This is a guest post from Tim Wilson at HostPapa.
Web hosting is essential for anyone who wants to build their own website, and there are many providers that offer hosting services.
Some provide a quality service – others, not so much. And, unfortunately, some companies blatantly cheat or mislead customers.
This being the case, there are some important factors you should keep in mind when researching and buying web hosting services.
Free or Paid?
The first decision you need to make is whether to go with free or paid hosting.
If you want to present a professional image to your customers, a free package is most likely not the right option. Free services tend to offer limited features for creating and managing your website, which will have an impact on how it will look and run.
If you use a free service, you may also be obliged to run advertising for the company or its affiliates. Beware of what could end up on your website!
If you decide you're willing to pay for web hosting, it’s time to consider which specific provider to go with. Here are some of the main points to consider:
- Support offered
- After-sale support
- Customer reviews
- Money-back guarantee and service guarantees
- Features and hosting packages
Make notes about all of those points as you consider different hosting options - you’ll probably be able to eliminate a few quite quickly!
All of those bullet points will help you assess whether the company you are considering is reputable, will provide the service you require and will add value to your business.
Components of hosting packages
You will also need to decide what type of hosting package your business needs and there are often several choices. Here are some of the key components:
The space you will need for a website is easy to assess. Windows users can go to Windows Explorer, right-click on the folder that contains your website folders and files, and select Properties. That will show you how much space your files will require on the server.
Once your website is up and running, you'll be able to look in your control panel for your up-to-date disk space usage statistics.
Many hosting providers claim to provide unlimited disk space but, in most cases, this is not actually true. And some companies have been known to close accounts for excess space usage.
Be sure to read the fine print in the terms and conditions to understand the limitations of your hosting account or the package with the company you're considering.
The amount of data transferred between your computer and the server is your bandwidth usage.
When you visit a website your browser downloads all the files that make up the page to your PC, tablet, Mac, or mobile device. In other words, it transfers data from the server to the device on which you're viewing it.
Similarly, when you upload an image, video, or other file to a site, you use bandwidth in the process.
Bandwidth is measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) per month – here's how to assess your site's bandwidth requirements:
- Assume the average page size of your site is 100 KB and you expect 2,000 visits per day
- You have a 2 MB eBook on your site that you expect will be downloaded 100 times per month
- Your site has a member section where members can upload profile pictures no bigger than 500KB, and you expect that 30 people will upload profile pictures every month
Taking those assumptions into account, here’s how you work out the required bandwidth:
For eBook download: (2X100) MB/Month = 200 MB/Month
For image upload: (500X30) KB/Month = 15,000 KB/Month = 14.64 MB/Month
Total bandwidth requirement: (5859.3 + 200 + 14.64) MB/Month = 5.93 GB/Month
Remember: as with space, hosting providers who claim to offer unlimited bandwidth do not really do so – again, read the fine print in the terms and conditions!
That said, for a simple site, bandwidth is generally not a big issue to worry about as usage is generally well within given limits.
Server uptime is one of the most important factors in web hosting.
When the server is connected to the Internet and functions properly, and the sites hosted on it remain accessible, then the server is "up". The amount of time the server is up is referred to as "server uptime".
On the other hand, if the server is inaccessible for any reason, this is "downtime", during which no one can visit the sites hosted on it.
Because of the necessity for server and network maintenance, as well as various software updates, it is impossible to keep servers up all the time. However, the downtime can be minimized through proper maintenance procedures.
Most hosting providers guarantee 99.99% uptime, which means the server can be down for a maximum of 43.2 minutes per month.
Many third-party sites provide server-monitoring services, which monitor the company’s server and alert website owners when the site goes down.
You can use pingdom.com to help you evaluate the actual uptime of the web host you are considering.
Server speed is another important factor.
When you view a website the browser sends a request to the server asking for the webpage, with all the necessary files, to be downloaded.
When the server receives the request it executes the necessary processes and sends the requested files, so you can view the site.
If the server has low specifications (a slow processor, insufficient RAM, etc.), or too many sites hosted on it, then processing the browser’s requests take longer and the site loads more slowly.
Visitors, and the search engines, do not like slow sites – slow page-load times will cost you both traffic and search engine position!
There are many tools to measure server speed – here are a few you can try:
Do not forget the importance of good customer service!
It's unacceptable to buy a service but not be able to access support when you need it. Check the quality of customer service (read reviews and compare them with the company's claims) before choosing a web hosting provider.
You'll come across a lot of low quality hosting providers with attractive slogans and ads - look around to be sure of finding a quality provider.
There are lots of hosting company review sites online, including top 10 listings. A Google search for 'Top 10 Hosting Companies' will bring you more results than you can shake a stick at, and you can refine the results by adding your country to the search term.
Not every hosting company has its own servers.
Some will rent server space from another company, and then resell some of that space to you.
If you sign up with a reseller remember that, if something goes wrong, they will have to get in touch with the parent company for a solution and, in the meantime, your site will be down.
Most resellers are decent small businesses who will go out of their way to help you, though. In fact, one of the advantages of a reseller is the personal touch you do not get with the "big boys".
So don't be afraid of signing up with a reseller, especially the ones that are up-front about it. But be wary of those resellers who hide the fact in the small print, and whose contact details are minimal or absent.
It’s always a good idea to phone a hosting company just to find out how quickly they answer. If the company only does email support, this isn't necessarily bad, as telephone support is quite expensive to operate – it really depends on your own needs.
However, do check to see how fast you get a response to a sign-up query.
There are a lot of offers of very cheap or free hosting around but you need to think about the purpose of your website before making a choice based solely on price.
If your website is for business you will definitely want to stay away from free hosting - remember: you get what you pay for!
For most small websites shared hosting is perfectly adequate as long as the servers are properly managed. Choose the company that best meets your needs and you will probably end up paying somewhere in the middle of the price range for whichever class of service you go for.