Choosing a web host can be complicated business. I've been building websites since 2006 and I can still spend days deciding on the appropriate host because there are so many things to think about.
This guide will give you a simple checklist to follow and you can use it to evaluate a web host to make sure they are right for your needs.
(I use this checklist myself whenever I'm looking at hosting and I find it makes the choices so much easier when I know what I want, what my website needs and what my own personal limitations are.)
- Your website goals. Before choosing a web host you need to know what the goals of the site are & what you want to accomplish. Your targets will determine which is the best hosting package.
- The type of site. You also need to consider the type of site you are building and the capabilities it needs. E.g. Low bandwidth, text sites need less than video based sites.
- Moving an old site? If you are moving an old site you'll need to look at your current hosting to determine a package that suits you. You'll also need to know whether it's easy to move to the new host.
- Your budget. If you're serious about your website, paid hosting is the only real option, so budget is a factor! Different types of hosting come with very different price tags.
- Hosting options. Do you know the different between shared hosting, a VPS server or a dedicated server? Each have their pro's and con's that you need to consider.
- Your skill level. Are you able to install your own website, create email addresses and set up mailing lists? Many decent hosts can simplify this, but there are downsides too.
- Taking backups. Backing up your site is one of the most important things you can do to protect your website. Some hosts will provide free backups – others charge you.
- Disk space. You might have seen web hosting companies promise unlimited bandwidth and disk space. But is there really such a thing and “unlimited” resource?
- Conclusion. Summing up this tutorial on how to choose web hosting that works for you and your website requirements.
What are your website goals?
Before you choose a web host, you need to figure out what you actually want – and why. Every website has a different need or purpose and you need to think about how you want your site to be before choosing suitable web hosting.
Here are some things you might need to consider before choosing:
- The type of site you build. Some sites will be more complex and need better quality hosting, more resources etc. It's useful to consider your hosting requirements when you start brainstorming website ideas.
- Thinking about the future. Starting out on free or cheap hosting might sound like a good idea, but if your site gets lots of traffic and becomes successful, you'll outgrow it quickly. Make sure you can scale your hosting if/when your site grows.
- Will you be able to afford better hosting? If your site does get successful, better hosting is more expensive. Will you be able to afford this?
You don't need to spend too much time thinking about your site goals, but knowing what you plan to achieve is useful for more than just your hosting. 😉
What type of website do you want to make?
Depending on your site, you'll need different things from your hosting. If you're hosting video tutorials, audio files, or offer free downloads, then you will use a lot more bandwidth – and some hosts charge a fortune for this.
You'll also need a lot of storage space for those large files and again, it can get pricey with certain hosting companies. In general, you will probably build one of two types of site:
- Low-bandwidth sites. This includes text-based sites, blogs, information sites, directories, small forums, affiliate sites, niche sites, small business sites and smaller online stores.
- High-bandwidth sites. Which might include video or audio heavy sites (podcasts, video tutorials etc), flash gaming sites, user-submitted content (like free file storage), social networks and large forums.
Disk space isn't usually a problem with most hosting. It's become so cheap to offer massive amounts of data for almost nothing. Bandwidth is what might cost you and it isn't just money.
You might find that large amounts of data transfer will crash your site or cause it to slow down. Not good for popular sites.
Should you move an old site?
For whatever reason, you might want to switch web hosting from one company to another. Maybe your current provider sucks, or you bought a site from somebody and need to take the hosting to your own account.
Either way, moving to a new host is the perfect opportunity to assess your hosting needs again. Here are some tips on double checking you have the right hosting before you move:
- Check the current bandwidth and diskspace usage. This is very easy to check in your admin control panel and will let you see exactly how much you need from your new host.
- How much downtime do you have? Use a tool like Uptime Robot to track how often your site crashes and if it is too frequent it's to move, my friend.
- Is it easy to transfer? Depending on the software your server runs on (usually cPanel or Plesk) and the software your site runs on, it might be more complicated to transfer than simply copying your files over.
What is your budget?
Read this. I've said it multiple times and it's worth repeating: if you are launching a brand-new site, you want the cheapest (but most reliable) hosting possible. Every time.
If you're serious about building a proper website, and an online business, then you need paid web hosting. End of story.
But there is no need for a beginner, or somebody launching a brand new site, to have hosting that costs more than $4-5 a month. Hosting is so competitive nowadays that almost all of them offer identical packages and they all compete heavily on price.
But there are plenty of others that will give you what you need for less than $5 a month.
Some (usually expensive) hosting companies might try to convince you that you're investing by paying more so that when your site scales, your hosting does too.
The truth is that most companies will offer to migrate your site for you if you do move. Plus, it's not that difficult to migrate a site yourself with a bit of technical jiggery pokey.
What type of hosting do you need?
In general there will be three types of hosting you'll be looking at.
- Shared hosting. This is perfect for beginners, brand new websites, or small sites that get less than 1,000 visitors per day.
- VPS hosting. Virtual private servers offer a little more power and reliability (for an extra cost) and will give you a better platform to build your site on once you're getting 3,000+ visitors a day. They're also better if you have high-bandwidth stuff like videos and audio.
- Dedicated servers. The Ferrari of the bunch, a dedicated server will give you lightening fast performance and amazing reliability. They cost $100s though, so are best suited to sites with 15,000 or more daily visitors.
What is your skill level?
Your skills (or lack thereof) as a system admin will also play a huge part in choosing which hosting is best for you. Some cheaper hosts might not give you the support you need. Here are a few things to double check with any potential web hosting company:
- Do they offer free telephone/email support? (Some hosts charge per ticket)
- Are you able to manage your server or do you require a managed solution?
- Do you know how to manage databases?
- Could you use FTP to transfer files?
If you answered “No” to any of those questions, or if you're wondering what the hell I just said, then chances are you need a simple solution with solid support and a very managed environment.
Shared hosting (like Web Hosting Hub) is good for this. As are some managed VPS or dedicated servers.
Can you take backups?
Running a website isn't always plain sailing. There might be times where your site doesn't run as it should, or it crashes unexpectedly. It's very important that you know how to take backups in case the worst happens.
Some hosts will take a backup once every couple of weeks but I wouldn't rely on them to protect your site.
You could also do manual backups but again it can be time-consuming and isn't always beginner-friendly. So what's the answer?
Well, if you saw my video on the Create a Website guide, you'll see that Web Hosting Hub offer a backup tool for $1 a month. I bought it, because I know how much it sucks to lose a site.
It always seems to happen at 1am when you really want to go to bed too. 🙁
What is unlimited bandwidth and diskspace?
The web hosting world loves to use the word unlimited. It looks awesome to offer unlimited bandwidth, databases, diskspace.
If you're savvy enough you'll probably already have figured out that it's sorta too good to be true.
You will get a significant amount of bandwidth and diskspace, along with databases and domains too. But these will be subject to a fair usage policy that is legal mumbo jumbo for “not really unlimited”.
Still, I don't blame hosting companies for using the word and the truth is that most folks – even geeks like me – will never come close to using up these “unlimited” resources.
My advice: Don't worry about the unlimited allowance becoming a problem. Most hosts will tell you if you were overdoing it, and you'll likely never get close to the limit anyway.
To sum up this guide:
- Choose cheap hosting if you're a beginner or have a new site.
- For anybody else, go VPS or Dedicated Server.
- You can upgrade whenever your site requires it.
- Take backups!
- Unlimited isn't really unlimited, but it doesn't matter.