Like most things, making a decision on which web hosting company to choose can be tough. With all the companies out there each promising to have 99% uptime, unlimited resources, and knowledgeable support, there has to be a way to cut through the jargon and make an informed decision. Right?
This guide will help you make that decision by showing you how to compare apples to apples. By understanding what hosting companies mean by what they say, you’ll be able to decide which hosting company and package best suits your needs.
This is the aspect most of us will look at first when choosing a hosting provider; however, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. When you see price differences it’s helpful to remember the old maxim that we get what we pay for. Jumping on the cheapest offer you see isn’t necessarily the best idea, especially if you rely on your site to make money. Things like non-outsourced support and quality hardware cost money, and a hosting company that charges $1.99 per month likely won’t offer these features. Take a closer look at the features that each host provides, and THEN compare prices.
- HostMonk – A site with comprehensive list of hosting companies and their packages. Use this site to compare prices of almost any web hosting companies’ hosting packages.
- WHReviews – Reliable web hosting shopping guide.
2. Area of Focus / Specialties
It’s a fact that not all web hosts are right for all different kinds of customers. Some offer great shared plans but don’t have solutions that are good for growing businesses, while others have great enterprise solutions but aren’t the right fit for someone with a small recipe blog. Look into a company’s specialty or area of expertise before you buy, and go with one that understands your particular needs as a customer. You can find reviews and recommendations on the Web, and many of these will talk about a particular company’s strengths and weaknesses.
3. Tech Specs / Limitations
Take a good, honest look at your site and figure out what you want it to do. If you’re hoping to host a blog, an e-commerce site, rich content, and videos, then you shouldn’t go with the cheapest hosting package you can find. A cheap hosting plan probably won’t have the RAM, processing power, and disk space to serve all these needs, and you’ll spend more time dealing with downtime or load issues than you would like.
Look to see what you are getting with the cheap host and what features are included in the cost. Do they charge for additional domains, support, backups, etc.. Call them. Ask questions. Tell them what you envision your site’s needs to be. Just don’t take it for granted that they take your site as seriously as you do.
4. Tech Support
In most people’s opinions, this is the big one. When my site, for some unknown reason, goes down, can I call up and get a real, live person on the phone? And, more than that, can they find out what’s wrong and fix it, or at least tell me what I need to do to get my site back online?
Before going with a host look into their reputation for customer support. See what kinds of different ways you can contact them when you need support – email, toll-free phone, chat, and so on. Are they staffed 24/7? Do they outsource support?
You’ll find that, like in price and technical specifications, all hosts are not equal. Some hang their hat on their support crew, and some view customer support as an afterthought. Steer clear of the latter.
5. Features / Add-Ons
This area of consideration comes down to the following question – What makes this hosting company special? What extra incentive do they provide to make hosting your site with them just a touch more attractive? Whether it’s multiple data centers, energy-saving practices, or additional features such as regular data backups or free domain privacy, hosting companies often offer more than just servers. If you see one that offers something you need or find important, that can be a good indicator that you should look into using that company.
You might have to do a bit of reading (or question-asking) to get to the bottom of this one. What kind of machines does your hosting company use? Are they top-of-the-line, out-of-the-box new machines, or are they cobbled together from what might be spare parts and chicken wire?
If the hosting company doesn’t say what kind of servers they use, you’ll want to ask, since hardware can affect the performance of both their servers and your site.
7. Customer Reviews / Satisfaction / Reputation
This is one of those factors that you’ll have to get a little creative to get the real story on. Do a Google Blog search for a particular hosting company, or look them up on Twitter – whatever you have to do to see what their current (or former) customers are saying about them. Are they easy to contact for support? What’s the average time it takes to respond to a ticket? When they find a problem with a site, what’s their course of action?
This is one of the great things about social media – ask a question about a company, and you’re more likely than not to get a few answers.
- LifeHacker readers’ favourite web hosting (list)
- Web Hosting Talk – one of the largest web hosting community on the net.
- Web Hosting Jury – reviews submitted by users themselves.
8. Email Features
This is one of those areas where you might not have considered asking your host for help. If you have a spam problem, then it may be because your hosting company doesn’t provide an adequate solution to stop it. Look into or ask about your provider’s spam solutions and general email practices. No matter what they say, email isn’t dead quite yet.
9. Control Panel / User Interface
Even if you’re the least tech-savvy person in the world, there are some things – installing WordPress, setting up email, setting up FTP accounts – you should be able to do without calling your hosting company’s support line. Does your provider use cPanel or Plesk to make updates and modifications easier, or do they use some clunky interface that no one can figure out? You’ll most likely be the one working with it, so if you can’t figure it out, then that’s going to be a problem.
10. Scalability / Room to Grow
Finally, an important thing to consider about your hosting provider (and the plan you choose) is whether or not they fit into your plans for the future. In other words, what you consider adequate hosting now might not meet your needs two years from now, once you start selling your wares online and getting some good traffic to your site.
Any web-based enterprise should have its eye on growth, so if a hosting company might have difficulty accommodating that growth it could pose an issue. Does the host have VPS or Dedicated Server solutions? Will they be able to easily upgrade your account? Transferring from one host to another takes valuable time and effort which could be avoided if the company can scale their solutions for growth. As with all these factors, do some research, get some opinions, and make an informed decision.
Last but not least, we’d also like to share with you some useful resources that might be handy when it comes to web hosting.
- Ruby on Rails Hosting – A comparison of services that provide ROR hosting.
- Understand Cloud Hosting – "Cloud Hosting" has been quite a buzz these days, but do you know what it means?
- 10 Solutions For Your Cloud Hosting Needs – Sitepoint and their fair share on cloud hosting needs.
- Who Is Hosting This – Find out who is hosting which website
Editor’s note: This post is written by Blue Derkin for Hongkiat.com. Blue is a project and social-media lead at InMotion Hosting in Marina del Rey, California. He also writes as Web Hosting Help Guy, InMotion Hosting’s blog dedicated to all things related to design, development, and web hosting.