of RAM you get is going to define how fast or sluggish your website gets. The more the RAM, the faster your website. However, RAM alone isn’t the only determining factor for website speed. SSD storage, latest PHP version, etc. are all responsible for collectively making your website fast.

In addition to RAM, the greater the number of CPU cores, the faster your website becomes. That’s because, the more the number of CPU core, the faster they process the requests.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth

This is a vital thing. Bandwidth also goes by the name data transfer. It refers to the amount of data that can be downloaded from your website or uploaded to your site. In a simpler language, it refers to the amount of data transfer happening between your website and the visitors of your websites.

If bandwidth is very limited, your website will become slow or even inaccessible when too many people visit your website at the same time.

Don’t fall for unlimited bandwidth as advertised by shared hosting providers. There are conditions – very stringent ones. For instance, there are shared hosting providers who will tell that you will get unlimited bandwidth as long as you are not using more than 25% of server resources for more than 90 seconds straight. This can be a terrible condition, especially if your site experiences DDoS attacks, or sudden traffic spikes or robot visits.

Emails

Email

Email marketing is a powerful tool if you are planning on expanding your website follower-base by capturing their emails. You can always use Gmail or Yahoo, but that doesn’t look professional. If your domain name is included in your email address, it looks professional.

Many hosts offer free domain-based email address with your hosting account. Check for the storage allowed for each email account. Also look for options like autoresponders, email forwarding, email filtering, etc. If you are aggressively depending on email marketing, these features will come in handy.

If your hosting provider is not offering those services, it is better you go ahead and use a third-party email hosting solution. Hosting, Namecheap, etc. are all reliable email hosting providers.

Reliability and Uptime

Reliability and Uptime

You can barely find hosting providers offering 100% uptime SLA. Liquid Web is the only hosting provider I know that offers that. The reason why you cannot get 100% uptime guarantee is that servers do require maintenance and they may become victims of natural disasters.

The common uptime guarantee that you will find is 99.9%. However, many providers manage to clock 99.98% uptime. Some don’t perform well in this segment.

If your website is down even for a minute, you will lose business and customers. Did you know that when Amazon Web Services experienced an outage of 3-4 hours in 2017, companies using their services collectively lost $150 million?

If your website frequently becomes inaccessible because of server outages, your brand reputation can take a hit, and you will lose sales opportunities and productivity.

Security and Support

Security and Support

This is essential! Of course, you should be concerned about your website’s security and take measures like strong password, spam protection, and more. However, do not forget that 40% of the websites are compromised because of the callousness of the hosting company. They don’t secure their infrastructure properly using firewalls, monitoring services, etc. Thus, you should rely on a host that guarantees server security!

Apart from that, you should not forget about the support. Technical server-side issues can show up anytime. You need to have access to customer support 24×7 to ensure continuity of your business. If the support is not good or lousy, you are going to have hard time with the host. So, ensure that you are selecting a host that has stellar customer service reputation.

4. Always Think of the Pricing

There is a saying, the more sugar you add, the sweeter your tea gets. Of course, you will be inclined to shop for low-cost hosting solutions with dozens of features, but the problem is with the infrastructure. Low-cost hosting doesn’t really cut it because of their inferior infrastructure. Even if they are offering dozens of add-on services for free or for a fraction of the market price, it still doesn’t justify the poor infrastructure.

Assuming that the infrastructure is great, there will be some catch behind that low cost. You should not forget to look into every aspect.

Most hosting providers will offer great initial sign-up discounts along with various free stuff like free domain, free SSL, free email, etc. That can be a great catch if the hosting provider is really good with solid server infrastructure and great customer support.

For instance, GreenGeeks is an amazing hosting company that offers an introductory price of $2.95 a month if you are purchasing a three-year plan. Though the renewal prices are high, GreenGeeks’ amazing infrastructure and world-class support is going to make your life comfortable.

You may think of using a free platform, but there are a few problems. Those free platforms will usually put their branding on your website on a very visible area like the footer or the header. That can be extremely distracting for your readers, and erode your brand value.

One such platform is Wix. Yes, with Wix you will get both free and paid options, but the free version will put big banners on your site.

You may also think why shared hosting providers manage to offer a lot of freebies or value-added services for a lower price. That is possible because they cram in thousands of websites in a single server and make them share the server resources. This brings down their cost of server maintenance, allowing them to offer such goodies.

5. Think of the Future

You need to think of the future. Depending on the site your building, you may need more server resources a few months down the line or a few years from now. For instance, if you are building a professional blog, it is likely to grow over time. As your traffic keeps growing, your website will require more and more server resources.

On the contrary, if you are building a personal portfolio or online resume site, your site is not going to grow! It is going to stay as is for as long as you decide to keep the website online.

So, it is essential that you select a web hosting provider accordingly. If your site is designed to grow over time, it is better you opt for a provider that will allow you to easily scale up the resources or allow easy upgrade to a better and more powerful plan.

Staying future-safe will ensure that you don’t face troubles!

Again, GreenGeeks is my top choice in this because it will not only allow you to scale up server resources as you need them, but will also allow you to quickly upgrade without the need for migrating your website to a different server.

Okay, now that the guide is complete, it is time for the FAQ section that I promised earlier. Let’s get started with that segment…

General FAQ

Will choosing a web hosting lock you in a contract?

That depends on what type of hosting you are selecting and which hosting company you are selecting. In general, shared hosting providers will require you to sign up for at least a year to get the lowest prices. Some others will ask you to register for three years or more. By doing so, you are basically getting into a contract.
Again, there are some shared hosting providers who will allow you to pay on a month-by-month basis. This will allow you the flexibility of not renewing their services if you are not satisfied. You can just migrate to some other hosting company.
Usually, those shared hosting companies who are pretty horrible will kind of force you to buy a long-term plan. Excellent shared hosting companies will allow you to pay monthly.
As far as other hosting types are concerned like VPS, cloud hosting, dedicated server, managed WordPress hosting, etc., you will get a choice of paying monthly. Some cloud hosting providers will charge you on an hourly basis or on pay-as-you-go basis.

What type of support should you expect?

Most web hosting companies will offer 24×7 chat support along with email and ticket support. Some will not offer chat support, or even if they offer that, it will be very rudimentary. There are hosting companies that will not offer chat support or phone support. You can get support only through emails or tickets and through user forums. Usually, cloud hosting companies will not offer you chat support or phone support.
Apart from chat, email, ticket, and phone support, almost every company will have a collection of knowledgebase articles that you can use for self-help.

What type of security measures can you expect?

In case of shared hosting, you will rarely find proactive security measures. They will pitch you for buying security products. You will barely find shared hosting companies that offer DDoS protection, hardware and software firewall, etc. Such firewalls and DDoS protection are usually available with some managed hosting solutions. Managed WordPress hosting providers generally offer proactive server-side security measures and even promise to clean up your site in the event of it getting hacked or infected by malware.

Will hosting providers give backup services?

Some hosting providers will offer backups for free while others will charge for it. Managed WordPress hosting always offer automatic backups free of cost. The charges are already included in the package.
In case of shared hosting, most providers will charge you extra for backups. Some will not charge for backups, but you will be responsible for taking backups and restoring them when needed. With cloud hosting, you will always have to pay for backups and snapshots.
So, you need to find out what exactly your hosting company of choice has to offer. Clarify everything at the beginning to ensure that there are no nasty surprises.

Are there any hosting restrictions?

There may be! For instance, shared hosting providers will not allow you to host large files. Some will not allow hosting pornography sites or sites that uphold violence, religious hate comments, etc. Make sure that you ask the hosting company about the restrictions. Usually, they have everything written in their terms and conditions page, but if you are still confused, don’t shy away from asking. As before, nasty surprises can be disturbing.

How much uptime is a good uptime?

I will say that it should be 99.98% or above. It is almost impossible to get 100% uptime, but yes, there are web hosting companies that will guarantee 99.9999% uptime. The more the number of nines after the decimal point, the better it is. Anything below 99.98% is not an acceptable figure.

Are SSD storages really important?

Hell yes! SSD storage is way faster than the traditional spinning drives. This is one of the factors that ensure your website loads fast. So yes, opt for a web hosting company that offers SSD storage.

Conclusion

Finding or choosing a good web hosting provider is difficult, but it is not rocket science. With some research and proper knowledge of your requirements, you can quickly narrow down on the best hosting providers for your website.

Don’t ever think that you will get a hosting provider that is perfect or has come straight out of heaven. No, there cannot be a web hosting provider that is perfect in every aspect. You need to find one that is good in almost every aspect. There will be some grey areas irrespective of which hosting provider you are choosing. That’s where you need to make a choice!