Any business that takes itself seriously knows that a website is a necessity, so they put time and effort into choosing the best design for their website. But there is more to running a website than having an eye-catching design. Allocating time to choose the best web host is an aspect often overlooked by many, even though web hosting can have a significant influence on a site’s performance.
No doubt, the design of a website is formative of first impressions, but your site must be available and load fast enough for your visitors to even be interested in what you have to offer. Downtimes, slowly loading pages, unresponsive support are just a few red flags that you should be aware of when choosing a web host. If these unfortunate happenings occur frequently, they can set your site back in search engines and drive away potential customers.
Those who have already gone through the experience of hosting a website know the value of a good web host, so they don’t settle with anything less than the best. But how do you decide which web host is the best for you? This article will guide you through the process of choosing the best web host for your site.
Picking the Best Web Host for Your Site
Web hosting is a gigantic industry with thousands of hosting companies offering hosting packages for every type of website imaginable. Narrowing down your choices to only one will require a little bit of research and time, but better to spend some time on choosing a good host from the get-go than being forced by circumstances and pressured by time to do so later.
Start with Shared Hosting
Assuming it’s your first time launching a website, starting with a shared hosting plan is probably the smartest way to save money, on the one hand, and to really put your web host’s hosting services to the test, on the other hand.
Start small, upgrade later
If your website’s profile permits it, and you’re not anticipating high traffic volumes on your website, going for the cheapest hosting option makes a lot of financial sense. And you can always upgrade your plan later if it becomes necessary.
Prices for shared hosting plans start at as low as $2.75/month (e.g. BlueHost’s Basic shared hosting plan) and even include a free domain name. The reason behind the small prices is that multiple websites share the resources of an entire server, instead of having dedicated resources or an entire server allotted just for a single website.
Since shared hosting plans don’t generate the highest revenue for hosting companies, some hosting companies may be inclined to not invest as much in these types of plans. However, the best web hosts will make sure to provide the same reliable services for their customers on shared hosting accounts as they provide for their premium customers.
Shared hosting offers opportunity for testing
Testing a shared hosting plan is a good way to distinguish a good host from a bad one. One could even go as far to say that a web host is as good as its shared hosting plans.
Some shared hosting plans are complex enough to even include free data backups, unlimited storage, free website transfers, free website builder tools, free cPanel control panel, malware protection and a host of other interesting features.
As your website expands or the traffic on it intensifies, you can analyze options to upgrade your shared hosting account to a VPS or dedicated hosting plan, but until your website is still in its infancy, a shared hosting plan from a reputable hosting provider will be a good opportunity to see how your website evolves.
A shared hosting plan won’t be a huge financial investment, it will give you ample opportunity to test the services of your hosting company (test uptime, support, control panel, etc.) and decide for yourself if it’s worth committing to your hosting provider on the long run.
Test Customer Support
Customer support is sometimes difficult to evaluate, and until you’ve actually needed to contact customer support, you’ve probably haven’t given it much thought. Testing customer support for its promptness and knowledgeability are key to determining whether you should sign up with a certain web host.
Don’t ignore red flags
Some red flags that you should pay attention to when it comes to customer support include a lot of bad reviews from former and current customers, limited customer support options, and slow support or limited technical support work hours. Of course, you’ll find bad reviews about the customer support service of any hosting provider, but when everyone is complaining about it, then it’s a major red flag.
Another red flag would be receiving bot-like responses to your questions. When this happens, it’s likely than you’re speaking to an AI bot rather than a human being.
But even speaking to real human support can sometimes be unpleasant if you’re getting canned responses too often (the likes of “Have you tried turning it on an off again?”) or receiving large, generic looking chunks of text to your questions, which may be a way for customer support to expedite the support process without providing you actual help.
Look for 24/7 customer support
When picking a web host, look for one that offers 24/7 customer support as urgency can strike at any time, and when it does, you’ll be happy to have someone to ask for help. Also, look for a web host that has several customer support channels you can reach them through (email, live chat, phone support, ticketing system, etc.). You can test each customer support option to see how helpful they are and how fast they respond to your queries.
Naturally, only when you’re dealing with a real problem and there is a real sense of urgency involved can you truly put customer support to the test. Only then can you really evaluate how good customer service really is. Until you’re faced with such a problem, you can get a pretty good picture about a host’s customer support by reading user submitted reviews and independent hosting reviews.
Research Reliability & Uptime
A web host’s reliability and uptime are crucial elements that can determine your website’s performance in search engines and success with customers. If your site is facing extended downtimes on a regular basis, or your pages take forever to load, your site may face sanctions both from search engines and your prospective customers.
Read uptime & performance reviews
Doing some research by reading independent reviews about your web host or seeing results from independent hosting uptime and performance monitoring services (e.g. pingdom.com) are a good way to assess the reliability of your web host.
You may decide to take your chances with a mediocre customer support, but overlooking uptime reliability can have catastrophic consequences. Extended downtimes and high visitor abandonment rates (bounce rates) are a recipe for disaster when it comes to search engine rankings. And you certainly don’t want to make your competitor’s day by driving away your customers.
Test it yourself
If you decide to sign up for a shared plan for testing purposes, you can evaluate your host’s uptime performance yourself with various services available for this purpose, which will help you gain valuable insight into your website’s uptime performance.
A reliable hosting provider will guarantee at least a 99.9% uptime, and it will back it with a SLA (Service Level Agreement), crediting your account with hosting credits every time it fails to meet SLA uptime guarantees.
Analyze Guarantees, Policies & Terms
It’s not often that people read terms and conditions, but if you want to be thorough in your quest for the best web host, you shouldn’t skip this step either. Here’s what you should be looking out for:
Most web hosts will provide a 30-day money back guarantee, but this guarantee may be tied to some conditions (e.g. usage of resources should be below a certain amount), so make sure you clarify this from the get-go or straight out opt for a web host with a no quibbles money-back guarantee policy.
If you’re not happy with a 30-day money-back guarantee period, there are hosting providers like InMotion Hosting that offer a generous 90-day money-back guarantee.
Analyze Terms of Service
Even if you don’t read the full TOS, at least skim read through the Acceptable Use Policies, specifically the Prohibited Uses part. This is the part that details the web host’s policy regarding the hosting of certain materials on your site. Not all hosts allow the hosting of pornographic material, for example. Thus, if you’re thinking of launching an adult website, you should look for a web host that allows adult sites.
Likewise, using your site for spamming, using torrenting software, promoting illegal activities, abusing resources or engaging in other such activities may be grounds for termination or suspension.
The different TOS and policies of your web host can give you a clear idea of permitted and sanctioned activities. Knowing about these beforehand can save you from a lot of headache in the future, and it will help you determine if a given host is suitable or not for your website.
Top 3 Recommended Hosts
When it comes to choosing the best, here are our top picks for reputable, reliable and performant web hosting:
BlueHost was founded in 2003 as a budget hosting to meet the needs of small to medium-sized businesses. Since then, BlueHost has grown into one of the hosting industry’s giants offering a wide spectrum of hosting plans to satisfy all hosting needs whether you’re looking for limited or unlimited shared hosting, VPS hosting, cloud hosting, dedicated hosting or CMS specific hosting.
BlueHost’s claim to fame was also cemented by WordPress.org’s endorsement of BlueHost as a reliable WordPress hosting. Indeed, BlueHost is best known for its affordable shared hosting plans and WordPress optimized hosting.
Shared hosting plans start at $2.75/month and feature a free domain, cPanel, daily backups, CloudFlare CDN, 1-click WordPress install, and 24/7 customer support. Some shared hosting plans come with hosting for unlimited websites, unmetered storage, unmetered bandwidth, and unlimited email accounts and email storage.
WordPress hosting plans start at $19.99/month, include an enhanced cPanel, SiteLock CDN, SiteLock Pro, free SSL, 30-day money-back guarantee, and 24/7 customer support. WordPress specific hosting plans are configured based on the number of monthly visits you expect to have on your site, which range from 100 million visits per month to plans configured for unlimited visits per month.
You can easily add more resources (CPU, RAM, storage) to your plan from your control panel or you can upgrade to higher tier plans with a single click.
BlueHost’s entire hosting infrastructure is built for performance, speed, security, and focuses on the changing needs of websites by offering easy options to scale resources and upgrade plans.
InMotion Hosting was founded in 2001, and unlike BlueHost, which is part of the Endurance International Group, InMotion Hosting is a privately-owned web hosting provider.
InMotion configured its hosting plans to meet the needs of developers and businesses, in particular. They offer business shared hosting plans, managed SSD VPS hosting powered by the cloud, dedicated servers, reseller hosting, and WordPress hosting.
In terms of hosting features, InMotion rolls out features like free SSD drives, free data backups, support for the best applications on the web (e.g. Joomla, Magento, WordPress, WooCommerce, etc.), free BoldGrid website builder tool, multiple programming language support (Ruby, Perl, Python, PHP, MySQL, PostgreSQL), 90-day money-back guarantee, SSH access, Google Apps integration, 99.9% server uptimes, 24/7 customer support, free no-downtime website transfers, malware protection, cPanel included and lots of other features of this caliber.
Shared hosting plans start at $5.99 per month and include a free domain name, unlimited disk space, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited email accounts and email storage.
InMotion pays special attention to eCommerce specific features as well, supporting eCommerce apps like PrestaShop, Magento, WooCommerce, OpenCart, osCommerce and more. Shared SSL is included with business shared hosting plans allowing you to secure multiple sites.
Higher tier hosting plans all come with free SSD, free server management, free cPanel and WHM, network redundancy, and SLA backed 100% uptime guarantee for dedicated servers.
InMotion can meet the needs of individuals and small businesses, while also offering hosting options to commercial class customers. This hosting company is recognized for its reliable and performant hosting infrastructure that uses the latest software and hardware technologies.
Launched in 2002, HostGator is also a reputable web hosting company that is part of the Endurance International Group. The company is most famous for its pocket-friendly shared hosting packages, but its hosting offering extends to other hosting types as well including VPS, dedicated servers, cloud hosting, reseller and WordPress hosting.
HostGator offers both Linux-based hosting and Windows-based hosting plans, featuring 99.9% uptime guarantee and 45-day money-back guarantee. Linux-based hosting plans come with the industry-leading cPanel control panel, while Windows-based hosting plans include Plesk control panel.
Shared hosting is available at HostGator for as low as $3.95 per month, which includes unmetered bandwidth, 100 GB storage, and hosting for a single domain. Shared hosting for multiple domains with unmetered storage is also available starting at $5.95/month. Each hosting plan includes a free website builder, free website transfer, SSH access, 1-click installation of over 75 open-source scripts, 24/7 support via live chat, phone and ticketing system, and free advertising credit. Professional CMS hosting solutions (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.) and eCommerce platforms (e.g. Magento) for your online store are also included with these plans.
HostGator offers 24/7 server monitoring, automatic weekly off-site data backups, premium hardware, multiple caching layers, scalable resources, website monitoring and analysis tool, fully managed servers, optional root access, and a full suite of development tools, powerful script installer, and access to thousands of free website templates.
Whether you want to host an online magazine or a large eCommerce site, HostGator has the technology and expertise to raise to the occasion and meet your website’s needs.
As you may have noticed, we’ve not included pricing among the things that you need to compare across hosting companies. In recent years, prices for hosting plans have dropped significantly, and they don’t necessarily reflect the true value of a service. It may be that a more expensive host doesn’t have the features you need, but a cheaper hosting provider includes them for free with their hosting packages. Thus, pricing can be a tricky thing, but of course it can also factor into your decision to choose the best web host for you.
Starting out with a shared hosting plan and upgrading as your site expands, is probably the best way to experience every facet of your hosting provider’s services – uptime performance, customer support, different guarantees, etc. Alternatively, you can rely on the reviews of current and former customers and independent web hosting review sites to make informed decisions.
We hope our article has managed to help you in navigating the maze of web hosting, and that you’re now equipped with the necessary knowledge to choose the best web host for your site.