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The Web Hosting Guide for Beginners

A tutorial on choosing good web hosting, and what to consider when comparing web hosts

There is no such thing as the best web hosting service. Additionally, web hosting companies are dynamic, not static; a review written one year ago is likely to be out of date today.

Instead of writing another review of the best web hosts, I thought I’d aggregate the feedback of many experts into a tool. The tool is designed to identify the best web hosting service, based on what’s important for you.

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What to Consider When Choosing a Web Host

When choosing your web hosting, there are many considerations to take into account.

The most important considerations fall into three categories; performance, price, and after-care. I’ll explain the main factors in each of these areas below.

Shared vs. VPS vs. dedicated hosting

The first consideration to make is whether you want shared hosting, a virtual private server (VPS), or a dedicated server. Let’s quickly go through the pro’s and con’s of each option.

Shared hosting – As the name implies, a shared host is where your website is hosted on a server that you share with many other website owners. The advantage of shared hosting is that it’s the cheapest option, as you’re sharing the cost with hundreds of other website owners.

The disadvantage of shared hosting is usually performance and security related. Because you are sharing the bandwidth and storage with other websites, if another website on your server is attacked or receives a huge influx of traffic, it can have a negative impact on your website. Shared hosting is usually the best option for new websites, small blogs, and websites with low traffic.

Virtual private servers – A VPS is a hybrid solution that bridges the gap between shared hosting and dedicated hosting. While your website is hosted on the same physical server as other websites, your website is controlled independently, as if it were on its own server. The benefits of VPS hosting are that you get many of the same perks of dedicated hosting but without the price tag.

Dedicated servers – Dedicated server hosting is where you lease a physical server that’s yours, and only yours, to use. Dedicated servers are generally more powerful, more secure, and more flexible to use than shared servers or VPS servers.

Bandwidth – is it really unlimited, and what happens when you go over?

Bandwidth is a largely misunderstood measure in web hosting. In basic terms, if you have a page on your website that is 10kb and it receives 10 visits in a month, you’ve used 100kb bandwidth in that month. Many web hosting companies advertise unlimited bandwidth as an incentive, but is it really unlimited? Of course not – it’s literally not possible to have unlimited bandwidth.

Unlimited bandwidth is a marketing tactic that banks on the truth that most websites will only use up a small portion of the bandwidth they’re allotted. When you read a web host’s terms of service you will often find a clause that outlines what unlimited really means. However, it doesn’t really matter unless you’re expecting a large amount of traffic – most sites receiving less than 10,000 visits / month will be well within their bandwidth limits.

If you are expecting a large amount of traffic, it’s worth paying extra to have a larger bandwidth limit. You will also want to know about your bandwidth overage, in other words – what happens when you go over your bandwidth quota? Some web hosts will take your website down and show your visitors a blank screen or a holding page. Other web hosts will ask you to pay them extra to upgrade your plan.

Storage – How much is enough?

Your storage or ‘web space’ is how much hard disk space you have on your web server for your website’s files. As above, many web hosts offer unlimited storage, which when you read the fine print generally means ‘a large amount that you probably won’t ever exceed, but must only be used in a certain way’.

In other words, you can’t use your terabyte of storage to host your personal files! In terms of how much storage you need, that obviously depends on the number and size of pages, and the size of your database and media files.

If you estimate that your pages are 2mb each, then you can multiply that by the number of pages on your site to get a rough estimation of how much storage you require.

Uptime & server stability

Everyone’s site goes down once in a while – even Facebook, YouTube, and Google have had their bad days. While many web hosts aim for 100% server uptime, the reality is that sometimes things happen that are beyond the capabilities of even the best network engineers.

That said, some hosts have better uptime than others, so how do you choose a web host that’s got the best server stability?

The 100% uptime myth – Like ‘unlimited’ bandwidth, 100% uptime doesn’t really exist. A few years ago, Rackspace were in disputes with the ASA for using the slogan ‘100% uptime guaranteed‘.

The reality is that Rackspace’s ‘guarantee’ simply states that they’ll entitle customers to a refund if their servers go down. Always read the fine print and know what your host’s uptime really is.

Location matters – If your web host’s data centre is located in a city that regularly receives blizzards, storms, or power outages, you’re more likely to have down time. This is another good reason to use a CDN (content delivery network), so that your files are hosted on multiple servers around the world, instead of just from one single server.

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Image Credit: Dominique

Over the years, i’ve found BlueHost, WPengine, and MediaTemple to all be reliable and have good uptime. You can use a tool like Pingdom to regularly check your website’s uptime, and even have it text you whenever your servers go down.

Customer service & reviews

Like any long-term relationship, there will be ups and downs with your web hosting provider.

Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of downs. My sites have gone down hours before a big product launch. I’ve had full-blown security hacks. I’ve also had migration issues where I almost lost thousands of files.

Fortunately, I only use web hosts that offer decent 24-hour live chat / phone support with English-speaking technical developers. When you agree to use a host, you’re not just agreeing to let them host some files on the Internet. You’re trusting them to protect your brand, reputation, and revenue streams. It can be incredibly damaging to have a site go down at the wrong time, so this is something you want to be sure of before you agree to become a customer.

The best way to know you’re in a safe pair of hands is to simply host with a reputable hosting company. All of the hosting companies recommended in this post have fantastic customer support and hundreds of glowing reviews around the Internet.

Security

If maximum security is your primary concern, you will probably require a dedicated server.

Most hackers target shared or VPS servers by uploading their malicious code onto a website that gains access to or somehow negatively affects other sites hosted on the same server.

This is obviously not possible on a dedicated server. So how do you know whether a web host is secure? Most hosts will tell you whether they have a firewall installed and what actions they take to prevent malicious attacks, such as DDoS surges.

If you can’t find anything about this on the web host’s website, I’d be cautious. All of the reputable hosts, such as WPEngine, BlueHost, RackSpace, and MediaTemple are very good from a security perspective.

Of course, your website’s security is affected by so much beyond the web host you use – from the passwords you create, to the quality of plugins and WordPress themes you use. However, prevention is a far better strategy than cure when it comes to improving your website’s security, and using a secure host is a good starting point.

Contract length

Understandably, most web hosting companies try to lock you into a contract for a certain amount of time (usually 6-12 months minimum). Generally, this is not a huge concern as most websites remain hosted for a long time anyway. After all, hosting is not the sort of thing you switch regularly.

However, it does become a problem if you’re just testing an idea for a new site, or if the site quickly outgrows the server you’re hosted on. In all cases, it’s worth knowing what you’re signing up for.

Price – how much should I pay for web hosting?

Like most things, you get what you pay for with hosting. A $4/month web hosting package is almost certainly going to be slower and less secure than one that’s $40/month.

Ultimately, it all depends on the size of your website and the performance that you need.

shared vps dedicated The Web Hosting Guide for Beginners

Generally speaking, I would rule out anything below $10/month for anything except small blogs or sites that you can afford to have significant downtime on. For websites that represent your business or are a source of income, I would start looking at solutions from $30/month, which should be enough to get a stable, fast, and secure VPS with a reputable host like WPEngine, BlueHost, or Media Temple. Dedicated servers usually start at around $150/month and have no price ceiling – as it really depends on how much traffic you need to handle.



2 comments on “The Web Hosting Guide for Beginners

  1. Andy Briayn

    Seriously its an amazing guide about web hosting. Web hosting is an integral part of every major business indeed. Business owners should consider all these factors before choosing web hosting services. How much space you will need? Should be the question in mind. How many email–addresses and domains you have required is also essential to determine. Security level is another important factor that should be considered by one.

    1. Marcus Taylor

      Thanks Andy, glad you found the guide useful. Agree – there’s a lot to consider and it’s easy to get stung with a poor hosting company. Fortunately, a lot of the hosts are getting better and picking up their game, but not quite enough!

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About the Author

Marcus Taylor Marcus Taylor is a multi-award winning marketer, and Founder of Venture Harbour.

Follow @MarcusATaylor