Buy a web hosting service? Check these 10 tips

When shopping for the perfect web hosting for you (not the best web hosting for everyone), you’ll be bombarded with terms and features you’ll rarely come across in your day-to-day life.

From FTP to backup, we’ll explain the jargon and what to look for when you’re shopping for a new web hosting package. Keep in mind that web hosting – as a technology – has been evolving for over 30 years since the inception of the World Wide Web.

These days, web hosts offer the tools you need to create a great website, whether you’re a coding guru or a complete beginner. Modern website builders – such as Boldgrid – offer templates with drag-and-drop functionality, so you can create a sleek, professional website without needing to hire a web designer.

Keep in mind that many popular website builders like Wix or Weebly are proprietary in nature. Strictly speaking, these are not hosts in the traditional sense of the term. You will be limited in what you can do and this lack of flexibility can be detrimental if you want a little more pizzazz.

Although SSDs are more expensive than standard HDDs, that’s for good reason; they are much faster than traditional spinning hard drives, are more reliable and consume less power. Depending on the technology used, the transfer rate is an order of magnitude or more compared to their mechanical cousins.

SSDs do not come with moving parts and therefore operate reliably, quietly and are a durable and energy efficient option for data storage. Expect HDDs to remain popular for a long time, especially in the budget end of the market where “free” and “unlimited” still dominate.

3. Bandwidth

Bandwidth describes the quality and level of traffic and data allowed to travel and be transferred between your site, users, and the Internet. Each hosting company will offer different levels of bandwidth. This can be an indication of which hosting company has the best networks, connections, and system.

If you have a small business with 5,000 or fewer visitors per month, you don’t have to worry too much about bandwidth. Most major hosting companies will provide all the bandwidth you need on their cheapest accommodation account, starting as low as $1/month.

4. Storage

Most hosting plans will offer “unlimited” storage capacity, but this is bound to come with restrictions. However, for most small business websites, a low cost shared hosting plan will meet all your storage needs. You are unlikely to need more than 1GB of space unless you have a lot of videos or music files on your website.

Most web hosting companies will not allow users to use them only as a file server service. For this you can use online services like Dropbox or even Google Drive (we have a list of the best cloud storage services) where your files will usually be hosted for much less than you expect.

5. Scalability

The importance of scalability is twofold: first, you need your website to be able to handle huge traffic spikes. Second: You need a hosting provider that you can grow organically with as your business and subsequent web traffic grows. When choosing a hosting provider, look at how easy it will be to upgrade if you need to.

Can your web host upgrade you from an entry-level shared hosting plan to a mid-level VPS when traffic hits a certain level, without any downtime for your website? Your business may experience seasonal fluctuations in web traffic. This needs to be supported transparently.

For example, a Christmas tree retailer is likely to experience a substantial influx of web traffic in December. The scalability of a hosting provider will allow the website to handle traffic fluctuations without failure.

It is important that your website is able to handle growth and large increases in visitors. Be sure to choose a host that offers the ability to upgrade to VPS.

6. Access

When you sign up for hosting, you will receive a control panel to manage your hosting account. You will also need FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access to your files. FTP is the most common method used to transfer your web pages and other files from your computer to the web host’s computer to be hosted.

Look at the maximum file size as this may limit your ability to upload media files. Many providers will also offer an online file manager, useful if you’re away from your usual workstation and need to do a quick website update, even from your smartphone.

7. Security

However you want to use the web host, you need to make sure that the web host gives you the right security features. Good web hosts typically offer a wide variety of security features, and you’ll need to decide which ones are important to you based on the type of website you plan to deploy. Needless to say, the requirements of a personal blog are very different from those of an e-commerce portal.

At the bare minimum, you’ll need to make sure you have access to some sort of spam prevention tools. There are many choices, including SpamAssassin, Spam Experts, spam hammer and more. SSL certificates are also considered essential these days and help boost your website’s trust score. Even better, you can get one for free with Let’s Encrypt Project which also provides tools to help you add a certificate to your website.

Finally, if you plan to conduct financial transactions on your website, you will also need to research solutions to help mitigate Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Solutions such as Site lock and Cloud Flare are commonly used to extend this protection and also offer several other useful features.

8. Support

When technical difficulties arise, you will need fast backup assistance. Good hosts will offer 24/7 support so you can get your business back online if something goes wrong. There are various support methods available including email, phone and live chat.

Check your Service Level Agreement (SLA) for details on the support you can expect to receive. Some vendors will also stipulate expected uptime in their SLA. 99% uptime means the site can be down for 3.5 days a year.

That comes to less than an hour with a 99.99% uptime agreement. All but the most expensive web hosting plans promise five nines (99.999%) where the agreed maximum downtime is just over five minutes.

9. Location

The closer a data center is to your visitors, the faster the page will typically load. If all of your visitors are likely to come from one region, choose a hosting provider with a nearby data center. Even if you don’t, you can still purchase a web hosting package that includes the option of a CDN (Content Delivery Network).

A CDN will host a copy of your website’s page and static content when accessed from a territory. Caching, as it is called, means that your website visitors will always get data from the server closest to their location.

Last, but not least, backups are an essential service you should receive from a hosting provider. Not all hosting companies offer this service as part of your package, so be sure to ask for it. Backups will generally be automatically removed from your website daily and retained for seven days, allowing you to restore your website at any time if needed.

Backups typically include both website (static) and database (dynamic) files. Reasons you might need a backup of your website include: data center fire, hacking, human error, and component failure. You can also decide to back up your files to a third party (like Google Drive) or locally on your computer.

  • This is an adapted excerpt from an eBook titled “The Ultimate Guide to Web Hosting”, published by TechRadar Pro in association with Planet Hippopotamus

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