How To Choose The Right Web Hosting

Here’s the thing: Unless you are totally new to webmastering (or website hosting) and have no idea where to start, you don’t really need to read this 2,000+ words article. Save yourself some time, go check out the big web host comparison table I have on my homepage, and pick one of the listed hosts. In case you wonder – Yes, if you are reading this, it’s very likely that I’ve got you covered with my top five list. After all, you don’t need a lot of choices in order to make the right call in web host shopping.

Now in case you are that new (or simply wish to learn more), read on.

So how do you choose a web host? Assuming that you are starting from scratch, what are the factors you should look into? How do you decide if a web host is right (or wrong) for you?

Here are my suggested 15 check points.  

1. Shared, VPS, Dedicated, Cloud, Or Reseller Hosting?

Types Of Different Web Hosting

Rule number one: If you are new, start small with a shared hosting account. A shared hosting account is cheap, easy to maintain, and sufficient for almost all new websites/blogs. Plus, upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server can be often done easily – you’ve got nothing to lose with a shared hosting account.

If you know how things work in hosting industry and plan to resell your hosting capacity; then reseller or cloud (if the provider allows you to resell the service) hosting is the option to go with. 

If you have certain non-standard needs on your web host (for instance, extra server security, custom software, server root access, heavy CPU usage, etc) and don’t mind paying extra, then you should go with VPS or dedicated hosting.

For better understanding on the differences (cost, performance, security and so on) between different type of web hosting services, check out this graphic-article I made earlier.

2. What Is The Server Uptime Record?

Nothing is more important than having an up and running web host 24×7. Thus, we want a web hosting operates on strong servers and stable network connections.

Anything below 99% uptime is plain unacceptable. Uptime info can be obtained from certain hosting reviews (for example, HostIn15 and WHSR), via asking existing customers’ experience on webmaster forums (example, WebHostingTalk and WebmasterWorld), or you can simply track your host with free server monitor tools (for example, Pingdom and Site Uptime) during the trial period.

Remember: No matter how cheap it is, do not stick with web host with a bad uptime record. For reference, here are some uptime records (in dynamic image) tracked at BestHostRatings.com.

InMotion

InMotion Uptime Record

Hostgator

Hostgator Uptime Record

GoDaddy

GoDaddy Uptime Record

FatCow

Fatcow Uptime Record

Bluehost

Bluehost Uptime Record

WebHostingPad

WebHostingPad Uptime Record

Arvixe

Arvixe Uptime Record

PowWeb

PowWeb Uptime Record

3. Does Your Web Host Allow Multiple Addon Domain?

Domains are cheap – so cheap that it’s hard to resist to own more than one. Personally I own over 50 domain names and I am sure there are many of you who own a lot more than that. If you wish to host all your domains in one hosting account (though it’s not recommended to do so), then you better stick with a web host that allows users to host multiple domains in one account.

Generally, most hosting companies these days allow unlimited (or at least 100) addon domain so I believe it’s not a really big issue.

4. Ignore Disk Space And Data Transfer (bandwidth) Capacity

Two reasons why the values on allocated disk space and data transfers are barely meaningful nowadays.

One, if you check, almost all shared hosting providers are offering "unlimited" storage and data transfers but in reality, the term "unlimited" is nothing but a marketing gimmick.

Two, if you think about it, disk storage and bandwidth hardly matter these days. I mean, hey, images can be stored on Flickr; videos on YouTube and Vimeo, large data files (doc/pdf/etc) on Box. And furthermore, if your site needs to be run alongside with tons of static files, it’s more likely you will be on a CDN*.

In short, you don’t need to care that much on your hosting storage or bandwidth.

* CDN = Content Delivery Network = connected data servers deployed in various data centers so that users in different locations can access to the data in a faster speed. To dig deeper, check out this CDN tutorial (.pdf) by Mukaddim Pathan and Rajkumar Buyya.

5. Cron Jobs, Auto Script Installer, .htaccess, Server Side Include, FTP

I am surprise that some web hosts out there do not offer these basic features. You need Cron for day-in-day-out operations (automation, anyone?), Auto Script Installer (like Fantastico and Quick Installer) for time saver, .htaccess for security/page redirects/SEO/etc, SSI for easier site maintenance especially if you are building a static site, and FTP access for (do I need to explain this?) better efficiency in file transfers between local computers and hosting server.

Unless you are getting a specialty host like WP Engine, else these features are essential and you shouldn’t settle with hosting providers that do not supply them.

6. SSL, dedicated IP, Shopping Cart Support

Are you operating an e-commerce portal? Do you need to process business transactions on your website? Are you using any specific shopping cart software?

If your answer to these questions are "yes" then I believe you don’t need me to remind you to pick a web host with SSL certification, dedicated IP, and the specific shopping cart software.

7. Does The Web Host Support Email@Your Domain?

If you wish to host email accounts together with your website, then you should look at the email feature before signup. Most hosting companies will come with the ability to host your own email (something like email@yourdomain.com) but hey, it’s always better to check and be sure of it, yeah?

P/S: In case email feature is not provided, no big deal. There are a number ways you can own an email account at your own domain (email@yourdomain). Google Email Apps, for example, is a free and easy one – you get the first 10 email accounts for free and $5/account/mo moving up. I wrote a detail guide on this some time ago, if you need help, read What To Do If Your Web Host Does Not Provide Email Hosting Services?

8. What’s The Limitation On Server Resources?

Most hosting review sites will not tell you this: Before you signup, it’s important to know your limits  – what will cause your hosting provider to suspend your hosting account? Yes, don’t be surprise. Web hosting providers have the right, and will, pull the plug and suspend your account if things are not right (by their book). Get yourself clear about this and  read through the usage policy before subscribe to a new web host (unless you are picking one of the listed hosts on my comparison table as I have read and summarized it).

Knowing your account limits help you understand two things:

One, How Generous (Or Stingy) Is Your Shortlisted Web Host Should you go with that web host, or the other with looser restrictions.

Two, How Transparent Is Your Hosting Company Can you trust the words coming out from your hosting company? Honest hosting company normally will have very clear guidelines on account limitation.

A few years back I had nightmare with Hostmonster’s CPU throttling feature (which is not listed clearly on the company’s TOS at that time). If you don’t want to stuck with a web host like me in 2009, then picking up a web host with clear TOS (and honor their own rules) is vital.

By the way…

<personal_rant>

Nowadays you get a lot of unlimited features from web hosting providers (shared hosting especially!) – unlimited storage, unlimited data transfers, unlimited addon domains, unlimited FTP access, unlimited MySQL databases, unlimited parked domains, unlimited…. That’s right, you get unlimited everything with just $4.95/mo.

Wake up, people!

I am so tired of getting emails from you idiots who want to store all your 500GB movies/photos collection on your web host.

Are you guys nuts? There is no such thing as unlimited!

Every resource on our earth is limited, why do you think you can have an unlimited host with the monthly cost less than a cup of Starbucks Frappuccino? Why do you think Google and Facebook and Yahoo! need to pay millions for hosting server costs when they can just go with iPage or WebHostingHub for just less than $5?

</personal_rant>

9. Environmental Friendly Web Hosting

Having an eco-friendly website host is the primary concern for some webmasters.

According to science studies, a web server on average produces more than 630kg of CO2 (which is a lot!) and consumes 1,000 KWh of energy annually. A green host on the other hand, theoretically zero CO2 and use only recyclable energy (wind or solar powered). So there is indeed a huge difference between a green web host and a non-eco-friendly web host.

If you care about the environment and wish to cut down on your carbon footprint, pick a web host that runs on renewable energy (or at least, a webhost that offsets its energy consumption via green certificates).

10. Does The Web Host Provide 24/7 Live Chat Support?

Personally I prefer live chat over phone, feel free to change this factor to "24/7 Telephone Support" if you think otherwise. What we want is someone who can throw us the life saving rope instantly after we press the S.O.S button. So… yeah, go with a web host that comes with 24/7 live chat or phone support – especially if you are a newbie. 

11. How Does The Hosting Company’s Refund Policy Work?

Does your web host provide full money return if you choose to refund your service within trial period? How about the refund policy after the trial session? It’s important to know your web host refund policy in-and-out so that you won’t panic when things go wrong.

There are some hosting companies charge absurdly high cancellation fees or domain registration fees when users cancel their account during trial period, avoid them. Some (iPage, for instance), on the other hand,  allow pro-rated refund even after your trial period (good eh?).

Refund Policy Of My Best 5

  W/H/Hub iPage InMotion GreenGeeks WP Engine
Full Refund Trial 90 Days 30 Days 90 Days 30 Days 60 Days
Pro-rated Refund Yes Yes No No No

The key, again, is to read the TOS clearly (quick tip: go to company’s TOS, ctrl + F, search for keyword "refund" and "cancellation") before you giving out your credit card.

12. Site Backups

There are times when a site crashes. Perhaps a hacker got into your WordPress blog and replaced your index.php file. Or your entire database crashed. Or the server had a severe hard disk failure.

If your web host backs up on a daily basis, they should be able to roll your site back a few days and regain (a big chunk of) what you’ve lost.

On backups, here are a few key questions to ask:

  • Does your web host provide full backups regularly?
  • Can you back up yourself easily through the control panel?
  • Can you create auto backup your site easily via cron job or other program?
  • Can you restore your backup files by yourself easily (so you don’t have to wait for the support staffs to do it for you during disaster time)?

13. Does The Web Host Provide An Easy-To-Use Control Panel?

Trust me, an easy, functional control panel is very very important.

Be it cPanel or a Plesk or a third party control panels (like what we have at GoDaddy) – the key point is that it must be user-friendly and come with all the necessary functions. Without an adequate control panel, you could find yourself at the mercy of a tech support staff just to make a basic change. I once had an account with IX Web Hosting, though it’s not a bad host – multiple dedicated IPs at a reasonable price, great tech support, but I had to cancel my account because it’s custom control panel is such a pain in the a*s (sorry IX).

14. What Is The Renewal Price?

Note that that many hosting companies are slashing their standard prices in order to win market shares. This means you will need to pay a higher price upon renewal of your hosting account. It’s sort of the industry standards – especially for shared hosting services – and, unless you are willing to switch host every two or three years, there is no way to avoid this.

For reference, here are the pricing details on my top 5 pick – note the gap between promotional and standard pricing.

  W/H/Hub iPage InMotion GreenGeeks WP Engine
Special Discount Discount Price: $3.95/mo
Link Activation
Discount Price: $3.50/mo
Link Activation
Discount Price: $5.56/mo
Link Activation
$25 Discount, Code:
WHSR25
You don’t get special discount for Super-Hosting!
Signup Price
(24/36 mo)
$4.95/$3.95
Per Month
$3.50/$2.95
Per Month
$6.36/$5.56
Per Month
$4.25/$5.90
Per Month
$29/mo
Renewal Price
(24/36 mo)
$7.95/$6.95
Per Month
$8.99/$7.99
Per Month
$6.95/$7.95
Per Month
$4.95/$6.95
Per Month

So, in order to avoid any unpleasant surprise, I would advise to check and make sure that you are okay with the renewal price before signup. Quick tip: Click on the hosting company’s TOS link (usually at the bottom of homepage), press Ctrl + F, and search for kewyord "renewal" or "renew".

Every now and then I receive emails from readers who are frustrated with expensive hosting renewal fees. That’s understandable. However, web hosting companies are in business to make money. The discounted signup prices I see are often so low,  that I believe the money barely covers the server costs.  With that being said, I do think that it’s acceptable for a web host to charge their existing customers at a higher and more reasonable renewal rate. And yes, this means I I do pay a higher renewal price to all my web hosts – provided that I am happy with their services.

15. How About Server Upgrade Options?

Last but not least, you need to know if the host is flexible in its server options – just in case your website outgrown your host too soon.

Don’t get me wrong, shared hosting is pretty powerful these days. On a very rough guestimation, a shared web host should be sufficient to support a proper optimized WordPress blog with 30,000 – 40,000 monthly unique visitors. You should be alright with a shared hosting if you manage to limit your concurrent database connections below 20. This is why I said earlier that if you are new to website hosting, it’s best to start with a shared web host.

But then again, if you expect your website to go really big for the next two to three years, then it’s wise to pick a host with more upgrade options (to VPS or dedicated hosting) like Hostgator, InMotion, and GreenGeeks.

(P/S: Though not a must but hosting companies offering shared, VPS, and dedicated hosting are normally charging slightly higher than companies that focus on shared hosting only. So this is why many of us are sticking with companies like WebHostingHub, iPage, and so on.)

Wrapping Up: One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Poison

Choosing The Right Kind Of Hosting Service

I am not 100% sure if the idiom is right for the title but I think you get what I mean. I wouldn’t recommend iPage or GreenGeeks if you are starting a huge e-commerce website; and I definitely wouldn’t recommend WP Engine if all you need is an easy host to kick start your hobby blog.

When you are selecting a web host, remember that what you want is to pick up the right web host. It’s not about finding the best web host, it’s about finding the web hosting service that suits your needs.

There, you have it – my hosting guidelines in a nutshell.

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