Web hosting is one of the most crucial aspects related to setting up a website, simply because you cannot go online if you have no place to host your site in the first place. As such, choosing the best web host for your needs and requirements becomes mandatory.
However, since web hosting in itself is an extremely saturated market, how does one pick the ideal web hosting provider and more importantly, what should one look for? Of course, a proper background check is the first step in this direction, and by reading unbiased web hosting reviews and facts, you can make a well-informed decision.
In this post, I will be discussing things and aspects that separate a good web host from a bad one, or in other words, things that you should look for when selecting a web hosting provider.
Things You Should Look For in A Web Host
It is common knowledge that there are certain key aspects that everyone should bear in mind when judging a web host. Uptime, for instance, is something that you just cannot compromise with. Similarly, good quality support is another such obvious factor.
Doing some research is always a good idea, and you can look up reviews and statistics related to web hosts that you might be considering. Sites such as Hosting Facts are good places where you can start your research.
That said, what are some other points that you should consider when looking for a web hosting provider?
Features and Limits
Obviously, the set of features that you should be looking for in a web host depends directly on your needs and requirements. For instance, if you are planning to run a WordPress website, you will need a server that is capable enough to handle databases and PHP scripts, as well as other relevant features.
However, regarding features, you should focus more on what exactly you are being “offered”. Having dealt with innumerable web hosting providers for both shared and dedicated usage, I personally have never seen a truly “unlimited” hard drive, simply because there does not exist one. As such, “unlimited web hosting” is just a fancy buzzword, and it, in fact, is severely limited concerning features and limits.
Another thing to consider, especially when opting for a shared web hosting package, is the resource usage limits. Most shared web hosting providers openly talk about the disk space and bandwidth that they are offering, but very few actually bother to tell you what exactly is being “shared” with other users. Once again, I have never come across a shared hosting site that consumes 2000 GB of bandwidth within a month — if your site is getting that much of traffic, it will outgrow shared hosting before it outgrows the bandwidth.
You should, ideally, be looking for memory limits: physical and virtual memory limits, I/O usage threshold, as well as the maximum number of concurrent scripts that your web host allows for the plan you intend to purchase.
Software and Scripts
Almost every web host offers easy install methods for WordPress, Drupal and many other popular scripts (ditch your host right now if they do not). However, a good idea is to inquire about the version of software that they are running — for instance, PHP 5.3 has reached end of life, but there are several web hosts that are still stuck with PHP 5.3 and refuse to discuss an upgrade path.
Similarly, if you are on a shared, semi-dedicated or fully and proactively managed VPS, ask your web host about the version of the control panel (say, cPanel or Plesk) that they are offering. While dedicated and self-managed VPS offer you the luxury of choosing your software versions, the other plans generally do not. That doesn’t mean you should be forced to stick with outdated or obsolete software!
Proper support is the backbone of a web hosting business, and in the absence of satisfactory support, a web host cannot survive in the industry. However, as a customer, what should your considerations and expectations be regarding support?
First, it depends on the “type” of support that you are looking for. If you have pre-sales queries or a question about billing, it is normal for responses to be slightly delayed, and possibly sent only during business hours. However, when it comes to technical support, you should be able to get a reply anytime of day, and any day of the year. Unfortunately, there are some popular web hosts out there that offer tech support only during business hours and even worse, have the tech support desk unmanned during weekends. This is unacceptable, simply because hardware failure, DDoS attacks, or database errors do not take holidays, and just because it is a Saturday, you shouldn’t be stuck with a “504 service unavailable” message until Monday.
Secondly, you should consider the “medium” of support that is acceptable to you. Email or ticket-based support has become the norm in the web hosting industry, and it is still the primary medium of support everywhere. However, many web hosts offer limited support via Live Chat or phone, and if that is something you really need, look for a host that offers that. Personally, I have never received any advanced level of assistance via phone, but live chat is generally good for short issues, such as setting up custom DNS or email forwarders, etc.
The Fine Print
Of course, you should, by all means, focus on the terms of service and other clauses and conditions that your web hosting provider might put before you, before signing up with them.
However, there are certain questions that you should surely ask, before purchasing a web hosting package. For example:
- Backup Policy: Almost all decent web hosting providers offer guaranteed daily or weekly backups (again, ditch your web host if they do not). However, ask them about restore! Many web hosts tend to charge a fee for restoring your backups, and still others just offer you a zipped dump of your data, that might span in GBs, and tell you to figure out the restoring part yourself (or send you a link to their knowledgebase).
- Refund Policy: Ask about the refund policy of the web host in question AFTER the money-back guarantee period has expired. Do they offer pro-rated refunds? If so, do they refund back to your card or PayPal, or do they refund it as account funds you can use to avail discount on future purchases with them?
- Scope of Support: Even if your web hosting provider offers excellent support, be sure to consider the extent to which they might go to offer you that support. Will they be willing to install your SSL certificates for you, free of charge? Will they be willing to troubleshoot occasional WordPress issues, or help you setup your CDN?
Web hosting is a crowded industry, but there is no shortage of excellent web hosting providers out there. It depends on the nature of your needs and the requirements of your website, but at the end of the day, you should always do your homework before finalizing a web host.
Finally, you should note that most web hosts offer a money-back scheme, so you can try them out before committing for a longer payment term.
What do you think of these points? Are there any other aspects that you consider before signing up with a web host? Share your views in the comments below!