Web Hosting Tips: The Full Guide to Choosing a Web Hosting Company

Web Hosting Tips for Choosing a Hosting Company

The following guide contains web hosting tips for users who have some understanding of how the world of website building, hosting, and maintenance works. I will cover further factors to consider when choosing a web hosting company.

This article might be a bit too complex for a novice, so if you're completely new to this field you should read my web hosting guide for beginners first.

 

Web Hosting Tips for Choosing a Hosting Company

My Tips for Choosing a Web Hosting Company

 

After I discussed the basics of understanding your own needs and the criteria you should look for in various hosting plans, it's time to get into the finer details of evaluating which web hosting company is right for you.

How to Choose a Web Hosting Company?

I'll start off by saying that you have to think ahead.

You don't have to build a 10-year business plan for that, but you don't want to go in blind, so you have to plan for growth from the first steps you take.

Planning for Growth

 

Growth Chart

Planning for Growth

 

If you're launching a website today, you have no way to foresee exactly how successful or unsuccessful it may be in a year, or even 6 months.

So on the one hand, you don't want to overpay in the beginning, but on the other hand, you don't want to choose the bare minimum and be forced to upgrade every few months.

You need to estimate.

Having a good estimate of your needs before subscribing for a hosting plan is a big advantage because web hosting companies offer significant discounts for long-term commitments.

My advice:

Always check if a web hosting provider allows upgrades mid-way through a plan and if it costs you anything. If you can't find an answer on their site, or in our reviews, try checking with their support team.

Customer Support

Different web hosting companies offer different levels of customer support and technical assistance.

It's very important that your web host has a direct phone line for emergency support at all times, or at least a live chat which is available 24/7.

When we write our web hosting reviews, we send a test message to the hosting companies to measure response time and quality of answers.

Once you've narrowed down the most suitable hosting companies for your site, always send in a question yourself, preferably about something very specific even if you know the answer. This is how you can feel the responsiveness of each web hosting company and the quality of information you receive in the company's reply.

When they respond, ask yourself:

  • Is it an automated response based on wording you used?
  • Is it a reply sending you to read an FAQ page on their site?
  • Is the answer elaborate, and is it specifically addressing your issue?

If the answer to the last question is "yes", you found a web hosting provider with high quality customer service. Response time is also a factor, but as long as it's within the frame of 1-2 business days, it's good.

When it comes to technical assistance, a managed web hosting plan usually covers this part well enough for most users.

User Feedbacks & Hosting Reviews

 

User Feedback Star Ratings

User Star Ratings

 

Part of the research my colleagues and I undertake on your behalf is going over customer feedbacks of the hosting company we're reviewing to see if the feedbacks:

  1. Exist: when a hosting provider has no online presence, it's either very new or not active enough to request from its customers to post a feedback on a public website. On the other hand, it may also mean that this web hosting provider didn't anger any customers.
  2. Are real: user review sites are full of fake profiles and feedbacks. Positive user reviews are sometimes paid for by the companies themselves, and negative user reviews are sometimes paid for or posted directly by the competition. It's a terrible practice, but that's the reality and you need to be aware of it.
  3. Have any merit: if a claim against a company has a legitimate answer by the company posted below the feedback, or simply seems like a single occurrence, it's probably not a real problem for the average user.

It's important to keep in mind that any customer of any company is a lot more likely to write a negative feedback when they're dissatisfied than to write a positive one when they are completely satisfied.

Let's be honest:

After visiting a business or buying something online, how many times have you said to yourself "I think I'm going to write a positive feedback about this company online because they did everything I expected them to do"?

For me, I only think like that if my experience was exceptional; if it was what I expected I just meh and go on with my day. But when you experience an unpleasant surprise, you immediate begin thinking where you could complain about this company.

My advice:

Take online user feedbacks with a big grain of rough salt. (Tweet this tip)

Sometimes customers land on a bad customer rep which isn't the company's fault, in other cases the customer is vengeful because the company doesn't bend over backwards conforming to every demand, and in some cases, let's face it, the customer is just not very smart and didn't check his options before posting the feedback.

Location, Speed & Content Delivery Networks (CDN)

 

World Map

Know Your Server's Location

 

The closer you live to the pizzeria, the less time the delivery will take.

Similarly:

The closer your web server is to your users, the faster it will load in their browsers when they visit it. The ideal location for your web server is near the geographic majority of your audience because speed is important for user experience, for SEO, and for you to feel good about your website.

Users hate slow loading sites and they won't wait for your server to deliver. In fact, according to kissmetrics, every second added to your page load time might bring your conversions down by as much as 7%.

The good news is that site speed depends on more than just your server's location, and you can optimize it by implementing caching using a CDN and other recommendations you might find if you run your website through Google's speed test.

I won't go in to the technicalities of caching, there's enough information on the web about that and seeing as you're reading the big-boy guide, I'm guessing you can Google it yourself.

A CDN is a great solution that significantly lowers the importance of your server's location. It's a global network of servers which work in a very efficient way:

Every user that visits your website will receive the requested data from the nearest server to his current location, regardless of where your server actually is. CDNs speed up client-side website performance, especially on sites with a lot of visual content, like online shops.

My advice, and this is important:

Check in advance if the web hosting company of your choice offers 3rd party (or its own) CDN services as part of the hosting plans.

For example, GreenGeeks and HostGator each have a standing arrangement with a 3rd party CDN provider, but you have to contact support in order to start using it. CDN services have free options, so unless you're going for a plan with more features, it won't cost you anything.

RAID Storage (Redundant Array of Independent Disks)

Another technology that might contribute to speed of your server is RAID storage technology.

RAID storage is basically 2 or more hard drives connected together that improve the speed of reading (and in some cases writing) of data to and from the hard drives.

Another big advantage of this technology is that with certain configuration it reduces risk of lost data, because basically, data is written to, and read from several hard drives at once. So if one drive fails, you have the same data on it's paired drive.

This part is important:

It's not recommended to consider this technology as a data backup alternative, but rather as a nice feature to have included withing your hosting plan. Read about data backup on this page of web hosting tips.

Hosting providers don't all offer this technology, and those that do, don't always offer it for all their plans or types of hosting. This fact might give you some insight into the level of of the company's investment in their hardware.

My advice:

Don't expect RAID storage to be offered by everyone, and don't treat RAID storage as an alternative for backup. (Tweet this tip)

This technology is becoming more and more popular among hosting companies, but it's not a deal breaker and definitely shouldn't have a significant impact on your decision.

For the knowledge-hungry readers, here's a good explanation about RAID storage.

HTTPS and SSL (Secure Socket Layer)

 

SSL HTTPS Address Bar

SSL Certificate in a Browser Address Bar

 

A SSL encrypts the connection and communication between your users and your server.

Pages with SSL will appear with a little green lock icon in the modern browsers and their URLs will start with https:// - where the s indicates that your connection is secure.

It's absolutely necessary for every website with a checkout process where the user needs to input any personal details or payment data.

It's optional for sites that don't process payments, but in 2015 Google announced that sites with a SSL certificate will have a minor SEO advantage over sites without it.

If you peek at your browser's address bar right now, you will notice that we have an SSL certificate, even though we don't process any payments on our site.

SSL certificates aren't free, and depending on the SSL provider, you might pay a pretty penny for it.

My advice:

You don't have to buy a SSL certificate from your hosting provider. (Tweet this tip)

You can purcahse this certificate anywhere, and a lot of companies sell them and then upload it to your web server.

Another point worth mentioning is that in the past you couldn't get an SSL certificate without a dedicated IP address for your website. Nowadays, this is no longer an issue but older web browser versions won't handle a shared SSL certificate very well.

Uptime Guarantee

Most respectable hosting providers guarantee 99% uptime or more - which means they're well within their rights to experience unscheduled downtime for 7 hours and 12 minutes every month.

That's not very good if you think about it in real terms - would you agree to take your site down for seven hours every month?

No, neither would I.

The good news is that no hosting company is enjoying it when their services aren't working, and they guarantee only 99% is in order to have some leeway in case of unexpected scenarios.

My advice:

Go for a 99.99% uptime guarantee.

This will mean under 5 minutes at most of unscheduled downtime per month. You can get such a guarantee if you go with InMotion Hosting, or if you're willing to settle, you can get a 99.9% guarantee from other top rated hosting companies.

Important to note:

The terms of service usually outline what the guarantee actually covers, and you should go over this annoying document before signing up to minimize surprises. For example, network outages, scheduled maintenance, or server downtime caused by your own actions are usually not counted as 'downtime'.

Regardless of which web hosting company you choose, should they mess up and have more downtime than they promised according to their own internal checks, you will be credited a refund which is usually not very significant.

Furthermore:

You will more often than not have to request customer support for the credit. Don't expect them to voluntarily give you money.

Once again, an uptime guarantee is not all that it appears to be, but for my money, I would always choose a hosting provider that guarantees more uptime over one who guarantees less.

Even with all the caveats, the implications are significant.

Software & Technology

 

Windows and Linux Logos

Windows Hosting or Linux Hosting?

 

When you choose and buy a web hosting plan, depending on your choice of the operating system, web server, programming language, and database, you need to have certain software installed on your server for you to be able to launch and maintain your site/s.

For example:

Many shared hosting providers advertise their Wordpress Hosting packages, which usually means they have a simple (one-click) installation of Wordpress ready for your shared web server. You click, and the software installs everything you need to run a Wordpress site, including a simplified control panel.

You need to know in advance what technology you will be using, otherwise you wouldn't know what to install.

The most popular software combinations (a.k.a. stacks or bundles) among hosting providers are:

  • LAMP: Linux OS, Apache web server software, MySQL database and PHP programming language. All of these elements are based on open source technology, and don't have license costs. The cPanel is the control panel of choice for Linux servers, which isn't free, but the best web hosting providers take it upon themselves to pay for a license.
  • WISA: Windows Server OS, Internet Information System (IIS) web server software, SQL server database, and ASP engine on a .NET framework which supports numerous programming langages. This entire stack is based on technology developed by Microsoft, and while this software costs extra, the advantage is that all the elements are built to work together by the same entity. Plesk is the most popular control panel installed on Windows servers.
  • JAVA (not an acronym): Linux/Solaris OS, Tomcat web server software, PostgreSQL or MySQL database, and JSP framework for programming.

If your web server is managed by your provider as part of your hosting plan, you can receive a server with all the software pre-installed; you just need to know in advance what technology you'll be using.

If you need to install a less popular environment, some hosting providers will do that for you as well and sometimes even for free.

My advice:

Pay attention to software you get and fees you will pay for it.

If you're at a point where you need to decide which technology to use, don't let the extra $10/month push you away from Windows hosting when MS technology is a better solution for your project. On the other hand, just because it costs more money doesn't make it better.

Only you know what you actually need, so choose wisely.

Backup: Automated vs. Manual

The policy regarding automated backups by the web hosting company varies from provider to provider.

While many web hosting companies back up their data in case an emergency happens, they all recommend not to rely on it and to back up your data yourself in addition to that.

Some companies offer automated backup every X days for accounts under X GB in size, and some place the burden on the webmaster. Either way, our reviews cover this part about each provider, and you can compare web hosting companies to see which offers this feature or others before you make a decision.

My advice:

Make sure you know how to back up your data.

Even if the hosting provider guarantees automated backups every day, add another layer of safety by doing it yourself as well. Every hosting provider has informative articles on the matter, so don't be lazy with backup, it's your data.

I believe the saying goes:

It's better to have loved backed up and lost than never to have loved backed up at all. (Tweet this tip)

Email accounts

Email Icon

Email

Most web hosting providers include at least one email address in their hosting plans.

In fact, most will provide you with unlimited email accounts and will mostly be concerned with the amount of mail you're sending, owing to spam considerations.

If you're a small business, you might want to keep a look out for the companies that limit your number of email addresses, even though I don't believe you'll find any that still do that.

An email address with a business domain looks more professional than a Gmail or a Yahoo mailbox, and it doesn't matter who it is you're contacting.

What I'm saying is this:

Receiving an email from bill@top10webhostingsites.org is looked upon more seriously than receiving the exact same email from bill_yolo_1977@gmail.com.

So if you already bought a domain and you have a business email, use it for your business correspondence.

It's important to clarify that more often than not, the host provides you with 2 things:

  1. A mail server, which is responsible for sending out and receiving your correspondence.
  2. A mail client, which is the web interface or software which you use to read and write emails.

My Advice:

Just make sure you get enough mailboxes, although it shouldn't be an issue.

And another thing:

Don't send marketing mailers from these email accounts; there's special software for that. If your IP address gets marked as spammy, the emails you send are more likely to find their way to the recepient's spam folder.

If you came here looking for more information about mailing protocols like POP3 and IMAP, take a look at this page here.

Web Hosting Cost, Commitment Period and Money Back Guarantee

 

100 Dollar Bill

Price Matters Less

 

Pricing is not a good factor by which you should choose a hosting company.

I get it, your business is new, you're not sure if you'll succeed or not, you're afraid to over-pay.

Cool.

Web hosting cost is still the last thing you should look at after you've narrowed down your selection of hosting companies which have the features that you need out of the ones I covered above.

Since you're already reading my web hosting tips, this is an important notion you must absorb.

Don't be tempted by underpriced first-year hosting cost, just to be over-charged and under-supplied for the following two years of the contract.

Commitment periods are structured to encourage you to take the longest possible plan, which is great if it's the right plan for you. But never commit to a plan for a long period of time unless you're absolutely certain that you can easily cancel and/or upgrade it according to your needs.

Even if you decide to try a plan believing that the 30-day, 45-day or even 90-day money back guarantee will be your failsafe, you should read the terms of service.

Each company has conveniently placed caveats on its hosting terms of service page, which vary from provider to provider, but which include loopholes like these:

  • Refunds are made upon special request
  • Valid for credit card payments only
  • Doesn't apply to all the hosting plans
  • First-time accounts only
  • Only applies to hosting fees, and doesn't apply to additional services like domain registration or administrative fees

This is not even the full list of way web hosting companies are covering themselves legally to avoid paying you when you're under the impression that they should.

My advice:

This is an industry standard, read the TOS carefully before you subscribe. (Tweet this tip)

The TOS cover another important aspect with which you should be familiar, and that aspect is additional fees.

You won't find this fact on the homepage of any hosting company, but if you cancel the plan you will have to pay a cancellation fee. Furthermore, the refund for the remaining months is usually made at the discretion of your web hosting provider, which means they don't have to pay you back unless they want to.

So if you're thinking I won't pay the cancellation fee, you probably won't get your refund.

I'm not writing all of this to discourage you.

You should get the web hosting plan that suits your needs with the best provider for you, but what I am saying is don't rush into a decision, research carefully and be aware of exactly what you're getting for your money.

Bonuses and Freebies

Every web hosting company promises you tons of extra features like advertising credits, free website templates, a free domain, and so on.

It's nice, but it's nothing to lose your mind over.

Just like I said in the web hosting costs section above, you have to focus on what you need and don't let irrelevant bonuses convince you it's a good idea to pass on important features in order to get an irrelevant bonus.

I mean, it might appear that the cost/benefit justifies it, but as long as you're not getting everything you need from the company, it can't and it doesn't.

To Sum Up Choosing a Web Hosting Company

I hope you found my web hosting tips useful.

To sum up this article, I'll remind you that no hosting company is perfect, but you can find a suitable hosting service rather easily when they know what exactly you're looking for.

So:

When you're deciding on which web hosting provider to use, you need to go through a research phase.

Here's a checklist you can use:

  1. Think about your needs in terms of technology and server strength, both today and going forward.
  2. Compare web hosting companies and choose the ones that can provide a plan that fits you.
  3. Read the reviews of the most suitable ones and narrow down the list, by checking:
    • Upgrade options
    • Renewal prices (as opposed to first year / first period prices)
    • Actual uptime stats
  4. Compare hosting prices of the short-list you have left.
  5. Sign up for your favorite one.

Good luck!

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