I’ve had a bumpy two weeks trouble shooting less than perfect web hosting solutions. Some of the problems I encountered included insufficient processing power, slow page speed loading and lack of tech support, which together added up to a lot of lost time and a lot of frustration. As a result, I thought it would be a good time to provide some tips on the important features to look for in a web host.
In web hosting (as in life), you get what you pay for. Jumping on the cheapest offer you see isn’t necessarily the best idea, especially if you plan to feature any kind of rich content. A hosting company that charges $1.99 per month and offers ‘unlimited’ websites, bandwidth and disk space may look like a good deal but chances are there’s a catch, and typically that translates into poor quality hardware, hidden caps, or out-sourced support (Good morning, India!). Shop around. Companies such as Bluehost, GreenGeeks and HostPapa offer good, reliable hosting at a reasonable price for single domain accounts with moderate site traffic. If you’re planning on hosting more than two domains or expect big jumps in traffic, then you should look to a VPS hosting solution. VPS hosting is a type of web hosting that uses Virtual Private Servers. Although the websites are hosted on the same physical machine, VPS allows each website to be fully independent as if each were on its own separate machine. Expect to pay double for VPS than you would for ‘regular’ shared hosting. In the spirit of value for money, don’t go to the opposite extreme and over pay. Not everyone needs to host their account with Amazon Web Services. If in doubt, pay for one to three months of hosting before committing. Or talk to your web designer or developer. They may be able to recommend a good solution, or host you on their own server at a rate that is both reasonable and tailored to your needs.
2. Tech Specs
Make sure you check the tech specs offered by the web hosting company. You want to ensure that you have the RAM, processing power and disk space to support your content, especially if you’re not using a VPS hosting solution. Shared hosting (which is what you get with the typical hosting package) means that your web site is housed on a computer with several others, all drawing on the same system resources. Poor resource management or oversubscription can cause your site to become sluggish, or even to go down. Most web hosting companies employ CPU throttling, which monitors CPU usage across sites and limits the processing power each site can draw on. Look for ‘Server Management’ in your web host interface to check how often your CPU is being limited and consider moving to a VPS solution if there is a noticeable loss of performance.
3. Page Speed Loading
How quickly your web site loads can mean the difference between a visitor staying on your site — or quickly bouncing out. While not exclusively a hosting problem (poorly optimized graphics and heavy server-side scripting can also cause slower download times), slow page speed can affect how Google and other search engines catalogue your site. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights or check your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools accounts regularly to ensure your site is performing at peak.
4. Disk Space
Disk space is the amount of space that you are allocated for your website. Some hosting providers offer unlimited space, while others allocate space at a cost. Either way, you should make sure you have a plan that offers you at least 20% more space than you’re currently using or plan to use. This will give you some room for growth. Make sure your read your Terms and Services as you may find that your ‘unlimited’ disk space is only unlimited until you go over the ‘normal site usage’. And make sure that you don’t confuse ‘unlimited’ disk space and bandwidth with processing power. You can run into big problems when your ‘unlimited’ site suddenly crashes as I found out last week.
Disk space and bandwidth often go hand in hand. Bandwidth is the amount of data that your website can pass to visitors over a period of time. Some hosting providers offer unlimited bandwidth, while others charge different prices for the amount you use. Bandwidth is something you’ll want to keep an eye on, especially if you run a fairly popular site or host rich content such as images and video. Make sure that you know what will happen if your site goes over the allocated bandwidth, and that you’ve got enough current bandwidth to support the people viewing your site.
6. Database Support
If you plan to use WordPress as your content management system (CMS), then you’ll want to make sure your web host offers PHP5 and MySQL. PHP is a general-purpose scripting language made specifically for web development while MySQL is an open-source database management system. Both are required to run WordPress.
7. Framework Support
If you have limited tech skills or lack the patience to download and install WordPress yourself, then you’ll want to make sure that your web host offers Simple Scripts or another type of one-click install. An easy-to-use interface such as cPanel is also a must as it will free you to do much of the set-up yourself with the need to call your hosting company’s support line.
Your web host can be just as susceptible to data loss as your home computer. You’ll want to ensure that you can back up both your site files and databases. If your web host doesn’t offer backup consider moving to another company, or figure out how you’ll be able to do it yourself.
9. Tech Support
For most people, having a real, live person to talk to is an important — if not the most important — feature to look for. Before going with a host look into their reputation for customer support. See what kinds of different ways you can contact them when you need support – email, toll-free phone, chat, and so on. It’s also a good idea to ensure that they have 24/7 staffing and that support is handled by the company and not outsourced to a third-party.
10. FTP access
FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is a standard web development method for transferring files from one location to another. FTP plays an important role whether you are developing your website on your own or you are outsourcing some of the workload to someone else. Having the ability to seamlessly transfer files between accounts, computers, or online archives might not seem like a big deal when you’re just starting out,but, as your web site grows you’ll find that having a host with good FTP capabilities just makes life a whole lot easier.
In conclusion, look for a reputable web hosting company that offers a good amount of disk space and bandwidth at a reasonable cost based on your needs — whether that be shared, VPS or dedicated hosting. Other features to look for include database and framework support, up-to-date-ness (check what version of PHP they are running) and FTP access. To save yourself time and reduce the frustration factor make sure that your web host offers CPanel and provides local tech support.
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