Finding a quality hosting services provider can be a daunting task, especially when you are on a tight budget and not very well versed with terminologies related to the industry. It takes time and some effort to compare different hosts, the features they are offering and the best price. However, with each service provider claiming to be the best, it’s not always easy to find the best deal.
People new to hosting services and trying to build their website often get confused with all the technical jargon associated with hosting services. This post aims to make it easier for such users to pick the right service and covers different things to consider when buying a shared hosting service on a tight budget.
What is Web Hosting?
Web hosting works pretty much like storing files locally on a hard drive. The difference is location of the files and how users access them. When you enter a URL/web address, the browser requests the server to give access to its content, which includes code, images, videos and other information. Instead of your own computer, this data is stored in a server managed by a web hosting provider.
A web hosting provider charges you a monthly/quarterly/annual fee to store files on its server and provide web services to your customers/visitors. The reason such web hosting providers exist is because it’s not practically possible for average users to manage on their own the kind of load resource-intensive websites demand. Our everyday PCs and laptops are not designed to handle millions of page requests visitors can make every minute or even second.
In simple words, a hosting provider rents out resources to clients who don’t have the computing resources required to manage the workload themselves. These resources are not just limited to storage space and depending on the subscription can also include updates, backups, security, support and maintenance.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Shared Hosting Services
As the name suggests, the service provider shares the same hardware and infrastructure resources between a pool of clients or websites. It’s also the most widely used type of hosting service and works great for startups, bloggers and people who just want to get started with their new website. Most providers also allow users to upgrade their subscription plan when their site traffic starts growing. This is an advantage inherent to cloud-based technologies and levels the playing field for small and medium businesses.
Prices for shared hosting plans start from as low as $2/month, but the cheapest option is not necessarily the best because of a number of reasons. One should not try to save just a few bucks and end up compromising on the user experience. The main drawback of shared hosting is obviously the sharing of same resources between different websites. A site experiencing heavy traffic can potentially impact the performance of other websites on the same server.
Shared hosting is considered the default option for starters, small businesses and personal websites and for the right reasons. However, it’s important to pick a reliable technology partner if you don’t want to leave your website at the mercy of a unreliable hosting provider.
Main Advantages of Shared Hosting
- Simple and easy to get started
- The provider takes care of maintenance and upgradation of the hardware/infrastructure
- Plans can be upgraded easily when needed
- No need to pay large sums of money just to cater a few thousand visitors
- Efficiency, it’s easy for non-technical users to get started with their website
Main Disadvantages of Shared Hosting
- More downtimes and slowdowns than dedicated services
- The system may crash under heavy load
- Some websites can impact the performance of other websites on the same server
- Security usually remains the responsibility of the user when running a site on a shared server, which can be expensive and requires technical expertise
- One failing machine/security breach can put thousands of websites at risk
- The customer support included with shared hosting plans is rather limited and slow-to-respond due to a large client base
Other Common Types of Hosting Services
Free Hosting Services
Although bloggers and startups might think getting a free hosting service is a good idea at least in the beginning, we strongly recommend against it. With so many affordable options available it does not make much sense to go the free route. Free web hosting services are sluggish, unreliable and don’t offer the features paid services do. Almost all free hosting services serve ads and you get a domain name that makes it difficult for your customers to recognize you as an established brand.
The hosting provider manages most things related to keeping a website up and running, including updates, maintenance, security and backups. Managed services are suitable for users who either don’t want to or don’t have the technical resources to manage everything themselves. But it’s also more expensive and not all bloggers/individuals can afford it in the long term.
Dedicated Web Hosting and VPS
Suitable for established businesses and bloggers, dedicated hosting is expensive, but provides more control over resources and how the information is processed. Pricing for dedicated hosting services start from $100/month and increase according to resources required. However, dedicated hosting services are suitable for individuals who are already well versed with modern technologies and have the experience of setting up and maintaining servers.
Virtual Private Servers are a nice middle ground between dedicated and shared hosting. Service providers allocate dedicated resources to clients while using the same hardware and infrastructure. The provider guarantees CPU and memory resources to bloggers and businesses that expect high traffic volume, but still not ready to buy their own dedicated servers/hosting services.
Things to Consider When Buying a Hosting Service
All service providers claim to be the best, but it takes time and some patience to know the reality of things. Here are some important things to consider when choosing between different shared hosting service providers:
Identifying and understanding your needs is the first step in picking the right technology partner. Some common question to ask during the initial phase include:
- The purpose of the website e.g. a personal blog, an e-commerce platform or a business site, which helps determine the storage space, bandwidth and features you need
- Which platform are you going to use such as WordPress? If you need advanced WordPress features, it’s better to go for WordPress specific hosting
- Do you also need to use additional software such as php, .net java etc.? Make sure that the provider supports the software you want to run
- The expected volume of web traffic, makes it easier to forecast costs associated with upgrading plans or switching to a better technology
- Do you plan on building multiple websites down the road? Not all shared hosting providers allow adding more than one domain under a single account
- Is seamless data migration important to you (switch between different providers aka exit strategy)?
- And most importantly the budget, the most expensive is not always the best
Price and Features
Price is the main reason why most people choose shared hosting over other types of hosting services. However, different providers offer different features at the same price, making it important to consider these and compare what different providers are offering. Some important features to consider include:
Storage space and Bandwidth
Although storage space should not be an issue if you only plan on putting online a few web pages with some images, you need to consider the amount of space you need if you are dealing with videos, music and other large files.
Similarly, limited bandwidth might be OK for new websites, but you need more of it when your website starts attracting a lot of traffic. Bandwidth refers to the amount of unique traffic allowed to access your website (usually on a per month basis e.g. 1,000 unique visitors per month). Storage space and bandwidth are often the deciding factors for most users and an indication of how much value you are getting for the money.
Many hosting providers provide access to an easy-to-use website builder, allowing non-technical users to easily get started without any coding knowledge. However, using a site builder is not an option experts recommend because it makes it difficult to migrate on other platforms (due to their proprietary nature). WordPress is an excellent example of a standardized CMS (Content Management System) that provides flexibility and allows businesses to easily scale as they grow.
SSD vs HDD
SSDs provide much better performance than normal HDDs and manufacturers do mention it if they are offering SSD based storage (also more expensive). SSD-based hosting is faster, resulting in faster page loads and quicker access to data while being more reliable than HDDs at the same time.
Scalability is especially an important factor to consider for businesses. The services provider should be able to scale services when a website experiences huge spikes in terms of traffic. Make sure to choose a provider that provides a hassle-free route to upgrade the subscription when needed or move to another type of hosting service such as managed or dedicated.
Access and Support
Things like the maximum file size, file manager, control panel, FTP access and more are some other important things that vary from provider to provider. Mobile-friendly access panels allow you to make changes from your mobile devices from anywhere.
Users should look for 24/7 support, preferably local support to make sure someone is there to help you when you need assistance. The common support channels include phone, live chat and email. The SLA (Service Level Agreement) should clearly define how a provider is supposed to react when issues arise and what level of support should the customers expect.
Uptime is another important aspect to consider and while most service providers commit to at least 99% uptime (a few hours per year downtime), some promise 99.999% (just a few seconds per year) and charge accordingly. 99% uptime is not suitable for mission-critical websites such as e-commerce stores, which cannot afford to go down even for a minute. Anything below 99% uptime is considered unacceptable in today’s connected world.
Location of the Servers
With everything else being equal, it’s always better to pick a provider that has a data center closest to your customers. The closer a server is to the location of people who are going to access your website, the faster the pages will load due to improved latency (less distance for data to travel). However, that might not be a good option if you expect traffic from different regions/countries.
Many providers offer the option of Content Delivery Network (CDN), allowing you to choose from where and to whom the content should be delivered. Using CDN, the provider serves data from the closest server relative to the location of the visitor.
Upgrades and Backups
Seamless updates is an advantage inherent to cloud technologies and almost all reputable hosting providers update their platforms regularly without any user intervention. Shared hosting services are a great way to get started, allowing users to cut costs while taking advantage of modern technologies.
Shared hosting services from reputable hosting providers are usually good enough to cater 35-50 thousand unique visitors, but you need to think big and be prepared for more traffic down the road. That’s why picking a service provider that offers clear upgrade paths is so important. Users should inquire about the upgrade options in advance when signing up for a shared hosting plan.
Your options can vary when it comes to regular backups as not all provider include this service in the subscription. Things can go wrong in so many ways in the online world and you need to have recent backups of your site to restore in case of an untoward incident. Although you can also take backups manually to 3rd-party sites, automatic and regular backups by the provider makes life much easier.
Addon Domain and Site Options
This feature is more relevant to people who want to run more than one site under a single hosting account. Most hosting providers allow adding up to 25 domains in their medium plans and failing to consider this might become a real issue when you’ll want to add more sites to an existing account. The option of having the ability to add multiple domains in the start is usually more cost effective than upgrading plans later on.
Renewal and Long-term Costs
Although shared hosting plans are the most cost effective in the beginning, you need to be aware of how much will you end up paying in the long run. Many providers offer shared hosting plans at a discounted price for new customers, which dramatically increases after the promotion period expires. It’s normal to pay more in the long run compared to what you paid in the beginning, but the difference should not be so huge that the benefits of choosing shared hosting start to fade away.
You can also keep hopping from one provider to another to keep enjoying low initial rates, but not all providers allow you to make the switch so easily. However, no plan can last forever and you may end up needing a dedicated server or a VPS anyway due to increase in web traffic. That’s why you also need to consider the long term and maintenance costs associated with running a website.
Cheap shared hosting services are usually associated with waiting in long queues to get your issues resolved, which is a big problem for people who rely on providers to solve all their problems. There is no shortage of online resources that can help you filter out good hosting providers based on how good their customer support is.
You can also test the customer support by asking them questions and observing how well they respond to your queries. Although customers services reps are expected to respond in a good way to potential customers, it does give you a fair idea of what to expect in the future.
WordPress Specific Hosting
You do not necessarily need WordPress specific hosting to run a WordPress site as it can run on almost any Linux-hosted server with PHP. However, if you want specific features such as emergency WP patching and optimization, you might want to consider WordPress specific hosting services. Windows and Linux are the most commonly used platforms and if you are unsure which platform to use, it’s better to consult with the provider and discuss your requirements and goals.
WordPress has its own advantages, including simplicity, ease-of-use, flexibility and compatibility. We have already covered some of the best WordPress hosting providers in detail so you might want to have a look at that post if you are planning to build your site using the platform.
Businesses and individuals who want to run an e-commerce website also need to consider features like payment handling, automatic shipping, SSL certificates and compatible e-commerce platforms such as WooCommerce. E-commerce sites are much resource-intensive and demanding compared to blogs and portfolio sites so businesses need to carefully evaluate their performance requirements and expected traffic.
Security is of paramount importance in the online world and site owners need to consider different technologies to minimize the chances of security breaches. Features like network monitoring, firewall rules, SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol), SSL (Secure Socket Layer) and HTTPS help prevent information theft and interception. Security is also related to the way you have developed and built your site, but the provider plays a big role in protecting you against cyber-attacks, malware and DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks.
Reputation and Online Reviews
Since a hosting provider is not a brick-and-mortar business, you have to rely on online reviews to judge the reputation of different providers. The good news is that the internet is full of informative content and it’s not difficult to pick the right provider if you are willing to invest some time and effort. Some sites also allow you to check historical uptime scores of providers so you can have a better idea about the reliability of a provider.
The Competitive Advantage
When shortlisting a few hosting providers, chances are good that some of them will be offering more features than others at the same price point. However, you have to look more closely to see the bigger picture and make a more informed decision. Supplementary features such as email service, drag-and-drop editor and other addons can be very handy in the long run. But these features should not come at the cost of compromising on more important features such as uptime and security.
Having the ability to switch between different providers is a big plus and something that often gets overlooked. This particular feature should be considered a competitive advantage and shows the confidence a provider has in its services.
In addition to the usual stuff related to web hosting such as storage space, bandwidth and uptime, a good shared hosting provider should share your vision of success and willing to help you grow. At the same time, you also need to pick one that does not make it difficult to switch when you want to due to whatever reason. Understanding your needs and matching them with what the provider has to offer is a good starting point.
Big players in the web hosting domain are not always the best for every business. Individuals and businesses need to choose the one that fits their budget and specific requirements. Similarly, you can also test the customer services of a provider by asking questions and observing how they deal with your queries. Spending some time and putting effort into choosing the right provider can not only save you quite some money in the long run, but is also critical to the success of your business.