How to choose web hosting?

My first experience with a web host left me with a sour taste in the mouth and dark circles under the eyes. I was super pumped to finally create a self-hosted website. I had thought about it for weeks and finally got my hosting plan.

I logged in and tried to install WordPress a million times through the “one-click-install”, but failed again and again. (Pro tip: if it doesn’t work twice, it won’t work until you try something different, ugh).

I tried FTP, didn’t work either. After a couple of days, I called customer service. They were very friendly but completely unable to help me, so I canceled the whole plan.

A calm ocean is not what bad web hosting feels like
Not what it felt like with my first web hosting company

Then I did something I should have done BEFORE signing up. I did my research.

1. What do you really need?

This is the first question you should answer. Where are you in your business? Do you have an existing website that generates traffic? Or are you starting out from scratch?

Knowing WHAT you need is going to guide you through the three types of hosting plans on the market. If you’re just starting out in business, you’ll probably get low traffic at first.

Shared server

With a shared hosting plan, your site will be hosted on a server alongside a number of other low traffic sites (30 to 60+). If a website on the server uses too much resource, your site will be affected too and slow down. That’s why it’s cheap.

That being said, shared hosting is what I recommend for starters. You don’t need a Ferrari when you’re learning how to drive. Same concept.

VPS

On the other hand, if your site drives traffic like a morning train in Tokyo, you’ll need to look at VPS or dedicated server plans. VPS (Virtual Private Server) is a server that also hosts multiple sites but these sites are independent from one another unlike the shared server option. So if a site on the VPS uses too much bandwidth, you won’t be affected.

It’s more powerful than shared hosting, your site will be faster because you’ll have more bandwidth and you’ll be able to have a bigger website overall.

Dedicated servers

They’re the big mamas of web hosting. And that’s why they’re so expensive. Your site is the only one hosted on the server. This option is interesting only if and when your website reaches a high amount of traffic.

Look for bandwidth not disk space

One of the main goals of your website is to generate traffic. And traffic will use bandwidth not disk space. Even if you have a big website, as long as you’re not hosting heavy media like videos, your site won’t be much bigger than 1 to 3 GB.

When your site “breaks” – as in too much traffic for your server to handle – you have exceeded the bandwidth limit. Try to avoid this like seeing uncle Bob in his summer speedo since downtime for your website means downtime for your business.

High bandwidth volume allows fast traffic
Enough bandwidth will ensure smooth traffic

2. Do your research

Yes, do it! I know, booooooring but seriously, don’t be lazy on this one (like I’ve been…) it will save you a lot of time and frustration. Since we were talking about downtime, unreliable web hosting will have a lot of that on a regular basis for no good reason.

First things first: There’s no such thing as “unlimited”. Everything has a limit (except MAYBE the Universe?).

When a company advertises “unlimited”, it always makes me cringe. Because when you go over that unlimited limit they’ll notify you – if you’re lucky – and ask you to stop and respect the limit of the unlimited, otherwise they’ll suspend your account. Read the fine print and the angry stories on the net.

So before annoying things happen, here are two websites you can stalk.

Hostjury is the TripAdvisor of web hosting

Users leave comments and ratings on their experiences with a gazillion companies. I think they’re virtually all there even if smaller ones don’t have reviews yet. This can give you a general idea of what’s in store for you.

One thing to remember though is that most of these reviews will come from people using shared hosting. Since it’s the cheapest, everybody and their cat hosts a website on shared server as long as it’s not high traffic (hint: most websites are not high traffic).

Different plans, different quality

Keep in mind that a company might be awful at delivering decent quality shared hosting but good with VPS and dedicated server.

Lots of big companies have bad user reviews

Interestingly a number of the big names in web hosting are really poorly graded. My bad experience was also with one of those big companies and after I did my research I understood that the huge number of raving reviews across the web mostly came with affiliate links.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those companies suck or those affiliates are scammers. I’ve since then worked with clients whose websites were hosted by one or the other big name and encountered no problem. What I’m saying is that popularity doesn’t necessarily equals top quality.

Web Hosting Talk where you… talk web hosting (Crazy, I know!)

You can ask questions about anything regarding web hosting. A great place to start if you’re unsure of the kind of plan you need.

As a general guideline when something looks too good to be true – as with all things in life – it probably is.

Web hosting grows with your business.

When you’re starting out or if you’re in business but don’t have a website yet, it often makes sense to get cheap shared hosting. You can always upgrade when the time comes.

This flock of sheep will surf your site
When your website becomes too crowded, it’s time to upgrade

Recommendation

Since I don’t want to leave you empty handed here’s my recommendation. Take it with a grain of salt since this only reflects my personal experience. But the fact that I haven’t had to switch makes an excellent point in my book.

MDD Hosting

They’re the host of this very website and I’ve been mind-blown by the way they communicate and treat their customers in general. I’ve found virtually no negative comments on them when I researched the company, which speaks volumes in the hosting market.

One of the selling points if you go for shared hosting is that they’re cheap (and they’re honest with the fact that cheap IS limited).

(Full disclaimer: NOT an affiliate link :)

Conclusion

Are you going to be completely out of trouble because you put in some work before buying? No. But by making an educated choice you will spare yourself a lot of headaches.

Now I’d love to hear where you’re hosting your site in the comments. What do you love or hate about your web host? Any horror stories or love stories?

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6 comments to How to choose web hosting?

  1. Great overview and so important because sooooooo many people just go with whatever they’ve heard of (a certain host with the initials GD who has a huge marketing budget) and it’s a nightmare! I now strongly urge clients to move if they have a bad host and may even require it. That said, I am still using Bluehost after many years as I’ve never had issues. Although as one of the big guys (who all are owned by one company), I’ve heard of people not having the same amazing experience as I have. Eventually I will probably move, but for my needs and experience as of now, they’ve been great.

    How have I never heard of HostJury before? Thanks for the link!

  2. I’ve just recently left HostGator after 6 years of being with them, because the customer service (which hasn’t been so stellar to begin with) became increasingly useless as time went by.

    I wanted to avoid other EIG-owned companies too, because I’ve heard that all those hosting companies started having terrible customer experience after being acquired.

    I haven’t heard of MDD hosting which is a shame. I’ve settled with WireNine which is a bit more expensive, but has proven very friendly and capable so far (we’ll see how it goes).

    • I’ve read HostGator is leaking customers at the moment, but like Leah said, a lot of people keep signing up with these companies for lack of better information I think.

      I’d love to know how it goes for you with WireNine in a few months.

  3. I’ve been using Dreamhost for a non-profit I’m with. They’ve been great, really clear in what I can (and can’t) expect, and their invoicing. We’ve been using them for 4 years. However I’ve never had a real need to access customer service, so I can’t speak to that side.

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