Everyone who has worked with websites for any length of time tends to develop a preference for one or more Web hosting companies. Here at Make a Website, there are a few we recommend, primarily on the basis that they have never badly let us down – and we mention them below.
When you begin to research Web hosting firms, there’s one thing you should keep firmly in mind: Most Web hosts have thousands of customers, and because of this it’s inevitable that over the years they will have given some people cause for complaint. As such, you’d be hard pressed to find a Web host without at least some negative online press.
The important thing, especially if you decide to read reviews, is to seek out an overall picture of customer satisfaction with each host and not fixate too much on a few negative reports. A good analogy here is the parallel with researching hotels using the likes of TripAdvisor. Even the finest hotels in the world have some negative reviews, in the main because people are far more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones. So don’t be put off by occasional complaints. Companies with thousands of customers inevitably let one down from time to time.
The majority of Web hosts offer a range of services from basic shared hosting packages (usually adequate for most sites in the early days) to dedicated servers or Virtual Private Servers (VPS), which bridge the gap between the two options.
However, there are also providers that specialise in specific types of hosting. For example, WP Engine specialise in WordPress hosting, and offer a service that’s tailored to WordPress websites. If you’re serious about your latest WordPress project, they’re well worth a look, especially when you consider that they are trusted by big names such as HTC, Soundcloud and AMD.
Similarly, some hosts deal specifically in dedicated servers and offer managed packages for people developing sites that they expect to be flooded with traffic. If you have grand ambitions for your Web project, it’s worth researching hosts like this.
2. Disk space and bandwidth
It can prove quite difficult to compare disk space and bandwidth across different hosting providers, as the trend is for hosts to call everything “unlimited.”
However, unlimited doesn’t always mean the same thing, so a call to the support department for specifics can prove time well spent (as well as giving you a chance to put the support provision to the test – see below). “Unlimited” is often subject to a fair usage policy, especially on shared hosting plans, so this is something well worth checking out.
3. Technical support
Like health insurance, good technical support provision is something you want to know is there, even if you hope you won’t have to use it!
Quality of technical support can vary hugely between hosting providers. Some hosts only provide online ticket support, others make it easy to phone them. However, what’s more important really is how good the support is when you need it. For example, we’d rather have access to ticket support that’s answered in minutes with quality responses than a helpline staffed by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
HostGator, who we recommend in a number of our Web building tutorials, offer 24/7 support, and we’ve always had good results when we’ve needed assistance in a hurry.
Be very wary of web hosts that fail to describe their server infrastructure. What kind of hardware are the servers made of? Are they top-of-the-range machines on a grid system or just some plain old machines assembled to make a modest server network? Hardware infrastructure weighs heavily on the performance of their servers – and your website.
So if it’s not clear exactly what you’re paying for, get in touch with your hosting provider and ASK. At the same time, talk about what resilience features they have in place. Best of all, choose a host with a guaranteed uptime rating supported by a service level agreement. The aforementioned HostGator offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee, complemented with a generous money-back warranty.
5. Customer reviews
As we said at the start of this article, it’s essential to get an overall sense of a Web host’s performance by looking at a number of reviews.
You should approach some reviews with a certain degree of cynicism, as some hosts pay for sponsored write-ups. Even so, by looking at plenty of reviews for the hosts on your shortlist, you should get an overall view of their quality of service.
6. User Interface
When you sign up to your first Web hosting package, you’ll probably be shocked by just how many options there are when you first log in to your host’s “member’s area.”
Your hosting control panel may be completely unique or bespoke, but the majority of leading hosts use a platform like cPanel (our personal preference) or Plesk. Although these take a little getting used to at first, we would suggest choosing a host that uses them. They are, after all, something of an industry standard.
Hosting isn’t only about your website(s). Presumably you’re going to want professional-looking email addresses, i.e. [email protected]
Email functionality is far from equal when you compare Web hosts. Some offer the bare minimum of old-fashioned POP3 accounts, sometimes without even providing a means of sending outbound (SMTP) email, leaving you to worry about sorting this out via your ISP.
Others offer a plethora of options, including access to hosted Microsoft Exchange services or integration with Gmail. Have a good think about your email requirements and make sure your chosen host provides the relevant functionality for the right price.
Web hosts are no different from any other companies – they are all interested in up-selling additional products and services. The kind of things we’re talking about are backup services or domain privacy options.
Be careful here, however. Things that some hosts sell as extras are provided as standard by others. So pay careful attention to the comparison tables on host’s websites, as failing to notice these things could result in escalating costs.
You needn’t worry too much about scalability if your website plans are relatively straightforward. However, if you’re planning to be the Internet’s “next big thing” it’s worth asking some questions as to how easy it will be to step up to something bigger and better if you need to do so at short notice.
For example: If your site enjoys sudden popularity, can you move from shared hosting to a dedicated server with minimal hassle? Will you be forced to pay until the end of your contract and pay for your dedicated server at the same time? These aren’t concerns that will affect everyone, but if you think this may apply to you, be ready to ask the right questions.
Web hosting, especially shared hosting from companies like HostGator, is pretty inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compare costs carefully. At the same time, you should consider contract lengths, discounts for longer commitment periods, and other offers and enticements.
The one thing we would say above all else is to never choose a Web host based on price alone. Until you get into dedicated servers and suchlike, Web hosting is rarely expensive, so a few extra monthly dollars for better service and support is money you’re never going to regret spending.
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