What car should you buy? Where should you go to college? Where should you eat dinner tonight? As we go through life, some decisions, big or small, have so many options that they can seem overwhelming. Choosing a website hosting company can seem the same way. With hundreds of companies to choose from, what makes one company stand out above the rest? Here are a few things to consider when choosing a company.
Features vs. budget
The biggest choice you’ll need to make when selecting a company to host your website is if you want to spend more money for more features or save money with a lower-priced company. Like buying a car, some hosting companies are the equivalent to luxury cars while others are equate to compact sedans. One isn’t simply better than the other — some people would prefer to spend more to have the car they consider to be the best on the market, while other people prefer to save money and buy a cheaper model — and the decision is largely a preference that your budget helps to determine. Full-featured web hosting companies offer packages well under $10 a month, while other companies charge upward of $30 a month. The expensive companies aren’t necessarily a ripoff and the cheap companies aren’t necessarily bare-bones, but paying more typically results in more features.
Website speed is likely the most important difference between hosting companies. There are a few reasons some companies offer faster hosting times than others:
- Server speed: One of the biggest differences is simply the speed of the server computers the hosting company uses and the speed of the internet connection they use.
- Geo-redundancy: As with anything, data travels more slowly over longer distances. If a company has servers spread across the globe, your visitors around the world will be able to access your site more quickly. If your hosting company only has servers in one place, your site will load more slowly for people further away from that location. (To that end, it’s a dangerous idea to use a hosting company with servers in only one location anyway. What happens if the building catches on fire? Your website is gone.)
- Dedicated vs. managed hosting: If you use a dedicated hosting service, your website is the only site stored on a server. If you use a managed hosting service, your server is shared with other websites. Managed hosting packages are less expensive but can have slower load times when network traffic is high because your server is also serving data for other websites. Dedicated hosting provides fast speeds at all times but is typically extremely expensive, often running around $200/month or more.
Storage space and bandwidth
The amount of storage space and bandwidth available in a hosting package make a big difference in the price of a package. Oftentimes, hosting companies will offer multiple packages at different price points, and storage space and bandwidth are typically some of those most prominent differences.
When looking at these two factors, it’s important to know the difference. Storage space is the amount of space available on your website. Think of it like your hard drive on your computer. All your files take up space and it’s possible to run out. The same is true for your website. If you host a lot of large files on your website — videos, audio files, etc. — you could run out of storage space.
Bandwidth, on the other hand, is a measure of how much data your website sends and receives. This number will be much higher than the raw storage space, because the same file is accessed multiple times. Think of it like this: Let’s say you host a 50 MB video file on your website. In any given month, 100 people watch your video from beginning to end. The video takes up 50 MB of your storage space, obviously, but people accessing the video consume 5 GB a month of bandwidth because the 50 MB file was transmitted 100 times. Even a small website size-wise can consume a lot of bandwidth if a lot of people access it, so if you’re getting a lot of traffic to your website, you’ll want to pay especially close attention to your hosting company’s bandwidth limit.
Downtime is another important consideration when choosing a website host. How often will your website be unavailable and for how long? Consider that statistics can sound better than they are too. A website with 99% uptime sounds great, right? But with 24 hours in a day and 30 days in an average month, that’s a total of 720 hours, so 1% downtime still means a website is unavailable for 7 hours and 12 minutes a month, or about 15 minutes a day. That’s a lot of outages!
99.9% uptime means a website is unavailable for about 45 minutes a month, which is a lot more reasonable. 99.99% uptime means a site is only down for 4 minutes a month, and if your site gets a lot of traffic, even those extra 40 minutes could make a noticeable difference.
HTTPS, email, CDN, and other features
Some companies include additional features that others don’t, and this can also have an impact on your hosting package’s price.
For a few years now, Google has used HTTPS as a search ranking signal. It’s important to have a secure website anyway, but if you want your site to rank well in searches, an SSL/TLS certificate is almost a necessity. Does your hosting package include one? (It should.)
Some companies also offer email as a part of their hosting package while others don’t. If you want email addresses that use your site’s domain, you’ll want to see if email is included or costs extra.
Some website hosts also include their own content delivery network. Other third-party CDN options exist, but some of them cost extra, so if you decide a CDN is right for you, you’ll want to weigh the cost of a third-party option against a host that includes one.
You’ll also want to make sure your website uses technology that is up-to-date and meets the demands of the CMS you use. If you use WordPress for your website, ensure that your hosting package includes MySQL 5 databases, PHP 7.2 or 7.3, and a cron manager (this is required for scheduling posts). Also ensure that your host will let you upgrade your version of MySQL and PHP so that your site isn’t incompatible with WordPress in the future. For example, WordPress 5.2 raised the required minimum PHP version from 5.2 to 5.6.
Service and reputation
Like anything, the company itself is an important part of the equation. You’ve probably heard plenty of horror stories of people dealing with bad customer service in the technology sector. From internet service providers to cell phone companies, some companies have better reputations than others, and the same is true for website hosting companies. Endurance International Group, known as EIG, is known for buying other hosting companies with excellent customer service reputations and then slashing customer service jobs to save money. GoDaddy is notorious for selling core services, such as SSL certificates and even email access, at an extra cost. Network Solutions sells WordPress hosting packages with an outdated version of PHP and doesn’t allow its customers to upgrade their PHP version. Before you decide to use a hosting company, research the company’s reputation and look for these types of red flags.
It’s impossible to recommend only one hosting company because so many exist and offer a variety of features and price points. WP Engine, SiteGround, Flywheel, and 1&1 Ionos all have good reputations, but they’re difficult to compare because of the differing prices and feature sets. These are just a few of many reputable hosting companies.