Stop overpaying for your web host!
Aaron Salo - Developer
In the market for a new web-hosting provider? So many hosting options to choose from how do you decide? Well, there are many factors to consider. Cost, storage and bandwidth are the most obvious and easiest to compare but they’re not the be-all end-all. Understanding your hosting facts can be the difference between a success or failure and may even prevent you from overpaying for your next website.
The first thing you need to do is make sure the hosting plan covers the basics.
(1) How much storage space do you need?
Determine how much space you need to host your content now and into the future. If your site is already built check how much space it currently takes on your hard dive and use that as a guide. If your site is not already built check with your developer or hosting provider.
(2) How much traffic is your site expected to see?
If your plan has a bandwidth cap it can quickly turn your site into an expensive endeavour. Every time someone visits your site files are transferred that consume your bandwidth. The larger the file the more bandwidth is used per visit. For example, if you decide to host your own video files they can easily take 15Mb per minute of video. So a short 4 minute video viewed 100 times would consume (15Mb x 4min x 100 views) 3000 Mb of bandwidth. If you plan on having a video and graphic heavy site with large files, steer clear of hosting plans with bandwidth caps.
(3) What environment does your site need to run?
If your site is a simple static site that does not change built entirely with flat html files then this isn’t a huge concern for you. But if your site runs any server side code such as a content management system like Drupal or Wordpress, you need to make sure your hosting plan can support these needs. The host you choose must use the same programming language as your content management system. The most common setup that you will find typically has PHP installed but if your site is written in ASP.Net or Node.js you need to make sure your web host supports that language instead.
(4) Do you need a site builder?
Many hosting providers will provide tools to build websites from prebuilt templates. These tools can vary from very basic to quite advanced. If this is the kind of service you want, look for hosting providers that advertise this as their main selling point instead of a just an optional feature. Since they will typically have a better built interface which will be easier to use.
(5) Are you planning to have email hosted under your domain name?
Many plans include email hosting as part of the package, while others will provide you with an account under another service provider such as Google. Each plan will also vary in the number of accounts that they allow. Make sure the plan includes enough to meet your email needs or be prepared for the added cost of hosting your email elsewhere.
The not so basics
(1) SSL or no SSL?
Regardless of if you’re using a website builder or already have a pre built website you need to consider the security of your site in your hosting plan. Are you collecting contact or credit information? Then you’re hosting personal information and it’s your responsibility to take the necessary steps to protect it.
SSL certificates encrypt the data that is being transferred between your site and users’ computers making it harder for others to intercept their requests.
It might be wise to consider adding SSL to your site even if you don’t handle personal information. Search engines such as Google are starting to rank sites higher if they have SSL enabled giving it an impact on your site rating and SEO as well.
Some more expensive hosting providers include SSL as a standard option while others only provide it as an extra option. The type of content and value you place on your site rating influences the importance of SSL in your hosting plan.
(2) Where is the hosting server located?
Another common but over looked item is where will your server physically be hosted, this might not seem like a big deal given the global nature of the Internet but it can influence the quality of your web experience. The closer the server is to your clients the less time it will take the server to respond to their request, resulting in a better experience.
(3) Are there any restrictive laws in the hosting country?
You also need to be aware of the laws of the country that host your data. Depending on the country their law enforcement branch might be able to take down your website or obtain copies of your data without your consent. Plus, depending on what industry you are in, there may be regulations for how and where your data can be stored.
(4) What Level of Support do you need?
A service which you will hopefully never need is support but it’s important that it’s available.
What kind of response time do they promise?
If you run into trouble can you afford to have your website down while you wait for them to respond? Cheaper plans often have longer guaranteed response times.
What methods of contact do they offer?
If you have a support request are you expected to fill out a form for assistance or do they offer phone or email support? Each contact method offers different levels of response times. So if your website is mission critical and any downtime would be costly it’s worth investing in a plan that offers the support level you need.
How much support is included?
Another thing to consider is that not all plans come with unlimited support. Some plans require you to pay for each support request others may only include a set number of requests or requests pertaining to a certain type of support.
The big dilemma : Do you need a shared or standalone server?
The final area of consideration is if you should use a standalone server or a shared server. It’s often one of the most overlooked, but it can have the greatest impact. This choice greatly influences the cost of your plan along with the potential experience of your users.
A shared server is the cheapest option since the cost of the server is spread across multiple clients for the hosting company. But as we all know sharing something always results in compromises. These plans will normally offer limited configuration options since multiple site configurations on the same server are difficult to maintain. This means you mostly have to take the server as is and accept the predefined server modules that are given to you, but if you’re looking for a hands off approach to hosting this might be what you’re looking for.
Along with the shared configuration you’re also sharing a finite set of server resources. So if another site on your shared server introduces an error that consumes all the processing power of the server your site will also be affected. Or if another site suddenly gets a spike in traffic it can overwhelm the shared server resulting in your site slowing down as well. Both of these situations could happen with little to no way of you knowing why your site is no longer responding as it previously did.
The solution to the downsides of shared hosting is to go with a standalone server, which will dedicate all of the server resources to your site. Although as a trade off of getting the full resources of the server you will also bare the full cost of the server.
Standalone servers also typically give you either complete control of how the server is setup or more advanced control options. This will allow you to streamline your server to only have the necessary modules needed for your site or to load unique modules that may not be available in a standard configuration. But as uncle Ben from Spider Man once said “With great power comes great responsibility” and this is no exception. The more you can configure, the greater the risk of error and possibility for damage to the site. So without the necessary resources to manage a standalone server, a shared server may be a safer option.
Weighing the Final decision
In the end, which website hosting provider you pick really depends on your individual situation, which might change from one project to another. If you’re only hosting a small static information website, which is not likely to see a lot of traffic, a cheap shared hosting package will likely fulfill your needs. If you’re hosting an online store, critical to your company’s success, you’re better off not taking the risk of a shared server and paying extra for your own dedicated server or servers to keep up with the demands of your customers.
For every website in-between there is a hosting provider that has the right mix of configurations to match your needs. Make sure you pay close attention to the details of hosting plans not just the basics which are advertised in large print, and ask the right questions for your needs.